Sunday, November 01, 2009

We've Moved! to is our new address. Update your bookmarks and check out the new site!

The Orbit Trap feed is still the same and subscribers don't need to change a thing.

The old site here at Blogger will remain for those who want to browse the archives, but new postings will only be made at the new site,

Why did we move Orbit Trap? Well, like any online publishing venture, we've changed and grown over the years and our web hosting needs have become more sophisticated. We need things that Blogger, as wonderful and generous as they've been to us over the years, isn't able to provide.

"Oh?" you say. "What kind of things is big old Blogger not able to provide for tiny little Orbit Trap?"

Well, since you asked, rhetorically, Blogger isn't able to provide us with things like protection from false claims of copyright infringement. For a blog like ours that specializes in comment and criticism of current artwork, the principle of Fair Use as provided for in the Copyright Act is what allows us, or any publication like it, to speak its mind. Fair Use of copyrighted material reflects the U.S. Constitution's 1st Amendment right to freedom of expression. Fair Use, is a Constitutional right founded on Constitutional principles, not a legal loophole for unsavoury lowlifes to squeeze through.

Some of you reading this may think that Orbit Trap deserves to get muzzled and who cares about such academic things as the Constitution? That wouldn't surprise me because I've seen such attitudes very much alive and well in the way contests and other events are run in the fractal art world. They'd like to see Orbit Trap shut down, but so far all they've been able to do is harass us in minor ways. Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States of America and the U.S. Copyright Act wasn't written by people with such ethical apathy or such a narrow perspective on culture and public commentary. I don't expect any of Orbit Trap's critics to object to the censorship of our blog postings through bogus DMCA complaints.

What is the DMCA? Ask Cornelia Yoder. Ask her how a screenshot of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Winners page, published on the internet, intentionally or not, indexed by Google and used on Orbit Trap for the purpose of reporting on how the contest is run behind closed doors; ask her how it could be considered copyright infringement because it just happens to include a trivial 30x100 pixel thumbnail of one of her images entered in the contest?

It isn't, of course. In fact it's a ridiculous claim because the image represents nothing more than a navigational button in a gallery index. But that's all you need to push the DMCA takedown notice button these days and get the entire blog posting taken offline for a month. Guilty or innocent, it makes no difference, and web hosts like Blogger are caught in the middle, forced to become instant copyright lawyers and chose between becoming part of a lawsuit themselves or to censor their own clients by removing entire blog postings without consulting the author.

I guess it's a clear indication of how desperate our critics are to have Orbit Trap silenced that they've taken up such sleazy tactics as this.

So where does Orbit Trap go from here? Stay tuned. That is, change your bookmarks to, and stay tuned!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Keith Mackay's Revisionist History

Do as I say, not as I do...

"It was already dead, so I didn't see any point in keeping it around."

One of the few extant group blogs on fractal art got its plug pulled recently. This was no surprise since the wedream(ed)incolor blog, run by Keith Mackay, had been on life support for some time. In fact, Tim wrote an OT post about its terminal condition not long before Mackay decided to play Dr. Kevorkian with it. In an October 10th post on his personal blog, Mackay explains why he finally swung the axe. And, naturally, he goes out of his way to sketch out why his actions were far more preferable than the "unethical" steps taken by an unnamed blog that can only be Orbit Trap:

I deleted everything on wedreamincolor because I felt that it was the right thing to do. A few years ago I was part of a fractal based community blog that fell apart when the blog owners started to personally attack some of the other members. The owners cut off write and edit access to the 20 or so members but hung on to all of the images and entries that the members had made. I thought that it was terribly unfair and unethical for the blog owners to do that. With all of their contributions, the cut off members provided significant readership and momentum to that blog. It would be akin to a place like DeviantArt removing write and edit access to their members, but hanging on to all of their images and journal entries. That would piss off a lot of people. It certainly pissed me off when that blog did that to me, so I decided to not do that to the contributors of wedreamincolor.

