Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fractals that No One Wants to See

It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted.
This is the essence of academicism.
There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.
-Mark Rothko

Very seldom do we find that algorithmic artists have an eye on reality. In fact, most artists of our medium are very reluctant to abandon the vain belief that "beauty" is the only goal achievable by art. But how do we work exclusively for "beauty" in the context of political violence, terrorism and childhood trauma? How can the beautiful-only forms be made visually appealing in these times of sexual vulgarization and AIDS? It's clear isn't it, that art isn't rolling over an empty and free road of pure beauty anymore, but instead, a major issue among artists now is how to reconstitute beauty in a contemporary context of fear and social deception?
I strongly believe that fractals are a useful tool for making the hidden, visible, but I also consider them a valid medium for arousing deep emotions in individuals as well as a medium to give expression to people's feelings about their world.
Why such a reluctance about "non-beauty?" Why are these not so beautiful forms the sort of forms not yet explored by algorithimic artists? For sure I'm not demanding the idea that people do not, or should not, fractalize "beautiful things" anymore. But we should remember that what sets art apart from the ordinary "lovely" forms of expression is its aesthetic dimension, which signifies its concern with means, not only as pure means, but essentialy its concern on the "persuasive finality" of its means.
I should stop using my own words. Let me take a few sentences from a very well known abstract expressionist artist who was also a founding member of the New York School in the 50's: Mark Rothko! He wrote:
"I am not an abstractionist. I am not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else… I am interested only in expressing the basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on - and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate with those basic human emotions. The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!"

Observation: knowing that Rothko had his roots in the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe (Russia), we can understand his remark of "religious experience" linked to the essential themes of mankind, such as: horror in tragedy; illumination in ecstasy; exaltation on knowing the sublime; and the pain of living in deception.
Rothko supposes an inherent "ability" of abstract images to confront the viewer with the fundamental drama of what Rothko generically calls "basic human emotions".
The assertion that algorithmic art has "new things" to say is too flimsy a response to the problems that we are facing today, when there are no reasons anymore for art as entertainment or decoration, or as the expression of feelings or any other use like... like for instance, using Mozart's music to help dairy cows produce more milk!
Art is much more than entertainment, decoration or to just produce trivial human wows! or, to paraphrase James Joyce: making satisfied moo-cows!
I believe that algorithmic art must now engage in activities that have been "not appropriate" for the medium until now, during those times when it was still trying to find its own aesthetic. But now algorithimic art is finally ready to serve "non-artistic" purposes.
It's not a problem, of course, if some prefer to continue on creating purely aesthetic and visually intriguing objects. There is nothing wrong in doing that, although doing so does not constitute the same "heroic" accomplishment that it once did when algorithimic artists were struggling to break away, and give birth to a new medium. That was the challenge of the last 20 years. But now those early steps belong to history.
When I started with UF no more than 4 years ago, (which makes me a "junior" in this medium), I coined the expression "fractals with dirty hands" to mean my desire to relate them to reality. My first work with fractals I gave a name like "Rotten Spiral!" Since then I very seldom make spirals. I must also confess that very seldom did the swirl of spirals attract me. Unless I could untwist them!
My first "serious" works I did around 2004 with themes like dirty water, oil spills and hospital garbage. I put them all under the name of "Vala Negra", a Brazilian expression referring to places in the slums of my city, Rio de Janeiro, where garbage is thrown. Dirty and stinking, such "valas" are.
But more unexplored areas can be found by utilizing the means of this medium in both the creation and dissemination of insight and knowledge. For me, this is when the expression of "political art" comes to mind, to reveal repressive social structures and attitudes.
An objection to this kind of work has often been the old saw: "Art isn't propaganda!" It is true that many of Goya's or Picasso's anti-war paintings aren't art in the sense of pure beauty, but so what? Art had to develop its aesthetic potential fully, and to be clear about it, artists had to go to aesthetic extremes. Even going to the extreme of declaring the end of beauty!
In this sense I would like to add my understanding of Terry Wright's "Portrait of George W. Bush". Not pretending to be a piece of representational complacency or at least a political curiosity (as we expect from a political cartoon), the "Portrait" shows us the "king naked" in its intrinsic dissection of such a powerful personality.
If we think of it like an image of a person, what we see is a sharpened geometrical form, opaque, cold, dull and "nakedly" impenetrable, against a kind of "belt" or wall in the background. The proposition is a clear understanding that we could not safely turn away from the presence of the image and go on to contemplate something else beautiful around us or something else sweet inside us. We do not expect to get near the image for a subtle detail or step back to "appreciate" it. There are no such "possibilities" to please our vision. Mainly, we are scared to death of it's ugliness! And there remains the harsh feeling that we are "alone" before it.
Not being fully fractal academic art, what kind of art is the "Portrait of George W. Bush"? I face the risk of declaring it a "non-artistic visual object". At this extreme it isn't art at all, in the same sense John Cage's music, who had introduced ordinary noises into compositions and thereby denied the privileged status of sounds produced by artistic instruments.
Like Cage's sentence that "beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look", I applied to Terry's work a George Maciunas's (the main theoretician of Fluxus, neo-Dada movement), declaration: "There was no need for art. We had merely to learn to take an 'art attitude.' If people could learn to take the 'art attitude' toward all everyday phenomena, artists could stop making art works".
If we think like that (at least I do think like that), the "attitude" is what counts with the "Portrait of George W. Bush". When the construction of an image goes a step away from art towards a "new art attitude", which I believe is mainly a political attitude, then we discover that the essential function of art is not only the production and composition of such things as lines, colors and textures. Instead, there is no reason why one could not intensively contemplate these very same things in ordinary objects like in the decomposition of wood, melted butter, garbage, spilled oil or blood in a murder - all such things that could become possible objects of aesthetical consideration.
With that understanding we easily agree that artistic objects are being dissolved into everything else, because they become no different from anything else except that they are more deliberately created than other objects. In this sense art is no longer belonging to a certain class of objects, but it belongs now to a "way of seeing" the objects. In this very sense we come to the point of admiting that "artistic objects" no longer have any function - and so the viewer is not a consumer but instead, is "a mind"! And that means the world is no longer seen as a land for utilitarian consumption!
After those "compromises" with ordinary things we learn that as much can be written about ordinary objects (where the beautiful objects are included), as about "authentic and good" artwork. It's now the perception and "attitude" that counts, not the inherent qualities of the object. In this sense I use to write "erasable" in the parameters of some of my fractals, instead of calling for "tweaks". At least the viewer has a better option, don't they? So, for me even the contemplation of the object as an "artistic" work is not important anymore.


I had an unfortunate laundry experience the other day (turns out that “permanent press” is more wishful thinking than truth in advertising). I decided to entertain myself while ironing by listening to Eric Clapton tear through some blues standards (if you have to iron, this definitely helps). This got me wondering: Are there any “standards” in fractal art? That is, if fractal art is likened to blues or jazz or popular music, are there any images that might be the equivalent of “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” or “Take Five,” or “Night and Day”?

It seems to me that a fractal art standard would be an image intimately familiar to anyone intimately familiar with fractal art and vaguely familiar to those with less connection to the art. It would include a relatively simple formula, to increase its popularity and ease of calculation with various coloring schemes. Coloring formulas might be like genres in the musical analogy. (Here, I’m thinking in the Ultra Fractal schema, but such an image must not be tied to a particular platform.) The zoom and parameters should be such that the image is generally recognizable, but they could be varied as part of the artist’s rendition of that image.

