Mourning Becomes Fractalus -- Act II
Mourning Becomes Fractalus
...with more apologies to Eugene O'Neill.
Mourning Becomes Fractalus
...with more apologies to Eugene O'Neill.
Mourning Becomes Fractalus
...with apologies to Eugene O'Neill.
Here's another theory in the rough; something that I think is relevant to Fractal Art, and probably all artforms: There are "Artists" and there are "Craftsmen".
Orbit Trap has abandoned the goal of becoming a group fractal blog due to lack of interest. Continuing to present Orbit Trap as a group blog is confusing to readers and misrepresents it's actual content.
It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you place the blame.
Why is it that people who question the improprieties of the BMFAC contest are repeatedly told they must “get over it.”
Yet, if Dzeni and other supporters are still able to comment, then why can't I do the same?
Moreover, if any contributor posts here on Orbit Trap, our masthead makes it clear that his or her opinions can be "confronted and possibly disputed." Dzeni confronted me. I can return the favor. Blogs, by definition, don't have "get over it" clauses.
So, instead, let's "get to it" by examining a few of her points:
I'd argue that "that" fractal contest can be seen as a win/win scenario.
It's certainly that for the judges. They've set up the system, so they can never lose -- plus they have the honor of both exhibiting and judging without being judged themselves. And their résumés get double the padding -- one line for service as a judge, and another line for being in an exhibition. That's what I call "win/win."
A bunch of people put together an exhibition every year and invite submissions. They are clear on the criterion and the process.
Submissions are invited only after the judges have first gobbled up nearly half of the gallery space for themselves. Yes, they are clear -- even brazen -- about disclosing what they are doing. I've never argued otherwise. The question is whether their actions and guidelines are ethical and fair.
They don't charge an entry fee.
I don't like entry fees either. But part of what they are generally used for is to pay the judges for their services. Such compensation avoids the obvious conflicts of interest found in BMFAC. Of course, the organizers could probably make arrangements to have BMFAC's judges paid rather than displayed, but they apparently find the current arrangement more cozy.
Even if I don't win or get a special mention, I'm no worse off than I was before.
True, but the judges are certainly better off than you and the other participants. Without contestants, the judges have no show for themselves. Why do you think they handed out 55 ALTs and HMs (compare this to only 5 HMs at this year's MOCA contest)? You (and 50+ others) almost made it. Try your luck again next year. The judges, of course, won't need luck. All they need is people like you to enter.
Life's not fair (get over it).
That cliché is sure true. But is a shrug the best response to life's unjustness? One should be allowed to speak out against aspects of life that are not fair. I'd rather examine unfair things and the people who do them than just get over everything. And why do I think that getting over it (which you tell me to do four times in your post) really means drop it or shut up?
Life is too short to moan about "that" contest.
Life is also too short not to point out iniquities -- like the contest's improprities. I care about the fractal community as much as anyone. I have to "live" here, too. I'd prefer the neighbors in my fractal neck of the woods act professionally.
Go and create some great art.
I can blog about the contest and make art at the same time. I see you did.
Art is subjective. What the contest panel chose may not be what you would choose.
Very true. I think the winners are all superb artists and deserving of recognition. I have no issues with the contest's winners. My writings have been strictly focused on the behaviors of the contest's director, organizers, and judges -- and on the fairness of the rules.
...it gives us all a great opportunity to evaluate our work, to see what others are doing and hopefully to become better artists.
There's plenty to see everyday if one belongs to an art community like Renderosity or DeviantArt. Moreover, unlike the contest, these places provide far more evaluative interaction (like tutorials and critical feedback) with other artists.
The panel get to exhibit their work.
Do they ever -- in a contest they have judged. That's the whole problem. If, instead, their work was being displayed in an invitational art show, no one would be questioning the appropiateness of their actions.
They are probably not going to change their mind because two people disagree.
Don't let the comments on these posts mislead you. Tim and I are not the only people who feel this contest needs closer scrutiny. But, I agree with you. Judging how the BMFAC judges have behaved, they probably cannot be reasoned with or shamed into having any epiphanies.
At the end of a day, you can choose to find a way where everyone wins or you can gripe and moan so that everyone loses.
This is a false dichotomy. I prefer a third choice -- one that isn't centered around winning and losing. At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself -- so you do what you think is right.
It has been with dismay that I have read the recent posts (and counter posts) regarding "that" fractal contest. It seems sad (and counter productive) to complain so much about so little!
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet
I know it is sometimes difficult to speak out. There can be consequences. One might be embarrassed -- attacked -- even punished. So far, only one person has spoken out directly to us here at Orbit Trap about our remarks on the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.
