On the cover of the exhibition catalogue Systemic Painting was a definition of "systemic" taken from the Oxford English Dictionary: "3. gen. Arranged or conducted according to a system, plan, or organised method; involving or observing a system." And "system" was defined in the same source as "a set or assemblage of things connected, associated, or interdependent so as to form a complex unity; a whole composed of parts in orderly arrangement according to some scheme or plan." Anatol Rapoport uses the word "systemic" in opposition to "strategic" ["Systemic and Strategic Conflict," Virginia Quarterly Review, XL/3 (1964)], the latter being characterised in Game Theory by conflicts partly shaped by bluff and psychology, as defined by Von Neumann. Joseph H. Greenberg [Essays in Linguistics (Chicago, 1963)] uses "systemic" to mean "having to do with the formulation and discovery of rules" in "actually existing sign systems." That part of linguistics, however, that calls on psychology and the social sciences he refers to as "pragmatic." In line with these usages, my attempt here is to provide a general theory, within objective limits, of the uses of systems by recent abstract artists.
The painting that made American art famous, done mostly in New York between 1947 and 1954, first appeared as a drama of creativity. The improvisatory capacity of the artist was enlarged and the materiality of media stressed. The process-record of the creative act dominated all other possibilities of art and was boosted by Harold Rosenberg's term Action Painting. This phrase, though written with de Kooning in mind, was not announced as such, and it got stretched to cover new American abstract art in general. The other popular term, Abstract Expressionism, shares with "action" a similar over-emphasis on work-procedures, defining the work of art as a seismic record of the artist's anxiety. However, within this period, there were painters who never fitted the lore of violence that surrounded American art. The____________________