Mackay, as usual, is not telling you the whole story. It has always been Orbit Trap's policy to remove any post should a contributor request we do so. Mackay knows this to be true from first-hand experience. He wrote us to insist his OT posts be removed, and Tim and I promptly deleted them. To date, Mackay is the only former contributor to make such a request. I'll say again, just so there is no misunderstanding: If you are a former Orbit Trap contributor, and you want any of your posts removed from this blog, email OT's editors, and we will quickly see that your wish comes true. However, you should be aware of the following implications: 1) Deletion of posts cannot be undone. You want it gone? It's gone for good. 2) Deletion of a post also deletes all comments for that post. I'm not sure how those good folks who took the time to comment on your writing will feel about wiping them out of existence. Still, OT feels it's your post, and thus your call. 3) If your post is a response to other posts, then the context or reference point(s) your post provides will be kaput. You may be giving rhetorical ground and creating a vacuum in argumentation where your point of view once provided a counter balance to the views of others. And 4) Visitors peruse OT's archives every day. If you don't want ongoing attention to your images and writing, just let us know.

So, given our policy, why does Mackay feel he is morally justified to criticize us about keeping posts online? Did he go out of his way to ask his blog's contributors if they wanted their posts (and the effort that went into making them) taken down? Remember, too, such excision means all the post's comments are expunged as well. Didn't his contributors (and commenters) have the presumption when posting that their work would remain online? Why should Mackay's contributors suffer because he goes into a melancholy funk and decides to scorch earth his blog? Really, though, this is typical, impulsive, slash and burn behavior from Mackay. How many times has he capriciously trashed then rebuilt his various Fractalbook galleries? I've lost count.

And he claims the happy family, kumbaya, group blog days is when OT had momentum? Somebody hasn't been reviewing OT's stats to properly keep score. Feed subscriptions and readership has increased at least tenfold since OT scrapped its initial group blog format. Mackay has everything backwards. OT did not succeed because we initially had so many "great" fractal artists on board; we succeeded in spite of that fact. The growth in OT's readership took place after we junked what Tim likes to call the "community limbo" phase of OT. I suppose Mackay can be forgiven for assuming that gathering together a collection of so-called "prestigious" fractal artists would be the best way to get the community interested in our blog. Tim and I thought so, too -- at first. It wasn't until we changed the blog's format that we discovered that OT's readers wanted something else -- something they weren't getting from their Fractalbook forums and UF List threads. That is: honest, opinionated criticism. They didn't want another venue where artists went on talking about themselves. They'd had enough of the mutual admiration society where every post elicits the compulsory "Another Masterpiece," suck-up, bargaining chip, you-scratch-my-back remark that must be repaid in kind somewhere down the comment chain. Instead, readers want a direct, critical perspective -- something the fractal community never engages in. Even if OT's readers did not always agree with us, they at least appreciated our plainspoken bluntness. For example, if we feel a fractal contest is crooked, we say so -- and we do our best to outline and illustrate the facts and behaviors that lead us to formulate such an opinion.

But Mackay would have you believe we have been unethical for not following his model example -- an example that collapsed into epic fail mode. What Mackay doesn't want to face is that his warm fuzzy group blog couldn't generate much interest outside its own narcissistic, insular crowd. Like the small pond insiders on the UF List. Like the back-slapping shut-ins inhabiting Fractalbook arenas. Like the cowards who falsely flatter others to ingratiate themselves and worm their way into the good graces of any fractal artist presumably having status and power. Ironically, Mackay's blog had some of the very same contributors who once cranked out a few-and-far-between post on OT during its salad days. So I have to ask. Why is he now chiding us for not following the very same framework that resulted in his blog's slow death?

Then again, I'm not all that surprised that Mackay shredded every post from wedream(ed)in color. After all, that's what's done when you don't want anyone to see the record of what you've actually done


UPDATE: Keith Mackay has responded to this post here by reanimating a few limbs of his dead (now undead?) group blog apparently for the sole purpose of answering OT and notes that

No one should ever answer to [Orbit Trap] for anything.

which, paradoxically, does seem more than a little like answering to us for something.


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Sailing into the Horror

The Garbage Path by Guido Cavalcante

The Garbage Path by Guido Cavalcante

[Click on the image above to see a large-scale version.]

