Art and technology: two halves of (an) Apple
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing” – Steve Jobs
From the Silicon Valley under thatched roofs
This brand probably needs no introduction to anyone today. Apple Inc., founded in 1976 in California by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, is now a giant in the electronics and software market. From the beginning, the company’s designers were distinguished by innovation, but also by focus on high quality and aesthetics of products. Jobs quickly realized that the computer must become a commonly used product – not only by computer geeks, but above all by average, non-specialized users. In the 1970s, only scientists and amateur enthusiasts were able to handle this kind of new technology. Computers were usually “assemblies”, and operating systems, that is the main software controlling the whole, unintuitive and too difficult to use for a layman. It was simplicity that became Steve Jobs’ idée fix – the recipient was to receive a product that was fully ready for use, with which there was no need to do anything else. No connection, no combination, no installation of additional devices or fussing over drivers – configuration has been kept to a minimum.
From the very beginning, the design of Apple products is characterized by strict minimalism with aesthetic perfectionism. In 1984, when the company introduced the first Macintosh to the market, it was surprisingly found that the computer could also be just… beautiful. This is still the case today. Apple devices – computers, smartphones and smaller gadgets – are known primarily for their intuitive operation, functionality and great design. With each new iPhone model launched, sales are breaking new records, and their releases have become a headline event – even broadcast live in mainstream media around the world.
Technology meets (pop) culture
Among the competition from the electronics industry, Apple has always stood out for its creativity and unconventional actions. As one of the first technology companies it started cooperation with the artistic community. Already in 1984, on the occasion of the premiere of the aforementioned Macintosh, the brand astonished America with an advertisement for its product made by Ridley Scott – today the iconic director of science-fiction films, then already known from Alien or Blade Runner. The short film features a dystopian setting straight from George Orwell’s 1984 novel, in which a female warrior destroys the image of Big Brother with a hammer. The reference to the classics of literature and cinema is obvious in the campaign.
Apparently, this procedure was a symbolic throw from the pedestal and break the dominance of IBM on the American market. Apple’s product was therefore to be a ticket to the “alternative” world of free, original and creative people. From today’s perspective, however, it can be said that the Macintosh ad was prophetic in its own way. Has Apple predicted its market dominance? Who even remembers IBM in 2020s? And don’t we have a new Big Brother today…? The moment of the first presentation of the advertisement, which appeared during the Super Bowl games, i.e. the most-watched finals of the American football championship, was also important. Today, the advertising block during the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon itself – and it was started by Apple’s famous Hollywood campaign in the 1980s.
A new dimension of experience
From the already distant 1980s, let’s move to the present day. Today, personal computers are no longer Apple’s primary product – they have been replaced by smartphones packed with newer and newer functions. In 2019, the brand started cooperation with art stars by creating a completely new experimental initiative: the [AR]T mobile application. Its name plays with the “art” and AR for “augmented reality”. In partnership with New York’s New Museum – one of the world’s leading contemporary art institutions – Apple has invited seven artists to create new artworks in the world of augmented reality. The chosen ones include Nick Cave, the duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and, perhaps the most famous in this group, Pipilotti Rist. Interestingly, none of them have worked in AR technologies before, but looking at the effects of their actions, you can say that they rose to the occasion. The project gave iPhone users the opportunity to view the artworks, during their city walks with the app, digitally placed within the urban space of Hong Kong, London, New York, San Francisco or Tokyo. And so suddenly, in the middle of the city, we could come across gradient Cave symbols falling from the sky or colorful, flowing lines, crossing the skyscrapers, designed by Rist. Of course, the local iStore was the starting point for these site-specific (or maybe: Apple-specific?) city tours. The whole project became the subject of a documentary under the meaningful title Infinite Canvas, which can be viewed on the official Apple TV website.
Shot with iPhone ™
However, this is not the end of the brand’s artistic experiments. In the spring of 2020, Apple invited the Russian director Axinya Gog to present the new iPhone 11 Pro. The artist, despite her young age, has proved herself to be a versatile director who feels good both in artistic cinema and in advertising spots. Gog and her team, using only a smartphone camera, created a video of a walk through the impressive collection of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg – one of the most important art museums in the world. Its collections include such gems of world painting as images of Madonna by Raphael, da Vinci and other Renaissance masters, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, or Matisse’s Dance.
A visit to the museum shot with an iPhone camera? Perhaps that doesn’t sound very impressive. However, when we find out that the production is 5 hours and 19 minutes long, and the whole thing was shot in one shot (without charging the phone during the course!), without any graphic corrections or editing, the project is much more impressive. The camera seems to float around the museum halls and corridors, thanks to which the viewer can slowly watch sculptures, paintings, the play of lights in the interiors or unhurried visitors. The impact of works of old and modern art from the Hermitage collection is complemented by classical music and a recording of live performances in gallery halls. The film’s release in March, at the start of the pandemic lockdown in Europe and America, preceded a global boom in transferring culture to the virtual world. Perhaps the artistic look at the museum interiors of Axinya Gog and Apple inspired some institutions to unconventionally present their collections online?
This is not the first brand’s collaboration of this type with the art world – although it is definitely the most spectacular. Five years ago, the brand launched the Start Something New campaign, in which eleven artists, filmmakers and photographers from all over the world took part. What they have in common is that they use Apple products and applications in their work. The works they created, presented in iStores or on the company’s social channels, were to inspire „average” users of products with a fruit logo and prove that you don’t need specialized equipment or academic education to develop your creativity and, even for a moment, become an artist.
It turns out, therefore, that Apple’s philosophy is based not only on deriving values from the world of art, but also on passing them on to its recipients. Although the global Corporation certainly has its issues, undoubtedly innovation and, in line with Jobs’ motto, drawing on the spectrum of humanities, makes Apple stand out from the industry competition.