26 Oct 2010 /

systems esthetics

By jack burnham

In 1968 the artist and critic Jack Burnham claimed that a growing interest in systems by artists, writers and creators in general would lead to a shift of aesthetic paradigm from the object to the system. In 1970, he curated a seminal exhibition 'Software, Information Technology: ts new meaning for art', at the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibition explicitly used the term 'software' as a metaphor for ideas, processes and systems, as opposed to the 'hardware' of traditional object-based practices.

Jack Burnham’s work emerged at a time when the field of digital computing and the conception of the Internet were in early stages of development. In particular, Burnham’s essays “System Esthetics” (1968) and “Real Time Systems” (1969) used informational systems as a metaphor to describe technological culture and the changing role of the artist within the art system.

Originally published in Artforum 7, no. 1 (September 1968), pp. 30–35

"The systems approach goes beyond a concern with staged environments and happenings; it deals in a revolutionary fashion with the larger problem of boundary concepts. In systems perspective there are no contrived confines such
as the theater proscenium or picture frame. Conceptual focus rather than material limits define the system. Thus any situation, either in or outside the context of art, may be designed and judged as a system.


In evaluating systems the artist is a perspectivist considering goals, boundaries, structure, input, output, and related activity inside and outside the system. Where the object almost always has a fixed shape and boundaries, the consistency of a system may be altered in time and space, its behavior determined both by external conditions and its mechanisms of control."

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