Editor's Note:
This is a guest posting by Guido Cavalcante. His image was made using Ultra Fractal. Excerpts in this post were taken from "Our Oceans Are Turning into Plastic...Are We?" by Susan Casey. For more information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, please see this post at RTSea blog. The current print edition of Rolling Stone also has an excellent article on the floating plastic mass: "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch" by Kitt Couchette. To illustrate the severity of plastic debris polluting the world's oceans and waterways, Couchette notes: "On British coastlines in the North Sea, a study of fulmars found that 95 per cent of the seabirds had plastic in their stomachs, with an average of 44 pieces per bird. A proportional amount in a human being would weigh nearly five pounds."

Orbit Trap welcomes guest posts on fractal art topics. Query the editors using the email link in the sidebar.


The facts happened twelve years ago.

It was August 3, 1997. A sunny day with little wind, Captain Charles Moore and the crew of Alguita, his 50-foot aluminum-hulled catamaran, sliced through the sea.

Returning to Southern California from Hawaii after a sailing race, Moore had altered Alguita’s course through the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific subtropical gyre. This was an odd stretch of ocean, a place most boats purposely avoided. So did the ocean’s top predators: the tuna, sharks, and other large fish that required livelier waters, flush with prey. The gyre was more like a desert -- a slow, deep, clockwise-swirling vortex of air and water caused by a mountain of high-pressure air that lingered above it.

Map of the Gyre

Map of the gyre. The blue square represents one study of the garbage patch.

[Click on the image above to see a large-scale version.]

The area’s reputation didn’t deter Moore. He had spent countless hours in the ocean, fascinated by its vast trove of secrets and terrors. But he had never seen anything nearly as chilling as what lay ahead of him in the gyre.

It began with a line of plastic bags ghosting the surface, followed by an ugly tangle of junk: nets and ropes and bottles, motor-oil jugs and cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp. Tires. A traffic cone. Moore could not believe his eyes. Out here in this desolate place, the water was a stew of plastic crap. It was as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of his youth and swapped it for a landfill.

How did all the plastic end up here? As the Alguita glided through the area that scientists now refer to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” Moore realized that the trail of plastic went on for hundreds of miles. Depressed and stunned, he sailed for a week through bobbing, toxic debris trapped in a purgatory of circling currents. To his horror, he had stumbled across the 21st-century Leviathan. It had no head, no tail. Just an endless body.

The memory excerpts above of the first encounter with the Garbage Patch remain one of the most terrible discoveries of the century. My image tries to represent the surprise of the horror. I think it is the first time the Patch has been graphically represented, except for photos. For those that want to read the six page description which leads me into the adventure of making an image tied with the reality, it is here:

--Guido Cavalcante


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Monday, October 19, 2009

Force 10 from Navarone!

In keeping with the Phase 2 idea that the essence of fractal art is found in the imagery and not in the tools that made it, I present a mixed bag of things I found while taking the paths less traveled, or never traveled, to find fractal art.  I followed a number of categories during my search on Flickr, mainly the New Abstract Vision Group.  Ironically, I found this a better path to take than the more orthodox and straight forward strategy of simply searching on the word, "Fractal".  I think they're all interesting; whether they're all fractal is a matter of argument and I present them here as food for thought.  None of them would look out of place in any fractal art gallery, that is, with the exception of the tree stump, which at first might be considered a joke, but only once one recognizes that the outer edges of this apparently inverted formula are covered --in bark.

(Click on the images or text links to see larger views and links to similar work by the artists on Flickr.)

Untitled by Segozyme, 2009

Just a spiral, but how many fractal images can we list that serve no other purpose than to be such simple laboratory specimens upon which experiments in rich, ornate rendering textures and colors are conducted?  It's all in the surface texture which in places resembles the pitted surface of the moon and in others resembles expensive suede leather.  I've always thought that spirals were the still lifes of fractal art and this one's a fine example.

Aztec by Manas Dichow, 2008

Manas Dichow is a fractal artist I've reviewed before.  He uses Ultra Fractal, and I think it was from a comment to this image in his Flickr gallery that I got started on the New Abstract Vision Group's Flickr gallery.  I found this image to be a good example of the complex juxtaposition found in fragmented images of micro/macro and detail/panorama and if it caught the eye of a member of that Flickr group then I thought I ought to see what else they've collected.  Of course, from a fractal perspective this image is just a sierpinski triangle variation with simple coloring and not the sort of thing you'd expect much from.  But Manas, like most good fractal artists, seems to excel at the use of simple formulas to make surprisingly interesting and artistically engaging work.  Very creative.

