Jack Wesley Burnham Jr. (born Chicago, 1931) is an American writer on art and technology, who taught art history at Northwestern University and the University of Maryland. He is one of the main forces behind the emergence of systems art in the 1960s.
Burnham received a BFA from the Yale School of Art in 1959 and a MFA in 1961.
From 1955 until 1965 he worked as a sculptor, often created sculptures that included light. In the 1960s he started teaching art history at Northwestern University, and became chairman of their art department. He was a Fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies from 1968 to 1969. In the 1980s he moved to the University of Maryland and again chaired the art and art history departments.
Jack Burnham worked as a writer, and in the 1960s and 1970s made important contributions as an art theorist, critic and curator in the field of systems art. In systems art the concept and ideas of process related systems and systems theory are involved in the work to take precedence over traditional aesthetic object related and material concerns. Burnham named Systems art in the 1968 Artforum article "System Esthetics": "He had investigated the effects of science and technology on the sculpture of this century, and saw a dramatic contrast between the handling of the place-oriented object sculpture and the extreme mobility of Systems sculpture".
Burnham wrote two books and dozens of articles in magazines like: Art and Artists magazine, Arts and Society, Artforum magazine, Arts magazine. His books:
- 1968, Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century, New York: George Braziller; London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press.
- 1969, Art in the Marcusean Analysis, vol 6 of the "Penn State Papers in Art Education", edited by Paul Edmonston (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University, 1969).
- 1973, The Structure of Art, Revised Edition, Brazillera, ISBN 0-8076-0595-6.
- 1974, Great Western Salt Works: Essays on the Meaning of Post-Formalist Art, New York: George Braziller. 0-8076-0740-1.
About Jack Burnham
- Charlie Gere, Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg, pp. 124–138
- Matthew Rampley (2005). Systems Aesthetics: Burnham and Others. In: Vector e-zine. issue B-12, January 2005.
- Corrine Robins (1972). Burnham's Burden: Art is Over...Again in Art in America. March 1972, pp. 14–15.
- Edward A. Shanken (1998). "The House That Jack Built: Jack Burnham's Concept of Software as a Metaphor for Art". In: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 6, No. 10 (November, 1998).
- Edward A. Shanken (2001). "Art in the Information Age: Technology and Conceptual Art" SIGGRAPH 2001 Electronic Art and Animation Catalog, (New York: ACM SIGGRAPH, 2001): 8-15. Expanded in Leonardo 35:4 (Aug 2002).
- Edward A. Shanken (2009). "Reprogramming Systems Aesthetics: A Strategic Historiography". Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 2009.
- Willoughby Sharp (1970). Willoughby Sharp Interviews Jack Burnham in Arts magazine. Vol. 45, No. 2, November 1970, pp. 21–23
- Luke Skrebowski (2006). All Systems Go: Recovering Jack Burnham's 'Systems Aesthetics. Tate Papers, Spring 2006
- Robert Horvitz (2000-09) "A node for jack burnham". Online website about Jack Burnham. Accessed March 20, 2008.
- Charlie Gere, Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg, pp. 124-138
- Jack Burnham (1968), Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century, G. Braziller, p.32.