Monday, September 04, 2006

Is it a fractal?

I often see this question in forums or galleries, or as a rule for a contest or challenge. This is mostly because forums, galleries and contests usually have some categories, and some are thematic and others are for specific software, so there isn't a neat fit. So how do we answer?

As an artist or a program developer, it doesn't matter to me; fractals are merely tools. But since you asked...

One reaction to the question is that it is a false dichotomy to assume that a picture is a fractal or not. By analogy, it's like saying that a picture is or is not a spiral, and by extension, spiral art is a category that contains all spiral pictures, created by spiral enthusiasts... which would obviously be a strawman argument in the absence of extreme examples. Sometimes collages are acknowledged as a crossover category, allowing for elements that either are or are not fractals, but this has not addressed the underlying assumption. To escape from the dichotomy, we might encourage people to treat fractal as an adjective instead, that applies to structure or process. A picture or object may have fractal structure in shape, coloring, texture. Or tools may use fractal processes to create shapes or coloring, whether evident in the end result or not.
Having divided the picture into various aspects, each of them can have multiple parts, and each might be categorized, for example, as 1. arbitrary or 2. algorithmic but not fractal or 3. having genuinely fractal aspects. Some of them might be further subdivided until the analysis itself seems both recursive and chaotic.
But it may be "too much information."

Some fractal structures have already been assimilated into mainstream computer art/illustration without question - fractal terrains, and many procedural textures use fractal noises - and nobody says the resulting art 'is a fractal'. So if you consider making an arbitrary shape and using a fractal texture in Maya or Photoshop, or doing the same in UltraFractal or XenoDream, what is the difference? Practically, the steps in each program may be different, but the viewer's (and often the artist's) perception is likely to be shaped by expectations of what the programs are for.

We could simply choose one of Yes/No/Partly/Sort of. we could sometimes say that it is a fractal in principle but all the coefficients that would make it look like a fractal are zero. But all this assumes an informed artist. Many would have to admit "I have no idea but I made it with program X". I haven't yet received any requests to automatically generate an answer along with the picture.

Changing the subject slightly, here is the Blogofractal.


Blogger John S. Meade said...

As I write this, Skooter (our Sheltie pup) is building a wall around around my chair using an odd assortment of dog
toys and the random sock or T-shirt or a chewed up roll of toilet tissue (uh... I'll be back in a moment or two),so
I don't have a whole lotta time here... Chester our Sheltie (the famous one) passed on after almost 13 years,
on July 10th)

If you take together the last few contributions (ok... sans comments) starting, say, from Kerry's "Standards" up
through Guido's and Sue's to Cruelanimal's and top them off with Garth's and turn them sideways and view down
through them like they were layers in UF or PS (or I guess it's CS2 these days) -- or more to the point -- use them
like like the engaging holons they are -- you get some very interesting results.

The essential Heywood Floyd question (No -- not "By the way, which one of you is Pink?")
and the Dave Bowman answer.

Skooter has disappeared into the house, last seen with his nose to the ground. Gotta go.

9/04/2006 8:37 AM

Blogger cruelanimal said...

Thanks for sharing the Blogofractal. It nearly had my keyboard covered with my morning coffee. My favorite: "I shot a man in Reno. Check it out on YouTube."

9/04/2006 10:47 AM

Blogger Tim said...

I think fractal as an adjective really clarifies this categorization issue. Fractal would then be a quality which images posess to a greater or lesser degree.

Although most of my work uses fractals, I really see myself as an "algorithmic" person and not a fractal one. Just as you referred to fractals as tools, I would say that what interests me about fractals is the imagery that results from their algorithms and not their fractal qualities. They make a wide variety of structures that can sometimes have artistic value.

In fact many times I've found myself making images that featured elements in a fractal that were almost entirely the result of the rendering method (like the sine trap 'diamonds' and 'teeth' on strings in Sterlingware) and not actually related to the fractal formula. These images aren't really "fractal" at all, I would say. Algorithmic, but not fractal.

In the end I think fractal art will come to mean a style of art like art nouveau or art deco or bauhaus (and it's not easy to define them either). It will be fractal because it features identifiable fractal structures, that is, forms created by fractal formulas. Images also made by fractal formulas (maybe even the same ones) that focus on some interesting detail but do not contain an obvious fractal form will just be labeled abstract/digital. Classification will be a matter of opinion and debate, like it is with other style categories in the artworld.

Blogofractal would make it easy...

9/04/2006 11:54 PM


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