And he wrote to call us cowards.
He feels we are cowardly because "you don't address any points made to your posts."
So I think I'll make the time to show him he's wrong. I hope, in the process, the blog's readers come to better understand why Tim and I have raised our voices against some of the practices of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest -- and have questioned the motives of some of the people involved.
In my last post, I deliberately mentioned no names. But since Ken, a commenter who seems to want to play the role of our collective conscience, used names, then, for the sake of clarity, I will do the same.
Funny thing about a conscience, though. Sometimes, as Hamlet notes, it nags and aches and does cause one to fear and fall silent. But, other times, it sears then scorches until one feels compelled to speak out.
I have put this response up as a main post. I would not want to be accused of speaking while milling about in shadows. If Tim and I are cowards, we are not the kind who prefer to hide.
You've written to us so much lately that Tim and I are ready to promote you from heckler-in-residence to contributor emeritus.
Unfortunately, I seem to be in a bit of a bind here, though.
First: Damien says, in a post earlier in the summer on Orbit Trap, that I "killed" OT "by driving off everyone" who had an opinion different from mine.
Then: you claim, in the comments for this OT post, that "you're cowards because you...ignore direct questions."
I think this is called a Catch-22. If I do respond, then I am a tyrant who quashes free speech. But if I do not respond, then I am a coward who hides from his critics.
So which is it? And what should I do?
Wasn't it Orwell who said a picture of the future could be imagined as "a boot stamping on a human face forever"? I guess I'd rather be the boot than the face.
First, can we get a few big concepts straight? Then we'll get down to some specifics.
You're right. Contest organizers and directors can establish any ground rules they like. They are free to dictate restrictions on programs and image sizes and colors and styles and whatever. They can limit a contest to just fractal artists of Burmese heritage who live in the Arctic Circle. Totally their call. I never argued otherwise.
Countries can do the same. They can make their own rules. Rules like we'll throw you in a gulag if you protest or we'll bind your feet if you're born a girl or we'll torture you and call it "enhanced interrogation techniques" or whatever.
Here's the catch. Just because contests and countries have the power to make rules, it does not follow that those rules will be inherently ethical or fair. If they are, in fact, unethical and unfair, then people (at least in free societies) have the right to say so. You agree?
Being informed of rules is not usually a problem either. Nearly every contest spells out its requirements and guidelines in very specific detail -- ranging from deadlines to restrictions to oh-by-the-way-we're-going-to-include-the-work-of-the-judges-who-judge-you to whatever. I never argued that the BMFAC contest was not clear or open in stating its rules.
Countries usually make their rules known, too. I recall seeing a photograph last year of two Alabama water fountains in the 1950s that said WHITES ONLY and COLOREDS ONLY. See? The rules were plain to everyone. Nothing was hidden.
But, again, just because a contest's regulations are posted and public, it does not inherently follow that they are ethical and fair. Are you with me so far?
The contest's origin and history were also explained -- even outlined. True. But having a history doesn't mean everything is above board. Enron had a history -- but it was not above board. Bosnia has a history -- part of which included ethnic cleansing. Maybe everything is and always will be shipshape. Or maybe a contest was set up well but has become corrupt over time. Or maybe it was rigged from the get go and now everyone just shrugs and glumly accepts the terms. But, again, having a history doesn't give contests or countries an ethical pass. In fact, sometimes when digging into a contest's history, one uncovers questions.
Sponsors of contests can, once again, dictate absolutely anything -- especially since they hold the purse strings. They are, in truth, demi-gods of absolute power. All fractal artists must show up at the exhibition wearing thongs decrees one. All images must be created with an Etch-A-Sketch while submerged in tequila shouts another. As a contest director, you have to decide if you are willing to agree to the sponsor's terms. If you agree, then you are bound to carry them out -- even if they are absurd -- or troubling -- or patently unfair.
I hope this prologue deletes a few items from our mutual Inbox before we begin.
Now, Ken, you seem to really want some point by point rebutting. I'll try to suppress my timidity and start:
You want the entries of the selection panel hidden.
No. I want them completed excluded. Banished totally. Outta there. No entries -- period. They are the judges. They are not the contestants. Most people agree there is a big difference between the two.
BTW, where is this list of "universally accepted protocol[s]" that you like to mention?
