Steve Jobs and religious art

October 7 2011

I don’t think Steve Jobs’s aim was to build a personality cult around himself or even a cult around his products. He did give credit to his colleagues. And:

“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

The respect people gave him wasn’t cultish.

“In a world of second-rate products [of corner-cutting], where people only care about the bottom line, where excellence is for pussies, I revere Steve Jobs and Apple”: Bob Lefsetz in 2009, expressing what most people felt.

Some of the post-mortem journalism has been silly. Not anything by Walt Mossberg, the Common User, who talks plain English, like Jobs. Mossberg’s piece on the Jobs he knew is here.

Bryan Appleyard on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday:

“[Jobs] had an almost spiritual sense of his products, he believed in them being well designed in areas you couldn’t see [ie the inside and the back]. He thought design ran through the whole product.”

The spiritual analogy holds water.

Graham Carey, Catholic Art Quarterly, Easter 1955, about a bronze crucifix by Jean Lambert-Rucki:

“The back is left with the unfinish of commercial callousness. What does not show does not matter.”

I’m sure that the makers of icons in Orthodox Christianity paid attention to the wood that that they were about to treat and paint.

Why these things mattered in Christian art is explained by Carey and has of course nothing exactly to do with what motivated Jobs. But Appleyard’s “almost spiritual” is a valid analogy.


“If [Lambert-Rucki’s crucifix] were the idea [my italics: as distinct from the representation] of Christ in a body of bronze, that body would have been finished in those parts that do not appear as well as in those that do. The nails would have been real bronze nails, and the attachment of the corpus by them would have been a real attachment. This would have been quite easy. But no. The nails are nails of appearance only, heads without any function other than visual effect. The real attachments are two rough iron pins, one in the left heel and one in the back.”

I don’t want to drive this point too hard, or be sent into pseuds’ corner, but Jonathan Ive would understand, in secular design terms, what that passage meant.


Most of what Jobs said was memorable. He didn’t speak corporate jargon. Even on the Beatles: “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other”, and from his challenge to Sculley: did he want to “sell sugar water for the rest of [his] life or come with me and change the world?” to his Stanford commencement speech.

Substance and concision are the mark of a mind. Jobs always showed them. So is a certain simplicity, which he had. Mossberg doesn’t glorify him and mentions his “nasty, mercurial side”.

Jobs was blessed by the counter-culture of the ’60s although born too late to be part of it.

The long early Playboy interview, published in February 1985, a few months before he was fired from Apple (beginning his dreaded computer dark ages, but a seminal period for him), is interesting.

“We’re living in the wake of the petrochemical revolution of 100 years ago. The petrochemical revolution gave us free energy – free mechanical energy, in this case. It changed the texture of society in most ways. This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but of another kind: free intellectual energy. It’s very crude today, yet our Macintosh computer takes less power than a 100-watt lightbulb to run and it can save you hours a day. What will it be able to do ten or 20 years from now, or 50 years from now? This revolution will dwarf the petrochemical revolution.”

My favourite Jobs moment is this, from 1996, I assume after Apple had announced that it would buy NeXT, but certainly before Apple’s rapprochement with Microsoft, which happened in the following year (how irrelevant that seems now):

Admittedly, there is a slight non-sequitur at the end of Jobs’s statement.

13 Responses to “Steve Jobs and religious art”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    “Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

    That is profoundly true, for spiritual and well as practical challenges.

    Jobs 1985-97: a classic Toynbeean withdrawal-and-return.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    The comparison with Ford is possibly more valid than the one with Edison. Vaclav Smil in The American:

    When you look at Ballmer – who has been Microsoft’s CEO for over ten years – it seems unsurprising that Microsoft’s innovations in the areas where they compete with Apple have been so unremarkable.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Google have no taste either.

  4. davidderrick Says:

    I am not tempted to read the book, given Issacson’s extremely pedestrian Time-magazine writing. Though he seems like a nice chap.

    The typography is undistinguished and the paper, in the UK edition, lousy, but UK production standards have sunk so low that nobody will notice.

    The book should have divided itself naturally into four parts: 1955-76, 1976-85, 1985-97, 1997-2011. September 16 1997 is the day we should all have bought Apple shares.

  5. davidderrick Says:

    Mona Simpson’s eulogy:

    He never lost the sparkle in his eye. Because he didn’t have chemotherapy.

  6. davidderrick Says:

    Quoted in Isaacson:

    “When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.”

  7. […] Here is one person’s take. […]

  8. davidderrick Says:

    The peak of Apple coincided almost astronomically with the death of Jobs.

  9. davidderrick Says:

    But in the age of Chromebooks, is it in danger of becoming a Bang & Olufsen?

  10. davidderrick Says:

    Ive on Charlie Rose:

  11. davidderrick Says:

    If you’re civilised, you care anyway about what you don’t see, and that will apply to everything: “out of sight, out of mind” is no frame of mind for ecologically-aware man to be in.

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