Tuesday, March 25, 2008



Incoming (1999)

Duck and cover, Orbit Trappers. There's been some shelling this week on the Fractal Universe Calendar front.

Although I noted that the current Fractal Universe Calendar editor should presume she has been contacted with the questions raised in my last post, I would describe the response so far as tepid. To speed things along, I visited the web page for the FUC, where I discovered the following notation on its FAQ page:

We hope you will find that your questions have already been anticipated and answered. If not, please contact us. We will try to answer you personally, and add your question with it's answer to this page -- here. Where necessary, we will contact the publisher on your behalf for clarification.

That seems easy enough. So I sent off the questions I outlined last go around. No reply so far, but I find comfort knowing if the editor is unable to answer any or all of my questions, she will send them posthaste to the publisher. That should save me the trouble of having to contact Avalanche Publishing myself. So, in the meantime, I'll wait and patiently -- between checking boiling pots and watching paint dry -- keep refreshing the FAQ page to see if there's any reply.


Since I've heard that Orbit Trap is kind of like The Devil's Workshop, there's no sense in being idle, so I packed up my keyboard and ventured offworld. During my travels, I discovered the announcement calling for submissions for the 2010 FUC had been inserted into various fractal nooks and crannies. Being a citizen-blogger, and in the interest of keeping the social clubs of Fractalbook fully informed, I posted the following disclaimer wherever I found the FUC submission entreaties:

Some of us in the fractal community have reservations about the manner in which both the Fractal Universe Calendar and the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest are run. While blogging at Orbit Trap, we have written extensively to detail why the protocols of both competitions should be carefully examined in regard to professionalism, favoritism, ethical breaches, and conflicts of interest.

I understand this is a controversial topic in some quarters -- but it is one that profoundly affects all of us as artists and the genre of fractal art as a whole. As such, the manner in which these competitions are managed should be carefully scrutinized and openly discussed.

We have a right to speak out -- even if what we say upsets some of you and challenges the status quo. We did not come here to argue. We came here only to share information.

Please visit our blog, consider our arguments, and draw your own conclusions. Thank you.

Terry Wright
Tim Hodkinson

And that was that. Deed done. Services rendered.

But, no, a great clamor arose from the darkest heart of Fractalbook. A few of its denizens stirred from their trances of mutual admiration.

Over on FractalForums.com, sporadic OT commenter lycium/thomas made the following observation:

urgh, all you guys live for is to whine about art competitions you don't stand a chance of winning

I just didn't have the heart to tell him that his own chances of winning are also iffy, since the judges of BMFAC and old-new editors of the FUC currently comprise 40% of the exhibited/published material.

Meanwhile, at the Renderosity Fractal Forum, who should show up but former OT heckler-troll Ken. He's fractaldom's very own Howard Beale. He has one mood: mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. Here's a shot of his latest imparted wisdom:

Contrary to Orbit Trap's opinion, these events [the two main fractal competitions] are only two events. In the grand scheme of things, they are really insignificant. Every artist, whatever their medium or genre, has a large number of ways to present and expose their art to the public, if that is their desire.

Ken's thinking is, so what if fractal art's two major competitions are crooked and corrupt. It's no biggie. Just turn a blind eye. Move on. Nothing to see here.

Activism is not Ken's strongest suit. It seldom is for people dedicated to embalming the status quo.

And what exactly these "large number of ways" to also present one's fractal art in competitive scenarios are, well, Ken didn't say, although, with some wishful thinking panache, he described himself as "a critic" while pitching his own blog devoted almost exclusively to hating Orbit Trap's cyberguts.

After correcting a few of Ken's more vivid distortions, I felt a comparison of the two blogs might indeed be in order. I wrote:

I do hope forum members here take a challenge to visit both blogs. I agree that looking closely at tone is a must, as well as keeping a running tally of the number of insults, distortions, and ad hominem attacks one finds. Members should also carefully compare which blog presents empirical evidence and which relies on emotional venting. Ask plenty of questions, too -- like which blog has a sense of humor? What longstanding ties do the individual bloggers have to various people managing or judging the two competitions? Which blog plays a whistleblower role by presenting controversial, even unpopular issues relevant to fractal art and artists -- and which one merely responds negatively to the issues raised by the other in order to keep the status quo safe and its established power structure intact?

Ken seems distressed that we will not provide a working hyperlink for his blog here on Orbit Trap. We refrain from doing so only out of regard for the mental health of our current sentient readers. For the more masochistic among you, well, there's always Google.

Oh, wait. One good thing about getting briefly reacquainted with Ken: he revealed his real name. He turns out to be one Kenneth Childress. Now, we can safely refer to him as simply Childress -- thus preserving the informal tone for known friends and still unknown troll-hecklers. Childress has been calling us cowards for nearly a year now, although he stubbornly refused to reveal his own secret identity. We're nearly beatified that he's finally come out of the re-iterated closet.

But the real action was on a forum over on deviantART where a few Fractalbookers were scurrying like cockroaches on lemon cake crumbs. First, beebee127 had something to say:

As far as fairness in the image selection for the calendar, I'd say that since it is a private enterprise, and the editor has accepted payment of a guaranteed image, the balance actually becomes unfair. Compensation for months of work is nothing more than any of the others receive for only submitting. That's not fair, but that's really not our business, is it?

