Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tim's Guide to the Fractal Community: a Response to Sherlock Fractal

Terry, much of your discussion revolves around the notion and concept of a fractal art community.  I need to address this first because I believe that will clarify this discussion immensely because this community thing complicates everything else.

There is no fractal art community.

There is no fractal art community; not in either a formal or practical sense.  What might, in the minds of some, pass for a fractal community is in my analysis nothing more than a few groups of like-minded people gathered around:
1) Ultra Fractal software;
2) Fractal Universe Calendar;
3) Various networks of friends at the online art portals, Renderosity and Deviant Art (i.e. "Fractalbook")
4) Two dormant, but still plugged-in, web-rings
5) The occasional, courageous person who starts up a new fractal forum

Everyone else left over who has an association with fractal art belongs to primarily:
1) a few individual programmers (some active, some retired)
2) about a hundred individual artists (personal websites, web-ring members)

The fractal art world is a very small and fragmented bunch of people and programs.  I don't think that's a "community".  The few clusters that I've mentioned have given very little shape or direction to what is called "fractal art", a genre, or much larger entitiy, which I would say exists merely as a descriptive label (art made with fractals).  What these groups are doing through their association is developing one or two very casually defined styles by pursuing what interests them and looking at what each other is doing.  If they appear to be rejecting photoshop filtering transformations or artwork which expresses themes from real life or socio-political ideas, I think it's largely because:
1) It doesn't interest them
2) It's hard to do with fractal imagery, post-processed or not

Maybe in the past, in the old days when fractal programming was developing and people used newsgroups to communicate, there may have been something resembling a community that had an identifiable identity and coherent standards, but that was before my time, and currently I don't see anything like that.

I think fractal art of any style or school of thought will be evaluated by it's audience in the same way that any other type of art is judged: composition; expression; color; style; overall impression; message -- the sort of things you're advocating.  Fractal artists may have a unique perspective on their art but I don't think their audience will.  Boring art is a self-limiting disease, whereas exciting new styles attract attention and recruit new followers and more growth.

You talked about getting rid of the idea that fractal art is this or fractal art is that -- the "this" or "that".  I think that is happening, but the result is that fractal art is evolving into a number of unrelated styles -- all fractal art, that is, art with fractals -- but only nominally related; a rather weak association.

There is a distinct Ultra Fractal style (although not all Ultra Fractal artists exhibit it) that incorporates layering techniques and is best seen in the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest selections.

I prefer a more classical style that depends on the algorithms for effect and is primarily made in single layer programs but can benefit from some graphical effects which enhance the algorithmic imagery.  I am also somewhat of a lazy artist too.

What you do Terry, is yet another style of fractal art that expresses themes and ideas in the way that traditional artwork made by hand does.

I think fractal art as a genre is becoming as meaningless a label as say, silkscreen art is.  Andy Warhol did a lot of work using silk-screening, but that doesn't mean him and people who make t-shirts with animal cartoons on them have very much in common as artists.  "Fractal" describes what we all do less and less and is becoming more of a trivial connection than a core attribute.  A disintegrating community, if there is, in fact, one at all.

I think fractal art is not and can not be defined by any one person or group, but rather is defined by the artwork that is actually being made and exhibited; and that artwork, and the people who make it, I believe are diverging and fragmenting, not converging or solidifying.

My What a Big Fractal You Have #3

Now, back to my sculpture of Jupiter made from Doritos...

I and my superior aesthetics cough faintly in the face of your antiseptic algorithms.

[Photograph by theveryquietroom]


Maybe you're right. It's all about the math. Our art form traditionally privileges the scientific mind of the programmer and needs only dribbled gifts from mathematicians to move forward with formulaic self-expression. Any art that results is just another random variable in the string of the theorem -- relentlessly abstract and utterly meaningless. And, above all, nothing need ever be deliberately shaped for fear of contaminating the purity of the equation.

There's no point in naming images because that's somehow unsporting. The practice fringes on insulting the viewer by having the gall to steer her so roughly into interpretation and rudely intruding on her free associative aesthetic experience. Better to call all of our images simply by integers. RandomFrac436778X should insure that no one will wander into thematic or moral reflection. Leave all that photorealism crap to Lewis Hines and metaphorical animal fables.

And never nudge your fractal into political or social commentary -- or, by extension, to suggest anything at all about RL or everyday experience or personal emotions or everlasting truths or stuff remotely tangible whatsoever -- because any suggestion of deliberative intent infringes on "the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery."

So, yeah, you're probably right. I think we should all follow your advice to rid the fractal world of that "disease" infecting all that we do: art. It must be fully expunged. Who wants to be a part of that world anyway? We all know it's filled with pompous fools wearing berets and jabbering about pretentious bullshit. We don't need that mock hipster scene. After all, it would contaminate us. Flee from the museums like you would anthrax. Our wired trenches of individual galleries are more than enough to sustain us. We'll always have our ever multiplying Fractalbook "friends" and cuddly algorithms to comfort our recursive spirits. We swear it here and now. We'll never allow our sacrosanct parameter files to become diluted enough to become a part of that artsy fartsy world.


And if that is the prevailing attitude of our community, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After waves of purity purges, the artists will trickle out beyond our borders for the bluer, more open skies of digital art. And only the fractalists will remain. But they won't be fractal artists. They'll just be fractal makers. How is all. What is irrelevant. Because making the fractal correctly without contaminants will be imperative. The fractal solution, so to speak. And just count all the insurgents to lock away: filters, titles, representation, even art itself now. The triumph of the form. The extermination of all content.


Remember my continuum? It wasn't a hierarchy. FRACTAL wasn't at the bottom and ART at the top. It was deliberately a horizontal line, not a vertical one. There was no judgment implied. There were only choices to be made.

And I think this gets us to the main difference in our views. You fall on the line much closer to FRACTAL (Math). And I fall much closer to ART (Disease). In the end, I agree with Jim Muth. We both are on the same team, but we have very different ideas about how to win the game.


I gotta say it though: I actually think your views are the prevailing ones, which is why I've always felt like an outsider in this community -- and why I no longer even call myself a fractal artist. I've heard every one of those whispers about post-processing being cheating. It's giving in to the disease. It's destroying the innate beauty. It's exposing those precious math-given fractal forms to the germs of art. Careful, or our once perfect algorithmic expression is going to catch something. Something like art. And there's no coming back from that un-iteration to the bloom of ever being antibacterial again.


But here's my problem. In creative writing, inspiration is real enough but too rare to be dependable. You have to put in the drudge time, the laborious revision, the tinkering with time-tested literary devices. If you don't, well, enjoy that mostly empty notebook.

Likewise, I can't count on my every algorithmic tinker and tweak being a masterpiece -- contrary to some Fractalbook cross talk. I don't have the advantage of being either a math geek or a programmer, so I have to work -- consciously and deliberately -- at getting results that please me. So I put in the time using what I know about the elements of design -- you know, those building blocks from way back when for producing something artistic.

I worry that limiting one's intent to only showing "the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery" at the expense of titling and political commentary and emotional suggestion and now even art itself is probably what got us in this whole mess in the first place. I'd say Fractalbook is filled to the virtual rafters with fractalized flotsam cranked out on the assembly lines to satisfy precisely that prime directive.

