Monday, October 09, 2006

There are no real things to be seen there...

I think the nature of modern art resides on its use of a given aesthetic to criticize the aesthetic itself. This is what makes modern art to be often seen as nothing more than pure “entertainment”. The ordinary impression is that most of art works are easily “done by everyone” or just “means nothing”, since there isn't any apparent compromise with “reality” or “nature” and, because of that, there aren't compromises with the old “good taste” for representing real things. Mostly, modern works of art are given the very impression that each form of art “determines” the effects to itself. Or its aim is to be unique to the nature of it´s medium. Saying like that emerges the concept that the unique area of competence of a given modern work of art coincides with all that is unique to the nature of its medium.

Contrary to illusionistic or realistic art, where the goal is to conceal art in favor of representation, modern art uses Art to call attention to Art. What once was only implicitly treated by the masters of “old” painting is now regarded as positive factors by contemporaneous painters: the surface of the canvas, the shape of the support (frame), the properties of the colors are now areas of interest for modern artists. Manet becomes the first modern painter due “only” to his interest on the surfaces where his paintings were painted. Moreover, he started with the destruction of the representation when he became the first painter to reject the visual illusion of dept which since the Renaissance was the most desired painterly object for artists. Meanwhile Cézanne sacrificed the correctness of a given image (human body, mountains, trivial objects) in favor of “fitting them better” into the shape of the canvas. So, from then on, the representation of the object is no longer important. Since then there aren't real things to be seen there, in the modern painting surfaces.

While the “old” painters supposed the aim of painting was to produce the most vivid illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface, the modern painters instead are rejecting such an illusion since they become aware of the flatness of the canvas. So, the representation of recognizable objects is no longer important. Moreover, recognizable objects can´t “live” in a space which isn't three-dimensional. Under such a condition the reality of the object disappears.

As for that “lack of reality”, almost the same thing can be said about modern fractal art. Since the space of fractals isn't a real space, how can we figure there real objects (rivers, trees, mountains, girls and bottles) if not by simple association? Or saying it another way: since all recognizable forms exist only in a three-dimensional space, the suggestion of a recognizable form only calls back to that kind of space. And I don´t believe continuing to “see real objects” in a three-dimensional space is the aim of the multi-dimensional fractal art. There is no reason for such a “literature”. To say it very directly - why start from a mathematical formula (or whatever it can be) to “see” a river at the end of the calculation? I think that fractals suffers from a “missing of reality” that becomes nearly unbearable for the artists. But the fact that fractals are created by nearly pure science means that their objects are not translatable into literary terms and must lose their tendency of “being real things” in order to became real Art. After the image importer, Sprite, however, Reality is invading fractals, but that is quite an another story.


Blogger Garth Thornton said...

In general I agree (though some may take up the point that the mind tends to look for semblances whether intended by the artist or not.) There are significant exceptions however. One is a program such as XenoDream, which is based in real 3D space, and uses 3D IFS fractals (as well as primitives) mainly with the intention of creating real things that never were. The same applies to L-systems.

10/10/2006 3:09 AM

Blogger Mark Townsend said...

One might argue that even 3D programs employ an illusionistic contrivance, really no different from linear perspective and shading, since the end result is still a two dimensional image.

10/10/2006 5:53 AM

Blogger John S. Meade said...

>Commonly accepted and familiar< reality is invading fractals. And true, the space of fractals isn't a real space, if by “real” you mean indescribable without using some form of >i< (square root of negative one). My take on all of this, is that hey, since we're starting out with a “mathematical formula” here and this formula is, by its most basic definition a description of reality, then the image we produce is a visual translation of the knowledge of the territory the formula contains... or a map.
What part of the map, how we display it, and how we color the map, is thankfully still up to us, and may be the only contributions to the aesthetic experience, we make. How we >name< them is the now familiar (and commonly accepted) “other shoe”.

There is a subset of us artsy-fartsy types that name their works in a format like “formula+coordinates”, and leave the emotionalizations up to the viewer*. And there is a subset of us mathsy-bathsy types that love the intricacies of coloring maps. But I'm digressing (no I'm not! -- yes I am, I am!!)