Immediately, the overall Mandelbrot set leaps to mind. Other candidates might be zooms into the West Midget and the Seahorse and Elephant Valleys, the Koch curve, the Hilbert curve, and Newton's Method for z4 = 1. Any others?

Monday, August 28, 2006


I read an article in New Scientist today about how computers are bringing uncertainty back into mathematics. Apparently you can never be sure that a proof that relies too heavily on computers is in fact correct, since there may be a bug somewhere in the code. I'm sure that you could write a program that would prove that the first program is indeed correct.


I've been spending alot of time in my garbage can lately.

Never before has it been such a delight to retieve stuff I thought was worthless, even the things stuck to the bottom of the can. I feed them into the uscomic.8bf machine and out comes instant Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery 1960's vintage comic book imagery.

Not only that, part of the process reduces the image to only 8 colors which makes for bright and solid indexed pngs with file sizes as small as the prices on old comic books. (They used to sell for 10 or 12 cents in the early 60s.)

Of course it's not art or anything like that. Are comic books literature?

In keeping with my cheap, economical ways, I've been using a program called XnView. It's just one of those free image viewers that allows you to browse directories of images by creating a bunch of thumbnails.

It also had a few "effects" with it. Nothing special, just versions of common things like oil painting and the shakey shifty smudgy ones. Also a funky dithering thing that makes images look like they're full of cross hatching and dots like they used to use in the old days to fake colors that were too expensive to print separately.

A really bad inkjet printer does the same thing. It looks great.

Anyhow, XnView has this menu option that says "Adobe Photoshop Plugin." Now that sounds professional and stuffed with money to me. But no, you can get them for free too.

Whoever figured out how to get Photoshop plugins to work with other programs for free deserves some kind of special award. (That is, as long as it doesn't cost anything.)

So among three or four hundred other plugins I downloaded one evening, was this uscomic.8bf. Filters or plugins or whatever, are either very cool or absolutely stupid. I got about 398 stupid ones and two cool ones. The other one produces a black and white (2 color) pen and ink image.

What was I thinking when I saved this? (57k)

Oh yeah! Cosmic Creatures and the Invasion from Space! (18k)

The comic filter fixes up lousy color too. Or rather it makes it look like an old comic book; which might not always be what you want.

Of course, the real excitement comes when you start to combine filters and develop sequences or "algorithms" that, more often than not, produce good effects.

For instance, inverting the output of uscomic looks pretty interesting sometimes. It looks silkscreened and rather artsy; not comic bookish at all. But I guess that's what you'd expect the opposite of a comic book to be.

I could have anti-aliased this, but it would still be a mess (46k)

Aaaaaaa!!! Who left the door open to the 4th Dimension! (16k)

As a somewhat humorous postscript, I accidently discovered the underlying simplicity to much of the uscomic filter. I clicked on the adjust "brightness/contrast/gamma/balance" tool to prepare my raw image for the filter and saw the image go comic book all on it's own.

It seems the last settings for the tool (which it automatically restored when I went to use it again) were +77 for brightness (range is -127 to +127) and +127 for contrast. This produces almost exactly the same results as the uscomic filter --even the color reduction to 8 colors. Bright images will need to be inverted to complete the effect.

The graphics program is like a guitar. Look at all incredible music that can be made with a guitar. And it's only got six strings.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jack Grimm's Propeller

People interested in "Titanica" are probably aware that the wreck was found a few decades ago by Dr. Ballard. There have been many expeditions to the Titanic since, and many artifacts have been recovered. A footnote to the story is that before Ballard, a fellow named Jack Grimm had a go at locating the ship. The best he could do in reviewing his photos of the deep in the general area where the ship went down, was to say that he thought one of them showed a propeller. Had to be from the Titanic! Others were not convinced. Ballard went to Grimm's coordinates and found nothing. He was just being scientific. It only made sense to start his search from where Grimm had left off. What if Grimm really had found the ship? There would then be no need to search elsewhere. Thoughts of shattering Grimm's illusions never entered his head. That would be too... grim.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Probe This!!

Neptune Proble

Neptune Probe (1998)

Ganymede Probe

Ganymede Probe (1998)

These heavenly bodies are still in good standing after astronomers recently convened to decide who would be voted off the cosmic island.

Everyone held its slot in space, and even Xena kicked some Van Allen Butt Belt -- everyone except poor elliptical Pluto. Alas, we hardly knew ye. From National Geographic:

The distant, ice-covered world is no longer a true planet, according to a new definition of the term voted on by scientists today [8-24-06].

"Whoa! Pluto's dead," said astronomer Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, as he watched a Webcast of the vote. "There are finally, officially, eight planets in the solar system."

In a move that's already generating controversy and will force textbooks to be rewritten, Pluto will now be dubbed a dwarf planet.

But it's no longer part of an exclusive club, since there are more than 40 of these dwarfs, including the large asteroid Ceres and 2003 UB313, nicknamed Xena -- a distant object slightly larger than Pluto discovered by Brown last year.


Pluto has been demoted because it does not dominate its neighborhood. Charon, its large "moon," is only about half the size of Pluto, while all the true planets are far larger than their moons.

In addition, bodies that dominate their neighborhoods, "sweep up" asteroids, comets, and other debris, clearing a path along their orbits. By contrast, Pluto's orbit is somewhat untidy.

Yeah. Nothing's worse than an untidy wannabe planet. Somebody get an industrial Dustbuster and sweep this galactic imposter under the heliosheath.

But more than science textbooks will have to be recalled faster than those spontaneous combustion laptop batteries. Popular culture itself will need to be reconstituted. Consider this tragic case:

I'm killing that Jetsons' mutt and changing my name to Astro.

Disneyologists argue that the Gang already includes a male dog, Goofy, who, like the other members, can walk and talk. Including a non-speaking quadrupedal character like Pluto would necessitate the inclusion of other insufficiently anthropomorphized animals such as background cats, birds, and humorous bees.

[Image seen on Jetting Through Life. Text from Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling.]

Pluto's downsizing will likely leave some astronomers scurrying to pawn their telescopes as their employment orbit decays faster than Hubble's. One victim will be 93-year-old Patricia Tombaugh, widow of Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto's discoverer. Her reaction, according to MSNBC's Cosmic Log:

"I don't know just how you handle it. It kind of sounds like I just lost my job," she told AP from Las Cruces, N.M. "But I understand science is not something that just sits there. It goes on. Clyde finally said before he died, 'It's there. Whatever it is. It is there.'"

There, huh. Now beat it. Half lights out, pal. We don't want any. Sign up your planetary has-been behind for the no-flyby no-call (us-we-call-you) list.

Meanwhile, in an Orbit Trap exclusive, yr blogger -- through my unnamed source I'll call "Cosmic Dustball" -- was able to obtain this exclusive webcam footage of some Plutonian freedom fighters reacting to the news of their planet's solar system washout:

The revolution will not be hypercomplexed.

Mutiny on Pluto (2003)

We want to be a world and we want it now!!


I worry that my last post might render me as a somber anarchist out to bring down fractal civilization, so I thought I'd lighten up a little with this fatuous-free exercise in using fractal art to help spin an illustrated narrative.

Neptune: Generated in Tiera-Zon. Minimally post-processed.

Ganymede: Generated in Tiera-Zon. Minimally post-processed.

Mutiny: Generated in Fractal Zplot. Heavily post-processed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Nothing has meaning...