And that proof might show the eventual shackles of monitor mode. You can always be a maker but rarely a shaker. For me, anyway, that way madness, or at least atrophy, lies.

Or, worse, handcuffs and blindfolds. I confess. I seek a deliberative and shaping hand beyond the algorithms. And I accept my shunning from our community as one of the diseased and now disbarred, as well as the loss of my title as "fractal artist." A "digital artist" I guess I will be. I suppose I should turn in my keypad for this blog and remove my membership from assorted fractal communities and forums.

What's that? Do I hear faint cheers in the background?

Or...maybe it's time for more of us to move on to wall mode. To embrace the opportunities the fine arts provide rather than just flirt with their amenities while cursing their foibles as both tawdry and beneath us. To consistently kick sand in the face of the fine arts could be risky. Unless you enjoy being called a fractal craftsman. For. A. Very. Very. Long. Time.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Challenges for Fractal Artists

Under Red Sea, by maruscya

I think working with fractals is very much like the art of nature photography.  Nature photography tends to be descriptive, showing what things look like and focusing primarily on the form, color and interesting situations that one finds in the natural world.  Sometimes you see a really startling photo that expresses profound ideas like fear, terror, contentment,  or raw, animal power, but mostly nature photography is just pictures of nature and appeals to those who like natural imagery.

But when one looks at the larger world of art which contains works of social commentary, intense emotional expression, and other creative work drawing heavily from imagery found only in the human world (faces, buildings, technology), then what are we fractal "nature photographers" to do if we want to produce fractal art that is more than just weird patterns or the proverbial eye-candy?

In the pursuit of more than just eye-candy, fractal art faces the same challenges (frustrations?) that abstract art does:  It's hard to express complex themes from the realm of human experience without the rich symbolism that realistic imagery provides.  This is why attempts to do this with fractal/algorithmic imagery often depend heavily on the title the image is given -- you have to tell people what it is.  I don't think fractal imagery is very good at conveying ideas or themes in the way that photography and the hand-made arts (painting, sculpture...) are.  It's an interesting aspect of fractal art to pursue, and maybe some really profound works in the future will change my opinions regarding this -- like the creation of some sort of Fractal Guernica -- but I feel it's not the sort of thing that fractals have a lot of potential for.

I think it's just the nature of fractals that they don't say much or fit well into social/political commentary.  In that sense, nature photography actually has an edge over fractals as it's quite conceivable that animals and other elements from nature can be convincing metaphors for things in the human world, like predators for criminals; peacocks for pompous, narcissistic rulers; eagles for noble virtues; and that sort of thing.  There have already been a number of books written using animals as metaphors for certain kinds of people, although as far as the artwork that might accompany them goes, I'm sure the illustrations weren't photos of real, natural animals because they're not likely to express quite so effectively those human characteristics as well as a hand drawn, artificial caricature would.

Although I am still thinking these things through, it's my growing opinion that fractal and algorithmic art will achieve its greatest successes by being more fractal and algorithmic and focusing on the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery.  If others can succeed in other innovative ways using fractal imagery such as creating the Fractal Guernica of our times, then I think that's a noble pursuit and I admire them for taking up that fractal art challenge.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's all about avoiding the insulting label "Eye Candy" isn't it?

The Mona Lisa is famous for her "mysterious smile"; but is that enough to make it a great work of art?

Isn't it just old-fashioned eye candy and in fact (I deal in facts), not much different than the portraits produced by the famous photographer, Yousuf Karsh -- and perhaps not even as good as that?

I find the formal art world to be a breeding ground for fads and self-promoting theories which inhibit artistic creativity because they don't reflect what art really is and subsequently present a confused perspective to art viewers and new artists corrupting their minds by convincing them that they can't think for themselves and need to be educated by the experts in order to make sense of art itself, which is essentially a personal experience and needs no explanation any more than a cup of cold water on a hot day needs a set of instructions.

For those of you readers who've been following this sequence of posts on Orbit Trap, you will be aware that me and my co-blogger, Terry Wright appear to have some different views about Fractal Art and what makes it "art" or not.  He's mellowed a bit in his last response, but I find there's still something about his perspective on fractal art that bothers me.  I'm also not quite sure what that "something" is, but here's my latest input into the discussion.

Terry wrote...

This or that has got to go. We need to start thinking of our art form as more of a straight line, doubled-sided arrow -- sort of like the "Threat Assessment Chart" Rolling Stone currently uses. On the left end of the arrow is the word FRACTAL, and on the right end is the word ART. All of us fall someone on this arrow -- some resting closer to FRACTAL and others resting nearer to ART. Fractal art, then, can never be this or that. Instead, it's a wonderfully complex and richly varied continuum. All each of us does is decide on what point of the arrow we want to set up our own house.

I like the bit about getting rid of the "this or that" restrictive definitions and the part about everything being wonderful, rich and varied, but I take exception to the continuum thing with just plain "FRACTAL" at one end of the scale (bottom end, I'll bet) and the old, holy, shining, "land of Plato's perfect forms" ART at the other end of the scale.

But I've misunderstood what you've said before, so maybe I'm oversimplifying or distorting this double-arrow concept, too.  What I have a problem with, I guess, is the that "ART" thing.  I think that's the disease we need to rid the fractal art world of -- next.

I would say... Art is subjective, a personal experience, easily influenced by social forces, highly contextualized, can't be trusted and ought to wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS tracker so we can all start running when it enters the room or approaches our neighbourhood.

Art is a moving target, hard to hit and even then it only stumbles a bit and continues on it's way perennially avoiding capture and captivity.  Those who define art in absolute terms have only grasped art for a brief moment and pulled off part of it's tail or a patch of fur and then mistaken it for the entire creature that is still at large.  Art is a shadow, placed under bright lights and thoroughly examined by a committee.

Rather than being some all-inclusive, double-ended arrow heading in the two directions "fractal" and "art", I would say that fractal art  is a total wilderness with a dozen or so people pursuing creative interests that have nothing in common except for the use of fractal imagery which is about as meaningful as saying that both Picasso and Thomas Kincaide are artist's.

Some fractal artists are more akin to flower arrangers and many others have more in common with Photoshop digital artists whose work is heavily transformed and though it may be appealing in other ways, has little fractal appeal.

Does some fractal art have more art to it than others?  I would say that the so-called higher forms of art ("arty" art) are actually just different forms of art and not categorically higher.  Picasso's Guernica tells a story, expresses intense emotions, gives insight into human tragedy, and does it all in a very primitive, appealing and creative graphical style.  Guernica is one of the best examples of high-class, masterpiece art.  But who wants that hanging in the living room to meditate or reflect upon?  It's a graphic depiction of a vicious bombing raid on innocent civilians!

We ought to evaluate fractal art and all forms of art just as we would a set of household tools.  Some art does one thing and other art does something else.  Screwdriver art is not as forceful as hammer art, but can be much more intense and do more sophisticated things with greater detail.  Chainsaw art is very appealing when one is outdoors, but inside the house it's harsh and almost obnoxious.  Most people like to look at circular saw art or admire a piece of mitre saw art when in a more refined environment.  This is much more than I think Terry is suggesting.  I'm saying that a chainsaw and a screwdriver can be compared to each other, but that it makes no sense to measure their strengths by the same standards because they are unrelated to each other except for occupying the same general category of "tool".

