Sunday, May 17, 2009

Digital Art is Mass Media

A Typical Fractal Gallery

Digital art is not displayed or presented in the way in which paintings or photographs are. One doesn't exhibit digital art, one broadcasts it. The digital medium is so different from the traditional paper and canvas medium that concepts like copyright, which were established in the offline, pre-internet world, have different meanings, and sometimes no meaning at all in the digital environment of the internet.

One of the common themes I've observed in my 10 years in the online art world is that of artists lamenting how easy it is for people (those evil, thieving people) to "steal" their artwork. As a hobbyist, I find myself just as much in the role of the art-viewer as I do in the role of art-maker. Furthermore, as someone who's over 40, I can relate to the old world where all art and culture was offline and either printed on paper or framed and hanging on a wall. But I can also relate to this "new" online world where everything from seemingly everywhere is continuously available on my computer screen at no apparent cost and without any of the usual physical interactions required to gain access or permission to it. Cost seems somewhat abstract; on the internet I don't feel like everything's free so much as it feels like everything's already been paid for. Just like television, or the radio.. or like any other broadcast medium.

I came across an online history of the World book a few years ago. Like many other attempts to bring together everything important that's ever happened in the World, I found it to be more religious than scholarly and also rather hard to read. But one brief biographical note by the author stuck in my mind: after graduating from university he later moved back to live near his old university. But not to pursue a graduate degree or anything like that, but simply because he found life to be unbearable unless he had access to a university library. As someone who used to spend his Friday nights browsing through the book shelves during my university years, I can really relate to that hunger for a vast, high-grade information source. But today, anyone who has an internet connection has, more or less, that vast information source right on their computer. It might not always be the best, but the internet has the wide range of materials and specialized kind of items that only a university library used to have. Inside the library it's all free, because the university has already paid for the books. Internet access is like owning the whole library. Of course, copyright law doesn't see it that way.

This is the source of frustration for digital artists who want to display their work and yet at the same time, enforcing their legal right to copyright protection, derive some income from the reproduction and sale of their work. Reproduction is the key concept; in the online world there is no such thing as reproduction as there is in the offline, printed world. Or actually, on the internet, the digital world, everything is a reproduction, just as broadcasting a television signal creates the potential for an unlimited number of "copies" of a television show when viewed by millions of people on millions of television sets. When we watch television, our TV set "creates" a copy of the show.

In the world of the print medium I grew up in (which I believe still exists today) publishers would speak of the number of copies they had printed and book sellers would speak of the number of copies of a book they sold (or not sold). I don't remember any television producers speaking of the number of copies their viewers had bought. The television industry spoke about the size of its audience, and not numbers of copies made. In Mass Media, copies are an abstract and irrelevant concept for the simple reason that you can't control who's viewing, or "copying", your show and subsequently you can't sell it (you can ask for donations, though!). Mass media producers sell their audience's attention to advertisers who use those brief opportunities to influence the audience's consumer behaviour by trying to get them to buy their products. It doesn't work that way with books or other printed matter.

It costs money to print books and that's why you have to pay money to have them. If you take a book from a bookstore without paying, it's stealing and the bookstore owner loses money. If you download a fractal artist's entire life work from their online gallery and view it again and again, the fractal artist doesn't lose any money, but under the laws of copyright, it's still stealing. It's almost a victimless crime. It's almost an anonymous victimless crime. It's almost an anonymous, imperceptible, invisible, victimless crime. And virtual too!

Enough. Here's the conclusion: In Digital Art it's all about resolution. Broadcast in Low-Res, Print in Hi-Res. Don't worry about Low-Res copying or unauthorized use because it won't hurt your print sales and will quite possibly be beneficial to them. Yes! It pays to be robbed --on the internet!. Your Hi-Res files are the real thing; the Low-Res files are like your business cards. (You might want to put your name on them since people might forget). If you make great artwork, then people will pay to have a print of it and that can only come from the Hi-Res file which you --and only you-- need to posess and control. There you go, we're all happy again!

Now, if all you make are Low-Res images and you post them without your name, like I do, then you'll never make any money --ever. But the potential for great fame still exists. And that's still an achievement worth considering. I'll bet there's a lot of big, rich artists today who would trade all their money just to be famous.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sharing the Love

Let's read the most evil blog ever as we enjoy our lemonade.