...until we assign one to it. Each of us. Individually.

No thing, in and of itself, has any inherent meaning. Nor does any person. Or event. Or feeling. Until we each assign one based on our frame of reference.

Keith asked, "Do you feel what I feel?" about his photograph of the deer. The answer for each viewer is probably no, but some may feel similar feelings, if they've had similar experiences to his. Or one may have sentiments about the image based on experiences with Bambi, mothers, motherhood, twins, siblings, freckles, or slightly blurred vision ;-)

Sometimes hearing the artist's story about a work enhances my appreciation of it, but that meaning rarely becomes mine exactly because I don't bring the same frame of reference to the viewing as the artist did to its creation. And ultimately, if I wasn't drawn to the work to begin with, I may not like it substantially more for knowing the artist's thought process.

Here's an image I created several years ago:

Divortium. © 2000 Janet Parke.

If you've seen it before, or are just now seeing it for the first time, you likely had an immediate reaction to it, based on who you were at that very moment in time. You had a response to the shape (spirals – gak!), color (dark orange like yummy/icky pumpkin pie!), and texture (there's that fBm again!). It might have resembled or reminded you of something.

When I created this image, I was in the middle of a divorce. While I didn't intentionally chop the spirals into spokes, I was drawn to this particular structure because it illustrated how my life felt right then – as if my world was breaking apart into pieces and dreams were drifting/fizzling out away from me. But the more I looked at the image and thought about my life, I realized it also very clearly represented – if I chose to view each spiral from the outside moving inward – the pieces of my life coming together instead of falling apart. And ultimately, this image reminds me that my divorce was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life.

If you've ever gone through a similar experience, perhaps you can relate to my feelings. Or not. And maybe, knowing my story, you can see the connections I make. Or not. But the image itself doesn't necessarily hold that meaning for anyone except me. It's not important to me that you see what I see, or feel what I feel, or even remember my story the next time you see it. And whether you connect with my interpretation of it, you likely still feel about the shapes, colors and textures exactly as you did when you first saw it – before you heard my story.

Terry's Portrait of George W. Bush isn't political to me because it doesn't occur to me to process much of anything (including politics) through a political filter (which is not to say I don't have opinions). I don't know what about the image says "W" to Terry, but even if I did, chances are it wouldn't change my initial response to the work one way or another.

I once saw a set of photographs that won top awards in a big digital art contest. The work was acclaimed for its political statement. Since I didn't know who most of the people in the photographs were, the meaning wasn't the least bit political to me. Images themselves don't carry an inherent meaning – they can only ever speak to each of us based on the experiences we bring to their viewing. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Picasso's Guernica doesn't mean anything to me, even with the title, because (due, sadly, to some gaps in my education) I didn't know what Guernica was until I looked it up. A thing doesn't have meaning until we each assign one. And a title can only suggest an interpretation if the viewer shares that frame of reference.

Personally, I don't care if any of my work is understood or appreciated in exactly the way I experience it. I have work that doesn't rock my world, but which seems to be popular with others. And I have works that are very special to me for one reason or another that don't receive much notice. I try to give most of them fairly obscure names that don't impose my intent/meaning but rather encourage viewers to develop their own.

Bagpipe Sunrise. © 2006 Janet Parke.

I recently created a work entitled Bagpipe Sunrise. It's probably not a stretch to see where the "Sunrise" part of the title comes from, since we've all experienced that phenomenon at some point. But the "Bagpipe" reference is much more obscure. It's a silly little spiral – a lightweight bit of nothing – but the work has meaning to me because I know my motivation for creating it in exactly this way. If I told you the story, you might get a chuckle, or think "hmmm, that's an interesting approach," or countless other responses, but your initial reaction to or appreciation for the work – its structure, color, texture, etc. – would probably not change. But I'm not going to share the story – it's probably even better if you just continue to wonder... or create your own, if you care to.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The other machine

It sits there, quietly. Unused but waiting.

Sometimes while working on the fractal machine, I look over at it. Our eyes meet. I say nothing and return to the fractal machine.

Before I discovered fractals my hobby was making seamless background tiles and web graphics in my graphics progam.

I made thousands, maybe ten thousand tiles. It was a lot of fun taking any kind of image and working it over with filters and effects then hitting the "make seamless" filter.

I used the GIMP because it's the most graphics program you can get for free. Photoshop probably has more capabilities but I couldn't justify paying that much for something that was just a hobby.

I'm not trying to boast or anything, but when you make ten thousand unique background tiles over the course of three years, working for a couple of hours every evening, you aquire some familiarity with your graphics machine. If I had practiced the piano or guitar that much, I'd be a reasonably good musician. Anyone would be.

But then I discovered fractals and the effect of the seamless filter didn't "become" them. I made one seamless fractal tile early on, and despite many hours of subsequent work, couldn't make another that looked appealing.

So with the arrival of my fractal machine.... dust settled on my graphics machine.

Occasionally I sparked it up to make some web graphics to accompany my new (and ever-expanding) fractal gallery. Sometimes I would embark on a weeklong binge of "tinting" old photos I got off the internet (public domain).

I never fed one of my pristine fractals into the titanium teeth of my graphics machine, ever. Never. ( Stop it! Stop looking at her like that! You filthy graphics program!!! )

It wasn't for any ideological reason, like I was against "post-processing" or anything like that. It was just that the fractal programs I was using, Sterlingware and Xaos, produced such wonderful images on their own that I didn't see any use in adding a second machine to the process.

Also, the process of creating fractals was a very complicated one and meant that you needed to see the results of any parameter adjustments right away and then make changes to the basic image (zoom in or out). All I could do in a graphics program would be to add graphical effects to a single image. If it didn't produce anything worthwhile, all I could do is go back to the fractal machine and start over again.

Xaos actually incorporates two styles of edge-detection within the program, and good, random palette generation. But what could my coal-burning graphics factory add to the refined imagery made on a fractal Stradivarius like Sterlingware?

Nothing but crude effects and spray-can graffitti.

But things change. I changed. My fractals changed. I went from making super-crisp photorealistic images in Sterlingware to making flatter, more abstract, silk-screen like images.

My fractals started to look more like the "tinted" or post-processed photographs that I liked to make. I was getting closer to producing the same type of imagery with two different machines.

Maybe I could process a fractal image the same way I processed a photographic one? If I could turn an old National Wildlife Service photo of the desert into a glowing green moonscape, maybe I could put a fractal "photo" into a similar orbit?

A dull, ho-hum, recycle-bin grade fractal
Should have been anti-aliased, but who cares?

Whoa! Beam me up Scotty!
It's the..
Alien Portal to the 4th Dimension!

I resized it up to 400x200; reduced the palette to 8 colors with a dithering thing; applied the "oil painting" filter; and then took the rest of the week off.

Some times it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, it's like turning straw into gold. And if that happens often enough, it's worth the extra time jolting, zapping and irradiating a fractal the other machine.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fractal Politics

Portrait of George W. Bush

Portrait of George W. Bush (2004)

Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.
--Theodor Adorno

A poem that calls us from the other side of a situation of extremity cannot be judged by simplistic notions of "accuracy" or "truth to life." It will have to be judged, as Ludwig Wittgenstein said of confession, by its consequences, not by our ability to verify its truth. In fact, the poem might be our only evidence that an event has occurred: it exists for us as the sole trace of an occurrence.
--Carolyn Forche, "The Poetry of Witness"

Artists do not create in a vacuum; they are indisputably coupled to the society and times in which they work. It may well be that an artist can realize aesthetic triumphs while ignoring society, but willful unconcern regarding social matters is also a political position.
--Mark Vallen, "Why All Art Is Political"

The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man am I, sitting at home reading magazines, going into frustrated fury about everything -- and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue?
--Phillip Guston, Writing in the mid-1960s

The common wisdom is that people should not talk about two things. This is one of them.

