Systems art

Systems art is art influenced by systems theory, which reflects on natural systems, social systems and social signs of the art world itself. [ [ Systems art] , Dutch Art & Architecture Thesaurus, retrieved March 2008.] Systems art emerged as part of the first wave of the conceptual art movement extended in the 1960s and 1970s. Closely related and overlapping terms are "Anti-form movement", "Cybernetic art", "Generative Systems", "Process art", "Systems aesthetic", "Systemic art", "Systemic painting" and "Systems sculptures".


In systems art the concept and ideas of process related systems and systems theory are involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic object related and material concerns. Systems art is named by Jack Burnham in the 1968 Artforum article "Real Systems Art". Burnham had investigated the effects of science and technology on the sculpture of this century. He saw a dramatic contrast between the handling of the place-oriented "object sculpture" and the extreme mobility of Systems sculpture. [Jack Burnham (1968), "Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century", G. Braziller, p.32.] This systems art operates according to Thomas McEvilley by "transferring an object or site from one semantic system to another; it, like so much else, derives ultimately from Duchamp, in this case from his example of transferring everyday objects into the semantic system of art". [ Thomas McEvilley (1999), "Sculpture in the Age of Doubt", p.91. Allworth Communications Inc. ISBN 1581150237]

Two years earlier in 1966 Lawrence Alloway had initiated an influential exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum called Systemic Painting. Alloway explained that Anatol Rapoport had used the word "systemic" in opposition to "strategic", and Joseph H. Greenberg used "systemic" to mean "having to do with the formulation and discovery of rules" in "actually existing sign systems". That part of linguistics however that calls on psychology and the social sciences, he refers to as "pragmatic." In line with these usages, Alloways attempt was to provide a general theory, within objective limits of the uses of systems. Lawrence Alloway, "Systemic Painting", in: "Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology", by Gregory Battcock (1995). p.19.]

Systems art emerged as part of the first wave of the conceptual art movement extended in the 1960s and 1970s. By then early "concept" artists like Henry Flynt, Robert Morris, Adrian Piper, and Ray Johnson influenced the later, widely-accepted movement of conceptual artists like Dan Graham and Douglas Huebler and systems art artists like Richard Allen, Roy Ascott, John Ernest, Hans Haacke, Kenneth Noland and the writer Jack Burnham.

Beside these developments in art in science the sociologist Niklas Luhmann approached art as a system en developed this into his theory about "art as a system" en his theory about dynamical social systems. [ Kitty Zijlmans (2007), "Systems-Theory, Art, and Globalisation", en Robert Linsley (2007), "From Social Frames to Knowledge Planes", Systems Art Symbosium Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2007.]

Related fields of systems art

Anti-form movement

By the early 1960s Minimalism emerged as an abstract movement in art (with roots in geometric abstraction via Malevich, the Bauhaus and Mondrian) which rejected the idea of relational, and subjective painting, the complexity of Abstract expressionist surfaces, and the emotional zeitgeist and polemics present in the arena of Action painting. Minimalism argued that extreme simplicity could capture all of the sublime representation needed in art.

Associated with painters such as Frank Stella, minimalism in painting, as opposed to other areas, is a modernist movement. Depending on the context, minimalism might be construed as a precursor to the postmodern movement. Seen from the perspective of writers who sometimes classify it as a postmodern movement, early minimalism began and succeeded as a modernist movement to yield advanced works, but which partially abandoned this project when a few artists changed direction in favor of the anti-form movement.

In the late 1960s the term Postminimalism was coined by Robert Pincus-Witten ["Movers and Shakers, New York", "Leaving C&M", by Sarah Douglas, Art+Auction, March 2007, V.XXXNo7.] to describe minimalist derived art which had content and contextual overtones which minimalism rejected, and was applied to the work of Eva Hesse, Keith Sonnier, Richard Serra and new work by former minimalists Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, and Sol Lewitt, and Barry Le Va, and others. Minimalists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, John McCracken and others continued to produce their late modernist paintings and sculpture for the remainder of their careers.

Cybernetic art

Audio feedback and the use of tape loops, sound synthesis and computer generated compositions reflected a cybernetic awareness of information, systems and cycles. Such techniques became widespread in the 1960s in the music industry. The visual effects of electronic feedback became a focus of artistic research in the late 1960s, when video equipment first reached the consumer market. Steina and Woody Vasulka for example used all manners and combinations of audio and video signals to generate electronic feedback in their respective of corresponding media.Roy Ascott (2007), "Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness", University of California, ISBN 0520222946.]

With related work by Edward Ihnatowitch, Tsai Wen-Ying and cybernetician Gordon Pask and the animist kinetics of Robert Breer and Jean Tinguely, the 1960s produced a strain of cyborg art that was very much concerned with the shared circuits within and between the living and the technological. A line of cyborg art theory also emerged during the late 1960s. Writers like Jonathan Benthall and Gene Youngblood drew on cybernetics and cybernetic. The most substantial contributor here was the American critic and theorist Jack Burnham. In "Beyond Modern Sculpture" from 1968 he builds cybernetic art into an expensive theory that centers on art's drive to imitate and ultimately reproduce life. [Mitchell Whitelaw (2004), "Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life", MIT Press, ISBN 0262232340 p.17-18.]