We commonly accept our working knowledge of reality to be bound by three dimensions plus time. But those four dimensions are part and parcel of the larger reality these days popularly referred to as the membrane or (in some circles) the “quantum soup” (“why a duck?”). I have this image of Bohr looking at Heisenberg and saying, “I shoulda sent it ta the Marx Brothers!”

So when we mouse around in our programs and punch a few keys and produce this image, see. We are at the very least, gazing upon a map of a place that exists some whenwhere or the description of a process underpinning reality some wherewhen** that is just as real as you and I.

Ok. You. Just as real as You. I admit, these days, it's hard to describe me without resorting to the (uncommonly) imaginary.

And what Garth (hesitated?, declined?) to add is – with the help of some other wares (hard & soft) the “things that never were” but were produced (huh?) in Xenodream can be tooled and brought into our “touchy-feely” domain. That machine in Jurassic Park III does indeed exist. And what about those guys that developed the RGB of scents and odors. I think a “printer of smells” is out there too.

* “Nice tree”
** What part of infinity don't you understand? (Fer that (as opposed to Fermat) matter what part >do< any of us understand?)

10/10/2006 9:01 AM

Blogger Tim said...

Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think what Guido is suggesting is that fractals are unrelated to real things except, perhaps, by coincidence. I think that's something most of us would already agree with. At some time we've probably all given names to fractals that reflect their similarity to something real like a bird or a flower.

It's okay to do this, and sometimes the results are quite interesting. Keith's done a lot of work using fractals to represent plants and it's been very popular, even to the point of being stolen.

But it takes a different kind of talent and hard work to make that happen than it does to present fractals just as fractals. As fractals, they're real. They're real fractals. Unique, individual and they don't have to look like anything except fractals (although they often do).

This "non-representational" approach to fractals is much less limited and has more creative potential because it allows fractals to express all their image qualities and characteristics and not just those that replicate real things.

Or how about this, "Don't try to translate your fractals. Let them speak with their native, fractal words."

Or, whoever asked a song-bird to stop singing and speak English? Birds are more beautiful when they sing, and fractals are more beautiful when they don't try to be anything but a fractal.

Don't get me wrong, I still like artwork like Keith's and others who produce work like it. The fact that their plants or coral reefs are made up of fractals adds an extra dimension to them and is a very creative application of fractals (collage), but it's okay for fractals to just be fractals too.

10/10/2006 3:03 PM

Blogger Mark Townsend said...

Guido, I’d be wary of saying what “must” be done for fractals to become “real” art (if they aren’t that already). Such a global statement seems to be encouraging homogenaety: all fractals must be this, all fractals must be that; is that really a good thing? As artists we are all trying to produce images that speak to us in some way, and hopefully speak to others as well, and if, for an individual artist, that means making pictures of girls with fractals, then why not?

Your analysis of art is also very Eurocentric: illusionism is really confined the art of Europe (and Colonial nations). It is not present in most Islamic art, or the art of other non-European cultures (where the art is often representational, but not illusionistic).

The use of the term “Modern” art is also interesting: how is the art of Cezanne more “modern” than the art of an indigenous Australian painting contemporaneously? “Modernism” is a value statement: somehow the “modern world” is inherently better than cultures that have lasted tens of thousands of years with little (apparent) change. Of course, the modernists were greatly influenced by the non-illusionistic art of other cultures, but perhaps they were tainted by the Colonial ideal of the “noble savage”.

After the last century, where abstraction led to totally black canvasses, without even a consideration of surface, I think art is in a sort of crossroads. Artists are searching for new ways of expressing themselves. The desire to create in some people can’t be suppressed, but what is there left to say? In the end the task of the artist has to be to create a personal vision: i.e: I have something to say to you that nobdy else can say (in exactly the same way).

10/10/2006 5:10 PM

Blogger cruelanimal said...

I see no reason why Guido (or anyone) cannot make a claim that fractal art must be something. I also see no reason why Mark (or anyone) cannot make a claim that fractal art must not be something. Both assertions could lead to interesting discussions -- and one observation seems no more dogmatic than the other.