I would say, in my opinion (and art is the domain of opinion -- personal and collective) the highest, most excellent works of art are all from the surrealist category of art.  Surrealist art is the highest, most worthy form of art.  It also cuts across almost all styles, media and schools of art.  Almost any kind of art can be surreal because surrealism is an experience that the mind of the viewer has.  We all make better art when it has stronger surrealist qualities.  It is always my goal and the direction of my effort to create surreal images. 

That's why I like algorithmic or machine-made imagery the most; it's better at creating odd and startling imagery than the human mind is.  So in that case, more 'fractal" means more "art"!

Yes.  I think I've won the thread!  But there's no shame coming in second to a Champion like me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My What a Big Fractal You Have #2

You are Monitor.  Only you exist. Everything else...

If someone was to print out my images and see something more, or less, than is visible on the computer screen, I'd say stop looking at prints and stick to what you see on your monitor -- that's the real thing. Whatever extra shows up in a print is just artifacts, by-products -- as artificial as Mondrian or Klee's brushstrokes. Is that crazy?

Crazy? No. But virtually biased? Hmmmm. Art can also live and live well in RL.

I don't believe I claimed that all good art has to have texture. I just said I saw little point in making high-end Giclée prints without giving any thought to using texture. If one chooses to ignore an image's surface quality, then a photographic print would probably do just as well. I also never suggested that texture is the only element of design. Obviously, others -- like pattern, color, composition, and perspective -- are equally critical.

I outlined the two mindsets I've used while making art. The first, monitor mode, involves working fairly small and focusing on how one's work will appear in digital space. The second, wall mode, means working large from the start with the intention of eventually making a fine art print. Each mode has its own advantages and disadvantages. Wall mode slows everything down. Processing time is considerably lengthened. Increased computer firepower is a must. I now make probably one-fourth the amount of art I once did in the same time frame. True, I'm more discriminating about what I release than I once was, but, using wall mode, each image now takes four times longer to make. Computation time is not the only factor, though. I'm constantly scouring every nook and cranny of an image as I work on it. Because I'm thinking in wall mode, tiny details now matter greatly.

Wall mode, or prints anyway, has other disadvantages. Some digital coloring and lighting aspects can lose a little in translation. A knowledgeable printer can often work around these
deficiencies, but rich reds and deep blues occasionally wash out a bit, and certain backlit features radiant in digital art fade. But, surface texture is significantly enhanced when images move from the flat screen to a wall-mounted, top-grade Giclée. Those "artifacts," as you call them, are just as real and foundational as anything else in the image, meaning that texture can be substantial in either monitor mode or wall mode. Take away Klee's brushstroking "by-products," and, well, everything falls apart -- whether viewing his paintings from near or far.

Of course, a close-up examination of the texture of paintings sometimes does look worse. Personally, I prefer to view art by the impressionists from way across the room. Standing nose-to-nose with an impressionistic painting ruins the magic trick. It's like going to see your favorite band rehearse and watching the guitarist practice his leg splits and the singer rehearse his "spontaneous" yelps, struts, and hair flips. Once you see all the un-natural exuberance and practiced choreography, the thrill is somewhat gone.

But sometimes scrutinizing texture makes the viewing experience much more enriching, as I noted with Van Gogh's Sunflowers. The intensity of his work seems incredibly vibrant to me when closely inspected. And I never appreciated Willem de Kooning much until I stood within a few inches of several canvases of some of his "women." I remember being truly frightened.

My point, again, is that wall mode and monitor mode are just different ways of seeing -- even if what you are looking at is the same thing. As you live for months with a now large Giclée print mounted on the wall of a room in your home, you come to see that particular image far differently than it appears on your monitor -- not because the image itself has changed, but because the presentation of that image has undergone a dramatic, perceptual shift.

Obviously, my grounding aesthetics run to painting, as a few minutes poking around my web site will certainly demonstrate. But digital art (and, by association, fractal art) is probably more rooted in the aesthetics of photography where texture is less concerned with surface and more tied to patterns and lines -- those "neat clean details unlike anything a human hand could make" (as you said so nicely in a recent comment). And that's where I probably made my mistake.

Yes. I said it. I made a mistake.

My mistake was assuming that Parke and Monnier's use of Zoomify was the first step to wall mode thinking. Since they both sell prints, I jumped to a presumption they were magnifying parts of larger images to give detailed views in order to provide a kind of print preview for potential buyers. If so, then I struggled to understand why more attention was not paid to revealing aspects of texture. But, then again, I was approaching this situation as a print promotion -- and, yes, from my prevailing painting aesthetics.

But I could have been wrong. Their use of Zoomify may have had nothing to do with selling prints. Maybe it was a way of exploring "the bigger picture" from photographic aesthetics. If that is so, then they are taking steps to think outside the confines of a boxed-in screen. They are throwing a switch to light the viewing room very differently. They are tearing down the blinds and opening windows that reveal a detailed scenery in a way similar to exploring a parameter file -- although I agree with you that it doesn't go deep enough. Still, if this is the intent of Monnier and Parke, then they are to be commended for taking steps to help people see with new eyes, and I was wrong to chide them, and I apologize.

But, when I think about all this zooming around, deep parameter file exploration is probably not limited to software like Sterling-ware. I'd guess anyone using Ultra Fractal could pop in a parameter file and see what it produces at various magnifications. That would seem to be the main selling point of the UF List -- to see and possibly tweak images as they can only be seen in UF. However, I'd argue I could also do something similar. I could take the master .psd file of a finished post-processed image of mine and make it public. Then, anyone possessing Photoshop could take a somewhat similar "parameter file" tour of that image.

I said somewhat similar. You and I both know it wouldn't be quite the same.

You know what I wish? I wish our community would stop falling back so often on the this or that fallacy. Fractal art has to be made this way!! It should be displayed that way!! This is the best software!! No, that is better!! This has no post-processing -- so there!! This is mostly post-processed -- take that!! And on and on and on. Is this a dead end -- or just the birth pangs of bringing forth the next evolutionary step?

Monnier says in his comment that

If one is looking for such a painted look, then the best thing to do is
use paint and not a computer. Using filters on a fractal image to
deliberately lose resolution doesn't make any sense imho.

Sounds good, but it's too restrictive. Not everyone can manipulate tools like brushes and paints properly -- or deal with being exposed to the chemicals involved. Paint programs are just another kind of tool -- like masking. Losing resolution is only a problem if you place the "fractal" completely over the "art" component in fractal art. Conversely, in some cases, I'd argue maybe it's precisely the loss of resolution that makes a particular image successful.

Monnier says in another comment that

The ease with which it is possible to implement ideas into algorithms
and then works (especially with the new object oriented programming)
makes it [Ultra Fractal] for me without any doubt the best tool available for
algorithmic art.

Well, maybe. But doesn't he really mean for processed algorithmic art. The layers and masking tools found in UF are really the same processing functions done in graphics programs. And, as Tim and I have argued previously, once you import that photo into UF5, you've moved out of the realm of algorithmic art and into the area of mixed media. Moreover, those resolution-killing filters Monnier dislikes are also run by using algorithms.

