Max Bense

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Max Bense was a German philosopher, scholar, and poet. His background studies were in philosophy, mathematics, geology, and physics, and later in information theory, semiotics, and cybernetics. He was particularly influential in the 1950s and 1960s in West-Germany and internationally. He became one of two founders of Information Aesthetics, the other one, with a slightly different approach, being Abraham A. Moles. At the occasion of the first exhibition of algorithmic art (then called computer art, on 5 February, 1965), he coined the term Generative Aesthetics.

Bense’s work on Information Aesthetics establishes the connection between him and the digital arts. In West-Germany in the 1950s, Bense also pioneered lectures and seminars in semiotics. In particular, he made students become aware of Charles Sanders Peirce’s view of semiotics, even before it became a more popular topic by the works of Umberto Eco.

Although he was already in the 1950s working on Information Aesthetics, his publications on aesthetic measures for fine art, literature, and music were met with some greater interest in Europe not before the 1960s. He introduced the term programming into aesthetics, so it cannot come as a surprise that the organizers of Tendencies 4 declared that Bense’s Information Aesthetics was “the theoretical basis of visual research using computers” [Herzogenrath et al., 2007]. Around the same time Bense became the leader of the Stuttgart school/group, which was a place for semiotics and concrete poetry, and became known due to his own and the writings of Elisabeth Walther’s.

Arguably the most important contribution of Bense were his writings on Information Aesthetics. Being against emotion-based value judgments, he considered any artifact as an object also for aesthetic analysis and mathematical evaluation. The aesthetic object was a complex sign that functioned in a process of communication. Max Bill had an effect on Bense, whose inspiration on “modern aesthetics” Bense explicitly acknowledged in the preface of Aesthetica II – Aesthetische Information, one of his five volumes series of Aesthetica.

Bense had a great impact on computer-generated art (algorithmic art) by exhibiting works of Georg Nees at the “Ästhetisches Colloquium” [Colloquy on Aesthetics], as early as February 1965, and of Frieder Nake at the Buchladen und Galerie Niedlich. The first show being the first ever of computer art. Bense also suggested to Jasia Reichardt that she should start the endeavor that became the first encompassing spectacle of computer art Cybernetic Serendipity (August to October, 1968). He was the faculty advisor for the first Ph.D. in computer art by Georg Nees, and had a strong influence on the Computer Techniques Group in Japan, as well as on Frieder Nake, and others.


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