The Da Vinci of Design: 7 Ways Steve Jobs Changed the Visual Arts Forever (And One Way He Didn't)
Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple
Steve Jobs's stunning announcement that he is stepping down as chairman of Apple has investors worried. Can the tech Goliath sustain the momentum it has built under the sensei-like leadership of Chairman Jobs, beginning with his rebranding of the iMac and continuing through the revolutionary launches of the iPhone and iPad? But spare a thought for the art world, which in manifold ways, subtly and not-so-subtly, has been transformed by the innovations Jobs has pushed forward in the last few years (even if artists have come into conflict from the company from time to time). Here, ARTINFO takes a look at a few of the way that Jobs's impact has been felt across the visual arts:
Macs have a reputation for being the computer of the creative class because of their stylish design and their integrated package of user-friendly media software. And, indeed, the Mac suite of editing tools has launched a whole new class of video-art auteur. Consider Ryan Trecartin, currently swimming in accolades from his dual show of works a MoMA PS1 and Miami MOCA. As Roberta Smith noted in her rave review of the show, Trecartin's swarming, freaked-out, overloaded style owes everything to iMovie, and often employs the program's battery of filters and effects to good, if ironic, effect.
Jobs, of course, also nourished Pixar, overseeing its development for the crucial two decades preceding its acquisition by Disney. Now that animation studio's influence is felt far and wide (its even making waves in architecture).
Just today the Times reported on the culture of "amateur iPhotography evangelists" like San Fransisco's Doctor Popular (aka Brian Roberts) who leads mobs of iPhone-sporting photographers on expeditions, posting their stuff on the Web site Instagram. Even war photographers like Teru Kuwayama, who spent time embedded with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, are now using apps like Hipstamatic to give their reportage a vintage look. "I default to taking photos with my iPhone now, and I think that's a really big shift in how photographers will act," Instagram founder Kevin Systrom told the Telegraph recently. "Smartphone cameras are improving to the point where the trade off of convenience and quality isn't such a trade off anymore."
Of course, more traditional photographers have also been given a boost by Apple products — like Richard Misrach, for instance, who gained immediate world renown when Jobs used one of his photos as the iPad's desktop image during the debut of the craze-inducing product.
As the iPad has quickly become an ubiquitous way for dealers to show off their inventory at art fairs, iPad apps like ArtBinder have started to look to cash in by offering art-business tools. No museum these days is complete without having some kind of presence in the app store (though there has been some debate about what a museum app might look like, and how useful they can be) and galleries like Pace and Gagosian have launched their own dedicated iPad apps to show off work to clients. Other enterprises have joined the fray as well, with Italy's Scala Group International launching a "CarravaggioMania" app last year — available through iTunes for $1.99 — to mark the 400th anniversary of the Counter-Reformation artist's death.
Then, of course, there are the many attempts to make artsy iPhone apps. An "Art Hack Weekend" at Eyebeam recently even saw the creation of an iPhone application that encouraged you to test the device's limit, with a score system based on how high you could drop your iPhone without breaking it. Other artists use the format of iPhone apps as a self-contained medium, making the platform the basis for story-telling (as in the case of Andreas Müller and Nanika's "For All Seasons"), sound-creation (Zach Gage's "SynthPond"), or abstract color battles (Rafaël Rozendaal's "Finger Battle").
The iPod mp3 player was arguably the invention that took Apple from boutique underdog to world-dominating powerhouse, and it very quickly infiltrated the museum milieu, becoming an easy vehicle to deliver audio content. The device also launched the concept of the "podcast" into the popular vernacular, and very quickly art-world tricksters began to subvert the museum tour guide experience with their own unofficial audio guides to museums. Back in 2005, Randy Kennedy reported on the vogue for creating alternative art tours, specifically David Gilbert's "Art Mob" experiment, which asked users to think about Jackson Pollock sexually (among other things) in an iPod-based attempt to "remix MoMA."
The iPad interface has a seductively tactile quality for artists — and the art world's most famous Apple evangelist, David Hockney, leapt onto the bandwagon (he'd been making works on his iPhone since 2008), making a variety of his lush works using the Brushes app. A show of Hockney's flower works was seen at the Pierre Berge-Yves St. Laurent Foundation in Paris last year.
That's one example, but if there's a doubt that the iPad platform is going to have an effect on how figurative art is thought about more generally, then recall that both Hockney and Jorge Colombo have done New Yorker covers on the gizmo. Colombo told the New York Times that the device was even preferable that using conventional drawing materials, since it provided "a set of tools that anybody can have easily in their pocket."
Finally, Apple's focus on design has churned out products so seductive that they have provided inevitable inspiration for artists (ARTINFO has covered this beat before). These range from Russian duo Electroboutique's heinous "3G International" — an homage to Tatlin's "Monument to the Third International" that appears to be made out of a giant, snaking iPhone — to different artworks made by smashing or destroying Apple products from the likes of Erik Isaac and Michael Tompert. Oh, and of course, let's not forget the $189,000 gold-and-diamond iPad skin put out by "luxury doodad emporium" Stuart Hughes last year.
The iPhone has also brought into being a vogue for virtual sculpture with the rise of augmented reality applications. Using their phone as a frame, users can explore digital art embedded into reality. Some artists have even created a virtual representation of the Twin Towers, used to tell the stories of 9/11.
Strangely, Steve Jobs's signature outfit of a basic black turtleneck and jeans has had less of an impact on the fashion world. Perhaps this just gives him new aesthetic arenas to conquer, since he has had such a wide impact on almost everything else.