I didn't quite see things his her way and wrote:

If the Fractal Art Calendar was a true publishing venture, it would be run like one. The publishers would hire an editor and pay her or him (with a check) for services rendered. Those services would entail directly soliciting artists to contribute original work to the calendar.

But that is not what happens. Instead, the entire venture is couched in a competitive scenario. The editor is actually a screener who pares down the many entries to a more manageable number. The misnamed editors turn these finalists over to a "publishing team" who function as judges and select winning submissions for inclusion.

Editors surely deserve payment, but a compensation that includes the editor's work in the publication -- especially when the selection process is competitive rather than solicited -- is widely regarded as an unprofessional practice that runs an increased risk of invalidating competitions on the grounds of promoting favoritism and increasing the risk of conflicts of interest. The FU Calendar process further allows editors to submit their own work into the final pool of artists selected to be sent to the publishers. As a result of these unusual protocols, just over 40% of the images that appeared in the Fractal Universe Calendar from 2004-2008 was the work of just four former or current editors.

If the calendar was run as a conventional publishing enterprise, whether private or public, I'd have no problem with it. But since it has become one of only two major art competitions for our field, I'd say it is very much the business of all of us to insist that our competitions be run with the highest professionalism. If you and others are indifferent to having strict, commonplace standards, then I fear fractal artists will always be seen as amateurs and hobbyists, at best -- and hacks, at worst -- by the larger art community.

It wasn't long, though, before a few of the BMFACer-loving, kewl kidz from Keith MacKay's Wedreamincolor blog rolled in wearing tattered body armor.

Up first was sharkrey, although he had a little trouble initially comprehending the difference between facts and opinions. But once we got that distinction cleared up, he synthesized his argument with the following frat boy reasoning:

Your argument has the appearance of being based not on empirical data but on emotions. Reminds me of the college joke about the difference between a slut and a bitch. A slut being someone that will screw anyone, a bitch being someone that will screw anyone but you.

To which, I observed:

I laid out my ideas with specificity and in a deductive chain of reasoning. You've merely overgeneralized and completely misinterpreted what I said in my first response to you...


Personally, I find your college joke in bad taste. I would think most of the female artists in this community would find it offensive. The joke, in no way, says anything about what I wrote, but it probably says something about you.

Up second, and saying nothing about the joke (silence vaut acceptation?), was former OT troll-heckler WelshWelsh. First, she offered me the address for Avalanche Publishing (which I already had), then tried to sell me the same snake oil refrain she's been peddling for months:

...take the bull by the horns and start your own competition and exhibition. Go on: put your time, your money and your effort into showing people how you think it should be done. Of course, if you did that, then your own rules would forbid you displaying your own work: how's that for a lose/lose situation?

To which I replied:

Besides, I've already answered this question from you and others. I used the analogy of laws. Although I don't write the laws, as I citizen I expect them to be fair -- and, if they are unfair, I have the right to speak out. The same applies to these competitions. Although I did not create them, as a fractal artist I expect them to be fair -- and when they are unfair, I have the right to say so.

And, in a reality check, are you really arguing that in order to offer any criticism of anything, one must also do the very thing one is criticizing? By this logic, before I can justifiably critique a presidential candidate, I must also run for president myself? I can't complain about the food in a restaurant unless I'm willing to barge into the kitchen and cook the same meal? I can't sue my neurosurgeon for a botched job unless I also take a crack at operating on my own brain? Is this your argument? Seriously?

Before I criticize others for committing murder, I must experience the act of killing myself.

Things probably went further downhill when I added:

If I had the desire to start my own contest, you can be certain I would not include my own art or writing. I don't consider that trade-off to be "lose/lose." Instead, I believe such a stance must be expected professional behavior for ethical curators, judges, editors, and contest managers.

With her usual aplomb, she ended one post by first quoting me before adding her own jab:

"I wish I had better news about these contests. I'm sorry if what I point out upsets people. I'm upset, too." Crocodile tears, Terry, crocodile tears. Pardon me if I don't snivel in sympathy.

To which I observed:

Please hold those crocodile tears yourself. Both you and sharkrey are contributors to Keith MacKay's Wedreamincolor blog (which, curiously enough, also lists the FUC editor and the BMFAC director among its contributors). MacKay banned me after a single post. That's his right, and I'm not upset. But you can't have it both ways. You can't complain about our actions, while, at the same time, you say and do nothing as a contributor to another blog that does something similar -- only with lightning speed. Tim and I certainly gave you and your friends a much more reasonable chance and put up with your antics for a considerably longer time than I was allowed on your group blog.

Why is it that our former troll-hecklers are so quick to decry our acts of "censorship," but remain still and silent as living statues when identical actions occur in their own backyards? The hypocritical double standard of their convenient situational ethics is stupefying.

What a crazy weekend jaunt. It's good to be back among friendlies and in the creature comforts my "home turf."

Still need more psychosis in your life? Well, the full forum exchanges are there at the links for any of you willing to risk elevated acid reflux. Please stay tuned for further bulletins.


Image made with Sterling-ware. Post-processed until the image shouted just a few seconds too late.

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