Monday, September 28, 2009

The Damien M. Jones Fractal Art Contest

And that absolute power corrupting absolutely thing is working out pretty well, too...

"I'm the decider!"

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
--Lord Acton

The recent revelatory leak that a pre-sorted "winners page" was being built by the director of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest leads to an inescapable conclusion. The competition is indeed a one man show. The director, Damien M. Jones, appears to be playing the role of sole gatekeeper. It looks like Jones not only screens all entries, he also classifies them, thus sending tacit signals to the BMFAC judging panel as to exactly where various entries should be placed. The BMFAC judges are strawmen; they don't select so much as shuffle, like an iPod, material that's been pre-ordained for them by Jones. If your entry doesn't get past his initial sorting, you're out. Once that happens, Benoit Mandelbrot, the honorary chair of the contest, won't get the chance to pass judgment on your work, nor, for that matter, will the rest of the selection panel. In fact, Mandelbrot, the esteemed mathematical theorist and fractal pioneer for whom the contest is named, is merely a figurehead, a kind of trophy wife who looks good fronting the contest but has little to do in the actual selection process. The contest should therefore be renamed for the individual who plays the god-like role of deciding which entries live or die. BMFAC should more appropriately be called The Damien M. Jones Fractal Art Contest. After all, that's what it truly is.

It wasn't enough to load the judging panel with Ultra Fractal enthusiasts, including coders, teachers, apologists, and even the UF author himself. It wasn't enough to rig the rules by calling for massive file sizes that only a program like Ultra Fractal can easily handle. It wasn't even enough to hand many of the judges a back door pass key enabling them to display their own work in a (supposedly) juried competition they themselves oversaw. No. These incredible conflicts of interest, examples of UF privileging, and self-serving publicity stunts, were all contrived to radically skew BMFAC to heavily showcase exactly the kind of work that Jones and his UF paisanos produce and to hold up their style as rigorously judged, if not the epitome of our art form.

Astoundingly, none of that elaborate wrangling was enough. Apparently, BMFAC's director and judges and sponsors still needed an ace in the hole. So, Jones, devoted to the interests of Ultra Fractal deeply enough to write this article, took it upon himself to insure that only work he approved of would be pre-approved for the already UF-inclined panel. With this final step, the deck would be fully stacked.

How else is one to interpret what Tim stumbled into last week when the "winners page" opened as he linked to it while drafting an OT essay. We've already shown in our last few posts why the "test page" theory put forth on the UF List won't fly. The winners page was based on a template from the 2007 contest. It worked fine then, and a test, if even necessary, could have been made by importing a single image. Why test with so many images from current 2009 entries meticulously titled, identified by artist, and, most significantly, classified into three categories? Furthermore, if the "winners page" was only a test, then why were two additional entries added after I posted the screen caps last Thursday? That's not testing. That's sorting.

Tim referred, probably with some sarcasm, in his last post to the "official response" to the leak. Of course, Jones won't talk to Orbit Trap directly, but he did issue an explanation of sorts on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, housed on Jones' own server. It seems he's only comfortable talking within the walls of his own fortress among friendlies who'll provide a chorus of nods to his every proclamation. Since the UF List is a public forum, though, here is what he offered by way of an explanation for the "winners page" leak:

Indeed, no winners have been selected and any page purporting to have them is an error.

I did indeed duplicate the 2007 site in prepping the 2009 site, and neglected to include a check on the winners.php page to see if the winners had actually been selected. Since that winners.php page isn't actually linked from the main page of the site and the contest site configuration is still set to accept submissions, for the page to even appear is a bug (now fixed), and for anyone to find it they had to go looking for it--essentially, low-grade hacking. Digging for dirt, as it were. It's embarrassing for me to have missed this check, but it should be equally embarrassing for any would-be critic to try to manufacture issues where there are none.

The contest is still open until the 10th and the winning entries have not been determined.

Note that Jones admits building the page. The "bug" was merely that the page was "live" and visible. Think for a moment. What kind of a check would have been in place "to see if the winners had actually been selected"? Isn't Jones aware of the material he's consciously placing on his own page? The page isn't self-aware; Jones is the one positioning those entries into the various slots that serve as signposts for where he feels the second rounders should be situated. And he has done all of this with no input whatsoever from BMFAC's other judges. Kerry Mitchell, a judge, made clear on the UF List last Thursday that the panel had not yet convened. Even if the winners have yet to be finalized, Jones' hunting and gathering of entries is laying out his own picks for the judges' commendations. The only thing being "manufactured" here is Jones' evasion.

And this, you understand, is the best case scenario for what's going on. For all we know, Jones could be making all of the final selections in advance, and the BMFAC judging panel merely rubber stamps the director's choices. Maybe you fall in line or Jones doesn't ask you back for the honor of "judging" the next contest. Given BMFAC's history of secrecy, how can anyone be certain what's what?

This entire process, mirrored, as Tim pointed out last post, by the recently deceased Fractal Universe Calendar, is completely backward. In a conventional literary contest, screening is done by a panel who sends a pool of finalists to one judge. However, let's be clear: These finalists are never categorized with pre-assigned preferences. BMFAC puts the sorting in the hands of one enormously powerful person and allows him to recommend final placement. A better comparison could be made to the art contests run by the Museum of Computer Art. MOCA makes all entries instantly available for public view. Anyone, including the judges, can visit the online museum anytime during a competition to review the entries. Once the deadline passes, then the judges convene, discuss, cast votes, and select a modest field of artists who placed or received honorable mentions. This seems fair and well handled to me. BMFAC, on the other hand, operates in buttoned-down stealth mode with the director having a heavy hand over who makes the grade.

