This has become one of the more quoted sayings of the late Steve Jobs: he wanted Apple and its products to exist at the intersection of technology and what he termed, alternatively, the “humanities” or “the liberal arts.”
What does this mean?
Toward the end of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs is quoted as observing:
The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation. I think great artists and great engineers are similar, in that they both have a desire to express themselves. In fact some of the best people working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side. In the seventies computers became a way for people to express their creativity. Great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were also great at science. Michelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a sculptor.
There’s a lot to think about in these interesting remarks.
First of all, what sense of “art” does Jobs have in mind? Self-expression? If so, does modern digital technology especially lend itself to art conceived as self-expression (as opposed to art conceived as an imitation of nature)?
Jobs clearly doesn’t have a precise idea of the “liberal arts,” confusing them indifferently with “art” and “creativity” and “humanity.” But what if one reads his remarks with a more robust idea of the liberal arts in mind (i.e., one stemming out of the medieval Christian intellectual tradition)? How would the liberal arts conceived in that way relate to contemporary digital technology?
In other words, in what ways, if any, does digital technology successfully reflect the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (the traditional objects of the liberal arts)?
I’d appreciate your thoughts…
Meanwhile, for my own humble attempt to bring digital technology into conversation with art, see here.