I don't think your everyday entry-level fast food French fryer and one-day-in-the-future museum patron thinks much about the possibilities of incorporating political statements into fractal art. A fractal, to those blessed enough to recognize one, is likely more akin to eye candy -- saturated swirls seen on a calendar in Barnes and Noble. Or something vaguely tied to mathematics -- more like a theorem than a painting -- or a pretty picture intersecting with irrational numbers but never with social, economic, or political concerns. Fractals can be visually stunning -- but can they stun others into epiphanies -- or just say anything to anyone about his or her life? Should they be used to comment on world affairs, social concerns, or even popular culture?

There are some, both proletariat and bourgeoisie, and convinced that fractals have no grounding in the world, who would find such questions absurd. I remember a day last winter when I dropped by to pick up some Giclees from the photographer who handles prints for me. His wife, a painter, studied the fresh prints briefly before laughing. "Well, there's certainly nothing like this in nature," she said confidently. "Don't be so sure," I replied, pointing to one of the studio's windows. Outside, the bare branches of an oak tree were reaching skyward to obscure a bank of self-similar clouds.

A hypothesis then. If fractals are of this world, then they can also be utilized -- politically activated, as it were -- to comment upon what happens in it.

The Enron Board Meets for the Last Time

The Enron Board Meets for the Last Time (2002)

If one accepts the premise that fractals can be art -- and I do -- then all the historical/philosophical paradigms and puzzles about the nature of art apply to fractal art as well. Artists, fractal or otherwise, who dabble in and dab on politics to their renders walk some fine lines and climb some slippery slopes. Is one's art serving as a cry for social reform while still displaying elements of Keats' Siamese twins of truth and beauty -- still providing a gesture that calls the soul upward? Or does such art become reductive, didactic, polemical -- a blunt instrument to bludgeon the viewer into accepting the artist's point of view?

Dyske Suematsu, in "The Paradox of Political Art," leans to the latter position:

The most apparent problem I see with today’s political art is its deterministic nature. Art often raises salient questions, but when a political artwork is morally motivated, its questions become moral directives disguised as questions. That is, they are rhetorical questions. As such, there is a right way and a wrong way to look at it. A correct answer is always already provided for you by the artist. The questions and the discussions it provokes either support the answer or refute it. And, the value of the work is contingent on its dialectical outcome. From the point of view of the audience, the experience of such political art resembles that of reading an op-ed column in a newspaper.

Point well taken. Why are you reading Orbit Trap? Presumably to see and read about fractal art, yes? If you wanted political discussion, you would have pointed your surfboard to Salon or Slate or Daily Kos or Little Green Footballs? Hippie jerk blogger. Bring on more spirals.

Maybe it is best to be careful before one gets all socially aware. Suematsu has other complaints with political artists. They assume a ethical superiority but are not required to show that their own expressions are ethically pure. After all, why did I do the piece above about Enron? Was it because I was outraged by the scandal and appalled that the company's employees were cheated out of their pensions? Or was it because I figured seizing a hot button political topic could help further my career as an artist? And if I lampoon Enron's directors, don't I have a reciprocal obligation to show that my motives are not just as crass?

And what form would such proof take? How can political artists demonstrate that their intentions are sincere? Testify before a Congressional committee? Undergo short-of-organ-failure questioning while being waterboarded at Guantanamo? Donate all the money made from their fractal art (haaaa!!!) to Feed the Children? Will such philanthropy in turn make my intentions for lashing out at Enron execs as selfless as those of Mother Teresa in your eyes?

Dream of Napalm

Dream of Napalm (2006)

But can any artist or artwork completely wash its Pontius Pilate hands clean from the stink of politics. After all, George Orwell, in Why I Write, asserts that all art is political and notes: "The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." So, since art cannot be apolitical, should artists serve as "witnesses" for the times they live in -- especially if other information agencies (Fox News, cough cough) increasingly editorialize and are openly biased to particular political viewpoints. Should the studio, or the fractal generator, be an ostrich hole? Or does the artist have an obligation to record injustices and atrocities and document corruption and cultural insanity? If not the artist, who? Will governmental records accurately portray a regime or does such a historical record run a greater risk of being sanitized? Moreover, will any state-sanctioned archives be told more convincingly than the visual language art can speak? Take, for example, this:

A child's drawing of arriving at Terezin Concentration Camp where 15,000 children died.

[Image seen on Children's Art of the Holocaust]

Some artists sense the pull of history deeply and feel self-expression through art can be constructive towards spurring social change. Art Hazelwood, speaking earlier this year at a panel discussion on "Political Art -- Timely and Timeless" said:

Over the last several years I’ve talked to lots of people about political art and there has been a gradual shift. Before the Iraq War there seemed to be an attitude that political art was out of date or people had a general hostility towards it. But recently I’ve noticed a shift in people’s attitudes. People I have talked to are changing their minds. There are still the purists who believe that any concession will debase the temple of art, but their voice, once supreme in the art world, is now growing weaker. And it is obvious why. Political art might always have a place but in a time of war, and in a time of a rising police state political art becomes a necessity.


Some people say that political art has no effect in changing people’s minds, that it is preaching to the converted. To which I would one ever measured the value of a painting of the crucifixion by how many converts it made. Political art is cumulative in its effect. Its not merely one political print that changes the world. It is a part of a cultural movement.

Others, like Jed Perl writing in the New Republic, observe that art cannot always be expediently insulated from life.

The artists who find it difficult to turn from the horrors of the morning news to the specialized problems that confront them in their studios are confronting an authentic dilemma, for even ivory towers have doors and windows. While dropping the day's headlines into the middle of a canvas may never be a way of making a painting, an artist's far-flung experience must be allowed to seep into the studio, if only in a dialectical way -- as a tumult of feelings to which the orderly spirit of a still life or a geometric abstraction offers a much-needed riposte.

Legacy of Exxon

Legacy of Exxon (2000)

Am I wrong to show President Bush as a faceless blank slate -- as an empty vessel to be filled up with NeoCon nonsense by those shielding him in his no-bad-news bubble? Have I degraded my art or pummeled your temples because I suggest the Enron board is a pack of dogs and that Exxon's legacy is a horrific oil spill in Alaska. Maybe.

Not all of my art is political. I can (try to be) funny. I sometimes wander into nature. But some days the news of the world intrudes into my generator. Maybe I'm poisoning a percentage of my audience -- and foolish to hope for cultural awareness and progressive social change -- and admit that my ethics and morals could probably use a thorough questioning. But there is one thing I can say for certain about those days when politics creeps in to my fractals...

I sleep better on those nights.


Bush: Generated in QuaSZ. Minimally post-processed.

Enron: Generated in Fractal Zplot. Heavily post-processed.

Napalm: Generated in Sterling-ware. Heavily post-processed.

Exxon: Generated in Dofo-Zon Elite. Heavily post-processed.