101100111 by jj1236
Although it's really not all that apparent, this image is a painting.  At first I wasn't sure as I've seen a lot of sophisticated rendering that creates paintbrush textures like this.  As far as it's fractal qualities go, doesn't it have the proliferating, vegetative look that many fractal programs easily produce?  If I had to guess the rendering, I'd probably say it was a Stalk method.  But it's a painting and if you're interested you ought to check out similar ones in jj1236's gallery.

P by -P-, 2007
Nice title eh?  I'd go even further in the alliterative exercise on the letter P and point out the Purple.  Another spiral, but what a strangely proportioned one and with such neonic (neon like) coloring.  I think there's a Party going on down there.  I don't know why I like this one so much.  I think it's the Paul Klee-like shape and style to the spiral and also the fact that it's quite tastefully presented and not over-layered and stuffed full of distracting elements --simple and strong.  Who would dare to make such a simple and bold spiral?  -P- would.  He even made it his avatar.  That's Perfect!

treestump C905 by Ian's Art, 2009
Well, I tipped you off to this one in the intro so you knew it was a tree stump.  The title's not too subtle, either.  I just find that the shape, the patterns in it, and the je ne sais quoi of fractal art is evident.  Apparently Ian thought it was a work of art too, so there's another vote.  Does this mean the lumberjack who cut down the tree was a fractal artist?  I can just see the lumberjacks discussing technical matters during a smoke break, "Sven, I'm tired of cutting on the usual plane.  I'd like to experiment with 1/mu today."

Untitled by Segozyme, 2009
Hmmn... I suspect that Segozyme might have used this same spiral formula up top there in the first image.  This one was either layered in order to incorporate the background, or some filtering took place to produce that orange powdered texture on the iron spiral.  A lot of attention in the fractal world is paid to such details as surface texture and it's also quite common to compose the background from completely unrelated imagery.  Why not do both?  We often work hard to get a realistic, photographic appearance in digital work.  Why not just import everything?  If you want to end with photo-realism, why not start with photo-realism?  That's a guaranteed method.  Nice work, Segozyme.

Untitled by Phantom Blot, 2009
Funny, you'd expect a two-headed mandelbrot to look both ways before crossing the road, but this one didn't.  If you had to guess how this image was made, what would you say?  I've seen fractal art like this.  Actually, this is an even better example.  One of the unofficial jobs of artists is to challenge our comfortable ideas about art by putting a frame around ordinary objects or objects that we would normally disqualify from the category called art.  Only then can we be tricked into seeing the beauty of that foreign object which the artist, being more observant than the average viewer, has already detected.  We often see what we expect to see.  The human mind just works that way.  I think this is a photograph of an old plaster wall.  But that could be a trick.

Solder by Howard J Duncan, 2009

When you suspect everything of being frameless art then you have learned something, I think.  We praise avante garde artists because they have shown us new kinds of art; they have shown us something which was always there, but we just couldn't see it before because either we've never looked in that sort of place before or we didn't expect it and our eyes just glided over that sort of thing.  When they put a frame around it, it helps us to focus our attention and see in a gallery what they were able to see --in the wild.  I like this one because it's impossible to tell whether it's a deliberate creation or something resulting from the accidental and random effect of natural decay.  One's mind becomes a hung jury wanting to both release the defendant and restore them to a place of dignity and honor, and yet, at the same time to see them capitally punished to such a degree that time itself will be reversed and their evil deed erased from very soil of the Earth.  I'll let you cast the deciding vote.

Tidal by Howard J Duncan, 2009

Perhaps you are thinking that I have become a big fan of (my goodness, this artist has a real name!) ...of Howard Duncan?  Actually, I just looked at the artwork and bookmarked what l thought was interesting as I surfed the Flickr galleries.  I was quite surprised when I wrote all this up and discovered that three of the ten were by the same artist.  It ought to happen more often, but it doesn't seem to; I find many fractal artists have one or two interesting works and about a hundred that are, to put it nicely, "in progress".  Rich surface texturing and a strange flow of --solid-- shapes  makes for a dynamic sort of abstract image that changes its shape the more you look at it.  I wonder if that was intentional?