But I'm no better and can be just as dogmatic. Remember this from last time?

Maybe it's time to take the first baby-steps toward that equally important big big art thing.

Whoa, Terry. That's really unfair. Stop looking at everything through your own bias to the aesthetics of painting. Go back above and read what you just wrote here in paragraphs 12 and 13. Now, stop being so judgmental and stay in that time out corner until you can finally behave yourself.

This or that has got to go. We need to start thinking of our art form as more of a straight line, doubled-sided arrow -- sort of like the "Threat Assessment Chart" Rolling Stone currently uses. On the left end of the arrow is the word FRACTAL, and on the right end is the word ART. All of us fall someone on this arrow -- some resting closer to FRACTAL and others resting nearer to ART. Fractal art, then, can never be this or that. Instead, it's a wonderfully complex and richly varied continuum. All each of us does is decide on what point of the arrow we want to set up our own house.


P.S. I really appreciate your willingness to have a these conversations. It's this kind of creative give-and-take that allows complex issues to get fleshed out and discussed in depth. There's no reason to assume that you and I (or any two people) would see eye to eye on everything. Nor should anyone assume that either of us are strict absolutists who see no exceptions to our own ideas and cannot understand well-articulated positions made from different perspectives. Debates are a way of understanding the dimensions of a concept (like fractal art) -- not an inevitable slide into prickly antagonism between warring camps. In our community, everyone is much too quick to put up their force fields at the first sign of disagreement. I understand why, I guess, but only to an extent. Most people are content to build bridges and share common interests but show claws at the first sign of a critique. So, when we are critical on OT, many people immediately conclude we are being much too harsh. But I'd argue it is this very lack of honest discussion that has led to an impasse in our community's ability to develop comprehensive, coherent fractal art theory and criticism. So, again, thanks for being willing to go out on a limb with me.

And, if you are upset about this post, well, I suppose you can always call me irrational, claim I'm a threat to this blog, and toss me off your server.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Long Day's Zooming into Night

Hey, look at me! I've got texture!


Whoa.  That Algorithmic Worlds thing of Sam's is just the sort of thing I was talking about.  If it wasn't for guys like Sam I'd say Ultra Fractal was the biggest software rip-off of all time.

As for texture; Even Mondrian's plain colored squares with black outlines have it.  But I think that's because Mondrian didn't have Ultra Fractal -- or Photoshop.  The texture was a by-product of the materials he used: canvas and oil paint.  What he probably wanted was something more like glass or plastic, which wasn't available at the time.

Mondrian's famous square collages are a good example of "art".  I saw one once in a gallery somewhere (I think he made a lot of them) and you know what I did when I saw it?  I moved in close and took a look at the surface of the picture -- just the sort of thing that your binocular images allow viewers to do with your artwork despite the fact it's viewed on a monitor.

I remember seeing a painting by uh, Klee, Paul Klee, I think.  It was full of squiggly little creatures against a surreal and colorfully painted background.  I'd seen it before in a book.  The kind of photograph of art that you've mentioned, and is lacking in detail and texture.  When I saw the original hanging on a gallery wall (and I took a good close look at it -- no hanging rope barrier or plexi-glass case in the way) I hated it.  It looked like something I'd painted in art class.  In the book it looked more professional, but in high-resolution on the wall (more like "full-resolution") I could see the brush strokes and it looked like Klee has just slapped the thing together in a few minutes.  That shouldn't matter, really, but the point is the high-res version -- with lots of texture and detail -- looked worse, not better.  To me, anyway.

Getting back to the Zoomify things, I think they're pretty gimmicky.  Sam's "...atl2" is interesting, but the other one doesn't benefit from the zooming.  Janet's is not a good one for zooming either; probably because it's too fractal, actually, and the recursive pattern is repetitive rather than revealing of something deeper or more subtle, which is what zooming into an image is usually done for -- to show you the artwork's underlying architecture.  In defense of both of them though, I'd say that the Zoomify feature is relatively new and they're just experimenting with it at this point.  These examples are just the beginning.  (Although Jock Cooper's Zoomables are better done and with much simpler technology, too.)

To compare my "Sterling-Worlds" with the Zoomify flash applet, the first thing I'd say is that Zoomify doesn't go deep enough to mimic fractal zooming but it's not a good magnifier either because it goes too deep for that and presents you with details that are not even noticeable in the top-level view.  What it's good for are maps and diagrams where the relationship of the detailed view to the top-level view is abstract and doesn't have to be related to what you've currently zoomed into (a street intersection or the connections between several atoms on a molecule, for instance).  What I'd prefer to see is a parameter file that you could load into Ultra Fractal and explore like you can the Sterlingware parameter file I posted.  I'm not even sure that's possible with Ultra Fractal.  The program is so "refined" that it's abandoned its fractal origins which the single layer programs have maintained and developed.  Ultra Fractal is more a graphics program now that does creative layering employing fractal themes in a trivial, decorative way.

I find Fractal Art (art with fractals) appears to be simple to define on the surface, but when you start to consider it's algorithmic nature (deterministic, mechanical) and particularly it's abstract, non-representative characteristics (it doesn't really look like anything), evaluating it according to established principles of what is good art and what is bad art, is something I still find to be elusive.

The other thing is: I consider the computer monitor to be a adequate "canvas".  I guess that's why I consider the parameter file, generated world, to be the only real zoom or exploration that counts.  If someone was to print out my images and see something more, or less, than is visible on the computer screen, I'd say stop looking at prints and stick to what you see on your monitor -- that's the real thing.  Whatever extra shows up in a print is just artifacts, by-products -- as artificial as Mondrian or Klee's brushstrokes.  Is that crazy?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My What a Big Fractal You Have #1

Do you see what I see?

No art, Sherlock...


I really enjoyed your last post. I, too, have been thinking about the desire some fractal artists have to reveal more of their images in ever expansive detail. The methods fractal artists use for doing so seem to vary. Some prefer to draw the viewer into the act of making the image and employing interactivity by including parameter files (as you discuss). Others prefer a more static, sensory bombardment for viewers by allowing ever larger and more high rez versions of individual works to be studied in detail. My question is: What's behind this impulse to go big?

What brings this whole matter to the forefront is that two well-known Ultra Fractal artists, Samuel Monnier and Janet Parke, have used a new tool called Zoomify to display zoom-and-pan windows that allow considerable detail to be seen in large images. Two by Monnier can be found here, and Parke's can be found here and here. Why, exactly, are they doing this?

Is it because we know deep zooming is cool? We like checking out those YouTube vids of endlessly Zen lower depth dives into fractals exhibiting rivering recursion and self-similarity that stream out of the frame and immediately reappear. So, is Zoomify a deep zoom mechanism for still 2D images? Or is it just a digital magnifying glass?

Or are these two UF artists starting to look at their own works from the viewpoint of a big canvas? After all, both announce on their web sites that prints of their work are available for purchase. Could they be moving through the paradigm shift I call passing from monitor mode to wall mode? These are radically different mindsets. Once you begin to "see" all of your work as a poster-sized print on a wall rather than something the size of a sheet of typing paper on your monitor, everything -- from perspective to aesthetics -- changes.