Cross-posted to Blog with a View

First post, and first tip

Hello all,

Thanks for the invitation to this blog and I hope my contributions will be useful! To be honest, I almost never do any fractalling anymore. Back in, say, 1993, I first learned about fractals and got my first computer. Naturally I decided to write my own programs and that was great, trying to recreate images from fractal books borrowed from the local library. Images that took the better part of the day, or sometimes of the week, to render on my tiny 286 computer.

Somehow, at some point things changed and I've now become more interested in writing fractal software, than actually using it to create fractals. Which is good for the Ultra Fractal users out there, of course. I like to think that I help people to create better fractals than I could ever have made.

This does however mean that I won't have much to share about actual fractal creation. Therefore I've decided to talk a bit about Ultra Fractal each time and share some tips. I do have some ideas already -- for example, I'd like to shed some more light on the animation features in version 4 and the cool things that you can do with them -- but I'd very much welcome any comments. Please let me know what you'd like me to talk about!

Here is my first tip. I can imagine that you sometimes have a stand-alone browser window open in Ultra Fractal (use File > Browse to do this) and are looking through the zillion formulas in the public formula library trying to find something new and interesting. You know, reading the comments, looking at the preview, and suddenly you decide that you'd like to use this formula in a new, or even an existing fractal. So you open that fractal, and the only way to select the formula seems to be to click the Browse button on the Formula tab, which opens a new modal browser, and navigate to that formula again.

The tip is: You don't have to click the Browse button. You can just drag a formula from the stand-alone browser to the Formula tab and drop it onto the title of the currently selected formula. This also works on the Inside and Outside tabs, and on the Mapping tab, where you can drag a transformation into the list box. Cool, isn't it?

Pipe Dream

Fractals are sometimes perceived as trippy, halucinogenic things. Which probably says more about the viewers than the artists. Pipe Dream was the name of a Hendrix boot. Speaking of boots, some Grateful Dead boots had fractal album covers. Hard to think of GD stuff being boots when they'd let you plug into the sound board at their shows. Boots are usually not encouraged, but since the GD never had a top 40 anyway, what the hey. Hippy days, tie-dye shirts, pipe dreams, incense and peppermints.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mandelbrots and Marriage.

Making art can be addictive. When I say "addictive", I don't use the term lightly. I mean that making art can often consume an artist, to the exclusion of other people, especially the people who are closest in their lives. At the risk of hammering that cliché to death--"art is a jealous mistress"--I was wondering if other people can relate to my experience with frustrated spouses.

After almost ten years of marriage, my husband and I cannot stand to be away from each other very long. This next may sound like treacle, but we really cannot live without one another. We never tire of talking to one another--besides lovers, we are best friends--and talk about stuff and nonsense for happy hours on end. Our happiest hours are spent sitting on our Vermont porch with a pot of Vermont Green Mountain freshly ground coffee, and "cussin' and discussin" (as he would say with his Texan drawl) for hours. The fly in the ointment? My art.

When I am making art, I want--no, need-- to be left alone. Sometimes, this phase lasts for not just hours, but days. Maybe a week. Anything that takes me away from it is an unwanted intrusion. The process--for me--is almost like going into a deep fugue, where I cannot hear or see anyone. Voices wanting something from me sound like ghostly echoes on a tinny radio station---I want to shut the radio off. The only thing I see is what I am working on, and everything else fades into the background--unreal, amorphous. Understandably, my husband has been resentful and frustrated during these periods. In turn, I would be unapologetic and insensitive. I resented his resentment. And I would not, could not, put the art aside when in the throes of the process. I am not proud of this, but his frustration would often result in me withdrawing even further. Then I'd complete the piece, everything would go back to normal--until a new piece began or I revisited an old piece because I wasn't happy with it.

Since my art now pays our mortgage, this has abated somewhat, but it never really went away. It is always there, like a freshly snuffed candle that quickly reignites. Do any of you have this problem? If so, how have you dealt with it? Or am I just a lousy, selfish wife?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Biographical (Moby-Dick, Chapter 12)

Biographical (Moby-Dick, Chapter 12)

"He was a modern Viking. There is something curious about real blue-eyed people. They are never quite human, in the good classic sense, human as brown-eyed people are human: the human of the living humus. About a real blue-eyed person there is usually something abstract, elemental. Brown-eyed people are, as it were, like the earth, which is tissue of bygone life, organic, compound. In blue eyes there is sun and rain and abstract, uncreate element, water, ice, air, space, but not humanity. Brown-eyed people are people of the old, old world: Allzu menschlich. Blue-eyed people tend to be too keen and abstract."

--D.H. Lawrence, on Melville

As for me: Call me Peter (green-eyed).

Tugando: the dancing fractal bear

parameter file "bear01.loo"

Where is the music? What is the music?

It must be jumpy and fast; look at the way he's dancing.

Check out the shoes: He's a stylish fellow.

And that strange flowing white stripe, like a flame, a scarf unfurling from his brain.

Hey, he's got two heads.


In another place,
in another plane,
he would not be a bear

He would be some royal seal
an emblem, rich and strong
glowing with tradition and history,
and dignity that never really was

I'd better leave now; both his heads are looking at me. And the music has stopped.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welcome to the Circus

Ferris Wheel

"A consummate showman and entrepreneur, P.T. Barnum was famous for bringing both high and low culture to all of America." – from

If we substitute "all of America" to "the whole world" we might have an idea of the current state of Fractal Art today. There are masters and wannabes, highbrow and low, geniuses, impostors and fakes abundant in our little self-absorbed world of art. I’ve always said that my personal style of art is suitable for hanging – if you live at the circus!

It was a great surprise and honor to be invited to contribute to this blog. I agree with Kerry’s affirmation of Apathy. I also agree with Keith that Renderosity and other art sites are there mainly for the sense of community. I wouldn’t have met many of you without them. The days of the newsgroups have long passed.

If I had one wish for sites that let you post just any old thing, it would be for more people to take pride in their work. I grow weary and jaded at the presentation of somebody’s umpteenth variation on a theme – as if sheer numbers of posts were the goal.

I’m not an everyday fractalist. I appreciate something that has some "oomph" to it – be it highbrow or low!

There’s a poem I learned in grammar school. Sometimes I just want to scream it at the screen.

It’s a little ditty by Anne Shaw called "Life’s Lessons":

Life's Lessons
If you can't be a tree, be a bush,
But be the best little bush on the hill.
Opportunity's door is marked, "Push,"
And failure's door says, "Stand Still."
If you think you're too small for big things,
Then do small things in a big way,
You cannot win if you don't begin,
And the best time to start is today.
If you can't score the goal, give the cheer,
Every life has a goal to be found.
Just remember today's mighty oak,
Was a nut who once held his ground.
----Anne Shaw

Sometimes I think we’re all just a little bit nuts!

Hello !

Hello !

First thanks to the organizers for the invitation. :-) Here is an image I did for the occasion... because I don't fractal much these times and the few unpublished images I had done went away with my laptop (stolen...). :-(

This image is made with the technique I've been using since some years now, and which could be called "pattern piling".

The idea is derived from the Perlin algorythm of "FBM" colorings. To get nice FBM clouds that look random, the Perlin algorythm choose a random but continuous function (understand "pattern") on the plane. Then, it chooses a second one, scales it by 2 (make it look twice "smaller" if you want), and adds it to the first one, with some weight. And it goes on like this. It eventually yields a pattern that display structure on a wide scale range (just because the result is the sum of many patterns of different scales).

