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  • Computer Graphic-Aesthetic Experiments between Two Cultures
  • Christoph Klütsch (bio)

The author presents a summary of his research on the Stuttgart School and information aesthetics as developed by Max Bense in the 1950s and 1960s. Three artists, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees and Manfred Mohr, adopted the use of information aesthetics in computer graphics. The author investigates the relation between artistic practice and aesthetic theory.

In looking back to the beginnings of computer graphics in the mid-1960s, two main theoretical frameworks must be considered: C.P. Snow's widely discussed "two cultures" thesis and that of the new information aesthetics.

Max Bense developed information aesthetics between 1954 and 1965. He used Hegel as a starting point, seeing art as both a historical and an epistemic process. Bense defined the aesthetic object as a material carrier connected to "co-materiality" (Mitrealität), thus understanding the object as a sign. In the early phase of his thought, he relied upon Charles Morris's sign theory, shifting in the 1960s to Pierceian sign theory. By understanding aesthetic objects as signs, Bense framed them within Shannon's purely technical communication theory, which he attempted to adapt to human communication. As a link between the two notions of communication, he interposed Norbert Wiener's cybernetics, which he understood as a model for the process of art production, consumption and criticism. Within this theoretical frame, Bense aimed to create a rational aesthetics, freed from subjective speculation and grounded upon a scientific base [1].

As a cornerstone for a scientific aesthetics, Bense adopted David Birkhoff's method for measurement of aesthetics. In the early 1930s, Birkhoff presented a simple formula to measure the aesthetic value of art: M = O/C, where the aesthetic measurement M is defined by the ratio of order O to complexity C [2]. At a time when other structuralistic approaches were emerging, Bense combined Shannon's theory and analysis of the English language, Birkhoff's mathematical analysis of aesthetic measurements and Chomsky's generative grammar into a theory that allowed for the analysis of art objects on a micro-aesthetic level by investigating the used sign repertoire in artworks. Having a repertoire and rules for combining its elements, Bense now had the tools to build a model for the macro-aesthetic values of aesthetic objects.

The final aspect of Bense's aesthetic theory is the notion of negentropy. Bense saw in art a process going in the direction opposite that of the physical process. While the physical world moves toward chaos, the world of art moves toward order. Both process and order are key terms in Bense's aesthetic, delivering the ontological basis for his scientific approach. Meanwhile, in France, his friend and colleague Abraham Moles was working on an information aesthetic intended to explain the structure that allows the construction of super signs in aesthetic perception [3].

During the 1960s, information aesthetics led to the formation of the Stuttgart school, which had Bense at its intellectual center. The statistical analysis of style, especially in literature, was not new [4]. In Stuttgart a generation of young scientists examined different aspects of the mathematical value of information contained in aesthetic objects. Rul Gunzenhäuser applied Shannon's information theory to Birkoff's concept of aesthetic measurement, developing a theory of micro-aesthetics [5]. Helmar Frank focused on the perceptual aspects of aesthetics. He wrote his Ph.D. under Abraham Moles in Paris before coming to Stuttgart [6]. Georg Nees wrote his Ph.D. dissertation "Generative computergrafik" under Bense in 1968, applying his aesthetic explicitly to computer art [7]. Frieder Nake, inspired by Bense's lectures, proved the possibilities of a generative aesthetic with generative aesthetics I (1969). In 1971, Siegfried Maser published his doctoral thesis, which presented a rigorous formalization of Bense's generative aesthetics [8]. In 1974, Nake published a book on aesthetics as information processing, which connected aesthetic theory with formal computer graphics and the history of computer art [9].

A Manifesto for Computer Art

The key event in the development of computer graphics was a 1965 exhibition at the Studien Galerie Stuttgart (see Table 1) [10]. Bense invited Georg Nees to exhibit his works, to the dismay and fury...


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