They love! They share! They share and love and share! Share, share, share! Love, love, love!

[Image seen on FiveThirtyEight.]

Somebody gets to be smart and somebody gets to be dumb.
--Karl Rove

Every now and then, it's fun to type "orbit trap blog" into Google. I like to think that what turns up is a kind of found mailbag. And here's what the cyber-postmaster delivered today.

The hit in question comes from a Fractalbook conclave. I guess that's about as close as online "friends" get to sitting in rockers on the porch, sipping lemonade, and sharing. The time is March of 2008. The context is Orbit Trap's coverage of the Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC). The site is former FUC editor Keith Mackay's deviantART journal. Mackay has just announced to the world that he will no longer serve as a FUC editor. Richard "Rykk" Spix then responds:

Dang! Sorry to hear you aren't doing it anymore. I reckon I can relate with all the Orbit Crap bs. Ya gotta understand that they are a VERY MINOR thing and almost nobody has even heard of them. And that they are just no-talent types with a huge case of sour grapes and an even larger sense that they are somehow "entitled" to place their "work" in these collections merely because they have a website and have Googled a few big words. In their self-delusional (the worst kind of delusions) hubris, I think they interpret lack of comment on their screeds as agreement with their claims when in actuality it's that nobody wants to bother with getting flamed by them and arguing with brick walls that spin every true/pertinent thing said into some non-sequitor bit of hyperbole rather than debate point by point. They probably have deleted 99% of the answers on their threads and pass it off with lies that nobody supports the dissenters of their overly spun ala K Rove "opinions" and allegations. You'd think if they DID have any supporters, those comments would be emblazoned all over the site, eh?

If they get hits on their site it's certainly not from anyone really interested in the "blindfold the child and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey" bits of "schtickism" their PC'S mindlessly crank out FOR THEM in the stereotypically garish "Digital Art" colorings that the PC came up with due to whatever merge mode - or that the filters they use delegate that they haven't figured out how to modify - but it is more related to how people slow down on the interstate to vicariously rubberneck car wrecks. They look, maybe comment on the lack of skill/attention of the drivers and then proceed along their way shaking their heads.

The Bush Adminstration ratfucking strategy most employed by Karl Rove was: accuse your adversaries of doing the very things you are actually doing yourself.

Like attacking someone's work or character rather than addressing his or her ideas and observations?

Like claiming someone deletes posts and censors comments?

The only posts Orbit Trap has ever deleted were several written by Keith Mackay -- and those were removed at his request. If you think we censor reader responses, then test that theory. Send us your thoughts. Assuming your remarks adhere to our comments policy, you'll soon see them on this blog -- just as clearly as you can see Rick Spix's opinions above.

I sent one comment to Keith Mackay's (now defunct) idreamincolor forum. Not only was my comment deleted, but the entire discussion thread quickly vanished. I then received an email from Mackay telling me I had been banned from his discussion group.

So kick back in your porch rocker. Have another glass of lemonade. Share the love with your Fractalbook "friends" as you denounce others for the very actions you are in fact committing.

It's not only ironic. It's postively Rovian.


Tags: fractal, fractals, fractal art, fractal blog, keith mackay, richard spix, rykk, sharing the love, positively rovian, cruelanimal, orbit trap

Monday, May 04, 2009

Odds and Ends #2

Fractalus Agonistes?

Fractalus: Too Big to Fail?

[Photograph seen on]

Have you been keeping up with fractal art current events? Let's see...

Speak, Damien

Damien M. Jones, Fractalus overlord and co-director of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC), emerges from his cyber-cave to clarify why various sites and pages (like two BMFAC repositories) hosted by his server have recently gone missing. Here, from the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Jones explains that

Nearly two months ago, my host upgraded their power grid to bring online a massive generator to provide continuous power even in the event of a major power outage. Normally this is a good thing, but my server decided to use this as an opportunity for the hard drive to begin to fail. It has been slowly becoming more and more corrupted. The first drive affected was the database drive; a non-essential table was corrupted and the database shut down, and I have backups of all of that data. This meant that any web sites relying on the database (my personal gallery and the contest web sites) were offline. This week, the corruption spread to the drive from which DNS is handled, and that effectively shut down all sites and services.