The function choosen in the Perlin algorythm is such that you get these smooth FBM clouds. But nothing prevents you to replace this function or pattern by more fancy ones, even preferably with discontinuous functions. If you do this (with some good amount of twisting...) you get the kind of image displayed above.

I think the first person to use this method (not counting usual FBM) was Mark Townsend, with Grievance (or maybe he made some other before not displayed on his site... Mark ?). Later I modified my FBM coloring to make it able to use many different basic patterns. I'm now using the third version of this coloring. I didn't make it public, mainly because a good part of the "art" goes into finding the patterns. I've some further ideas for developing it, but the current sequential way of programming in UF makes them impossible to concretize... I'm waiting for UF5... :-)

Maybe some words about me : I'm 25, doing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in Geneva (no, not at CERN...). I started fractals around 1996 with a primitive home-made program, and switched to UF in 1998. I'm not really fractalling anymore, just an image here and there, so I'm not so sure, I'll be able to respect the one post in a month rule, but we'll see.

Anyway, nice to be here !

BTW, do someone know why the jpg algorythm completely blurs any bright red area, and if there is some cure ? I noticed it years ago but apparently no improvment in sight... I like bright red !!

Each One Of You Is Perfect

"Each One Of You Is Perfect The Way You Are
And You Can Use A Little Improvement"

Shunryu Suzuki , a Zen abbot, used this teaching in one of his addresses. It occurred to me that it’s how I view fractals.

At first I would take them into other art programs for alterations. Draw on them, apply filters, turn them inside out to achieve a completed image. After a few years I started using them in abstract collages. And then I began to combine them with human figures.

This melding is one in a series of surreal female icons printed on cloth. The fractal is a XenoDream shell.

Taking fractals into multi media helped make my art more obviously personal. Moving into new areas of expression, I always pack my fractals for the trip.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"Creativity Takes Courage" Henri Matisse

Dream of Life Constructed by Tina Oloyede
Dream of Life Constructed

Well, it's taken me a few days building up the courage to create my first post here - so here goes!

First - thank you to Terry and Tim for setting this blog up, and hello to my fellow contributors - I have to say I feel somewhat in awe of the fractal lineage represented here, and honoured to have been invited to join!

I already know some of you well, and others only vaguely - but here is a short introductory bio for those who don't know me:

I'm Tina Oloyede, 41 and live in Shropshire, UK, with my family. By profession I am a doctor and have been into fractal art since 1999, my introduction to it having come via
Doug Harrington's work. I have dabbled with many programs including Tierazon, Sterlingware, Apophysis and Xenodream but now almost exclusively use Ultra Fractal. My fractal motivation is primarily as an artist as I have no maths or programming abilities - my work can be seen on my website here. I write a great deal in my head but usually find it hard to put pen to paper!

My most recent fractal activity has been to do the first two of Janet Parke's Ultra Fractal courses at the Visual Arts Academy, which have proved to be excellent. The image I've posted here is my final piece of homework on the masking course, inspired by Henri Matisse.

Ok - that's enough about me!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Eye of the Beholder?

It may now be said that an object becomes, or fails to become, a work of art in direct response to the inclination of the perceiver to assume an appreciative role.
--Victor Burgin, "Situational Aesthetics"

Who among us hasn't wondered why fractal art cannot seem to crack the glass ceiling of broader cultural recognition and gain entry into the pantheon of the larger art world?

Well, perhaps the problem is not with our art -- but with our perceivers.

Could it be that we are up to the challenge of processing our art, both aesthetically and technologically, but those who view fractal art are not yet up to the task of processing it psychologically?

Cynthia Ward, writing in Politics and Culture, says in "African Visual Culture: Minding an F":

Since the founding of fractal geometry by Benoit Mandelbrot twenty-five years ago, there has been a growing iterative feedback loop of fractal art analysis, ranging from Hugh Kenner's 1988 study of Ezra Pound's Cantos to recent analyses of the fractal dimensions of Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. Many of these analyses suggest directly or indirectly that the appeal of fractal art arises from an innate response to fractals, which have been called "the basic building blocks of nature's scenery" and even "the fingerprints of God" ([Richard] Taylor, "Fractal Expressionism"). [Physicist Richard] Taylor has extensively analyzed the fractal dimension of Pollock paintings in such publications as Nature, Leonardo, and Scientific American and he, as well as other researchers, have attempted to determine the fractal dimension or "D value" considered "most pleasing" to viewers.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso

It probably won't surprise you that fractal forms scored in the two lowest registers of sensory pleasantry. The "wow" factor is strong, but, apparently, fractal shapes are not comfort food for the raised-on-representational-art masses. Even worse, Taylor argues that people cannot easily reboot what art they like because preferences are " continuous visual exposure to patterns characterized by this D value."

Ward feels this internalized aesthetic selection process explains the chorus of critical whack-a-mole reactions to fractal art. What's worse is that individualized sensory biases will not easily shift overnight. Ward feels history supports her:

There is strong evidence that fractal appreciation is not innate or instinctive. The initial reception of artworks now considered fractal was characterized by shock, horror, hostility, and derision. In 1956 Time magazine labeled Pollock "Jack the Dripper." Early viewers of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon were appalled by the "hideousness of the faces" of the "monstrous" women in the "terrible picture," which Picasso did not exhibit until nine years after completion, when reviewers called it a "nightmare" (qtd. in Arthur Miller, Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc). In The Fractal Geometry of Nature, Mandelbrot stresses the predominance of negative aesthetic assessments of fractal shapes as "'monstrous,' 'pathological,' or even 'psychopathic'" --an attitude reflected in a long history of western mistrust of concepts central to fractals such as irrational numbers and infinity. As Ron Eglash observes [in African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design], in "Plato's philosophic cosmology, spiritual perfection was seen as the higher level of transcendent stasis, and illusion and ignorance were the result of life in our lower realm of changing dynamics ('flux,' which in ancient Greek also means 'diarrhea')."

Well, no wonder people sometimes tell me my work looks like...


So, fractals iterate chaos rather than serenity in many people's brains. Ward goes on to explain in significant detail that the numerous fractal objects found in early African art worked heavily against its canonical acceptance. Gallery patrons, wanting comfortable shapes and satisfied minds, opted instead for more calming representational forms. You know the drill: faces in portraiture, bowls of fruit, saints in repose or martyrdom.

Even a quick surfing excursion shows that Ward is correct on one front. Fractals pop up all over African art:

African leatherwork.

Tuareg leatherwork: the basic shape is made of 6 copies each shrunk by 1/3. You can't miss the Sierpinski Gaskets.

Egyptian columns.

Ancient Egyptian cosmology often used the lotus blossom as an image for the development of the universe.
The petals within petals within petals of the lotus represented the cosmos on smaller and smaller scales.

[Both images seen on African Fractal Art]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Thank you Terry and Tim for putting the effort into this thing. And especially thank you for inviting me to participate. I need to come out of hibernation.

I feel a need to make my first post here profound. I have to impress all my fellow contributors and all the lurkers with with my insight and depth of thought. Well, maybe next time. I will take Terry's advice and just write. Maybe, like the infinite monkeys, if I type enough words something interesting will appear.

Here is my requisite introduction. I am 51, still married after 27 years, two children and almost 2 grandchildren (2nd is due this month). I have a degree in mathematics and have spent my career designing, building, programming computers and other things with micro processors.