Which brings me back to Jim Muth's musing from my last post: Are there really some fundamental differences in the fractal community between people focused on math and people focused on art? And isn't a fusion of both the final goal: fractal art?

Here's my concern. When I peer through the Zoomified looking glass at these images, you know what I see? Bigger fractals. What I don't see is more detailed art.

If you're going to start acting like your fractal images are indeed similar to a large canvas, shouldn't you start paying much more attention to the concept of texture? Even just a little bit? Isn't texture a long established critical component for art?

And how much texture do these ultra-magnified Ultra Fractal images have? I'd argue absolutely none. Not a single, tactile peak or valley can be seen.

And isn't that odd? Many UF images certainly look highly textured. Does Zoomify demonstrate that seeing is not believing? For all those piles and piles of layers and masks, are UF images really flat as a pancake?

Or, do I mean flat as an unprocessed photograph?

And am I looking at the details of fractal art -- or merely the details of a picture of a fractal? It really does matter. It matters as much as what you see looking at Van Gogh's Sunflowers in a museum and what you see looking at a picture of Sunflowers in a book.

And that brings me back to prints. If you've blown off all concerns about texture to the point of having none at all, then why bother making anyone a Giclée fine art print to museum specifications using archival inks and papers? After all, there's no surface grain to showcase or enhanced tactility to "bring out." Save your money, collectors. Opt for that cheaper, flatter photographic print instead.

I think one's fractal art should have as much art as it does fractal. Otherwise, I question whether one is truly a fractal artist. Perhaps, instead, one is a fractal maker.

And I have my doubts that these two designations are the same thing.

I've been working in wall mode since 2003, as the Binoculars Room on my web site should demonstrate, and texture has become an essential part of my self-expression. But, of course, I admit to heavy and deliberate post-processing to the point where I am satisfied that my (sometimes atom smashed) fractals have also turned the corner to become art. That's the point of wall mode. To help viewers see the big big picture as you see it. Not in a book to wonder how you made the piece. But on the wall to more clearly see how you made it.

It seems these two UF artists have that big big fractal thing down cold. Now, maybe it's time to fully embrace wall mode and not just flirt with putting a magnifying glass to a flat, canvas-sized picture. Maybe it's time to take the first baby-steps toward that equally important big big art thing.

I am troubled by these thoughts and their ramifications. I hope we can have a conversation about some of these reflections. I look forward to hearing what you think.


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Sterling-Worlds - Interactive Fractal Art

Climb the mountain, explore the caves, or check out the little islands off shore... Just load the parameter file (shellcity02.loo) into Sterling2 and this whole little world is yours.

Fractals are a unique form of artistic imagery.  They are more like sculptures and dioramas than the flat, static paintings they are often presented as because they can be viewed from more than one perspective.

Fractal Art in it's simplest form is more like photography because the image is made up as much by what is left out as what is included.  Fractal Art is an artform of editing and selection -- browsing and choosing -- from what the generator creates.

In a simple, single-layer program like Sterlingware however, there's no reason why an artist has to limit himself to merely presenting still images to his audience.  It's possible -- with fractals -- to present the viewer with the parameter file that will recreate the entire fractal environment and allow the viewer to explore it like it was a sculpture to be walked around and viewed from many angles.

In this way, fractals have the potential to be an interactive art form just like the Grand Canyon in the United States is interacted with by tourists.  Despite the fact there are plenty of photographs and documentaries of the Grand Canyon, people aren't satisfied with all that and still want to see it for themselves and experience it in its natural, interactive setting.

I'm a big fan of Sterlingware because it's a creative tool that I just seem to get better results with than other fractal programs.  I've always included parameter files alongside the images I posted on my blog and website because the parameter files are the Grand Canyon itself, so to speak, while the image is just a single view of it.  With a program like Sterlingware, you can share an entire world with your audience and not merely a snapshot of it.  The program automatically saves a parameter file everytime you save an image; and they're small too -- a 300 byte simple text file.

It's like the image is a door and the parameter file is the great big world behind the door.  When given the parameter file, viewers can walk through the doorway and explore the whole world instead of just standing there and looking at the door.

Maybe I've looked at fractal generation differently.  The way I've always worked right from the start with making fractal art is to adjust parameters and watch the effect it has on the appearance of a formula, in general, and then go hunting around for something to take a snapshot of.  A good parameter setting in Sterlingware sets the stage for an ongoing harvest of interesting images.  The combination of formula, render setting and color settings and a few other things creates a gigantic tree which now needs nothing more to complete the creative process than to be climbed and picked.

With multi-layered programs the process, I suspect, is fundamentally different and yields results which are also fundamentally different.  The parameter file of a multi-layered fractal program (like Ultra Fractal, for instance) is like a photoshop file composed more of layers and transformational effects than "fractal stuff".  The result is that one doesn't create a Grand Canyon, one creates a Grand Photo.  Nothing wrong with that except that the process ends with just an image or two instead of starting with it and opening up a whole new realm for exploration.  It's just a difference in the way the two types of fractal programs and creative processes work.

Single-layer programs produce imagery; multi-layer programs produce images.  The imagery from a single-layer program is dynamic and almost limitless because it can be explored, zoomed, browsed, etc..., this gives it the potential to be more than just a still image creator and to exist as an artform which can be viewed from many different zoom levels and explored in many different locations.  There's a term for this sort of thing; generative art or interactive or something.  This sort of art is more than just a picture to look at and as such, the viewer's experience can be more than just look-ing; it can also be zoom-ing, search-ing, discover-ing.

I'm not saying something crazy, such as a program like Ultra Fractal doesn't produce fractal art; I'm just saying that the way it works is much more complex and input-oriented and because of this it lacks a feature that the simpler, single-layer programs have, which is the interactive, flowing, real-time, mission-to-Mars capability that makes a program like Sterlingware so much fun to use and so much fun to share.

When I first started using Sterlingware I saved thousands of images because using it was like going on a journey or expedition.  I took snapshots of everything I saw because it was all so freaky and awesome.  Later on I calmed down and learned to just capture the things that were really exceptional.  But now I'm thinking that the journey and the expedition are unique aspects to the fractal artform and ought to be something presented to the audience as a form of fractal art in its own right.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sterlingware Reloaded

Made in Sterling2
(parameter file: shell01.loo )

That great fractal classic by Stephen Ferguson, Sterlingware, has been been reconfigured by Tad Boniecki (aka Soler7) with 50 new formulas and released for download as Sterling2.  And it's totally free too.

Now many of you will know me as a sort of Sterlingware sage; the renowned author of Tim's Sterlingware Tutorial, that classic guide to using Sterlingware 1.7.  I've spent thousands of hours experimenting with Sterlingware 1.7, the previous version made in 1997, and learned just about everything there is to know about it.

So you'd think a guy like me would have known that an updated version had been released -- a whole 6 months ago!

No.  I only found out about it because I was surfing around and - I forget exactly how - found myself at Paul N. Lee's list of fractal programs.  My first thought was how old and out of date these listings must be. I could remember visiting this very same web page back in 2002 when I'd first discovered fractal programs and wanted to find and try out every one available.  In fact, I think this was where I originally found Sterlingware 1.7.  So you can imagine how stunned I was to see right below the link to that venerable,  decade-old, SterlingWare 1.7, a brand-new link for SterlingWare "2.0".

