What is systems art?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Minimalism became a popular art form in the 1960s. A kind of abstract art, this art movement would be quite popular for the next several decades. The abstract art movement disdained "relational and subjective painting." Instead, the artists who practiced this type of art claimed that all emotions could be expressed through minimalism.

The term Systematic art was coined by Lawrence Alloway in 1966 as a description of the method artists, such as Kenneth Noland, Al Held and Frank Stella, were using for composing abstract paintings.

Specifically, systems art is a conceptual art based on cybernetics and systems theory, which of course are based on the natural and social systems found everywhere around us.

Systems art is abstract art which uses "very simple standardized forms" to create patterned art. This often consisted of geometric shapes repeated in a system or standing alone as a single image. Instead of drawing inspiration from the natural environment, systems art relies on the artist's observations of the shapes he sees and the relationships between them. In short, he paints or creates the basic elements of the system from which everything else is built. 

While some might consider systems art to be impersonal and cold, those who appreciate this style claim that while it may be anonymous in nature, it does reflect the aesthetics of the artist who painted it. He chose the shapes, the colors, and how to best represent that shape on canvas. 

Systems art also became a popular form of sculpture in the '60s and '70s. In the case of these sculptures, sequences of shapes were even more pronounced. Repeated geometrical shapes were important, and the effect was achieved by the strategic placement of shapes and voids, creating complex patterns or systems. 
 
Systems art was closely connected to process art (which is what Jackson Pollock was best known for), systemic art, and systems aesthetics. 
 

 

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