I mean, seriously, what else could Jones have possibly been doing but weeding out and pre-slotting entries? He has yet to explain exactly what kind of "prepping" he was undertaking. He'd rather transfer blame to OT for accidentally uncovering his chicanery. We were "hacking," you see, so that obviously excuses whatever sieving of entries Jones was tackling. However, I'm a little unclear as to how one can hack a page that is viewable to anyone who surfs to it. Tim stumbled onto the page while writing a draft for a post about tired fractal art. He thought it might be funny to link to the 2009 winners page that would have a similar URL to the previous contests. He expected to see nothing, or maybe one of Jones' chiding bandwidth theft messages once popular on Fractalus. To Tim's amazement, the "winners page" materialized. This is hacking? We put up a link to the page on OT, a link that was active for almost 24 hours. I imagine many of our readers visited that link, now down and appearing as a "security error." Did any of you who used it have to hack in to see it? The link was so public, in fact, Google actually indexed it. The hacking charge is absurd, or, worse, a lie. Even if it were true, Jones has yet to convincingly explain why current entries were being sorted into categories before the judging panel had yet to convene.

The question for fractal artists everywhere is whether you are comfortable having the public perception of our art form so powerfully entrenched in the hands of one person -- a person who, by his decisions and actions, has shown a repeated pattern of bias and preferential treatment that continually benefits himself, his friends, his loyalists, and his software of choice. Fractal art, and all that it is and can be, is not his personal property. It belongs to all of us -- absolutely...


Update: My bad. I corrected a cut and paste typo leading to a garbled sentence at the end of the second paragraph.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Run Like the Fractal Universe Calendar?

How is the judging actually done?

I've always assumed that in order to give every submission an equal chance of winning, the judges independently viewed the submissions and then chose the ones that they thought ought to be included in the exhibition. The choices of all the judges would then be tabulated and the images ranked according to the number of votes received. The top 15 or 25 would become the Winners and then coming next in rank, the Alternates, and subsequently the Honorable Mentions, images that had some artistic merit that distinguishes them from bulk of the other submissions but aren't strong enough to be winners. (It's important to point out that only the Winners form the real exhibition. Alternates and Honorable Mentions are merely categories made up for display on the Contest website.)

Although I've always been a little skeptical about how such a cozy little group of judges like that of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest would really function behind closed doors, and how it's unlikely that the judging would be fair and treat all submissions equally, I'm now asking more pointed questions and suggesting much clearer conclusions because the recent Winners Page leak suggests to me a judging process that definitely does not give all submissions an equal chance of winning. I think the Winners Page that I accidentally stumbled upon was nothing short of a sorting page used to whittle down the submissions and produce a much abbreviated selection of entries which would then become the real contest entries that the judge's would see. This is just what the editors of the Fractal Universe Calendar used to do for Avalanche Publishing. The editors screened the submissions and would pass on to the publishers at Avalanche what they thought were the better images to chose from. This would spare the publishers the job of weeding out all the mediocre stuff so they could then concentrate entirely on what the "editors" regarded as the more serious contenders. Orbit Trap called this screening process judging as the screeners determined what the publishers would see and would not see. A rather influential position to have because no submission made it any further than an editor's desk unless they judged it was worthy enough to do so.

The official response to this Winners Page leak has been typical of the sort of thing that Orbit Trap has encountered for quite some time from both these secretive entities, the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest and the (now defunct) Fractal Universe Calendar: Questions shrugged off, claims of technical difficulties, and then ironically told that we know nothing about how their contest really operates, as if that is supposed to be some sort of "clarification". And of course, stir in a few insults, sprinkled with Official Annoyance, and you've got the same old recipe they've used every time we raise questions about the way they work.

Here's how I think it works, based on the evidence we've seen. It's very simple. The Director screens the incoming submissions looking for three grades of artwork: Winners; Alternates; and Honorable Mentions. Everything not selected by the Director at this stage doesn't advance any further. It will get added to the entries page but as far as the contest goes, it's all over for those for whom the Director frowns upon.

The next step I figure comes right after the contest submission period ends. The judges are notified right away by email that the Director's picks are available for them to view. It's available right away because the Director has been building it while the submissions have been coming in (that's the page I stumbled onto, and in fact, later on, two more images were added to the Honorable Mentions category). The judges have to login to view this page because they don't want the process open to public scrutiny. (I stumbled on the page, and Google started indexing it, because the page was accidentally and temporarily given public access.) The Selection Panel judges are then asked to give their opinions and advice on the art that is presented on the page. Winners may become Alternates or Honorable Mentions and vice versa, but the card game comes to a close pretty quickly because the deck's been stacked. I'm sure this isn't the game most contestants thought they were entering.

And why wouldn't it work this way? Do you really think these people are eagerly trying to exhibit the a wide range of fractal art? If they were, why then would they dictate what the dimensions of your submissions have to be? The Director himself said in the Rules that he wanted submissions with lots of detail in it and even went so far as to state he didn't want any "garish" art. Why not let the judges decide what makes for good art? Isn't that what judges are for? Isn't that what contestants expect judges to do?

Why should the Director decide what gets submitted and what the judges are allowed to look at?

Technorati Tags: fractals, fractal art, fractal art contests, Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009, art judging, Fractal Universe Calendar,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winners First. Contest Later.

You may already be a winner!

Verdict first. Trial later.

I showed in my last post what OT found: a winners page for the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest that displayed current contest entrants placed into three categories: exhibition winner, alternate, and honorable mention. How could some entrants already have won when the contest does not close until October 10th? I asked a few more questions but mostly left you to draw your own conclusions.