Bias by Howard J Duncan, 2009

This has got to be a fractal.  That is, the kind made in a fractal program.  I've never seen these thread-like intersections in any other kind of imagery.  But, honestly, I'm guessing because as you can see for yourself by clicking the link, there's no information in Howard's Flickr gallery to indicate how, or with what, it was made.  Even the image tags only list Digital, abstract, bias and hypothetical.  Hypothetical is an interesting term for fractal art.  This image as anyone can see, is quite simple.  In fact it's really made up of a tiny and probably minor rendering detail of a much larger fractal image, but shows how one can sometimes be creative with even those sorts of things.  Interestingly, this obviously fractal image is probably the least fractal of all the ones I've presented here, in my mind.  One could easily draw such things in a paint program and the grainy background is most likely a simple graphical (noise) effect.  Fractal art is much easier to define and describe when you focus on the finished artwork and not the tools.

Well, I hope you've been as challenged by these fractals ("genuine artificial" or otherwise) as I've been.  Removing the software bias from the definition of fractal art I think will make the genre both more meaningful as well as more creative.  At the very least, it will force people to look at fractal art more closely.  And that's always a good thing when it comes to art.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dan Wills: Fractal Columbus

halleyDetailTwoPointNine... by Dan Wills, 2008
-Click for larger view-

Like a needle in a haystack, or a glowing needle in a fractal formula, is the rumor of a continent over the horizon or the possibility of some new and intriguing fractal artwork out there, somewhere, on the internet.  My impression after browsing over Dan Wills' Picasa web gallery is that he's someone who excels in searching out new kinds of fractal imagery.

All done in Ultra Fractal, Dan's artwork stands out from the usual UF type of artwork in it's pure fractal simplicity.  This is fractal art in it's most authentic and engaging presentation --snapshots from a New World.

butterflyPhoenixDoubleNova... by Dan Wills, 2008
-Click for larger view-

This second image I chose for it's naturalistic look and for the subtle, but impressive coloring.  You can really see here the wide variety of fractal forms and seemingly endless unique details to be explored.  I don't know why more UF artists don't produce work like Dan has done here.  Maybe they need a Columbus to tell them it's there first?  Well, let's continue our voyage...

The next image I found to be really something worth writing home about.  It's from his superpositions collection (the first one was from the ultraEpsilon, and the second from the butterflyLaces).  The hazy appearance to all the images like this one add a realistic touch, and in a 3D sort of way.  The Julia things look like they've been frozen into the larger fractal shapes.  It's an interesting mix of what you'd expect to be very standard, even dull, fractal themes but yet the result is a new hybrid thing --a super positioning, as the gallery title suggests.

butterflyPhoenixDoubleNova... by Dan Wills, 2007
-Click for larger view-

Is work like this too simple to be worth drawing people's attention to?  Or, rather, is it too fractal for most people in the fractal world today?  We can add photo-imagery and luscious, de-luxious, rendering layers and create ever grander and more lavish recipes, but none of that beats plain old, hard-core, fundamentalist fractal imagery.  Why work like this has sat in obscurity like it has is yet another testimony to how new and still growing the fractal art form is.

butterflyPhoenixDoubleNova... by Dan Wills, 2008
-Click for larger view-

This one ought to be enough to start a whole new legend of El Dorado.  They're out there.  Maybe you can track down Dan and beg him to give you a copy of his treasure map, that coveted parameter file, that made this image.  Nice coloring.  Subtle, but attractive and still natural looking.  Another good example of the complexity of "ordinary" fractal art.

I expect to see more work like this, simple and powerful --spawn of the math-machine-- fractal wonders.  And it won't be because it's promoted or given Olympic gold medals.  More will be created because there's plenty more New Worlds out there beyond the horizon and artists like Dan Wills and others will gladly go there, even in obscurity, and bring back snapshots to the Old World because it's just a natural thing for them to do --explore.  Fractal art is like that.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the Academy...

Click to Enlarge
I found this in the Student Galleries section of the Visual Arts Academy.  There's no name or date but it's filed in the Ultra Fractal Artistry section of the gallery, a course given by Janet Parke.

