Max Bense


Max Bense on Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 1969

Born 1910-02-07 in Strassbourg, France.
Died 1990-04-29 in Stuttgart, Germany.

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 world-wide (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 on 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 works of fine art, literature, and music were met with some greater interest in Europe not before the 1960s. He introduced the term programming into aesthetics and art, 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 an international place for semiotics and concrete poetry. It became known due to Bense’s own publications and those of Elisabeth Walther and many more of his collaboratos.

Arguably the most important contributions of Bense’s were his writings on Information Aesthetics. Being opposed to emotion-based value judgments, he considered any artifact as an object open for aesthetic analysis and mathematical evaluation. The aesthetic object was a complex sign that functioned in a process of communication. The Swiss artist of constructive concrete art, Max Bill, had an effect on Bense, whose inspiration on “modern aesthetics” Bense explicitly acknowledged in the preface of his Aesthetica II – Aesthetische Information, one of his five volumes series of Aesthetica. When Bill was rector of the celebrated Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (Germany), he hired Bense to teach information which Bill believed to be important for post-war design and art.

Bense had a great impact on computer-generated art (algorithmic art) by exhibiting works of Georg Nees at his “Ästhetisches Colloquium” [Colloquy on Aesthetics], as early as February 1965, and of Frieder Nake at the Buchladen und Galerie Niedlich. The first of these shows was 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.

At the occasion of Bense’s hundredth birthday (2010), Ludwig Harig wrote in ZEIT online that Bense was considered to be the enfant terrible of his time in West Germany. Working for an open society, Bense attacked the metaphysical cozyness (_Gemütlichkeit_) of Germans.

Bense was always in opposition to established powers and institutions, often polemicizing against them. Experiment was his central form of creating art, music and text. Titles of his experimental poetic books were, e.g., Die präzisen Vergnügen (Precise delights), Die Zerstörung des Durstes durch Wasser (Destroying thirst by water), Das graue Rot der Poesie (The grey red of poetry).

Exhibitions organized: Georg Nees: Computergrafik
Programming languages/software used: ALGOL

1930 – 1937 Studies of physics, mineralogy, mathematics, geology, and philosophy at University of Bonn.

1937 Ph.D. Thesis Quantenmechanik and Daseinsrelativität [Quantum Mechanics and Relativity of Dasein (Existence)]

1938 Bense works as a physicist for the chemical industry trust I.G. Farben in Leverkusen.

1942 – 1946 Until the end of the war, works as a physicist and mathematician in Hans Hollmann’s Laboratory for High-Frequency Techniques and Electromedicine.

1946 Bense is hired by the University of Jena as head of administrations. He flees to West-Germany in 1948.

1950 He becomes a professor of philosophy and technology, philosophy of science and mathematical logic at the Technical University of Stuttgart, where he teaches until 1976.

1953 – 1958 Bense follows Max Bill’s invitation to teach at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm [Ulm School of Design] (HfG).

1954 He publishes the first volume of his Aesthetica series: Aesthetica (I) – Metaphysische Beobachtungen am Schönen [Aesthetica (I) – Metaphysical observations on beauty].

1956 Publishes Aesthetica II – Aesthetische Information [Aesthetica II – Aesthetic Information]

1958 Aesthetica III – Ästhetik und Zivilisation, Theorie der ästhetischen Kommunikation [Aesthetica III – Aesthetics and Civilization, Theory of aesthetical communication] is published.

1958 – 1978 Bense founds and curates the Studiengalerie of the General Studies Programme of the University of Stuttgart (then still an Institute of Technology). During the years of its existence, he opens approximately one hundred exhibitions. They are mainly dedicated to experiments in concrete art.

1960 Bense publishes the fourth volume of Aesthetica called Aesthetica IV – Programmierung des Schönen. Allgemeine Texttheorie und Textästhetik [Aesthetica IV – Programming of Beauty. General Text Theory and Text Aesthetics].

1965 Bense publishes the booklet computergrafik in the series rot (Text 19) of experimental texts [in February]. It shows six of Nees’ graphics, on which the artist comments in a short text. Bense also contributes an article entitled projekte generativer ästhetik, which can be regarded as a kind of manifesto of Computer Art.

1965 In issue no.18 of 28th April, Der-Spiegel features an article entitled Bald krumme Linien [Soon crooked lines] on the new phenomenon of computer graphics. Frieder Nake, Georg Nees and Max Bense are given the opportunity to speak. Artistic computer graphics are presented as the “practical proof of a professional theory” – as the “interaction of aesthetic planning and coincidence”.

1967 Issue no. 5 of the series Exakte Aesthetik is dedicated to the theme Kunst aus dem Computer. Max Bense, Abraham A. Moles, Frieder Nake, Kurd Alsleben and Martin Krampen contribute articles, along with Hubert Kupper/Heinz Gorges and Gerhard Stickel.

1968 On 2nd August, Max Bense opens the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity, The Computer and the Arts (until 20th October) in London. It is curated by Jasia Reichardt, shown in the Institute of Contemporary Arts and based on a comprehensive selection of exhibits.

1969 Georg Nees is the first person in the world to be bestowed the academic title of the Doctor of Philosophy – for a theme from the field of digitally produced aesthetics – with his PhD script, Generative Computergrafik. The script is written with the guidance by Max Bense and referred to his Information Aesthetics. In particular, Nees examines the theory of micro- and macro-aesthetics (using the programming language ALGOL with his own extensions).

1968-69 Frieder Nake works as a Post-doctoral Fellow in Computer Science at the University of Toronto (Canada) on generative aesthetics. The work is an attempt to validate Bense’s Information Aesthetics which, according to Nake, although theoretically successful, was artistically unsatisfactory.

1969 Gallery owner Käthe Clarissa Schröder presents the most comprehensive exhibition of Computer Art in West-Germany up to this time. Max Bense opens it. The show, Computerkunst – On the Eve of the Tomorrow, ran from 19th October to 12th November, 1969, in the municipal exhibition centre, Kubus, in Hannover, Germany.


[Herzogenrath et al., 2007]

[Rosen, 2011]

[Walther, 2000]


Max Bense on Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 1969


Max Bense, 1955

There is an exhibition about Max Bense at ZKM Karlsruhe starting today, 7th of February, until 11th of April.

See (in German).