Oh -- just about everywhere. I'd argue no respectable, legitimate art contest mixes the judges' work with the work of the judged. In the digital art field alone, there are contests by acronyms like MOCA, LACDA, ARTROM, MODA. The Art of Digital Show recently completed a major competition. None of these entities mix and match like BMFAC. Restrictions on conflicts of interest -- like judging the works of students and friends -- are also commonplace. I quoted one of these in my post, but I guess you missed it. But let's throw the ball back in your court. Can you name any five art contests anywhere that do allow inclusion of the contest judges' work. Well. Okay. You're right. The Fractal Universe calendar. You can have a head start here. That one counts for your side -- I suppose -- adding a second sorry blot on the overall lack of professionalism in the fractal art community.
It is disingenuous to keep raising this as an ethical issue when it was clearly the decision of the sponsors.
Maybe last year. Maybe. But the sponsor this year (Fundación España Vodafone) must be telepathic, since the contest rules were announced many weeks before any sponsor was even named. No, I'm afraid the director and/or the judges are most likely responsible. Besides, even if past or present sponsors insisted on such guidelines, no one had an automatic weapon to the heads of the director and the "panel members" to insist they comply.
You want to force the organizers/sponsors of the contest to conform to the rules you want, rather than the rules they choose.
Nope. I'm just pointing out that the rules are highly unconventional, biased to help a specific program and its artists, and give the judges a one way free ticket to paradise. Ally ally in free.
Since you can't affect the rules for this contest, you want to raise bogus ethical issues about it. That is why I say create your own contest or exhibition and run it by the rules you think an exhibition should be run.
Yes -- to the second part of the first sentence -- minus the "bogus" part. I explained why I shouldn't have to make my own contest in a previous comment. Remember? I used an analogy to not wanting to write my own laws either. Apparently, you've forgotten. And I can certainly appreciate all the expense and effort involved. I really can. I just appreciate ethics and fairness more.
You see, back in that "written record" that you feel already explained everything, Damien said the following:
So I have a choice: I can either run a contest completely how I would like, and pay for it myself, or I can accept money from a sponsor that comes with conditions. What you're saying is that you find the strings unacceptable. I'm saying that, given the choice between no exhibition and one with some preconditions, I'd prefer to have the exhibition. At least I'm doing *something* Years from now, when fractal art is more recognized and easier to get funding for, others will have the privilege of refusing money that has strings attached. At the moment, I don't have that option.
Yes. He's doing something, all right. Something ethically questionable. He argues he's on the frontier, so he can bend the rules. There's no law or justice out on fringes of civilization, so Damien is forced to become judge, jury, and exhibitioner. Later on, when fractal artists have their own cable channel, others can run things "without preconditions" (that is, fairly). Well, that's swell. Or maybe what happens instead is that a "history" is put in motion, and the contest is never again run using customary ethical safeguards. Damien says he didn't have "that option." But he did have a choice and he made it -- and he now enjoys its benefits -- like having his own unjuried art worked into the contest he oversees every year. Some of his friends/panel members made choices, too, and soon hopped aboard without giving much thought to the "preconditions" either. They, presumably, also didn't have "that option" but do receive similar compensation.
Even the director knows the rules are being bent. He's fine with that. So are you, Ken. But I'm not.
You don't like Ultra Fractal.
I've never said any such thing. It's a great tool and capable of producing amazing work in the right hands. What I don't like is making submission size restrictions that favor UF over other programs -- and loading up the judging panel with nearly all UF artists -- and then winding up with the majority of the contest's exhibited images being rendered in UF. Could it all just be a coincidence? I'm just asking...
You think images are excluded because have not been generated by Ultra Fractal.
I think that's a real possibility, yes. UF can go huge. That's one of its advantages. Not every generator can easily render images to the mammoth size required by the contest. The director knows this, too -- otherwise he wouldn't have made a joke in the contest announcements that Apo users should Start now if they are planning to enter. More than just fractal programs are affected by the size mandate. People who post-process to a considerable extent are also going to be less likely to enter.
You don't like artists works who use Ultra Fractal.
Certainly not true. I have featured many UF artists and artworks in the guest galleries on my web site. Would I have done so if I didn't like the artists and their work? I'd put up a link to show you these galleries, but, unfortunately, they are now offline because I had to unexpectedly move to a new web host and procure a new domain.
A better question to ask is how many people submitted images that were not made with Ultra Fractal. And, if the number is small, ask yourself why.
Hmmm. I never thought to do that. But it is a good question. Here's a possibility. Maybe many non-UF artists' programs couldn't render large enough images to meet the near-mural size restrictions. Could that be why the number is likely smaller? Thanks for the insight.
You think Damien is a dictator.
I never said any such thing. Besides, everyone already knows what Damien actually is.
You don't like having to produce a large image.