Now I want to draw some conclusions of my own. Something is definitely wrong here. Contest defenders seem to be taking one of two tracks. It's either (a) a test page or (b) a glitch. And they're trying to blame this whole business on us here at OT. We were skulking about. We hacked into the site. We were being devious.

Two BMFAC judges have responded so far. Here's what judge Mark Townsend said on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List earlier today:

You could hardly come across a winners page by accident when it's not linked to from the main page, so Terry was obviously looking around backstage on purpose and came across some pages put up for testing. Unless he's a complete moron, he knows this -- so either he has a borderline IQ or he's being intentionally devious. Take your pick.

The winners haven't been selected yet.

See? It's our fault. We were snooping around where we had no business being. Either that, or I'm an imbecile. Neither slur addresses what this web site is and what it suggests. The truth is, of course, we did find it by accident. One of us was writing a post that made a point by linking to the (we assumed nonexistent) winners site for the 2009 competition. To our surprise, the page opened, and you can see what we saw screen capped in my previous post. We put up a link to the site which was still working as recently as late Thursday afternoon. If you checked it, you could see what we saw. Did you have to hack in to see it? Neither did we.

The link is now down, just as I predicted it would be. But it was up long enough for Google to index it. See for yourself. Google winners benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest 2009. In the first one to three hits, you'll see this:

Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 ~~ Entries

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 is being held to select artwork for an exhibition late in 2009 and in 2010. - 20 hours ago - Similar

I suppose devious Google hacked the page, too -- poking around backstage with its ice-breaking bot.

Townsend says the winners haven't been selected yet. But it sure looks like someone has been doing plenty of personal selecting.

A second judge, Kerry Mitchell, followed on the UF List with this statement:

I suspect that Damien is using these pages in his process of creating the actual 2009 pages, and using images from 2007 as placeholders. I know that the images listed under "Panel Member Images" are from the 2007 contest.This year's panel has not convened, as the entry phase is still open, so the winners certainly have not been chosen.

See? The page was under construction. The images are innocent "placeholders" -- mere carry-overs from the last competition. Except they aren't. Either Mitchell is misinformed or trying to mislead you. The thumbnail images are not among the entries from either the 2007 competition or the 2006 competition. Check the links. You won't find any of the most recent pics among past contest submissions. No, it's more reasonable and likely that these are current entries in the 2009 competition. I suspect any one of the artists who appear on the "winners page" could verify my conjecture.

Mitchell's observation that "this year's panel has not convened" means that the judges have not yet reviewed the entries. That's stupifying. Someone certainly has. Someone gave them a good looking over. Someone built the page -- made thumbnails, imported them, typed in titles and artist's names. And, most important, someone judged them by placing each entry into one of three evaluative categories. This is not an error or a sequence of accidental happenings. It is the result of conscious decisions and deliberate actions.

Are you buying the "test page" gambit? What, exactly, was there to test? The template had already been built and apparently worked fine in previous competitions. And why would the director add so many images, specifically categorized, even going so far as to include thumbs, names, titles, and rankings? Importing one sample thumb would have been enough to test the page.

The glitch angle won't fly either. The site was acting up, was it? Sort of like when the director added a generator to Fractalus that somehow corrupted his hard drive? Next, he'll be telling us this is all the work of a bug. The page somehow forgot to check something -- or it accidentally let submissions through -- or it's gone rogue after becoming self-aware like SkyNet -- or other such hokum. Last time I checked, Fractalus was just a server. It had not yet evolved into an AI. No, a human being built that page. Why? And what does its existence suggest?

It does not suggest a test or a glitch. It suggests that you are seeing early results.

It suggests the director has been making contest selections before the contest has closed and before the judging panel has convened. It suggests the judging panel is a cover put in place to legitimize the director's choices. You think such a claim is exorbitant? Jump back to the screen caps in my last post and look again. The director, Damien M. Jones, who Mitchell notes is BMFAC's webmaster (the "winners page" is on Jones' server with his name stamped in the border) is making selections and none of the judges have had any involvement. In fact, neither of the judges who spoke in public can clearly explain what the page is about or why the director is "sorting" entries weeks before the contest has even closed.

But shouldn't the last entry in an art competition have as much chance as the first? In a fair contest, one that uses artistic excellence as a criteria, that would be true. So, what seems to count in BMFAC? Punctuality? Who you know? What you did? It looks like some people can be be winners before others even have an opportunity to submit.

It's like Alice in Wonderland. You know. Winners first. Contest later.


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2009 BMFAC Winners Leaked ?!!?

Let's see.  Which one smells like sucking up?

And the winner is...

Elvis' alien clone
better move over. What is one to make of this?

Just by accident, OT wandered into the "winners" page of the current (and ongoing) 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest and found it active and showing thumbnails of entries listed as exhibition winners, alternates, and honorable mentions.

You can see for yourself here -- or you will be able to for as long as this link lasts -- which, I predict, won't be very long. So, before you can shout out "you lie" from the peanut gallery, here are some screencaps taken on Wednesday, September 23rd. Click on the full-page image below to open a larger and more readable view in a new window.

2009 BMFAC Leaked Winners Screencap

Here are a few detailed shots:

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 1

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 2

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 3

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 4

There is no shortage of head shakers here, like:

Isn't October 10th the deadline for the competition? So, are winners and runners-up being selected before all submissions have arrived and been critiqued by the judging panel? It certainly seems so. Moreover, are certain entries being given some kind of preferential treatment -- that is, has their placement in the competition already been pre-determined before all contest entries have even come in? After all, how can one "win" an art competition before the complete field of entries has been seen and reviewed?

Obviously, this page mirrors the 2007 winner's page. Is this an under construction page that adds selected winners and runners-up as the contest progresses? If so, has the entire judging panel fully reviewed and ranked these entries -- or are these entries being placed on the site solely by the director who, presumably, is the only person with access privileges to change and update this particular page?

