Looking into systems aesthetics, @rarar suggested that we might look into Jack Burnham.
In his articles “Systems Esthetics” (1968) and “Real Time Systems” (1969), Burnham already explored a systems approach to art: “A systems viewpoint is focused on the creation of stable, ongoing relationships between organic and non-organic systems”.
- Jack Burnham | 2022 | Monoskop at https://monoskop.org/Jack_Burnham (Biographical note based on Edward A. Shanken, “The House That Jack Built”, Leonardo Electronic Almanac 6:10 (Nov 1998).)
Writing for an audience of artists, Burnham (1968) wrote:
A systems viewpoint is focused on the creation of stable, on-going relationships between organic and non-organic systems, be these neighborhoods, industrial complexes, farms, transportation systems, information centers, recreation centers, or any of the other matrixes of human activity. All living situations must be treated in the context of a systems hierarchy of values. Intuitively many artists have already grasped these relatively recent distinctions, and if their “environments” are on the unsophisticated side, this will change with time and experience. [p. 31]
Hmmm … I wonder about the “systems hierarchy of values”.
Burnham seems to have been attracted by the pursuit of a general theory of systems by Ludwig von Bertalanffy.
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. Inasmuch as a system may contain people, ideas, messages, atmospheric conditions, power sources, etc., a system is, to quote the systems biologist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a “complex of components in interaction,” 6 comprised of material, energy, and information in various degrees of organization. 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.
- 6 Bertalanlly. Ludwig von (1967) Robots, Men and Minds (New York: George Braziller Inc.) p. 69
Hmmm … On “material, energy and information”, and on “goals, boundaries, structure, input, output …”. This puts us into the earliest views on systems thinking. The founders in the systems sciences were active in the 1970s, see " Genealogy of Systems Thinking | Debora Hammond | 2002 .
The von Bertanlaffy orientation towards living systems was not well-developed in the 1960s.
By the fact that most systems move or are in some way dynamic, kinetic art should be one of the more radical alternatives to the prevailing formalist esthetic. Yet this has hardly been the case. [p. 35]
A living system that isn’t moving may not be alive. However, there are systems that move that are not living.
I still don’t know where the system hierarchy comes from … and there’s more detail as “control, interaction and autonomy”
Systems exist as on-going independent entities away from the viewer. In the systems hierarchy of control, interaction and autonomy become desirable values. In this respect Haacke’s Photo-Electric Viewer Programmed Coordinate System is probably one of the most elegant responsive environments made to date by an artist (certainly more sophisticated ones have been conceived for scientific and technical purposes). Boundary situations are central to his thinking. [p. 35]
As we look into systems aesthetics, we should look towards updating our understanding of systems.