You've obviously never watched me make my art. I always work in large sizes. That's how I'm able to sell prints. I had no trouble rendering entries for the contest -- and two of my submissions were highly post-processed. But I'm fortunate to have plenty of RAM and lots of computer firepower. So, I don't need UF to scale up. I'm guessing many fractal artists are not so fortunate in the equipment they have at their disposal. Thus, the immense image sizes are indeed a hindrance for some.
You don't like artists taking classes from other artists and participating in a contest.
That doesn't bother me at all. What I said was I think teachers judging the work of their students is a clear conflict of interest. I linked to two examples in my post. I also asked what safeguards were in effect to prevent this kind of thing from happening.
But, since you know the circumstances behind the exhibition (no matter how much you pretend to be ignorant), this really is just nonsense.
You lost me here. Are you saying it's foolish to worry about students being judged by their instructors? I think it's highly unprofessional. Or, are you telling me the contest guidelines addressed this issue? Where in the BMFAC rules did it say: Teachers judging the work of those they taught? Sweet. Well, if you already have judges exhibiting their own work with those they've judged, I guess anything goes.
You would like to have anyone who ever took a class from any of the judges to be excluded from entering because you think the judges are so shallow that the mere fact that a current, or former, student entered an image in the contest is going to sway their decision.
I guess you have more faith in human nature than I do. I'd prefer judges not to judge the work of their students -- or their friends either. Why not simply remove such potential conflicts of interest? Again, it's a basic question of professionalism -- even if one believes the judges are fine people who would not be swayed in any way.
I suppose it is possible that one or more of the judges may have recognized an image and knew who created it. But, for this contest, do you really believe that this is significant, or an ethical concern?
Definitely. Always. Any judge who recognized the work of a friend or a student should have immediately recused him or herself from voting. Moreover, this action (that so-and-so was a friend/student of Judge X) should have been kept from the other judges. Adding to this problem was that the judging could not have been completely blind because the images of three of the fifteen winners contained signatures. Do you want an impartial contest or not, Ken?
You don't like people show appreciation to someone else for writing a particular formula.
This is not what I said. Slap backs all day. I said I worried that since many of the winners are trading the same formulas, one runs an increased risk of presenting a show of similarly styled artworks.
You think there is a grand, universal conspiracy by Ultra Fractal and/or those who use it to take over the world and prevent any one who uses other tools or methods to create fractal...
No, I don't. But I'm pretty sure Paul does. He calls this secret cabal The Fractali. I assume he took the name from the Illuminati. Personally, I think Paul is a smart guy. He could be right.
You continue to imply that there are ethical issues with Damien and the panel of judges by the questions you raise when you know how and why they were selected.
Exactly. You're finally starting to get it. They basically selected themselves, set themselves apart from being juried, judged others, and then hung their work beside the winners.
How can the contest be a publicity stunt by Damien and the judges when they were approached by the organizers and asked to participate?
As I noted earlier, the rules this year were set long before the organizers had a sponsor. Here is how Damien explained several months ago in the "written record" (to your satisfaction) why the contest judges had to be included in the exhibition:
I am well aware that people were not happy about judges' work appearing in the ICM exhibition alongside contest entries, but we made it clear from the outset that contest entries would not be the only art shown. This year is no different. The sponsors require this as a hedge against insufficient quality being submitted.
Glad to know I'm not the only unhappy camper. Again, if this is true, Damien signed on to the terms. But who held his feet to the fire? And why was "this year" (2007) no different -- especially when a sponsor wasn't listed until weeks after the rules had been made public? Sounds like everything just got carried over. However, at least in the current contest, there's a whole battalion --55, count 'em --of exceptional "alternates" and "honorable mentions." What good fortune -- especially since most art contests only manage to scare up about 5 to 10 HMs. But Damien is now lucky to have excellence to burn -- surely more than enough to take up the slack for all those sponsors' fears of "insufficient quality." So, it looks like next year the director and the judges can finally breathe a sigh of relief and not be coerced by preconditions into displaying their own work. Right?
Did they conspire to take over the contest and mold it to a form so that they could make an exhibition to flaunt their own art?
Looks like it. Absolutely. Down to the last detail. Give yourself a Gatorade shower. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Other complaints you raise are emotional and ill-reasoned. I would expect better of you and Tim.
And, well, if pressed, we pretty much feel the same way about your comments.
But, your complaints must be objective to have any merit.
I think we've tried to look at the contest and honestly report what we found. And are complaints the same as opinions? If so, then they are probably, like art, subjective.
If I've made any factual errors, anyone is more than welcome to correct me.
Well, I've tried my best. As for errors in logic, I admit there were more than I could get to.
It would also be interesting to see perspectives from other people, pro or con.
Finally -- something we agree on. I, too, would enjoy hearing what others have to say about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.