Why is this page "live" before the competition has even closed -- especially if a forthcoming explanation (assuming the normally secretive director even bothers to provide one) is that what we are all seeing is merely some kind of practice template trial run kind of deal? If that is so, can we then assume that the artists listed as winners, alts, and HMs are not necessarily going to be receiving such accolades after the competition deadline of October 10th?

Bottom line: Have these artists actually won or placed in the 2009 BMFAC or not? And how is such a situation possible when the judging panel has yet to even view all of the competition's entries?

Inquiring minds want to know.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Road Stops at Digital

Several questions

Is the entire digital art medium just too new and different for the art gallery world? Has the art world, that great destroyer of cultural norms and traditions, found a free-flowing, anarchic, internet-based digital medium too ab-normal and un-traditional to dive into? Is it because digital art can't be cornered by track lighting and nailed to the wall? Do art galleries see the digital medium as irrelevant because a billion perfect copies can be made by anyone in an instant and therefore bought and sold by no one? Does the art world now revolve around making money and neither artists nor art-sellers have any interest in artwork that they can't make a buck off of? Do they see digital art as free for all and good for nothing? Did I mention they can't make a buck off it?

If the answer to all those questions is yes, then the 21st century art world is going to be radically changed. It's going to move from the gallery and museum to the basement and the Blackberry. It's going to be a movement of the anti-movement, because the road used to keep on going and going, but now it's come to...


They haven't quite figured out if they're going to build a by-pass around it or at best, call it a wasteland and ignore it. Digital has literally pulled the plug on art. If art can be freely viewed by anyone with an internet connection and worse, much worse, collected and copied, and much, much worse --shared-- by anyone with an internet connection, then where's the cash? where's the gallery set-up?

How will artist's pay for their berets and oil paints? What's going to cover those big empty spaces on walls behind couches in the living room? Gallery owners are art lovers and will do anything to promote culture once they've paid the bills and filled their stomachs. It's a business to them.

The Radical Change

That's what's so radical about digital art. For the first time in whenever we started recording these things, art is going to stop. There isn't going to be any Digital Art movement or Fractal Art big mainstream exhibition/gallery/museum because the thing we have come to think of as the "Art World" is in fact a commercial entity and they aren't going to do all that for nothing. And without the money, art is nothing to them. Art, as we know it, is the domain of the unique, singular, original, "sold to the bidder for $1,000,000", tangible, stealable, buyable, exhibitible, losable, findable, heirloomable, medium. Medium. "Art" is a medium. We just didn't know until Digital showed up and suddenly the art world lost interest in art.

It's Different Than Printmaking

Printmakers have dealt with this issue of multiple originals. Printmakers will make limited editions of their prints and then destroy the printing plate so it can't be used to make original originals anymore. They do this because if their art is in (relatively) endless supply and easily duplicated it isn't worth much to most collectors. Apparently art collectors don't want everyone collecting the art that they collect.

Printmakers artificially created scarcity of their work and by doing so, higher prices for their work, by limiting the reproducibility of it. In short, they destroy the plate. They destroy their work. But it's seen as perfectly normal and in fact, it's the expected thing to do. Almost all prints will have a number on them, like 36/120, to show their originality (i.e. 36th) and their rarity (only 120 made).

Photographers do the same thing, they just destroy a negative instead of a heavy printing plate. Or at least they say they do. Many problems have arisen in the photographic collectors world recently over the discovery of previously thought to be destroyed negatives which have been used to make more prints --and to sell them-- of course. Some collectors will have the photographic paper dated and authenticated so that the new prints will be considered less valuable or even unauthentic.

Art and easy copying don't seem to go together very well. But for art forms that can be easily destroyed, like printmaking and photography, there are ways of restoring this traditional context of fame and immortality. But digital files, and hence, digital artwork, is infinitely reproducible and every copy is an exact original. That's good for culture and the dissemination of it, but it's bad for commercialism. And commercialism is what drives the promotion and exhibition of art.

Digital Art Doesn't Need a Day-Job

It costs nothing to make and costs very little to exhibit. But try selling a digital file. That's the real digital stuff. I don't mean high-resolution giclee prints. I mean pixels. There's a lot of digital art that can't be printed because it lacks the resolution. It looks good on a monitor, but a 500x375 pixel image will be have to be postage stamp sized to look any good outside of it's digital aquarium we call a computer monitor.

Digital art can be a hobby and you don't have to support it with art sales like the old fashioned, beret-wearing, artists had to. The title of Professional Artist will be a little difficult. But your professionalism will come from making good artwork and not making good money.

Forget the art world and their wine and cheese gallery exhibition nonsense. If they wanted to see innovative, cutting edge artwork they'd be at home on the internet. Bunch of losers!

Technorati Tags: Digital Art, Art Galleries, Art Movements, Art History, Fractal Art, Fractals, Art Mediums, Stuck in Lodi again,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Phase Two: A Real Fractal Art Exhibition

Swine Flu by Luke Jerram

Swine Flu by Luke Jerram

I think Tim's recent observations that fractal art is about to undergo into a new Phase Two paradigm shift are on target. Fractal art will never evolve beyond a curious, trippy, decorative craft until it moves away from being defined by software and instead starts thinking and acting like a legitimate form of expression within the broader parameters of the fine arts.

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, serious conflicts of interest for half its organizers/judges notwithstanding, is also a throwback example of old school, Phase One thinking. The competition is deliberately designed to suggest that "fractal art" can only come from software -- and, in truth, almost exclusively from a particular software program favored, sold, taught, and scripted by some of BMFAC's directors/judges. But this is only true if a narrow Phase One vision of what fractal art is and must be carries the day. After all, as Tim notes in a recent OT post:

Fractal art is a fractal look and doesn't have to be something rendered from computing a fractal algorithm.