Generative systems

Generative art is art that has been generated, composed, or constructed in an algorithmic manner through the use of systems defined by computer software algorithms, or similar mathematical or mechanical or randomised autonomous processes. Generative Systems was a program established at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970 in response to social change brought about in part by the computer-robot communications revolution. Sonia Landy Sheridan, "Generative Systems versus Copy Art: A Clarification of Terms and Ideas", in: "Leonardo", Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 103-108. doi:10.2307/1574794] The program, which brought artists and scientists together, was an effort at turning the artist's passive role into an active one by promoting the investigation of contemporary scientific--technological systems and their relationship to art and life. Unlike copier art, which was a simple commercial spin-off, Generative Systems was actually involved in the development of elegant yet simple systems intended for creative use by the general population. Generative Systems artists attempted to bridge the gap between elite and novice by directing the line of communication between the two, thus bringing first generation information to greater numbers of people and bypassing the entrepreneur.

Process art

Process art is an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment and world view where the end product of "art" and "craft", the "", is not the principal focus. The 'process' in process art refers to the process of the formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, and patterning. Process art is concerned with the actual "doing"; art as a rite, ritual, and performance. Process art often entails an inherent motivation, rationale, and intentionality. Therefore, art is viewed as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or end product.

In the artistic discourse the work of Jackson Pollock is hailed as an antecedent. Process art in its employment of serendipity has a marked correspondence with Dada. Change and transience are marked themes in the process art movement. The Guggenheim Museum states that Robert Morris in 1968 had a groundbreaking exhibition and essay defining the movement and the Museum Website states as "Process artists were involved in issues attendant to the body, random occurrences, improvisation, and the liberating qualities of nontraditional materials such as wax, felt, and latex. Using these, they created eccentric forms in erratic or irregular arrangements produced by actions such as cutting, hanging, and dropping, or organic processes such as growth, condensation, freezing, or decomposition". [Source: (accessed: Thursday, March 15, 2007)]

Systemic art

Earlier in 1966 the British art critic Lawrence Alloway had coined the term "Systemic art", to describe a type of abstract art characterized by the use of very simple standardized forms, usually geometric in character, either in a single concentrated image or repeated in a system arranged according to a clearly visible principle of organization. He considered the chevron paintings of Kenneth Noland as examples of Systemic art, and considered this as as a branch of Minimal art. ["Systemic art." The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Ed. Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 2004. 2006. 19 Mar, 2008 [ systemic-art] ]

John G. Harries considered a common ground in the ideas that underlie developments in 20th century art such as Serial art, Systems Art, Constructivism and Kinetic art. These kind of arts often do not stem directly from observations of things visible in the external natural environment, but from the observation of depicted shapes and of the relationship between them.John G. Harries, "Personal Computers and Notated Visual Art", in: "Leonardo", Vol. 14, No. 4 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 299-301.] Systems art, according to Harries, represents a deliberate attempt by artists to develop a more flexible frame of reference. A style in which its frame of reference is taken as a model to be emulated rather than as a cognitive systems, that only leads to the institutionalization of the imposed model. But to transfer the meaning of a picture to its location within a systemic structure does not remove the need to define the constitutive elements of the system: if they are not defined, one will not know how to build the system.

Systemic painting

Systemic Painting was the title of an highly influential exhibition [Michael Auping (1989), "Abstraction, Geometry, Painting: Selected Geometric Abstract Painting", Albright-Knox Art Gallery, page 72.] at the Guggenheim Museum in 1966 assembled and introduction written by Lawrence Alloway as curator. The show contained numerous works that many critics today would consider part of the Minimal art. In the catalogue Alloway noted, that ... "paintings, such as those in this exhibition are not, as has been often claimed, impersonal. The personal is not expunged by using a neat technique: anonymity is not a consequence of highly finishing a painting". The term "systemic painting" later on has become the name for artists who employ systems make a number of aesthetic decisions before commencing to paint. [ John Albert Walker (1973), "Glossary of Art, Architecture, and Design Since 1945: Terms and Labels", p.197.]

Systems sculpture

According to Edmund B. Feldman in 1987 serial art, serial painting, systems sculpture and ABC art, where art styles of the 1960s and 1970s in which simple geometric configurations are repeated with little or no variation. Sequences becomes important as in mathematics and linguistic context. These works rely on simple arrangements of basic volumes and voids, mechanically produced surfaces, and algebraic permutations of form. The impact on the viewer, however, is anything but simple. [Edmund Burke Feldman (1987), "Composition (Art)", H.N. Abrams, ISBN 0139406026.]

See also

*Algorithmic art
*Dynamic Painting
*Computer art
*Conceptual art
*Evolutionary art
*Fractal art
*Information art
*Interactive art
*Media art
*Software art
*Sustainable art
*Systems thinking


Further reading

* Vladimir Bonacic (1989), "A Transcendental Concept for Cybernetic Art in the 21st Century", in: "Leonardo", Vol. 22, No. 1, Art and the New Biology: Biological Forms and Patterns (1989), pp. 109-111.
* Jack Burnham (1968), [ "Systems Esthetics"] , in: "Artforum" (September, 1968).
* Karen Cham, Jeffrey Johnson (2207), [ "Complexity Theory: A Science of Cultural Systems?"] , in: "M/C journal", Volume 10 Issue 3 Jun. 2007.
* Francis Halsall (2007), [ "Systems Aesthetics and the System as Medium"] , Systems Art Symbosium Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2007.
* Eddie Price (1974), "Systems Art: An Enquiry", City of Birmingham Polytechnic, School of Art Education, ISBN 0905017005
* Luke Skrebowski (2008), "All Systems Go: Recovering Hans Haacke's Systems Art", in "Grey Room", Winter 2008, No. 30, Pages 54-83.

External links

* [ Systems Art Symposium] , in de Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 2007.
* [ Observing 'Systems-Art' from a Systems-Theoretical Perspective] by Francis Halsall: summary of presentation on Chart 2005, 2005.
* [ Chronology of related art fields in the 1960s] : The list mentions "Systemic Painting"

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