Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has a new exhibition dedicated to what it believes falls under the category of “American Cool.” Headlining the gallery are iconic “cool” figures like Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and none other than Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
The Washington Post writer Philip Kennicott describes the criteria curators Joel Dinerstein and Frank H. Goodyear III laid out for their definition of what it means to be cool.
First, they must have made an original artistic contribution, with a signature style; second, they must have in some way been rebellious or transgressive; third, they must have iconic status; and fourth, they must have left a significant cultural legacy. But even those parameters can’t contain the many things we think are definitional about the cool, the aura of mystery, the stoical indifference to criticism, the attitude of self- possession, and seemingly superficial yet important questions of dress and personal style.
Jobs finds himself labeled as “geek cool” in the final portion of the exhibition, “The Legacies of Cool: 1980-present.” Alongside him are Tony Hawk, Willie Nelson, David Byrne and Jon Stewart. We’ve come a long way from Fredrick Douglass and Humphrey Bogart, I suppose.
The exhibition runs until Sept. 7, so be sure to check it out. You might even learn a little bit of what it means to be “cool.”