When Steve Jobs Taught Andy Warhol to Make Art on the Very First Macintosh (1984)

When Andy Warhol first became famous, few knew what to make of his art. When Apple first released the Mac­in­tosh — dra­mat­i­cal­ly pro­mot­ed with that Rid­ley Scott Super Bowl com­mer­cial — few knew what to make of it either. The year was 1984, when almost nobody had seen a graph­i­cal user inter­face or even a mouse, let alone used them, and the Mac­in­tosh looked as strange and com­pelling when it entered the com­put­ing scene as Warhol did when he entered the art scene. Both seemed so casu­al­ly to repu­di­ate so many long-held assump­tions, an act that tends to star­tle and con­fuse old­er peo­ple but makes imme­di­ate sense to younger ones. What hap­pened, then, when Warhol and the Mac­in­tosh first crossed paths?

Jour­nal­ist David Sheff, who wrote an ear­ly pro­file of Steve Jobs and con­duct­ed the last in-depth inter­view with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, remem­bers it well. In Octo­ber 1984, he and Jobs attend­ed the ninth-birth­day par­ty thrown by Ono for Sean, her son with Lennon. As a present, Jobs brought along one of his com­pa­ny’s new Mac­in­tosh­es and set it up him­self in young Sean’s bed­room. “Sean took con­trol of the mouse, and rolled the small box along the floor,” Sheff writes. “Steve said, ‘Now hold the but­ton down while you move it and see what hap­pens.’ Sean did, and a thin, jagged, black line, appeared on the screen. Sean, entranced, said, ‘Cool!’ He clicked the mouse but­ton, pushed it around, and on the screen appeared shapes and lines, which he erased, and then he drew a sort of lion-camel and then a fig­ure that he said was Boy George.”

Though Boy George may not have been in atten­dance, the par­ty’s unsur­pris­ing­ly fab­u­lous guest list also includ­ed Andy Warhol (an “eccen­tric uncle” to Sean) and Kei­th Har­ing, both of whom Sheff remem­bers com­ing into the room as part of a crowd want­i­ng to catch a glimpse of Sean’s new toy. It was­n’t long before Warhol, pre­sum­ably com­pelled by the artis­tic impulse as well as by his fas­ci­na­tion for all things new, asked if he could give it a try:

Andy took Sean’s spot in front of the com­put­er and Steve showed him how to maneu­ver and click the mouse. Warhol didn’t get it; he lift­ed and waved the mouse, as if it were a conductor’s baton. Jobs gen­tly explained that the mouse worked when it was pushed along a sur­face. Warhol kept lift­ing it until Steve placed his hand on Warhol’s and guid­ed it along the floor. Final­ly Warhol began draw­ing, star­ing at the “pen­cil” as it drew on the screen.

Warhol was spell­bound – peo­ple who knew him know the way he tuned out every­thing extra­ne­ous when he was entranced by what­ev­er it was – glid­ing the mouse, eyes affixed to the mon­i­tor. Har­ing was bent over watch­ing. Andy, his eyes wide, looked up, stared at Har­ing, and said, “Look! Kei­th! I drew a cir­cle!”

In his diary, Warhol writes of enter­ing Sean’s room to find “a kid there set­ting up the Apple com­put­er that Sean had got­ten as a present, the Mac­in­tosh mod­el. I said that once some man had been call­ing me a lot want­i­ng to give me one, but that I’d nev­er called him back or some­thing, and then the kid looked up and said, ‘Yeah, that was me. I’m Steve Jobs.’ ” But Jobs, pos­sessed of as keen a pro­mo­tion­al instinct as Warhol’s own, assured him that the offer was still good, and that he would also give him a les­son in draw­ing on the Mac right then and there. “I felt so old and out of it with this young whiz guy right there who helped invent it,” writes Warhol, not­ing that “it only comes in black and white now, but they’ll make it soon in col­or.”

The Mac­in­tosh made an appear­ance in Warhol’s “Ads” series of paint­ings in 1984, the same year he also agreed, accord­ing to Art­sy’s Abi­gail Cain, “to be a spokesper­son for Apple’s rival in the per­son­al com­put­ing sphere — Com­modore. The artist was to pro­mote the company’s new com­put­er, the Ami­ga 1000, and its cut­ting-edge mul­ti­me­dia capa­bil­i­ties” that includ­ed a 4,096-color dis­play. At the machine’s launch, Warhol “used ProPaint to sketch Blondie lead singer Deb­bie Har­ry in front of a crowd of eager tech enthu­si­asts,” which you can see in the video above. Just a few years ago, the efforts of dig­i­tal artist Cory Arcan­gel and spe­cial­ists at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty recov­ered 28 long-lost dig­i­tal paint­ings Warhol made on his Ami­ga. Whether the artist ever made any­thing with or even took deliv­ery of his promised Mac, we don’t know – or at least we don’t know yet.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Short Film Takes You Inside the Recov­ery of Andy Warhol’s Lost Com­put­er Art

Andy Warhol Dig­i­tal­ly Paints Deb­bie Har­ry with the Ami­ga 1000 Com­put­er (1985)

Apple’s Guid­ed Tour to Using the First Mac­in­tosh (1984)

Dis­cov­er the Lost Ear­ly Com­put­er Art of Telidon, Canada’s TV Pro­to-Inter­net from the 1970s

Japan­ese Com­put­er Artist Makes “Dig­i­tal Mon­dri­ans” in 1964: When Giant Main­frame Com­put­ers Were First Used to Cre­ate Art

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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