I like this.  In fact, I fished it out of all the student works there as the one that appealed to me the most.  However, I should mention that most or all of the works there are probably produced for specific course assignments and to demonstrate competency of the course material, so it's not the standard sort of online gallery.

This is a fine example of a number of things.  For one it shows how the complex graphical features of UF can be used to compose interesting artwork that would be eye-catching in any venue, fractal or non-fractal, or even online or off.  The image is really indistinguishable from any abstracted landscape painting found in a traditional gallery.  Although details often change when viewing digital artwork at differing levels of resolution and size and also when produced as prints, what I can see in this image is a darkened, moonlit, landscape barren of features and yet very expressive in a surrealist way.

If the purpose of this course was to teach artistry, then I'd say the student has learned something or at least polished whatever they already had.  But perhaps teaching artistry in the context of a program like UF which has so many user-controlled graphical functions is much easier and also much more necessary as its features allow the user to work with fractals the way one would work with photos in Photoshop.  UF is a program designed to give artists creative control of imagery; to paint with fractals in the sense, as I mentioned, artists work on photographic imagery in Photoshop.

UF is a program that enables a wide range of conventional digital artistry.  It's natural then to teach a course on how to use those conventional layering and masking features in the context of fractal generated imagery just like the example I've selected here.  I'm quite curious to see what sort of influence these online courses at VAA have on the development of fractal art.  I really think that regardless of the instructor's personal artistic preferences and whether they fit with the student's own, one can only hope to gain something of value from instruction even if it's only a better technical use of their tools.

Back in High School art class, our art teacher's taste in art seemed to focus on gardens and other forms of colorful foliage.  Not the sort of thing that appeals to iconoclastic teenagers, but we learned a lot about composition, design, color, and the importance of developing a personal style.  The teacher never expected anyone to imitate what she did, and I don't think any of us angry young artists did, although some of us did gain a greater respect for the fabric, wax and dye medium called Batik.  Man, she made one almost three stories tall!

Are there some similarities in this student work to Janet Parke's own style?  I suppose, in a general way, perhaps the color scheme and flowing, folded shape of the structures in the image, although these are becoming fairly common choices in UF work these days.  But there's a harsher grittiness to the student's image and a significantly more saturated, less muted tone to the colors that makes for a very different mood.  I'd say the style is quite different, although, like I said, such details can be distorted by changes in image size and as we all know, in UF, image size can be pretty big.  It's quite possible that the image we're looking at is a mere thumbnail of what the instructor and the student were viewing for the purposes of their coursework.

By Helmut Tarnick, XenoDream Introduction Course
Click to Enlarge

People often go nuts with XenoDream and try to concoct all sorts of creative, but confusing images.  And they're almost always made of brightly shining gold or silver that looks just too clean and shiny to be real, not to mention it's use, in flowing liquid form, spashing about in impossible ways.  So what I like about this one by Helmut Tarnick for Joseph Presley's XenoDream course is the relatively simple yet appealing shape he's used and the tasteful and realistic steel surface he's given it that allows me to study the image without having to put on sunglasses.

Interestingly, the larger image you'll see on the Student Gallery page by clicking on the image or caption, looks less photographic than this smaller version I've used here.  Realistic surface texture is easier to do in lower resolutions obviously.  But I'd check out such technical things with Professor Presley before you go saying that on the final exam.  Why should the iteration of such a simple piece of metal look so appealing?  It's a fractal thing, I guess.  The self-similarity and ever expanding number of pieces at lower scales just naturally captures our attention when done tastefully like this.  Also, there are simple, but intriguing patterns to be seen if you study the image carefully to find the juxtaposition of the same element repeated at differing scales --a basic fractal characteristic.  Overall; a very skillful and artistic use of XenoDream's capabilities.  Maybe Helmut will be teaching his own course one of these days?

That's it for my perusal of the Student Galleries at the Visual Arts Academy.  You might want to consider taking a course there someday.  Or perhaps you might want to consider teaching one yourself; their home page says they're looking for qualified instructors.  Think of all the talented students you might end up teaching.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold: The Ultra Fractal Style

Whether you're a fractal artist or simply just a fan of fractal art, you're bound to eventually notice similarities in style and develop preferences for this kind of art or that kind of art. Fractal art is still what I would consider to be something of a niche art form, but thanks to the internet, enough of it has been created and displayed that one can start to see styles emerging.