How true. If fractal art is art that has fractal characteristics like recursion and self-similarity, then the traditional mediums of the fine arts can be used for our genre just as easily as software. In fact, one could build the case that a true exhibition of fractal art would showcase art made using a variety of self-expressive tools -- including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics design, and other recognized mediums. Software utilizing fractal algorithms to generate images would still be included, of course, but would merely be another component in the artistic arsenal, and such imagery might be broken into distinctions like algorithmic art or digital art, depending on the amount of graphic processing an individual artist used. But fractal art would be category of art, like abstract expressionism or cubism, and not winnowed down to be only the primarily Ultra Fractal images that will win this year's BMFAC.

In the spirit of Phase Two, here's my idea of a real fractal art exhibition that includes the kind of work you won't see displayed in next year's Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest show.

E coli (including detail) by Luke Jerram

E coli (including detail) by Luke Jerram. Medium: Sculpture/Glass.

Working with glass sculptors and virologists from the University of Bristol, Luke Jerram creates transparent glass sculptures of disease microorganisms. Microphotography frequently reveals fractal characteristics in the microcosmic world, including crystals, bacteria, fungi, and (here) viruses. It's hard, though, to imagine the HIV virus, however beautifully depicted, to be merely ornamental. And that's exactly the kind of paradox Jerram wants to suggest. From his web site:

These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks' beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

It's worth stressing again. Decoration isn't enough. Meaning makes art.

Fractal Fish by Kevin Gordon. Medium: Glass.

The glass-blown objects created by Kevin Gordon emphatically exhibit fractal attributes but are grounded in a fine arts tradition. From his website:

[Gordon] fuses layers of glass, with engravings and incised prisms and lenses to trap and transmit light and colour. The prisms are influenced by fractals and the ‘Mandelbrot Theory’ where the image is composed of smaller reflections of the whole. Gordon’s preferred technique of engraved cameo glass, popular in nineteenth century France, is used by few glass artists in Australia because of its technical complexity and lengthy production time.

Isn't Gordon's work as worthy of being called fractal art as anything made in UF today and posted to the Fractalbook gallery of your choice?

Technomorphic Fractal Dragon by Art Videen

Technomorphic Fractal Dragon by Art Videen. Medium: Sculpture.

Art Videen's kinetic sculptures and "suspensions" explore the shadowy province found somewhere between chaos and order. The dragon's scales in the piece above, including those seen in shadow, reveal intricate strata of self-similarity. Videen sees such fractal patterns as "loops" and notes on his web site that:

Another mechanical solution to an assembly issue, are the loops that are seen in much of his work. To Art, the loops immediately took on the meaning of dimensional bands in space and time. He saw the sculpture as objects suspended within the bands of space and, therefore, referred to the sculpture as “suspensions.” Others noticed the anthropomorphic shapes combined with the technical assemblage and referred to the sculpture as technomorphic . . . combining anthropomorphic and technical.

Doesn't Videen deserve a corner installation at the next BMFAC? Too bad he's using the wrong artistic format.

Broccoli by Natasha Harsh

Broccoli by Natasha Harsh. Medium: Oil Paint.

If vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower display natural fractal forms, don't they retain those forms when painted or sculpted? Natasha Harsh's painting seems to reveal some common stalks and bubbles configurations I often saw when I first explored programs like Stephen C. Ferguson's Tiera-Zon. How unfortunate Harsh won't be able to meet BMFAC's entry specifications. If only she'd had the foresight to quit painting and instead import a photograph of broccoli into UF5 instead. Then, it seems, no one would question whether she was making fractal art.

Comic Book Cover and Recursion

A comic book cover seen on Patterns of Visual Math. Medium: Graphic Design/Comic Art.

While I'm not ready to argue this cover for a circa 1970's Harvey comic constitutes fine art, it does show recursion. However, I am ready to go out on a limb and predict this illustration will contain more obvious fractal properties than some of October's BMFAC winners and legion of runner-ups.

Fractal Tea Cup

Fractal Tea Cup. Sold on Medium: Ceramics.

It seems the concept of what a fractal is might be more imprinted in mass culture than some of us have been led to believe. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest claims one of its missions is to select fractal art "that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it -- or if they do know it, they know only garish, 70s-style imagery." If mass marketing has gotten a handle (no pun intended) on what fractals are and look like, can mission creep into the public mind be far behind? Is it just as possible that BMFAC wants to convince the world that its narrow definition of a UF layered and processed image is the only legitimate expression of our art form? And I wonder who exactly might benefit if such a meme started to stick in the collective consciousness?

Such a far-reaching but constricted view of fractal art is only possible if our community continues to embrace a Phase One mindset, but emphasizing software over artistic context and content is dead end. Breaking into the fine arts is our only hope for being seen as bona fide artists. Although your latest 1000+ decorative layers of UF epic technical achievement might wow some Fractalbook fanboys, it won't matter in the long run if your image is still meaningless schlock that looks like a bad Yes bootleg cover. You'll never be, as Dire Straits once sang, "In the Gallery." A real gallery, that is. No, you'll still be languishing in Phase One craft malls, and the shoppers strolling the flea market looking for trinkets won't be able to tell the difference between your lovely, over-saturated spirals and the pretty, painted rocks in the next booth.


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Monday, September 14, 2009

Losers imitate winners

One of these is from the Museum of Bad Art

It occurred to me while browsing some of the greatest art of the 20th century to ask this question: Why don't we see more art like this today?