I too am a fractal fraud. It has been five years since I seriously fired up the fractal generator. Back in the old days, it was easy. No one (well, not many people anyway, but allow me some hyperbole) had done it before, so everything was new and interesting. Two color fractals on a screen with resolution less than 1% of what we are used to now, and which took all day and all night to build. And we liked it.

With each new technology step in screen colors and resolution there was much more to explore. 16 colors, 256 colors, and wow 24 bit (essentially infinite) colors.

So what happened? I cannot claim fractal-block. The truth is more along the lines of laziness. Too much effort to maintain the web page. Too much effort to find something truly new. Everything I did seemed the same, and I was falling into a variation-on-a-theme rut. But on reflection, it was always took some effort and at some point I just quit making that effort. It was easy to let the web site go, and then to stop posting and eventually stop reading the newsgroups. And then, in isolation, even the art became repetitive and stopped.

Meanwhile everyone else kept finding new things to do with fractals and newer and faster hardware. And I am trying to figure out what I have done recently that gives me as much satisfaction as computer art used to. Well, it is not really that bleak, there are other interests and plenty of things to occupy my time. Still Terry made me realize how much I miss doing fractals. And, seeing the posts here and view your web pages makes it obvious how wrong headed is my "it-is-all-the-same" attitude.

Seeing several familiar names, and seeing your great new work is getting me motivated again. So, thank you all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I won't be complicit
I can't give you up
How can I judge you?
I'll have to ignore it

The Joy of Apathy

I recently realized that I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care if fractal art is Real Art (tm), if algorithmic art is fractal art, or if digital art is fine art. I don’t care if digital prints are multiple originals, reproductions, giclees, photographs, limited editions, or edited limitations. I don’t care if my art is any good, if your art is any good, if any art is any good. I don’t care if real mathematicians think I’m a fake for playing with pictures and not having a degree in math or if real artists think I’m a fake for playing with numbers and not having a degree in art. I don’t care if the “fractal elite” are personally leading a conspiracy to take over the world (although I think it’s cool that Damien Kenobi has apparently perfected the Fractal Jedi Mind Trick).

That’s not to say that I don’t care about anything, or even that I don’t care about my art. It’s just that after 20+ years playing with fractals, chaos, complex analysis, number theory, numerical analysis, image processing, computer programming, geometry, algebra, and calculus, I know what I like, I know what I like to do, and I’m very good at what I do. I don’t need others to tell me what is real, good, or valid. I create what I want to create and study what I want to study because that’s what I want to do. That’s the beauty of both art and mathematics—one is free to create their own way. If others accept it, then that may make it more popular or more useful, but it doesn’t make it right. If no one else accepts it, that doesn’t make it wrong. My art makes me happy; it fulfills my need, it keeps me up all hours, it is my passion.

My art--it’s my joy of apathy. I hope you find yours, if you haven’t already.

Art with Fractals

I've been thinking about fractals and art and that's what I came up with.

Like the world's shortest email message, I have put everything into the subject line and now there's no need to add any message.

Fractal art is commonly labelled "Fractal Art," which at first glance makes sense, but in a way, I think it's backwards.

Can fractals be art? Sure, because art can be made with anything, can't it? Art is not a quality of the medium, it's a quality of the object composed in that medium. Art is independent of the medium, the substance it's made with.

Art is found in the substance's form, like clay, for instance. Can clay be art? Yes, but only if it is formed into art, made into something artistic. We buy clay by the pound. We don't buy sculpture by the pound.

Can watercolor painting be art? Naturally it can, no one argues or speculates about that. You can make art with watercolors or art with oil paints or art with photography.

Are all watercolor paintings, or all photographs, art? No, definitely not. We've all seen some, sitting in the garbage. Maybe we made them.

Which brings me to the age old question, what is art?

How about, what is music? It has been said that music is the better noise; music is what sounds good.

So, art is the better looking stuff; what looks good to the eye. Art is what is valued or admired. And there are probably degrees of "art" just as there can be degrees of value or admiration.

It's subjective too, I'd say. There may be characteristics that are commonly found in works that are considered to be "art." But, that's just the subjectivity of a large group. We don't always agree with what others admire and vice versa.

So why do some people have such a problem seeing fractals as art? I think it's because their definition of art is tied to the medium and when presented with a new medium their definition can't accommodate it.

That's what happened with photography until it became obvious to many people, after seeing really great, artistic photographs, that art could made with a camera. Photography was just a new medium.

The strange thing is: I think it's easier to recognize art than it is to recognize what isn't art. The good stuff is always more distinct than the mediocre. Which is why I think there's such a larger volume of mediocre material in any artform: We're not absolutely sure it's mediocre.

So the essential ingredient in fractal art isn't fractals, it's art. To find fractal art, don't go looking for fractals, go looking for art. Art with fractals.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Zis is KAOS, Shtocker, we don't nnnntt here...

From the old Get Smart TV show. That the same jokes came up over and over again didn't seem to bother its audience. The comfort of familiarity. Of routine. Of ritual. Artists too can fall into their ruts. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. The grass is always greener... I was told that agents 86 and 99 eventually had a child. They named it 47.5

I asked you not to tell me that.

The KAOS logo was a goofy looking cross-eyed eagle, if that goes part way to explaining the frac.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


I probably was first introduced to fractals by the Winfract program sometime back in the early 1990's. I remember seeing color cycling for the first time and was hooked ever since.

Since this is my first post, I want to keep it mostly simple. The art and mathematic of creating fractals can become very complicated very quickly and can become overwhelming, time consuming, d&#! frustrating, and at the same time can be enjoyable as an escape from the stress of everyday life.

My first subject at orbit trap is about IFS fractals. I've been puzzled over this very simple / complicated formula for off and on several intervals of months over several years. I've seen the IFS in several programs, most recently being the apophysis program where it creates probably the most stunning images that I have ever seen. The formula for the IFS is quite simple, but the ways that the formula is transformed and the ways that the points are constructed into fractal art has been a great challenge to understand.

Stephen C. Ferguson

Friday, August 04, 2006


This morning my cell phone rang. When I answered, a professional woman’s voice started to speak, saying, “We have important, personal business for—”

And then the professional voice broke down, to be replaced with a Speak & Spell-sounding voice grating out “Damien Jones.” The professional voice then resumed, telling me to call their business office about important, personal business for (back to Speak & Spell) “Damien Jones.”

I didn’t call. I didn’t even stay on the line to see what number I was supposed to call. The inhumanity of having a machine call me, coupled with the arrogance to not even provide a hint as to what the “business” is about, suggests that it is some telemarketer who got my name and number from some list and is cold-calling.

But of course, if I’m writing about this here, I must have a point that is somehow related to fractals. And I do. What was so undignifying about the whole incident is that when my phone rings, it’s a demand for attention, so I reasonably expect that whatever it is should be worth that attention. When instead it’s just some money-grubber’s attempt to get their hands into my wallet, it’s annoying because it’s just wasted time.

...this brings us to fractals. Lots of people (myself included) have galleries at community sites like Renderosity or deviantART. I’ve got a web site of my own, I don’t need Renderosity, so why would I bother to post there? I think it’s because I want some feedback, some attention. Posting something there is the equivalent of ringing the cell phone. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when very few people pick up. After all, I’m just wasting their time and they’re probably very annoyed with me for doing so. Maybe I should be more selective in what I put there.

It’s easy to bash Renderosity or dA for all the puffing, lightweight comments that get placed on images (or the myriad other serious problems these “community” sites suffer from) but I think this is only a gross manifestation of the same desire all of us have who post artwork anywhere, even on our own sites. We want attention. We want you to come and look. This is what artists do.