Tad Boniecki tells the story this way:
In mid-2007 I contacted Stephen [Ferguson], as I thought that Sterling was an excellent program that lacked one key feature - a formula editor. He told me that adding a formula editor would be a huge job and that in any case the development environment to compile all the parts of Sterling was no longer available, as it is obsolete. However, he encouraged me to do the next best thing, which was to change the formulae in the program. With his help I set up the development environment on my PC and was able to recompile Sterling and to make changes to just one part of the program, ie the formulae. Other parts could not be changed.
Tad seems to share my view of Sterlingware (aka SterlingWare, Sterling, Sterling-Ware).  The program does an awesome job of rendering fractal formulas and it lacks nothing in its creative powers except for just more of those formulas to render.  The natural response to this, as Tad already mentioned, is a formula editor (parser,compiler) which would allow users to input whatever formulas they like.

I don't know all the ins and outs about how Sterlingware was built.  Actually I don't know any of those sorts of things.  But I do know that Stephen Ferguson has other fractal programs, such as InkBlot Kaos and Tierazon, and they both have formula "parsers" which allow users to input and experiment with custom formulas.  I've used the formula parser in InkBlot quite a bit and it really extends the creative abilities of the program although it's not as fast as the built-in formulas that come with the program.  Sterlingware is different in some basic ways, and this is what I'm sure gives it its special, photo-realistic capabilities.  Sterlingware does things that I've never seen any other fractal program do.

More of the story from Tad:
Between June 2007 and August 2008, I spent some 100 to 200 hours changing formulae (that's the quick part) and then testing them to see which ones produced interesting images. It turned out that creating good formulae was much more difficult than I expected. In the process I made and saved some 1,600 fractals. That's not counting about 30,000 that I partially made but did not save. I have finished this process, so Sterling2 now has 50 formulae, all different from those of Sterling.
"100 to 200 hours changing formulae".  It's a lot of work to produce even just a modified version of a program like this.  If Tad spent that much time just adding new formulas, I wonder how many hours Stephen Ferguson must have spent designing, programming, testing and debugging all the other parts of Sterlingware?  It takes real dedication and devotion to produce software of this quality.

I can confidently say that Tad has done a magnificent job in his selection of these formulas.  I've spent at least 10 hours over the last couple of days since I downloaded it (only 437K) and I'm very excited about the potential for making great images that these formulas have.  The image up above was made with one of Tad's new formulas and it's precisely the kind of formula that worked so well in the original Sterlingware (1.7) and is the kind of formula I would have hoped a new version of Sterlingware would have.  Tad's new formulas are right up there in the same category as the original ones Stephen Ferguson included in version 1.7.  A really excellent addition to the previous Sterlingware version.

I want to stress that all credit for creating this program belongs to Stephen Ferguson. My role was restricted to modifying the algorithms. I also want to thank Stephen for helping me to modify his program and for allowing me to release it as freeware, here on my site.

Hey, that's no empty, trifling comment that Tad is making.  Not only has Stephen Ferguson helped him out by providing the source code and help with configuring the "obsolete" development environment to allow for recompiling the program, he's also allowed Tad to give away the revised program for free from his website!

Three cheers for Steve, man.  He's made one of the greatest and most creative fractal programs ever, and now thanks to Tad, one  very talented and hard-working fan, it's just been reloaded with 50 spectacular formulas for a 10-year anniversary encore performance.

Let the fractal feasting begin!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Jim Muth: The Original Fractal Blogger

Snake Tree by Jim Muth

Snake Tree by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 4-12-97

I'll try to post a different image every day, until I make my point that complicated formulas are not necessary for new and unusual fractals.

It appears that Jim Muth has yet to make his point, although, come April, he will have been posting his fractals and writing about them for twelve years. His encyclopedic Fractal of the Day (FOTD) site, graciously hosted by Paul N. Lee, is a treasure trove of not only fractal art, but also Muth's thoughts on the passing parade of the fractal art scene since 1997.

In a way, Muth's FOTD dispatches remind me a bit of Garrison Keillor's news from Lake Wobegon, but FOTD is spiced with more serious philosophy and contains much less Midwestern folksiness. The feels-like-home trappings are not unlike the world found at A Prairie Home Companion, for Muth updates regular readers with daily fractal weather reports and tales on how the fractal cats passed each day. But it's the images, their parameter files, and Muth's wide-ranging musings on art, philosophy, mathematics, politics, and fractal fads and fashion that endure and continue to reward with repeated readings.

If you've never tried blogging, you might easily underestimate Muth's ongoing, monumental achievement. I feel fortunate if I can come up with something to say every week or two. But Muth's been plugging away providing daily communiqués from Fractal Central since 1997 (over 4000 posts to date). Muth is unquestionably the original fractal blogger -- blogging long before the term blog had even been coined. He is fractal art's Boswell, our Scheherazade whose stories keep himself -- and, by extension, us and our art form -- alive. Truly, Muth's accomplishment is nothing less than a continuing diorama that captures the zeitgeist of fractal art.

Let's drop in here and there and see what's up...

Pollock by Jim Mutth

Pollock by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 9-28-97

Fractal visionaries:

Today's prize-winner fractal is named in honor of that not quite so famous American abstract artist, J. Pollock. The resemblance to the paint drippings which made him famous is quite apparent.

I achieved such an effect by taking a nondescript Rectangular plane fractal and redoing it with the inside fill set to epsilon cross. I'm not sure how this option achieves its effects. I think it colors the image according to whether the points' orbits come closest to the real or imag axis.

Until recently I had never used this option, considering such a fancy fill method artificial, but I have now had second thoughts about fractals. There is no such thing as a "natural" or "pure" fractal other than the bare formula. And since a natural fractal doesn't exist, it makes no sense to try to maintain fractal purity. And since I no longer must try to keep my fractals pure, I will be able to use the entire range of Fractint's coloring options without compunction.

Muth is ahead of the curve on several fronts here. First, he recognized the connection between Pollock's action paintings and fractal geometry before doing so was fashionable. Second, he put the old post-processing fracas to rest almost before it even started. Once any action is taken beyond the formula, including simple image generation, every fractal is already tainted. So color away and break out the filters. Photoshop, here we come. And, for UFers, feel free to pancake layers with wild abandon. Just be sure to leave off any self-congratulatory and hypocritical notations like 100 layers -- No post-processing. Muth grasped early on that UF masking and layering were unnatural before UF users even started tweaking.

Diabolically Clever by Jim Muth

Diabolically Clever by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 5-18-99

Fractal enthusiasts:

I received an e-mail today from one of my readers, commenting that the FOTD is taking on a dark aspect. Well, I guess it is. But I rather enjoy darkness and daring to think the deep, dark thoughts that others try to keep submerged. And current events are doing nothing to push my darker thoughts aside, as today's FOTD shows.