I'd like to think Hamlet might have been wrong. Conscience only makes some of us cowards.
A New Way of Seeing (2007)
…you should be asking -- asking now that Version.2006 has a year of dry paint and Version.2007 has just rolled its wet pixels off the assembly line-- asking before you start your generators and begin revving your fractals for next year’s Version.2008:
~Why is the judges' work exhibited with that of the winners? Isn't this breach of universally accepted protocol in itself enough to invalidate the entire contest? Can viewers easily know which artists were self-selected and which were juried? In other words, are distinctions between judges (who this year are semantically disguised as “panel members”) and winners thoroughly and consistently made obvious -- at the exhibition in Madrid, in every online gallery, and in all promotional materials? Who made the decision to allow the judges’ work to be shown with the winning art? Who selected the judges, and what criteria were used to make the choices? And what is one to make of the 60/40 ratio in this year’s exhibited work ( Winners: 15 / Judges: 10)? Is this whole thing really a competition at all -- or is it more of an invited exhibition where the judges walk their own work in through the delivery door and hang their art (with apparently no shame) beside the winners? How can anyone then tell the winners from the choosers? Shouldn't this competition be either a juried contest or a by-invitation-only exhibit -- but certainly not both?
~What percentage of the exhibited images (including art from the judges) from both last year and this year were created using Ultra Fractal? Over 75%? Higher? Don’t these numbers suggest the competition is just a facelift of the old Fractalus art contests dressed up in formalwear to better glitter for the press, seem more cosmopolitan to the viewers, and appear more inclusive and broad-based to the artists? But, if this actually is a retread in new duds and on steroids primarily designed to pump up UF art and artists, shouldn't all the contest’s promotional and advertising materials make that fact explicit?
~Why is the submission size for entries so large when the director surely understands that artists using programs other than UF, as well as artists who post-process heavily, would face obstacles that could easily exclude them from competing? Why, in fact, do all prints have to be made to the specifications of doors and picture windows, as clearly seen in this short video piece about last year’s contest found on YouTube? Is bigger always better to display fractal details? Do we need to blow up the Mona Lisa or The Scream to plasma TV dimensions to “improve” them? Wouldn’t an exhibition of prints of an assortment of sizes be just as elegant and even more aesthetically pleasing? Or are the titanic entry requirements intentionally mandated to insure a certain fractal program (guess which one) is emphatically privileged?
~How many of the winners, alternates, and honorable mentions are now taking or have taken classes from contest judges who teach art students at the Visual Arts Academy? Did one of the judge’s students report her two entries were recognized in the contest-- one as an alternate and the other as an honorable mention? Did another student selected for the exhibition note
her his winning entry was created as a masking exercise in one of the judge’s classes? Did these judges recuse themselves from passing judgment on entries they recognized as being from their own students? Moreover, were any safeguards put in effect to insure judges refrain from making a recommendation when they recognized a friend’s work? Aren’t such reasonable guidelines commonplace protocols in literary and art contests? Here is an excerpt from the entry requirements of the annual literary contest held by the Associated Writing Programs:
To avoid conflict of interest and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, friends and former students of a judge (former students who studied with a judge in an academic degree-conferring program or its equivalent) are ineligible to enter the competition in the genre for which their former teacher is serving as judge.
How can the people responsible for the contest not see such an inherent conflict of interest? And doesn’t a situation where winners are thanking other winners for their formulas and where students are selected for inclusion by their teachers run an increased risk of presenting an exhibition showcasing a single, inbred, highly homogenized style?
~Isn’t Professor Mandelbrot generally considered to be the father of all fractals? Did he know that the work exhibited under the auspices of the "contest" that bears his name caters to the UFractalus school and is nowhere near a representational sampling of the current, multi-dimensional breadth of contemporary fractal art? Would he maybe prefer "his" contest to display more diversity in its range of fractal styles, programs, forms, and visions?
~And, in the end, isn’t the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest just a publicity stunt by the director and the judges to concoct a “prestigious” contest out of whole cloth and gild it with a veneer of juried rigor? Isn’t it both a sham and a scam that allows their own work never to risk the uncomfortable scrutiny of being judged itself -- but to instead be safely grandfathered into an exhibition of their own creation?
I apologize for not keeping a closer eye on the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2006. If I had, these comments of mine wouldn't have come a whole year late, but it's just recently that I was able to view the entire exhibition (PDF Catalog here) which includes the works by the judges which wasn't displayed on the contest site, which is where most of the online attention has been focused. The artist's notes that are displayed with the exhibition artwork make for interesting reading, for those of us who have a critical disposition. They alone, ought to raise a few eyebrows and cause some to blush.