I found out about Steve Jobs’ passing last night at a restaurant, among tech friends, on a device he helped create. It surprised me that I’d cared so deeply because, up until that point, I would not have identified myself as an Apple fangirl, or a Jobs Devotee. I use, and love, my Apple products, but I don’t worship the company blindly.
So why did it hurt so much to find out we lost a man I didn’t even know?
I was trying to understand these emotions when I saw this post on Facebook:
If there were no Steve Jobs I wouldn’t have the wife I have, the companies I had, the house I have, or be involved in technology or technology oriented arts in any way, I’m sure of it. Building computers that appealed to creative people gave many of us a path that the green screens (DOS, etc) could never have provided in our formative years. Once I saw the first Macintosh user interface and computers, all I wanted to do was make images on them, and eventually make sounds with them. I didn’t care about the rest, and mostly, I still don’t. Think what you want, but most of technology is driven by engineering thinking, which is important, but has little appeal to creative people. Thank you, Steve Jobs.
In junior high I took a computer class where I learned to program BASIC. I kind of fell into that class because it was either programming or taking a typing class, and I wasn’t interested in typing all day for no reason. I wrote a little looping program to have the computer play Turkey in the Straw. MUSIC! On a computer!
My best friend and I ate lunch in the computer lab because the lunchroom was a minefield, and we were tired of having little bits of paper stuck in our hair. It wasn’t necessarily allowed, and there was some sneaking around involved, but I think the computer teacher understood and turned a blind eye. During one of these lunch times when we played with programs, rewrote them to see what happened, then started all over again, we came up with a brilliant idea. Knowing it’d be annoying, we turned on all of the computers in the lab, set random machines to play Turkey in the Straw at random intervals, turned the monitors off, then started running the programs all at once, and ran out of the room. Like they wouldn’t know who’d done it.
Later we got computers in the Art Room. The Art Room was the happiest place in the whole school for me, because while I was a brain back when it wasn’t cool, I took art electives every time I had a chance. My friend (singular) and I stayed up late at night during weekend sleepovers making giant table-covering paper mache dragons. I remember Mrs. Foster, the art teacher, giving me a special paint brush for watercolors that was a much better brush than the one included in the Prang set. I was so honored, and so touched, and so uplifted by her belief in my skills; I still have and use that brush to this day.
Then came the art computers. I didn’t know those computers DID anything else, those Macintosh computers. And they had sixteen colors in the paint program.
I shocked myself with the fact that I could make a “painting” on the computer, and then…print it out. I could erase. Without marks.
Forget BASIC. Me and my snickers bar and Dr. Pepper would spend the rest of the lunches in jr. high in the art room.
Then came the upgrade. Millions of colors. MILLIONS. To someone who’d been working with 16 colors, millions seemed like an impossible wealth. It took my breath away. Computers were a miracle.
But I’d been told many times not to do so much art, to study hard, to get a real job. That art isn’t a real job, and would I rather be a starving artist or have money?
I knew what it was like to not have money. Boy did I. So no, that was a stupid idea, being an artist.
For many years after I wanted to come back to computer-based art, but I didn’t have a computer at home. Eventually I worked my financial way up to a PC, bought Paint Shop Pro, and continued to make computer art on the side while pursuing “real jobs”. Now I have an iPhone that is like a limb to me that I use to make Daily Monsters and Instagram shots, and a mac book that I use only for art and not “work”.
At some point in the past Macs went from being the only computer in schools to being elite artist’s machines, and for years I envied people who had them. Because they were true artist tools, like the paintbrush. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly believed an artist could make money. And I attribute a lot of that potential to Apple computers. And Pixar, the forgotten investment, another revolutionary computer art company he had a big hand in developing.
These products, that represent the things I’ve always really wanted to do with my life, are all the children of Steve Jobs. He was one of the great American entrepreneurs, a visionary who looked beyond the gray box of wires and into real human-computer interaction, and there aren’t that many out there.
He didn’t do it alone, because nobody achieves greatness alone, but he really got it. His genius helped make the things that I love a reality, and who knows how long it would have taken engineering-minded IT people to getting around to making art programs.
He’ll be missed.