Today's fractal plumbs the deepest depths of darkness -- right down to the underworld itself. The picture exemplifies the darkness. I have named it "Diabolically Clever" for no reason other than its resemblance to the fiery pit. It was created with my MandNewt05 formula, using the <atanh> function to initialize Z and the bof60 inside fill to supply the colors, which were juiced up just a tiny bit in Photoshop 5.0.

The scene is one of utter chaos -- one of the most disorganized fractals I have ever found. No two areas show the same character. The lower half, with its blacks and reds, seems to be reflecting the smoke and fires of the great pit below, while the greenish upper half gives only a hint of the celestial blue glories that lie in that direction. I suspect that if the picture extended a few inches lower, the very demons of Hades would be seen screaming and shrieking as they hot-footed over the coals.

Most of the left part is occupied by a strange, ghostly, almost-circular skeleton arc, with Mandel bud-like indentations. The two sides of this arc are of totally different character. A geometric spot of brighter color toward the upper right of the picture does little to relieve the gloominess of the rest of the scene. Actually, this spot of brightness and color hints at some vague familiar memory from long ago that I cannot quite recall.


The weather here today at Fractal Central was far more heavenly than the fractal. The sapphire blue sky, cottony clouds, and temperature of 72F 22C made it a perfect day to do anything under the sun. I chose fractaling, which I was not quite under the sun when I did it, but within sight of the sun.

Now the time to close down the fractal machine has come. But I'll be here again tomorrow with another diabolically clever fractal and if I get myself out of the doldrums, a bit of philosophy. Until then, take care, and only my humility prevents me from admitting how great a fractal artist I am. That is if fractals are art

This post really shows the dimensions of Muth's talents. For one, it reveals how adept he is at understanding and breaking down his own work. This is seen both in his explanation on the fractal's disorganization, and in his observations as to how the color gradations correspond to moods. For another, Muth's courage to buck the prevailing fractals-as-eyecandy aesthetic is clearly stated and clarified. If fractals are indeed art, a notion that he jabs with mock humility at the post's end, then they are capable of considerably more than just being pretty wallpapers. Art embodies all of our experiences and moods; it is not necessarily limited to "the better angels of our nature." Muth is clearly jabbing us in the ribs as he concludes. His willingness to dare "to think the deep, dark thoughts" proves he believes that fractals are art.

Writhing Discord by Jim Muth

Rising Discord by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 10-19-99

Fractal enthusiasts and visionaries:

Green and magenta just don't blend harmoniously. They create a chromatic discord. But sometimes discords can add to the artistic value of a work of art, so I let today's color palette stand in its discord. Combined with the writhing, twisting elements that surround the central midget, the picture fully deserves the name "Writhing Discord".

The picture (as indeed are all my pictures) is in the spirit of a fractal of 10 years ago -- a single-layer image that would have been awesome in the days when people were just discovering fractals. Sometimes when I sample the images posted to ABPF, I wonder why I bother calling myself a fractal artist at all. It's clear to me that those creating the images I see there are doing something far more artistic than my humble and not very serious efforts.

Actually, I have never outgrown the awe I felt when I read that first article about the Mandelbrot set over 15 years ago. I am an explorer, a fractal photographer who tries to faithfully record the things he finds in the abstract world of fractals. If the things I find do occasionally make art, so much the better.

Unlike some fractal artists I've known, Muth is comfortable in his own skin. He neither tries to defend his approach, nor does he go out of his way to attack the artistic means and preferences of others. Muth was prescient to comprehend that our art form might split between those who lean to math and those who lean to art. These two camps have fundamentally different aims, contrasting mindsets, and dissimilar aesthetics. But Muth knows what he wants. The looming schism he sees on the fractal newsgroup does not threaten him but is merely a new way of using fractals for self-expression. Maybe he feels settled because he's never lost the awe (have you?), and he's still busy recording, still trying to get each fresh discovery right. I suspect that's why he continues to blog, too. Each successive FOTD is another chance for novel discoveries. And, since he often does make art, "so much the better" -- for us, his gentle readers and viewers.

And, by the way, you owe it to yourself to read the rest of this entry for Muth's sublime philosophical discussion of life before birth and life after death.

Fractal of the Day for March 15 by Jim Muth

Fractal of the Day for March 15th by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 3-15-00

Fractal enthusiasts and visionaries:

I see that the FracTint vs UltraFractal debate has heated up again. Of course, it's no secret that I'm a Fractint user, and have been since version 2.1. I still have that early version stashed away in a remote directory of my old 8mhz 80286 machine. The executable file of that ancient version is named fract386.exe. The file size is a whopping 32,541 bytes, and the date is 10-23-88 -- 9:06p. Things have come a long way since then.

Actually, I feel that the big debate is a bit overwrought. I see Fractint and UF as complementing each other rather than competing, with Fractint emphasizing the mathematical aspect of fractals, and UF with its multiple layers emphasizing the artistic aspect. My view is pretty near the middle in this debate, but if asked to choose a side, I would side with the Stone-Soupers, since I am more interested in the math than the art.

Today's fractal comes from the formula 4Z^(-2)-5Z^(-1)+C. The area in which the scene lies consists of features that resemble elephants with heads on both ends. The parent fractal is rather interesting, with a train of Mandeloid fragments shrinking to infinity. This fractal definitely deserves the further investigation that I will give it tomorrow.

I was unable to think of a name for today's picture, and finally settled on the technical description "FOTD for March 15" as the name. The image, which originally was a bit drab, was given post-processing in a graphics program to liven it

Ah, yes. The never-ending generator wars. Mine's bigger and brighter and faster than yours. The Fractint old schoolers vs.The Ultra Fractal cult vs. The XenoDream clan vs.The Apophysis conclave vs. The Chaos Pro and Fractal Explorer tribes vs. The Houses of Ferguson and Gintz vs.The lone wolf self-made programmers. Again, Muth is magnanimous and relatively non-judgmental here. He can see both sides but admits he falls more into the math camp. How ironic, though. I'd now consider UF to be more about the math (or, as Tim once noted, about the engineers) and a decision to export fractals to graphics programs to be a route that's more about the art. And, here, in a moment of historical recursion, Muth admits livening up his image in Photoshop. What goes round...

A Midget by Jim Muth

A Midget by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 5-31-00

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

The final FOTD for the month of May should feature a fractal worthy of the occasion. And indeed it does. Today's midget, to which I have given the simple, non-assuming name "A Midget", rates (IMO) a much-above-average 8 on my 1-to-10 scale of fractal worth.

Surprisingly enough, the image is another accident. When I entered the parameters, I had intended on combining Z^(-2) and Z^(-20), but for some reason I forgot the minus signs and inadvertently calculated -2(Z^2+Z^20)+(1/C). And this time I can't blame the cats.

But, as today's picture shows, the result was not bad. The formula draws a crooked fractal with a shrunken, crooked Mandelbrot set lurking near the upper left corner of the frame. The little M-set is fairly conventional, but it is surrounded by the fractal debris that breeds interesting midgets. When I saw this, I got out my mathematical microscope and went in search of these midgets.


The mathematical aspect of the midget is not exceptional; the coloring is what makes the scene. In fact I put so much effort into coloring this image that I actually feel I'm in danger of becoming a fractal artist. At this rate, you'll soon be seeing me creating fractals with something like multiple layers.

