Pixar, technology, and the arts

artsscienceImage: Khairul Sabirin / Adrian Grosu at Picfair.com

I just finished listening to the audiobook of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. Predictably, I’ve emerged from it with a renewed awe of both Jobs and Apple. But perhaps the parts I most enjoyed were the chapters on Pixar.

The intersection of science and the arts was a constant touchstone in Jobs’s life, perhaps never more so than during his years guiding Pixar from a niche, outlying division of Lucasfilm to an entertainment goliath that eventually sold to Disney for $7.2 billion.

After he invested $10 million of his own money to buy a controlling share of the company in 1986, Isaacson explains why Jobs and Pixar were such a philosophically perfect match:

Jobs had always appreciated the virtue of integrating hardware and software, which is what Pixar did with its Image Computer and rendering software. It also produced creative content, such as animated films and graphics. All three elements benefitted from Jobs’s combination of artistic creativity and technological geekiness. “Silicon Valley folks don’t really respect Hollywood creative types, and the Hollywood folks think that tech folks are the people you hire and never have to meet,” Jobs later said. “Pixar was the one place where both cultures were respected.”

The quote really struck me. Jobs and Pixar understood the crucial, almost imperative, symbiosis of technology and the arts … in 1986. 27 years later, there are plenty of artistic industries that, it’s easy to argue, still don’t totally get it.

While technology may have radically transformed visible face of the arts, it rarely appears at its creative geneses. Across the board – in the media, in publishing, in the art world, in fashion, in design – ‘the techies’ are still too frequently found in the the downstairs world of ‘production’, as ‘the artists’, upstairs, create. This, as Jobs would have noted, is shit.

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