Good to know. This certainly explains the erratic service, but....

...why didn't Fredrik Slijkerman reference this technical difficulty when he recently announced moving the Ultra Fractal site from Fractalus to a server in the Netherlands? In fact, why would Slijkerman go to the considerable bother of moving the UF site if he was only facing an outage of a few days?

And, don't hard drives fail for the usual reasons, like age, heat, vibration, static electricity, power surges, and so on. What was the correlation between adding the generator and the breakdown of the drive -- other than Jones coyly alluding to an "opportunity" for the drive to begin malfunctioning? After all, such installations do not normally cause corruption. If there's some fairly rare connection between activating a generator and producing a power surge, for example, then why not just make that plain?

Then again, one could point out that all of these service interruptions have roots in the fact that Jones owns his own dedicated server precisely because he wants to have total control over everything, including the DNS settings for all web addresses on Fractalus. As a result, he's free to spin any story he chooses. Since no one else is involved, who's going to question whatever explanation he provides?

But let's be grateful for tiny mercies -- like having him say anything at all -- especially considering the near-total shroud of silence blanketing BMFAC for going on two years. So, while Jones is in a conversational mood, here are a few other questions for him:

-- Is BMFAC dead in the water or will it be afloat again in the near future? And will the format be the same with exhibitors and judges hung side by side? Or will you instead run the competition like -- you know -- a standard art contest? After all, you said you would in a "conversation" we had on the Xenodreamers YahooGroup in October of 2007:

ME: You said on Orbit Trap that people were unhappy that the judges' work was included (not a dead issue to everyone, is it?), but that the sponsors insisted so that the contest would not run the risk of having "insufficient quality." Knowing that people were unhappy, why chance the same hazard again this year? The question has become moot anyway. Now that you and the panel members passed out a whopping 71 awards honoring quality this year, doesn't that mean you can comfortably scrap including the judges' work (40% of the exhibition, by the way) next year and keep the contest strictly for the contestants?

YOU: Actually, yes.

--Why was there virtually zero publicity about the 2007 BMFAC exhibition -- including on your own self-hosted BMFAC main site (still missing in action as of this writing)? I know of only two web references to the 2007 BMFAC exhibition: an obscure page here and Orbit Trap (and I had to write that second one myself eight months after the show closed). Would you mind pointing OT's readers to other web pages celebrating the last exhibition? Maybe I just missed them.

That's all of the questions I have for Jones at the moment. Readers, though, should feel free to leave others for him in the comments.

O Fractal Universe Calendar Where Art Thou?

Last year:

Submissions Announcement: March 15th
Submissions Deadline: May 10th

This year:


The main Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) site contains no information (yet) on submissions for the 2011 edition. Yet, last year's deadline is less than a week away. Which makes one wonder:

--Will there be FUC contest this year?

--Will it be run as an art competition or will submissions be solicited directly from artists -- instead of the current mutant mishmash of both?

--Will work by the editor(s) again be automatically included as a form of payment, and will the editor(s) again be allowed, after initial screening, to submit additional work on to the publisher-judges?

--If a contest framework is again used, will the final publishers/judges identify themselves?

--Would Avalanche Publishing like another round of pesky letters and bad publicity posts from certain, unmentioned bloggers?

Of course, Tim and I asked these same questions to multiple people in multiple ways last year and received no reply whatsoever. I guess I won't bet the fractal farm that this year will be any different.

And speaking of contests...

The Fractalforums and UltrafractalWiki Spring 2009 Fractal Art Competition

Should we be glad that a new fractal art competition has sprung to life? Tim has written eloquently on OT about the emotional and aesthetic hazards of art contests and cogently noted that

The death of contests is good because contests take artists with talent and creativity and turn them into approval addicts. After just a few contests most artists already start to exhibit the symptoms of mental degeneration that accompany similar dependency disorders: restlessness; anxiety attacks; obsessive grooming; checking their mail every five minutes.

I have to agree. I've seen this derangement syndrome pop up plenty over the years in the fractal (non)community. That being said...

