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What Is Systems Art?

Systems Art is an innovative movement where artists create works based on complex systems, often highlighting the interplay between order and chaos. It's a fascinating blend of art, science, and technology that challenges our perceptions. By exploring patterns, networks, and algorithms, Systems Art offers a unique lens through which we can view the world. Ready to delve deeper into this intricate art form?
Debra Barnhart
Debra Barnhart

Broadly defined, Systems Art is any type of art in which the creator takes a methodical, systematic approach to making an artwork. Partially based on cybernetics, or the study of natural, social and mechanized organizations, Systems Art demands that the artist use preset and sometimes automated methods to create an artwork. Video game art and algorithmic art are examples of this type of art. The Systems Art movement began in the 1960s and is so broad that almost any type of art using a methodical approach can qualify as systems art, including conceptual art.

Video game art may be the epitome of using a system to create art. Many visual artists have gotten creative inspiration from the technology and concepts of video games. They operate on a set logic in which a particular outcome can lead to an event or series of events. Either by modifying these games or by writing their own code, video game artists express a variety of different ideas about society and life in general. These works are displayed as installations in museums or are available to the public online.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Another form of Systems Art is algorithmic art, in which the artist uses a set of calculations and a computer to methodically generate a work of art. Oftentimes the artist will introduce a random element into the algorithm so that the image changes to produce different results. Digital artists who create art based on algorisms are known as algorists.

Artists began making systems art in the 1960s and 1970s. MOMA Poll, created in 1970 by the artist Hans Haacke, is an example of a more conceptual type of Systems Art. Haacke questioned over 25,000 people about their reaction to New York Governor Rockefeller’s failure to confront President Nixon about his policy in Vietnam. The poll results were displayed in a show entitled Information at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). By referencing the voting process in the US, Haacke was clearly making a statement about social systems.

Besides exemplifying an obvious concern with systems, MOMA Poll also demonstrates several other tenets of this art movement. Impacting society through art is another key concept, and there is no doubt that Haacke’s piece induced a great deal of reflection on the part of participants as well as viewers. In addition, the Systems Art movement rejects the idea of an artwork as a precious, rarefied object. No doubt, some viewers of Haacke’s piece were asking, “Where’s the art?”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Systems Art and how does it differ from other art forms?

Systems Art is an artistic movement that emerged in the late 1960s, focusing on the use of systems and processes as the basis for creating art. Unlike traditional art forms that may emphasize the final aesthetic product, Systems Art is concerned with the process and methodology behind the creation. Artists working within this framework often employ logical, mathematical, or algorithmic processes to generate their work, which can include a variety of mediums such as installations, sculptures, or paintings. The emphasis is on the system governing the creation rather than the subjective hand of the artist.

Can you give examples of artists known for their work in Systems Art?

Notable artists associated with Systems Art include Sol LeWitt, known for his wall drawings and structures based on predefined guidelines, and Hans Haacke, whose work often explores systems of political and economic power. Another example is Frank Stella, whose minimalist paintings follow a systematic approach to form and color. These artists exemplify the movement's focus on conceptual frameworks over traditional aesthetics.

How does Systems Art interact with technology and science?

Systems Art is intrinsically linked to technology and science, as it often incorporates technological tools and scientific methodologies. Artists may use computer programming, data visualization, and even robotics to create their pieces. The art form is a bridge between the creative and analytical worlds, reflecting on how systematic thinking and technological advancements influence our perception and interaction with art. For instance, Manfred Mohr has utilized computer algorithms to create geometric shapes and patterns that challenge the viewer's understanding of space and structure.

What impact has Systems Art had on contemporary art?

Systems Art has had a significant impact on contemporary art by challenging the notion of the artist as the sole creator of meaning. It has paved the way for conceptual art and has influenced various movements that prioritize ideas over traditional craftsmanship. The approach has also been instrumental in the development of digital and generative art, where algorithms and coding become central to the artistic process. Systems Art's legacy is evident in the way contemporary artists integrate interdisciplinary methods and explore the relationship between art, technology, and society.

Are there any notable exhibitions or collections that feature Systems Art?

Major museums and galleries around the world have featured Systems Art in their collections and exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has held exhibitions showcasing the work of Systems artists like Sol LeWitt. Additionally, the Tate Modern in London has included Systems Art in its displays, offering viewers a chance to engage with the movement's key pieces and concepts. These institutions help to contextualize Systems Art within the broader narrative of art history and its ongoing influence.

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      Woman painting