Steve Jobs The Artist

by | Nov 19, 2015

After diving into Steve Jobs’ biography, I gained profound insights into the essence of Apple—elements we all admire but often overlook – its approach to its work as art. Apple’s reputation for beautiful, elegant, and brilliant designs alongside innovative products is no secret. The company has elevated product design to an art form, creating objects of desire for millions and securing spots in prestigious museums like MoMA. Its founder, Steve Jobs, was a grand master in merging ideas, technology, and art, seemingly inventing the future. He grasped, perhaps more than anyone, the potent blend of technology and creativity as the key to crafting significance and value in our modern times. But something I thought of while reading it is that, at his core, Jobs was an artist. He saw himself as one, with the temperament to match. His heroes were creative trailblazers who altered history at the risk of their names, honor, and careers just to forge a different path.


Creative Leadership and Visionary Technology

Jobs often spoke about art and being an artist, making his perspective particularly intriguing. He treated his teams as artists, fostering an environment of creative liberty (quotes* from Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” – Simon & Schuster):

“When the design [of the Mac 1984] was finally locked in, Jobs gathered the Macintosh team for a ceremony. ‘Real artists sign their work,’ he declared. He produced a sheet of drafting paper and a Sharpie pen, and had everyone sign. These signatures were then engraved inside each Macintosh.”

Andy Hertzfeld, a key figure in the original Apple Macintosh team, recalls:

“Jobs saw himself as an artist, and he inspired us to adopt that mindset too….Our aim was never about outdoing the competition or financial gain. It was about creating the sublime, or perhaps something even beyond that.” Jobs once took the team to a Tiffany glass exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, believing they could learn from Louis Tiffany’s approach to crafting mass-produced art. Bud Tribble, another team member, reflected, “We told ourselves, ‘If we’re going to create, let’s make it beautiful.’”

Dan Farber of ZDNet observed:

“Jobs is a strong-willed, elitist artist who guards his creations from being altered by others. It’s akin to someone adding brush strokes to a Picasso or tweaking the lyrics of a Dylan song.”


The Bauhaus Influence on Apple’s Design Philosophy

Jobs drew inspiration from figures like Picasso and Bob Dylan, as well as from design movements like the Bauhaus, which thrived in Germany from 1919 to 1933. The Bauhaus school, blending crafts and fine arts, aimed to create a “total” work of art where all forms, including architecture, converged. This philosophy resonates with me, living in Tel Aviv, a city adorned with over 4,000 Bauhaus structures. Their functional, white-centric designs continually inspire. Herbert Bayer, a founding member of the Bauhaus, saw no line between fine art and industrial design, believing in details’ divinity and the power of minimalism—principles Apple and Jobs wholeheartedly embraced. At a 1983 design conference, “The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be,” Jobs himself spoke of this influence, aiming for Apple’s products to be “bright, pure, and honest…shooting for MoMA quality.” (listen to it here).

Indeed, Jobs didn’t just aspire to MoMA standards; he achieved them. Apple’s creations are not only technological marvels but also part of MoMA’s collection.


Steve Jobs’ Enduring Impact on Entrepreneurial Inspiration

Jobs’ pursuit of beauty extended beyond products and packaging to their presentation, in stores, advertisements, and notably at the annual Macworld conference. In a realm where most CEOs wouldn’t bother, Jobs enlisted postmodernist theater producer George Coates to stage the event, engaging professional art designers to craft the perfect showcase for Apple’s products. His unique blend of art and technology not only shaped Apple but also influenced countless CEOs and entrepreneurs in their quest to create beautiful, impactful products. The extent of Jobs’s legacy in shaping future companies is perhaps larger than we can currently grasp; only time will reveal its full impact.


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