For instance, it ought to be very easy to imitate the famous drip paintings of Jackson Pollock with fractal algorithms. In fact, I've already done it. And yet, my digital drip paintings have not received anywhere near as much public attention and critical acclaim as Pollock's. Mine haven't received any attention or acclaim, in fact. And I think mine are better.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to imitate Pollock, but as far as I can see there hasn't really been very many attempts. And considering how easy it must be to copy the idea and the implementation of Pollock's drip painting style, or for that matter, anyone else's ideas and styles, there ought to be a lot more imitators of great works of art out there.

Or how about the famous Mondrian colored square paintings? The works, when done by Mondrian, received and enormous amount of attention and have gone on to be one of the most widely recognized styles in abstract art. So why aren't we deluged with all sorts of imitations? Just changing the colors would be an easy variation of this style, but there doesn't even seem to be much of that.

If these famous, classic works of art are so great, then shouldn't there be at least a little greatness when other artists produce variations of those astounding themes? In fact, it begs the question: What were those classic examples of modern art famous for? Or, What's so special about a Pollock drip painting that subsequent imitations can't seem to imitate?

You're probably catching on to this now. The classics are famous because they were examples of innovation; they suggested new areas to be explored. And those areas were explored, and from that exploration other artists produced work that may have been equally interesting but lacked the historical significance that came from being the original innovator. The classic works are just as valuable for the historical role they played as they are for their artistic merits. And as I've just suggested, later works by other artists may have had the same (or greater) artistic merit but haven't received the same popular attention because they weren't they weren't the ground-breaking examples. The favorite artworks of many people are not always ones that are commonly known or the ones that are held up as textbook examples.

If you're going to imitate anything, it ought to be the originality and creativity of famous artists. In other words, the best way to imitate classic art is by making something new. Initially people will ignore you and most likely the only attention you'll get will be insults and ridicule, but those have been the traditional hallmarks of the new and the different. Be suspicious of compliments.

And another thing. If you're afraid of being embarrassed or laughed at, your work will always be embarrassing and laughable.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Fractal Art Without a Computer?

Could this work be described as ...Fractal?
Admiral Otto Von Howitzerhead by Kris Kuksi 2009

Samuel Monnier, writing at Algorithmic Worlds, his new website - gallery - and blog, said some very interesting things about the fractal nature of sculptures done by Kris Kuksi.  Sam said that Kris Kuksi's scuptures "are very interesting examples of non computer-generated art with fractal characteristics (namely displaying structures on a wide scale range)."

In a more recent blog posting, Fractals In Traditional Art, Sam goes into more detail why the term "Fractal" could be used in this context of non-digital art:
  • The artist pushed the physical limits of the medium to display details as small as possible. You generally do not expect sculptures to have submilimetric features, Kuksi's sculptures do.
  • The details have as much artistic importance as the global structure of the work. On his deviantart page, Kuksi displays several photographs of each work, to exhibit details invisible on the global view.
  • Self-similarity is present, through characters and objects of various sizes.

Sam's posting is cautious and doesn't make broad speculative statements like I do.  He says "I think these three pragmatic criterions give a starting point to determine the fractal character of a work."  Note the word, "pragmatic".  It means practical, hands-on, useful for getting something done.  Sam is talking about determining the "fractal character of a work" by looking at it and not by the way it was made.  That's an obvious conclusion, isn't it?  Kris Kuksi's work only looks fractal; it's a hand-made sculpture, it wasn't made with a fractal program.  He also says it's a "starting point".  Even so, I think I can see the finish line from here.

This is something very new and very dangerous.  I see it as something like the Copernican Revolution for Fractal Art.  Copernicus showed that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around.  Until his time people intuitively assumed that the rising and setting Sun was moving around the Earth --rising and setting.  Copernicus changed their minds (not everyone right away, mind you) by showing them evidence that the Sun's apparent movement was actually the result of the Earth's actual movement.  He presented people with evidence that convinced them to see their world in a different context: a Sun-centered context instead of the old Earth-centered context.

I think this could be the beginning in what could become the complete unraveling of fractal art as a genre.  After this we will all see fractal art from a Visual Context instead of a Software Context.  We will see that Fractal Art revolves around visual appearance and not around the software that made it.  Fractal Art will be defined by visual criteria and not by its association (whether it's noticeable or not) with fractal software. 

If a piece of art can have fractal characteristics derived from something other than a fractal formula, then there's really no difference between an image made in a fractal program and one made in a plain old graphics program as long as they both have a similar, fractal style.  Furthermore, fractal art is then really nothing more than this fractal style which is, of course, easiest to produce with a fractal program but could also include any kind of image resembling the output of such fractal programs.  Fractal art is a fractal look and doesn't have to be something rendered from computing a fractal algorithm.  There can be examples of fractal imagery made in a non-fractal program and similarly, examples of
non-fractal imagery made in a fractal program.

In fact, Samuel Monnier's pattern piling (see his Portfolio on Algorithmic Worlds) is an example of why we should adopt this more visual definition of fractal art than hold onto the traditional, software definition, because his artwork is, in my opinion, as fractal as any two-dimensional image will ever be and (visually) indistinguishable.  In fact, if you don't adopt the visual definition of fractal art then I guess you have to exclude the kind of work that Sam is making.  Even though it is made with Ultra Fractal, it's not really the usual Ultra Fractal fractal output. Sam has used Ultra Fractal's programing features to create work that uses non-fractal algorithms and is therefore, by the usual criteria, non-fractal --unless one makes that decision on the basis of visual criteria.

