Steve Jobs: the functionality of art

Steve Jobs is seen as an artist and innovator, consequently meaning iDevices are art, but how stringent is the line between art and design (Amanda Jess/AQ)
Steve Jobs is seen as an artist and innovator, consequently meaning iDevices are art, but how stringent is the line between art and design (Amanda Jess/AQ)

Steve Jobs has said he took cue from Paris’ Musée du Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums and now a historic monument, when he designed the entrance to the Apple Store on 5th avenue in Manhattan.

In May 2006, tourists and city residents held up their iPhones and iPads taking photos of the iconic building. The Apple Store, like the Louvre, is all underground despite the 32-foot glass cube entrance.

The tall, white, gallery-like walls of both the Louvre and Manhattan’s Apple Store showcase creations.

Apple products are displayed on long work benches, begging to be played with, while the art in the Louvre is framed and roped off, longing for a set of eyes.

***

Jobs is the co-founder and long-time CEO of Apple Inc. He was seen as an artist, pioneer and visionary.

After his death in October of 2011 of pancreatic cancer, stories flooded publications about how Jobs married technology and art.

The Huffington Post published “Steve Jobs, 1955-2011: Inventor and Artist,” and “Technology Alone is not Enough” in the New Yorker. There was also a documentary the year of his death by the BBC titled “Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy.”

The stories came with a sea of artistic portraits fans created to honor the late businessman.

“He would say that his work lay at the intersection of twin personal passions: technology and liberal arts, which is precisely why Steve Jobs would appreciate the more elegant portraits that have been rendered in his honor. In tribute to the memory of his artful eye,” wrote Michael Cavna for the Smithsonian Magazine in October 2011.

***

“See Apple people… I don’t trust them at all,” said Robin Peck, professor in the department of fine arts at St. Thomas University.

“St. Thomas faculty, it’s all PC stuff yet there’s people who use Apple and they have their special sort of group in the faculty, and they have special meetings where they get together and talk about Apple stuff and I always think it’s kind of creepy. It’s like a cult.”

Peck teaches a course called art and the motorcycle, exploring the relation between motorcycles and art. He drew inspiration for the class from the 1988 exhibition in New York City’s Guggenheim Museum which displayed over 100 motorcycles and presented them as art. “Designers I mean, the difference used to be that one is functional and one isn’t. Art… there is no use for it, and if it’s functional they would call it design.”

Peck makes reference to artist Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, which was an upside down urinal hung on a wall.

“It was this object that does look pretty nice, it’s all porcelain, smooth and it’s got nice shapes. It looks as good as most 20th century sculpture and he called these things ready-mades.”

Peck could have been describing any number of iDevices.

They’re smooth and elegant. Light weight with a sleek design. They’re simplistic appearance juxtaposes the product’s complex abilities.

iDevices are minimalistic with the Apple logo on either the cover of a Macbook or back of an iPhone or iPad.

When asked if an iDevice could pass as a ready-made, Peck replied “doubt it.”

***

The Apple store design follows Jobs’ design aesthetic, a style which he’s successfully trademarked.

The store’s glass-fronted design, long rectangular shape and open floor plan are protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and can’t be duplicated.

Apple applied for the trademark twice in 2010 but was declined both times. After resubmitted drawings and floor plans, the company was approved in January of this year.

The Jump+ store is an independent Apple retailer in Fredericton’s Regent Mall. The store follows the same design as the official Apple stores.

It’s difficult not to smudge the iDevice’s screens, even if your hands are clean. They’re functional but are presented in a way that suggests otherwise. In most Apple stores there are ‘theatres’ for presentations and ‘workshops’ to train new Apple users on the products.

Steve Jobs transformed a retail store into an artist’s studio.

***

“If you look at any of the computers, you can tell… They’re beautiful. They’re like sculptures,” said Samantha Shea, a 23-year-old Regent Mall Jump+ employee.

She said Apple products differ from other companies designs because they’re 50 per cent created for the form.

I wouldn’t go so far to say every computer is a work of art because some are just built specifically for function, but Apple brings the whole design element into it.”

Shea has worked at Jump+ for seven months. She stood behind the back worktable, lined in front with wooden stools.
She’s wearing a crisp blue t-shirt which complements the white walls behind her.

“I can see why people would think that Steve Jobs is an artist because he put a lot of thought, care and effort into each individual product that Apple came out with. So I don’t see how that’s any different than an artist who toils over a painting or a sculpture. It’s looked at for the design.

***

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them,” Jobs once told Fortune Magazine.

Internationally, the masses have been long-time drooling over Apple products. Whether it be for the design or the art of the design, Peck argues an artist has the final say if they’re creations are art or not. The only element left is taking responsibility for what that means.

Walking into the gallery of an Apple store, it’s clear Jobs has taken responsibility for his art. iPads, iPods and Macbooks are propped up along the walls.

While they’re not ropped off, spectators still keep their distance. Many gaze at the walls of flat screens and hi-definition images.

A customer picks up the new Macbook Air, named after its light weight and streamline design.

Despite this, her hands begin to shake.

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