Of course, I'm jesting. I would never desecrate a fractal by dropping it on top of another image. As for transforms -- who knows. When I calculate 1/C instead of C, I'm already doing a transform. Maybe sometime in the future I will use more complex transforms, but for the foreseeable future it's fractal purity.

(In the sixth grade, Sister Theresa caught me staring at one of the girls, and told me to keep my thoughts pure. And now at this late date I'm finally starting to do it.)

Butthead: I'd like to desecrate something.
Beavis: Huh. Uhh. Snort. You said...desecrate.

Joseph Trotsky once called my work fractal vandalism. And, here, Muth takes a less-than-subtle potshot at the UF pancake patrol for desecration. Oh, well. No one's perfect. Because, after all, only one of them is wrong.

And I hate to say this, Jim, but Sister Theresa has already got the goods on you. You'll soon have stinging hands and be shuffling off to the confessional. Remember, Catholic sins can be committed in thought, word, and deed. Those cunning nuns had all the angles covered. If you think it, it's the same as doing it. Your thoughts while girl gawking were instantaneously impure -- and now your thoughts, still not kept in check, have turned to...layering. That word does have a kind of smutty, lusty connotation, doesn't it? Mask me, then layer me, baby. Ick. That sounds like something adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Bless me, father, for I have layered. If you know what I mean...

Pinkness by Jim Muth

Pinkness by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 8-12-00

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

For today's average-quality fractal it's back to the formula -1Z^(-11)-11Z^(-1.1)+(1/C), with a bailout radius of 200. As I stated in yesterday's FOTD, this formula draws a most unusual fractal, which is too large to fit on the default screen, but is worth closer examination from one end to the other.

A prominent feature of this parent fractal is a large fan-shaped object. Today's scene with its unusual midget lies buried deep at the edge of this fractal fan, where chaos begins.


The fractal weather today was rather pleasant, with mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 86F (30C). The fractal cats approved of the conditions, and showed their approval by spending most of the afternoon in the yard. In the evening, when the mosquitoes got too thick, they came indoors.

I did a bit of philosophical pondering this afternoon on the question of whether fractals are art, a topic that has been keeping the UltraFractal list so busy these past few days. Of course it's a futile topic, since no definite answer is possible, but it never fails to bring a flood of comments.

Why, I wondered, does this one topic bring such activity every time it arises? Sometimes I feel that the UF list exists only as a forum for fractal artists to re-assure each other that they are indeed creating real art. I had assumed that fractals are art if that's what the creator intends, and that they are mathematical curiosities if this aspect is emphasized. In my case, I consider my FOTD's to lie in a grey area somewhere between art and math.

IMO, It is the attitude of the creator at the time of creation that determines whether an image is simply an illustration of a pre-existing object or a newly-created work of art. If we want our fractal images to be art, then they are art. We don't need the rest of the world reassuring us that we have indeed created a work of art. If we want our fractals to be illustrations of the amazing things numbers can do, then they are such illustrations. If we want our pictures to be a bit of both, as I do, then they are a blend of art and mathematics.

On the other hand, I can understand why traditional artists denigrate fractals as art. By profession I am a graphic artist. At one time, the tools I worked with were things such as a light-table, rubber cement, x-acto knife, straight edge, t-square, ruling pen, air-brush, zip-a-tone, and so on. I spent years becoming skilled in the use of these things. Then computers came. Of course, a computer now does all this tedious work far better than I ever could by hand. I don't resent computers, for they make my work far easier, but I miss the old days of 25 years ago, when it was not so easy to produce a clean and accurate camera-ready mechanical.

Having spoken my bit, I find it's time to shut down the Fractal Central and call it a night. Until tomorrow, take care, believe that fractals are art, and they'll be art.

If you believe this to be profound, it is profound.

I believe it is profound.

And this

Sometimes I feel that the UF list exists only as a forum for fractal artists to re-assure each other that they are indeed creating real art.

is a prophesy of the phenomenon that today OT calls Fractalbook.

With one adaptation: The re-assurance Muth mentions has now mutated into mutually assured, virally contagious back-slapping and ego-stroking. So, this prophetic FOTD gets my smells-like-a-masterpiece ***V***!!!

Challenging Midget by Jim Muth

Challenging Midget by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 1-13-01

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a fractal fan, asking me to tell more about fractals. Since I had no idea of where 'more' started, I didn't know quite what to tell. But once I sat at my keyboard this morning to reply to the e-mail, the philosophical muses came to life, and the words flowed almost of their own accord. The following four paragraphs are a slight revision of the letter I sent earlier today. Perhaps the philosophy is once again ready to arise.

My interest in fractals is mathematical, artistic, and philosophical. Mathematically, fractals are simply graphs of iterated mathematical functions. Artistically, fractals offer a means of expressing one's artistic aspirations, though I consider the importance of this aspect to be somewhat exaggerated. My main interest lies in the philosophical aspect of fractals.

Perhaps the question most often asked about fractals is, "what are they?" In addition, I often wonder, "are fractals real?" The answer can only be, "fractals are the things numbers do, and numbers are pure abstractions". The Mandelbrot set does not exist in the sense that a tree does. No one will ever find a 'real' Mandelbrot set; they will find only pictures of it. The M-set exists only because human beings evolved with the sense of vision, and to better understand the workings of math functions, find it helpful to turn the functions into pictures. In essence, the Mandelbrot set exists only because we created it with our minds and sustain it with our computers.

Much is also made of the fractal nature of the real world. We hear about the fractal nature of trees, ferns, clouds, coastlines, etc. These things do indeed have a fractal surface appearance, but they are not true fractals in the mathematical sense. A true mathematical fractal continues unchanged to infinity regardless of how much it is magnified. The 'real world' fractal objects such as trees and clouds ultimately break down into individual cells and water droplets, and finally into atoms, which no one shall ever observe directly.

But according to quantum theory, atoms also are nothing more than convenient pictures, models created in human minds from mathematical functions. And I have heard it said that numbers themselves are creations of the human mind. So is the 'real world' the world's greatest fractal? The answer to this challenging question is what I am currently seeking.


The fractal weather today here at Fractal Central was once again comfortable, though not nearly as mild as yesterday. The partly sunny skies and temperature of 42F (5.5C) lured the fractal cats onto the porch and into the yard, but once in the yard they quickly decided it was a bit too chilly, and soon returned to their radiators.

And this leaves me with nothing to do but shut down the fractal shoppe and call it a night. I'll watch a junky old movie if I can stay awake. Until tomorrow, take care, and beware of the fractal witch.

Is the real world the world's greatest fractal? I don't know, Jim. It's certainly filled with chaos, isn't it? And we, as a species, seem to keep making the same self-similar mistakes over and over again. And the fractal (art?) images I create seem to come from something I've seen in my head -- and these images seem to say something about the world as I see it. They do seem to be models of mental pictures that started with mathematics. And what is art if not the world according to its creator?

Goodnight, Jim. I'll take first watch tonight to keep an eye out for that fractal witch. I hope the fractal weather stays nice and the fractal cats stay warm. And you take care, too, okay? Watch that bad movie, if you can ward off the Sandman, and sleep well. And, soon, I, and all of us, will see you again tomorrow...

Hat tip for this post to PNL.

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