Just for illustration purposes, a quick glance over the winners of either years of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests will show you how overly simplistic and possibly meaningless is the term, fractal art in its current form.  What do these images, all chosen as winners in a fractal art contest have in common? and how easily would one distinguish them from artwork in other abstract, algorithmic, or simply digital (eg. made in Photoshop) categories?  The rendering methods that are used to produce "fractal" images contribute enormously to the final result and artists can easily start to focus on aspects of an image that are largely created by the rendering algorithm and not the fractal formula without realizing it, and thereby create work which is better called "render-ism" than fractal.  Add layering to the process and the ultimate result can be something quite interesting, but also quite non-fractal.

Fractal formulas produce a style of imagery, but that style is not exclusive to fractal software.  But if we are to include as fractal art, images that portray the fractal style but lack a traditional fractal "pedigree", then shouldn't we also question the presence of fractal art images that have a genuine fractal "pedigree" but lack that clearly defined fractal style and even perhaps exclude them?  Will fractal art survive such a revision, including it's neighbors as part of the family because they look like them and abandoning some of it's own children because they, by the same criteria, don't look like them?  That's why I think it's not such a crazy thing to say that fractal art, as a strict and simple category, doesn't really exist, and probably will become much less distinct in the future, if in fact it doesn't simply merge with algorithmic art or with the larger, and more general, digital art category.

It could happen because fractal artists will see themselves and their work in more general terms and not identify or associate as strongly with the label fractal art as they will digital art or algorithmic art.  And why will they see themselves that way?  Because they'll look at their artwork from a different perspective and describe it in visual terms like "I make abstract, decorative type work with multiple layers using things like fractals, masking and other graphical effects".  I think that currently describes ninety-percent of all fractal artists.  They've been revolving around a specific artistic style for centuries (I mean, years) and not around fractals or anything unique to the software they've been using.  But like the Earth-centered people in Copernicus' time, it makes sense to them, it seems natural to them to think that way.  They see the Sun revolving around them and not vice versa.  But a closer look at fractal art --and fractal-like art-- I think reveals those beliefs to be superficial and merely a matter of habit and convention.

I think that's what Samuel Monnier in his observation of Kris Kuksi's work has discovered, although he hasn't come (jumped?) to the same conclusions as I have.  If we judge fractal art by it's visual characteristics, then the genre will be extended to include work previously considered non-fractal because of the non-fractal process by which it was made; but the genre will also shrink to exclude works which were previously considered 100% fractal by virtue of the "fractal" software used to create it --because it doesn't display any fractal characteristics.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fractal Multiplication Concepts

Editor's Note:  This is a guest posting by Rich Jarzombek.

I'm always fascinated by what I call "The Infinite Powers" of fractals. Most fractalists know that the fractal computational process is iterative and therefore could go on to infinity but intentionally terminates when a programmed condition is reached so that an image existing at the time of that terminating condition can be displayed. While I know that fractalists are aware of this "Infinite Computational Power" I suspect that few make adequate use of fractal's "Infinite Magnification Power".

Personally, I find great satisfaction in utilizing this "Infinite Magnification Power". In fact, all of the 1200+ fractals in my website, Realistic Fractals, were produced at high magnifications, typically several hundred to several thousand times standard (default) magnification. This means that most of my images didn't exist as even a single pixel in the initial display!

The following example shows the result of one of my earliest ventures into high magnification. The image below was derived from an equation of my own creation. It is displayed at 1.0 initial magnification.

My first impression was that this was an ugly, useless fractal. However, for some unknown reason, I was curious to see what might exist in the area to which the arrow points. After a series of magnification which finally reached a 63,433 times magnification, the following image appeared, which I titled, "A Rose Is A Rose Is A - - -"

When I saw this image my immediate reaction was, "Who woulda thunk it?!!". The significance is that even within an ugly fractal there may exist a beautiful image if you take the time to explore using the "Infinite Magnification Power" of fractals. As an analogy of this degree of magnification, if this image were viewed at a width of 6 inches, its primary fractal would have a width of 6 miles and contain 4 billion different images of the same size!

The following example shows the result of an experiment to determine the maximum magnification capability of the software based on its computational precision (significant figures). The image below was derived from an equation of my own creation. It is displayed at 1.0 initial magnification.

I then chose to magnify a pinpoint location in the area to which the arrow points. After a series of magnification I reached a magnification of 'ten to the thirteenth power' and the image below appeared.

This image is not displayed to show esthetic value but rather to show its sharp detail even at such high magnification. (Any higher magnification will result in a distorted, highly pixelated image due to exceeding the system's mathematical precision.) If this image were viewed at a width of 6 inches, its primary fractal would have a width of 10 times the average distance of the earth to the sun, and would contain 'ten to the twenty-sixth power' different images of the same size!! Due to this analogy I gave it the title, "Alien Horizon".

Since it is difficult to imagine what 'ten to the twenty-sixth power' images means, I decided to compute another analogy: If these images were divided evenly to the entire world's population of 6.8 billion, and if everyone took only one second to view an image while working on a 24/7 basis, it would take over 400 million years before all the images were viewed! (Unfortunately, this would also be about the same amount of time that "traditional" artists will take to accept the fact that "Fractal Art" is a "legitimate" art form!).

If someone asked me if it were possible that one of that huge number of images might be a perfect replica of the "Mona Lisa" I might have to reply, "Don't bet against it!"

Sometimes I like to think that every fractal image I initially create is imprinted on an enormously huge microscope slide. Therefore I am looking through a microscope with the ability to move the slide to any position I choose and view whatever is there, and at any magnification I choose!

Wow! Can't you just feel the awesome energy of fractal's "Infinite Magnification Power"?!!

