Steve Jobs The Artist

by | Nov 19, 2015

After reading Steve Jobs’ biography I understood many things that are inherent about Apple. Things that we all appreciate but do not necessarily pay attention to. Apple is well-known for its beautiful, elegant, brilliant designs and innovative products. The company has taken product design to the level of Art; its products are desirable by hundreds of millions and have earned a place in leading museums such as the MoMA. Jobs was a master in combining ideas, technology, and art in ways that invented the future; and he understood, probably better than anyone else, that the best way to create significance and value in our times is to connect technology with creativity. But above all, Jobs was an artist. He definitely considered himself as one. He definitely had the temperament of one. Most of his heroes were creative people; People that changed the course of history while risking their names, honor, and professional careers just to do things in a different way.  Jobs referred to art and being an artist on many occasions and it is interesting to understand his point of view.   Jobs always treated his teams as artists and always encouraged them to behave as such (quotes* taken from Jobs’ biography – Walter, Isaacson. “Steve Jobs.” Simon & Schuster – Highly Recommended):

“When the design [of the Mac 1984] was finally locked in, Jobs called the Macintosh team together for a ceremony. ‘Real artists sign their work’ he said. So he got out a sheet of drafting paper and Sharpie pen and had all of them sign their names. The signatures were engraved inside each Macintosh”.

In another part of the biography, Andy Hertzfeld, who was a member of the original Apple Macintosh development team during the 1980s, said:

“Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way too….The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.” He once took the team to see an exhibit of Tiffany glass at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan because he believed they could learn from Louis Tiffany’s example of creating great art that could be mass-produced. Recalled Bud Tribble (another member of the original Mac design team) “We said to ourselves, ‘Hey, if we’re going to make things in our lives, we might as well make them beautiful.’”

ZDNet’s editor Dan Farber said:

“Jobs is a strong-willed, elitist artist who doesn’t want his creations mutated inauspiciously by unworthy programmers…It would be as if someone off the street added some brush strokes to a Picasso painting or changed the lyrics to a Dylan song.”

Jobs was influenced by artists such as Pablo Picasso, musician Bob Dylan, and designers such as Dieter Rams but also from art and design movements such as the Bauhaus movement, named after the famous school that operated in Germany between 1919 and 1933. The Bauhaus was an art school that combined crafts and the fine arts and it was operated under the idea “of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together.” This movement was and still is a big influence for many including me, on a very personal level. As a resident of the city of Tel Aviv, which is home to more than 4,000 Bauhaus buildings, these functional, white-oriented designs are a great inspiration. Herbert Bayer, one of this movement’s founders, believed that there should be no distinction between fine art and applied industrial design. His beliefs as part of this movement that “God is in the details” and “less is more” were definitely embraced by Apple. Steve Jobs was inspired by the Bauhaus movement as well. He expressed it and talked about it in public [you can listen to him at a 1983 design conference “The Future isn’t What is Used To Be”]. Jobs repeatedly emphasized that Apple’s products would be clean and simple.

“We will make them bright (the products) and pure and honest ….that’s our approach. Very simple and we are really shooting for the Museum of Modern Art quality”.

Jobs not only made it to MoMA quality but also to MoMA’s collection. You can see Apple’s products in the MoMA collection here.

His devotion to beauty didn’t stop in products and their packaging but also in the way they were presented. Not only in stores and ads but also in the famous Macworld’s yearly conference. In one of these conferences, Jobs brought George Coates, the postmodernist theater producer, to stage the show; in an event where most of the CEO wouldn’t even deal with, Jobs hired professional art designers to create the best stage for its products. In his unique way, combining art and technology, influenced Jobs on many CEOs and entrepreneurs to create beautiful and good products. Perhaps Jobs’s contribution to the type of companies that will be created and has been created is much larger than we can measure today, we just need to wait and see.

*All the quotes are taken from Walter, Isaacson. “Steve Jobs.” Simon & Schuster



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