At least there are no editors or judges here muscling in their own work. Voting is open to any registered member.

And, although any contest with "Ultrafractalwiki" in its title creates instantaneous trepidation of (yet another) fractal art competition that privileges Ultra Fractal, the FractalForum mods insist that "UF is NOT required!" Moreover, this contest allows art to be "wild" -- meaning "anything is allowed, photography, paintings, buildings and so on." Such open-ended criteria is certainly an upgrade from the swirly spirals of FUC and the "tame" art of BMFAC that must not stray too far from the fenced-in pens of accepted fractal-ness (meaning: adhere strictly to the judges' UF-based aesthetic).

I have only one concern. I tend to distrust the results of art contests where the people rule. I prefer contests where dispassionate judges -- preferably well qualified and never included in the final exhibition/production -- render an admittedly subjective verdict. Fractalbook, however, seems to have more trust in its community members than I do. Invariably, these vote-by-members contests turn into popularity-centered "Hot Lists" plagued by vote spamming drives. I'm never sure if the "winners" are the best artists or merely the most efficient-at-cyber-smoozing marketers.

The case of the Museum of Computer Art's (MOCA) annual "Donnie" contest seems to illustrate this complex. Early on, the "Donnie" was run in an open voting format for one year, and the result was a fiasco. The vote stuffing became so fierce that the director had to step in and "adjust" the tallies to better insure a fair representation. But, for me anyway, the damage had already been done, and I felt that particular contest had been impossibly compromised. After that lone incursion into open voting, the "Donnie" self-corrected, returned to using a judging panel, and is generally considered to be a rigorously juried and first-rate digital art competition.

But maybe the FractalForum folks can avoid the pervasive pitfalls of creating a fractal art version of The People's Choice Awards. This particular board does seem to be a lively place with plenty of shared information, thoughtful discussions, and, of course, a heap of fractal art to see...

...even if an occasional member appears to have an aggressive dislike of a certain, unmentioned blog.



Did I speak too quickly and hopefully about the FractalForum competition?

On May 3, on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Dave Makin posted the following:

For anyone wanting to vote on the contest entries at
all you need is an account there, log in and then rate the images in the contest galleries.

Makin went on to outline the merits of the FractalForum and touched on the many fractal programs discussed (including custom software) and the variety of topics covered. All done very respectfully, of course.

And then, less than 48 hours later, the FractalForum has over 20 new members.

How do I know? I'm a member. I looked.

I'm guessing that's probably a record influx in such a short time frame.

All of which makes me feel like writing the following letter:

Dear FractalForum Mods,

What do you really want? You're holding a double-edged sword here. One end says publicity like this is good. More people show up and join the forum. Maybe they'll like what they see, stick around, become active participants, and contribute to the life of the community you're building.

But there's always the other end of the sword. Maybe they all swooped in to swamp the contest voting to ensue victories for UF artists and images. In that case, your fresh contest becomes -- as the young girl in Signs who cannot ever finish a glass of water says -- "contaminated."

And, if that's the case, your out-of-the-blue new members are squatters. They don't care about the well-being of your community. They've joined strictly to push their private agenda.

And, Mods, you could quickly end up with a repeat of an incident that rocked quarters of Renderosity. Some years back, when Renderosity still had its Hot Lists (of "best" images decided by **V**s -- that is, member voting), several fractal artists began playing with Terragen and started posting in the Terragen gallery. Before you could say vote spamming, those fractal Terragen noobs zoomed straight to the top of the Terragen Hot List -- much to the ire of many longstanding Terragen artists.

A similar situation could be brewing here. Your forum members in good standing could suddenly find their hard work and friendly community beset by a cyber locust plague who will decide for all of you that only crops made with their chosen software are worth eating.

I explained above why allowing a public vote in contests can easily lead to this predicament. I hope I'm wrong about vote spamming in this case. But if I'm right, Mods, then you have a decision to make. And it has long term implications for the kind of home you want to build -- and for the kind of behavior you expect from people who come knocking at your door.

P.S. One more thing. Looking over the list of FractalForum members, I saw several who have multiple IDs but identical IP addresses. Is some protocol in place to prevent such people from voting twice?

Thanks for hearing me out.

Your blogging bud,



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