The most obvious style to anyone observing fractal art today is what I would call the Ultra Fractal Style. It's more than simply art that is made with the popular program Ultra Fractal now in it's fifth version; the UF Style focuses on the enhancement of basic fractal imagery by constructing, through the use of graphical layering, images with very elaborate structure and detailed surface texture. The UF style has pioneered a movement away from simple fractal forms in favor of images that rival the most complex creations of popular graphics programs like Photoshop.

While most fractal enthusiasts have eagerly adopted this style and some have even categorized their artwork as Before Ultra Fractal and After Ultra Fractal, I see this style as more of an abandonment of fractals as an art form than an enhancement of it. While not all artists utilizing the powerful programming and layering features of UF produce work that would fall into the category, UF Style, most artists using the program lean heavily on the program's graphical rendering powers and make little effort to explore the fractal side of the art form.

Two recent fractal artworks, both of them winners in the BMFAC of recent years, exemplify what I would describe as the UF Style. The first is by Dave Makin, entitled Theme Park 2 and was a winner in last year's contest. The second by Nada Kringels, And how is your husband Mrs. Escher, a winner in the 2006 contest.

Sheets in the Wind

Rings of Gold

I've labeled them Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold because those are the best descriptions I can think of to summarize the kind of imagery that characterizes the UF Style and these two images are some of the finest examples of it in addition to being familiar to many people in the fractal art world because of their presence in past BMFAC exhibits. These two images have met with critical success and therefore represent not only the artist's own preferences in fractal art, but the confirmation of those preferences in the larger fractal art world itself by their selection in the contest.

I think if one reflects, even just a little, on what they see displayed on the internet as fractal art, they will see that most of it falls into this UF Style category and the epitome of it is work, like this, that features not fractal forms but rather the slick rendering powers of this cutting edge graphical program. It's not the fault of the program, and similar results can be achieved with other fractal programs or with other software combinations, it's just that most fractal artists today have fractal art all backwards.

Their approach is backwards; rather than first seeking out an interesting fractal form and enhancing it graphically, they start with some mediocre fractal form, or several, and then try to make it interesting by, literally, layering it with gold or tweaking the colors to produce some attractive piece of fluttering fabric. I see this in both these images. Rings of Gold at least exhibits some recursive pattern, although the pattern, without the gold, is not significantly interesting. Sheets in the Wind is, at best, a borderline fractal image and would only suggest a fractal origin if viewed in another context, such as, a collection of Photoshop artworks, because the image is abstract and reasonably complex enough that it would have required some sort of computational help, a fractal program perhaps? Why either of these images were chosen to be part of an exhibition to introduce people to fractal art says something about today's fractal art world and it's own view of itself.

It's cliche. I don't just mean that it's popular. Although popularity can create cliches, cliches arise because of a lack of new, innovative ideas. Those new, innovative ideas can also in turn become cliche, but only if the art form loses it's creative force and stops developing. (And what would that look like?)

Dave and Nada are making artwork that I believe they truly enjoy and as I've suggested, their winning spots in the BMFAC shows that they are not alone in pursuing this UF Style of work. The judges, as shown by their selection of Dave and Nada's work consider it to be exceptional and worthy of distinction in their contest. So my real criticism of the UF Style is not with any of the artist's that make it --that's their personal preference in art. My real criticism of the UF Style is how it's come to be critically accepted. First off, it's only weakly fractal; and secondly, it's visual attraction is almost entirely based on slick looking computer imagery effects which, honestly, might have excited an audience back in the early 90s, but which now are found in almost every television show or advertisement. If they think this sort of thing will wow the average person on the street who they're trying to introduce to fractal art, they're mistaken.

Fractals have a lot of artistic potential and a kind of imagery that easily captivates most people regardless of whether they understand the mathematics behind them or not. But the UF Style of artwork resembling Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold isn't like that at all. It's cliche and it's hung on this long because nowadays most fractal artists prefer to tweak mediocre work to perfection rather than experiment with fractals. If they want to make that sort of thing, that's fine, it's their artistic choice, but giving it awards and presenting it as the best in fractal art just makes us all look stupid.

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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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