One of the things that has struck me in reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Job’s is how much Job’s saw himself as an artist. These artistic impulses help explain a lot about Job’s personality, but also the design of his products. He cared deeply for simple, integrated elegance. Bill Gates and others criticized Jobs for making Apple computers closed systems and “robbing people of choice,” as some might say. But how many artists do collaborative projects? Once you have a finished work of art, it’s finished. No artist would allow someone else to add a few brushstrokes here and there.
Some like Apple, and some don’t. But I don’t think anyone could deny that Job’s largely successful attempt to integrate art and technology is a big reason for Apple’s success. Western culture is starved for this integration, and while the cult status Apple enjoys among some devotees unnerves many, we should realize that Apple products tap into a deep need we have to make our lives a unified whole.
When teaching Descartes I discovered that for much of his work he made his own accompanying drawings. As far as I know, we have yet to see someone like him, one who combines art, science, and math to such a degree.*
I don’t agree with Descartes’ worldview, but when I see his art part of me wishes I could.
* I recently realized with delight that the great 20th century physicist Richard Fenyman took art lessons with a friend to help him communicate the emotion of scientific ideas. But he doesn’t come close to Descartes in my book. His drawing of people are pretty good, but he couldn’t get the same touch with his famous diagrams. Looking at Descartes’ drawings, I almost get the sense of what he was trying to say. I have absolutely no idea what Fenyman tried to communicate with his famous diagrams. . .