Rich Jarzombek

(Note: The images and interpretations were obtained using Tierazon V2.9 software. However the concepts should relate to all other true fractal software.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I'm sick of Eye Candy

Even my own homemade recipes leave me with an unsettled stomach.  I used to get a thrill out of making some colorful lollipop of an image, but that stuff is for kids.  If you still crave candy, then you're still a kid too.

Call it Decorative Art, or The Decorative Arts, it's still the same old eye-candy.  In fact, Decorative Art isn't really art at all --it's decoration.  Pretty fractals may be nice to share and talk about and sell to the great mass of decorators out there looking for something nice to cover the living room wall or front entrance, but it's only art in a broad, general, graphical sense.

Previously I've said that fractals aren't very fertile subject matter by which to express deep thoughts or make bold political statements but I realize now that that's letting fractal art off a little too easy.  Like a father speaking to a child who's setting themself easy goals in life, I say, you can be more than that, you can be art, you can be anything a pixel can be.

But I know better than to give advice to someone who's happy doing what they're doing and hasn't arrived at the point where they see things the way I do.  So to all those of you who aren't happy with eye candy and occasionally get a deeper thrill out of artwork that is something else, that's good.  And to those who find their stomach turns at the sight of a super sour gumball or a bright orange fruit chew, that's even better.  It's good to feel bad about bad things.  And eye candy is bad art.

Bad art?  Yes, I know there is a subjective factor to tastes in art and all that sort of argument that people often pull out to neutralize artistic criticism (except their own, of course), but graphic imagery that merely looks pretty and doesn't engage the viewer's thoughts in some deeper way hasn't ever qualified as art in any serious circle of intelligent people before except in some trivial, functional way like the way a vase of flowers does in the front entryway in someone's house.

That sort of thing is a Craft and those who make it are Craftsmen, not artists.  It's perfectly respectable to be a craftsmen; there's nothing derogatory about the label.  What's not so respectable is when craftsmen want to call their fractal flower arrangements Art, and themselves, Artists.

It's not that they aren't good at what they do, or professionals, or anything else like that.  They're good craftsmen, some of them are excellent craftsmen (craftspeople), and many are very professional and quite highly skilled in the technical aspects of their craft, but it's just that what they produce has no other dimension to it than to be decorative --something pretty to look at.  But don't call it art because that's being pretentious, shows ignorance and trivializes what art is, and what art is all about.

And art is all about thoughts, feelings --mental action and reaction.  Maybe it's possible to say something with flowers?  Not likely.  That's why they're such a popular decorative item, they're just something pretty to make a room look nicer, like visual air freshener.

Fractal art isn't eye candy or visual air freshener.  I guess I could give some sort of pep talk here or rallying cry for more art in fractal art, or lets all try to put more meaning in our fractal art, but really, if you're happy with what you're doing making eye candy then you're not going to do anything like that.  People don't make art because they're told to, they make it because they're sick of eye candy and don't get a thrill from it anymore.  They make it because their gut tells them to.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fractal Art, Phase Two

Bold, new, full-color, fractal art

What? You didn't know even know there was a Phase One? Well, let me begin there, then. At the dawn of fractal art.

Phase One, the first stage of fractal art, has been oriented around software. The big developments in fractal art came from developments in the software that made it. True color fractals were a big development in fractal art over the more primitive, 256 color fractals.

More primitive? See, I'm talking like a phase one fractal artist. Good art, or even great art, can be made with 256 color fractal programs. In the same way, bad art or even awful art, can be made with true color fractal programs. Who cares how many colors your program uses? Or more to the point: who cares how many colors your artwork has in it?

That's the essence of Phase Two thinking. And it's all about thinking /perspective /approach. Phase Two fractal art focuses on the image and not how it was made. Perhaps in Phase Two fractal art the word "fractal" is no longer relevant because the word fractal only has meaning if the artwork exhibits a fractal appearance. Images made from details of fractals or images processed with filters are really derivative works and whether one wants to call them fractal art is really a pointless matter and unresolvable argument.  And Phase Two artists don't care anyway how an image was made. Whether it has that parameter file pedigree or not isn't as important as whether or not it's...

Art. Yes, that's where I see fractal art going. Taking an artistic approach and evaluating the image rather than the software that makes it, is an instinctive next step. It's instinctive I think because that's how art has always been viewed and evaluated. No serious critic ever categorized oil paintings by what kind of paint brushes they were made with or whether they were painted by men or women. Or by nationality?  Is it American Art?

Art is studied, viewed, collected, practised, and criticized according to the style of artwork -- what it looks like. That's how things will be, and even already have started to be, in phase two of fractal art. I've groused about Ultra Fractal, but really what I was criticizing was the excessive layering and masking of fractals. That's what most people do with Ultra Fractal and that's why most of what is made with it is so boring. But there are others who use Ultra Fractal for very, very different things and they use layering as an algorithmic tool rather than a way to apply make-up to fractals. The program is as advanced or as primitive as the images one makes with it. In fact, the program is irrelevant; it's the artwork that's important.

Phase Two thinking says, "If this image was a painting, what style of art would you say it most closely resembles?" Phase Two thinking calls fractal art that looks nice but lacks expression to be Decorative Art. It calls fractal art that evokes feeling, emotion or vivid thoughts to be Abstract Expressionism. Phase Two thinking enters fractal art through the art door and not the math door. Phase Two speaks respectfully to the Rocket Scientists but explains that beauty, while taking many forms, is the only parameter in art.

Jackson Pollock is the true father of fractal art (even if his drip paintings aren't fractal). Benoit Mandelbrot is the father of fractal software. This is the Phase Two perspective. Pollock said, "It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said." Phase Two listens to the art, not the artist.

In Phase Two we don't call it art until we hear it speak.

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