This paper compares Jack Burnham's “systems esthetics” and Stanley Cavell's “automatisms,” linking them by way of organizational and systems theories of the mid-20th century and the rise of the post-medium condition in art. Although rarely paired, curator and critic Burnham and philosopher Cavell offer similar ontologies of art in the post--World War II period. Their ideas freed artists from old constraints of formalism and medium specificity while foreshadowing the rise of an artistic atomization driven by technology and economics. If Burnham's concept of systems aesthetics is concerned with a sense of cybernetic connectivity based on a feedback loop between the artist, artwork, art community and monetizing power of the market, then Cavell's automatisms describe a condition of laissez-faire independence in which each artist must work entrepreneurially, wholly for and unto herself.

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