How does quibbling over definitions undermine Guido's assertions? Does Guido's point -- placed in a particular context and centering on the differences between representational and abstract art -- suddenly collapse because he did not factor in every available artistic/cultural/historical development?

I suppose we can quibble about what "Modern Art" is, and who should be properly listed among its practitioners. We can certainly question the merits of the movement, but art appreciation classes and textbooks have been defining Modern Art as a recognized school for many years. I don’t understand why “modernist” is any more of a value statement than the names for other art movements -- like “realist,” “Dadaist,” or “contemporary.” I admit these terms are imperfect, but they can be very useful when discussing art.

I think artists of every generation create their personal vision and search for new ways of self-expression. I interpreted Guido’s post as questioning whether fractal artists are looking ahead at fresh vistas or looking back at familiar territory -- and that’s a point worth considering.

10/10/2006 10:43 PM

Blogger Sam said...

Maybe three comment...

1) Fractal images one can see around are definitely nothing like "pure science". They are the result of complicated merging of several layers using several complicated algorithms with a lot of finely adjusted parameters.

There are some exceptions here and there which can have a definite mathematical interpretation, like for instance most of Jos
images, but this trend is quite marginal.

2) Personally I'm not fond of these realistic scenes or objects built out of fractals, even if I made quite a few of them some time ago, (the "space scenes"). They were nice exercises, but really, there are much better programs than fractal generators to produce them. It's a bit like these paintings painted with mouth or feet... even if they are kitchy and tasteless, one is impressed by the achievment. So I don't really see the point in such pictures, except that they forces you to use new techniques and, yes, they are good exercices.

But as I mentioned in a previous post, I like very much when a random combination of shapes produce a face or some other easily recognizable object. It can add a lot to the emotional reaction of the viewer. You don't give him an object made of fractals, but let his brain build the object alone.

3) And about "modern" art... I started but it's too long, so it will be for a later post... :-)

10/11/2006 8:30 AM

Blogger J Parke said...

My biggest objection with realistic scenes made with fractals (and yes, I've done a few too) is that if they're done poorly, well.... having done them with fractal elements isn't a good excuse for their mediocrity. And if they're done really well, they're virtually indistinguishable from scenes made with other algorithmic or traditional media.

My guess is that when the art world gets over the fact that digital tools are just that -- tools, then the only kind of digital art that will be noteworthy are algorithmic works that cannot be created any other way. So when excellent photo-realistic raytracing cannot be distinguished from photography or painting, and portraits made with a mouse or tablet can't be distinguished from those created with paint, then will the tools really matter anymore to anyone except the artist?

My personal quest is to show what digital art can do that no other medium can.

10/11/2006 2:26 PM

Blogger Tim said...

I like Janet's "personal quest" statement. That pretty much sums up my own interest in fractals or algorithmic art in general. It's the new imagery, and the new tools and methods that produce it, that make digital art exciting. (It's not because I can't draw well.)

I think what Guido is saying with respect to all this is that, "Modern Art is itself." I don't think he's saying that anyone should stop doing what they're already doing (realistic works are very popular) but rather, let's expand the current boundaries of fractal art to include all the territory -all the features and functions that all artwork is capable of performing. Let's consider the full potential of the fractal art artform
-the whole spectrum
-all 360 degrees
-every parameter

For everything artistic there is a fractal equivalent, because fractals can be used in everyway that any other type of imagery can. For everything fractal, there is an artistic equivalent because fractals are an artform and all artforms by definition posess the core qualities of art.

Because fractals are abstract (with a few interesting exceptions) they posess the same qualities of "uniqueness" and "non-representation" as all the other members of the abstract, Modern Art family does.

So it's not what we should do, it what we could do.

It's good for us to head off in new directions and explore the entire continent of this new artform called fractal art. But I'm still going to make "pretty" pictures and light hearted stuff in addition to all that, because it's fun. It would take shock treatment to make me stop doing that.

10/12/2006 3:11 PM


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