Maybe I was too hard on the telemarketers.

Probably not.

Fractal Forgery

The Mysterious Conjunction (1999)

I feel like a fraud. I haven't created any fractal art in ages, and these days other people are programming Apophysis. The image that I currently consider my best is almost seven years old.

That's one sixth of my entire life!

We all have our own "good old days". Fractally speaking, mine were 1999 on the Ultra Fractal mailing list, and later lording it over the Apophysis list in 2003. They were "good" because it was obvious that people liked what I was doing, and that's always nice to know.

At both of those times I was being very productive, and also not loath to put pen to paper (so to speak). So maybe there's a connection (or conjunction)...maybe by writing here regularly I'll be able to generate productivity elsewhere. Or maybe the productivity will be here...perhaps this will be a third career in fractals: fractal artist, fractal programmer, fractal commentator.

And commentary is something that seems to be missing in the fractal art scene. Fractal art is actually a very interesting phenomenon, deeply caught up in the paradigms of the early 21st century: computers and connectivity. There are many perspectives from which fractal art hasn't been examined. For instance, could it be considered naive art, or outsider art? And in what way is it one thing that can be considered globally like that?

I'm not saying I'm going to answer those questions (or even ask them), but I think this blog has potential as a forum where the "big" questions can be considered. And with any luck we'll all look back at the beginning of this blog as the "good old days".

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Morning Walk

Writing a blog post is not unlike beginning work on a new image. How does one even start to fill a blank screen?

When I first started blogging, I thought I had to write a certain way to fulfill (I realize now) self-determined expectations. I had to be as political or as confessional as many of the blogs I'd read. After all, blogs were being hyped to be the cutting edge of political discourse -- destined to deep six the mass media giants. Or else blogs were an alternative publishing godsend to the stale cracker brittleness of the corporate monoliths. Blogs were serious business. Blog were weighty...

...weighty as a lead keyboard, or so I discovered. I hated writing "those" kinds of blogs. Who can handle all that shoulders-of-giants responsibility anyway? Besides, I felt formal and frustrated -- like I was doing difficult homework I had stupidly assigned to myself. Who needs this, I thought.

But I persisted. After all, that's what I always tell my students. Keep writing. Never throw anything away. The very act of writing will help you discover what it is you want to say. Your voice will eventually develop and become your own. Your voice...

And one day I had an epiphany. Blogs could be filled up just like any other empty notebook or web space. They could be annotated images. Or letters or poems. Or recent thoughts swarming inside one's mental beehive. Blogs could be, in fact, the opposite of weighty. Casual as a day off. Intimate as a quiet conversation among friends.

I remembered some advice I received years ago from a college radio station director before I took to the air as a part-time student deejay. He told me not to shout or sonorously intone. He said: Pretend you are talking to one person.


Hi. How are you? It's good to see you again. It's been too long, hasn't it?


Morning walk;
no footprints in the snow --
but those left behind.

--Paul Cooper

Here's an occasional and enjoyable morning ritual of mine. I pour some coffee, fire up my laptop, rummage through my bookmarks, and drop in on a few of my favorite fractal virtual "museums." Would you like to tag along today?

XDpic212 by Joseph Presley

XDpic202 by Joseph Presley

The first stop this morning is Joseph Presley's The Fractal Abyss. Presley's (and I guess I'll use the critical formality of last names, even if I know the artist) galleries are rich and varied, and he seems equally comfortable using both Ultra Fractal and XenoDream. He also has some fascinating themed galleries centering on subjects like clockworks and musical art. The image above caused me to lean closer and almost stretch out to touch my monitor. It's so crisp, the shadowing provides depth, and the mix of sharp and muted forms balances out the perspective nicely. It's also a true case of art imitating life -- in this instance, the naturally occurring self-similarity found in trees.

Fly Me to the Moon by Tina Oloyede

Fly Me to the Moon by Tina Oloyede

The next stop is (sort of) the ICM 2006 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest. If you haven't wandered over, you owe it yourself to check out the final selections (which include some of Orbit Trap's contributors). But, this morning, thanks to the links Dave Makin provided below, I backed up to examine all of the entries. Contest "winners" are always subjective choices and deemed so in the judges' eye of the beholder, so I wasn't surprised to find many striking but non-selected images that I found exciting. It's been overcast where I live lately, so I must be starved for bright and light, and I noticed -- among entrants and winners alike -- that many of the contest images gravitated to shadows and darker tones. Please understand this is just an observation and not a criticism. I'm overly fond of the dark arts hues myself, and when my wife looks at new work I've done, she often jokes that I should "lighten up" -- literally.

Anyway, my mood this morning seemed to seek out, as REM says, "Happy Shiny People." I liked the saturated colors in Panny Brawley's Fandango, the staccato lines and shooting rays of Harmen Wiersma's Freedom, and the icy simplicity and bisections of Stefan Hundhammer's Antarctica. But was Tina Oloyede's image above that I closely studied and that lingered in my mind later. There's nothing Fractal Noir about it. As the title implies, it's exploding with joy -- a sensual, romantic triptych. It's like overlapping deconstructed galaxies with Miro shapes and colors. Oloyede had another image, Eifonia, selected by the panel, but it didn't rocket me to our nearest neighbor like Fly Me to the Moon. Of course, as some of you already know, much more of Oloyede's work can be seen at her site: aartika!

image361 by Laurent Antonini

image361 by Laurent Antonini

Next, let's beam over to Dreampaint -- Laurent Antonini's expansive site. Antonini, long known for his fractal work, has been playing more recently with Vue and Poser and composing remarkable fractal mixed media pieces, heroic fantasies / science-fiction themed images, landscapes, and some very cool seascapes. But my cursor rested on the above image when I stumbled across it in one of his Ultra Fractal galleries. In a way, it's a companion piece for Oloyode's image -- maybe not as cheery but still definitely a cure for my morning light deprivation blues. This could be Saturn and several of its satellites seen outside one of the Voyager spacecraft's window. The intense light pours blindingly, forcefully striking the monitor -- nearly going nova as it flares on the glass. But, strangely, the image, although captivating, isn't very warm. Instead, it's somehow removed, suspended -- somehow distant as an untouchable planet.

Rudbeckia by Susan Schmalzel

Rudbeckia by Susan Schmalzel

Perhaps we should pick a flower before our walk ends, so our last stop will be OT contributor Susan Schmalzel's Studio Riverhu. She has a lovely fractal garden growing in her studio, but the above image seemed ideal to grace my screen's vase for a time. The stalk and petal forms appear natural as they flutter in a frozen still life beneath a nearly cloudless blue sky. The flower, like a diva, holds center stage and draws in one's gaze. Too pretty to pluck, I leave it for others to enjoy and close the screen. And so, with a mouse click, my morning walk ends.

Thanks for coming along today. I enjoyed the company. By the way, I don't mean to imply or not imply anything about the intrinsic worth or artistic attributes of the images I've highlighted. Nor do I assume you should share my tastes -- assuming these even are my tastes. Perhaps these images merely suited my mood this morning. Maybe tomorrow I'll be feeling less chipper when I lumber out on a midnight stroll and drink my fill of jello shooters images of a different tone. Maybe then something like Philip Northover's JFK will excite my senses and rev up my thoughts and set my heart racing.

Some of you might want to just stay home that night...