Observing the media? A post-Luhmannian perspective on modern and contemporary art | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1757-1952
  • E-ISSN: 1757-1960


The article aims to show that the theory of open and autopoietic systems may be applied in such a way as to transcend the sterile opposition between autonomy aesthetics and culturalism. A theory of contemporary and modern art as an observational system is outlined. Art is seen as specializing to an increasing degree in cannibalizing the discourses and modalities of media & communication industries. Art is thus a parasitical observer (Serres 1980). Why should one affect a shift in framework? What are post-Luhmannian optics on contemporary arts and media able to do beyond what post-structuralist and postmodern optics already achieve? Post-structuralist aesthetics deal with contingency, insecurity, paradox and autoreflexivity, surplus meanings, and the complexity and decentering of the subject. Switching to systems theory allows us to treat such issues without building a wall of irrationality around the arts and the humanities. It handles these important issues in a systematic manner which links up with scientific discourse and with the advanced problem solving and criticality of other social domains, like politics, business and the media industries. Notably the rigueur and self-reflectivity of the conceptual framework allows us also to define limits of our approach. What is it about art which aesthetics cannot and should not explain?


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