Spring 2010 Competition

I found this email in my inbox just yesterday and quickly felt my fractal art commentary sap rising boldly in my branches.  Here, read it carefully and see if it has the same Spring-Time for Fractaland effect on you: Spring 2010 Fractal Art Competition Submission Period has Ended

The Entry Submissions time frame for the “ Spring 2010 Fractal Art Competition” has now ended.  This submission period set a new record for Member Activity on the FractalForums, with around 650.000 Page Views!!!

We would now like to enter the voting period, which will last until the end of May 2010.

We have a total of 130 entries to the three different competition sections.  And due to the large amount of entries, please take your time to review each of the submissions and give a reasonable vote for what you consider “best” images per category.

Only the Gallery votes count for the results.  So, no external embedded video Sites Rating system is taken into account.

The ranking will be as follows:
– highest average rating
( if tied for same position, then )
– most votes
( if tied again, then )
– sharing of winner placement

Again, we ask that you please take your time and review each category of the competition, the sections are as follows:

•  Mandel Brot  —  Only views of the standard z^2+c Mandelbrot set and Julia Sets where allowed, and this section has more than 47 spectacular entries:;cat=38

•  Fractal Fun  —  Contains computer generated fractal art of any kind.  This section was the most popular with more than 64 entries.
It is a vast mixture of state of the art Mandelbulb renderings and beautiful 2-D creations:;cat=37

•  Fractal Movies  —  For the first time in the Forums’ history, there was a movies/video section, with a total of 19 entries.
You will encounter interesting new locations of the Mandelbrot, plus amazing 3-D fly-bys and inside explorations. Enjoy a total of 40 Minutes of extraordinary Fractal pleasure:;cat=36

Voting Period will end on:
1.June 2010

Well the internet is a wild and wooly frontier place of lawlessness and I intend to judge this here contest right here!  But before I pull out my six-shooter to choose the winners (and scatter the losers), I’d like to ask the question, “What’s up with this place?

It’s been around for a couple of years and that’s the strangest part of it.  Fractal forums and other community venues almost always fold up after the intoxication of the opening event wears off.  That’s about 3-6 months, I’d say.  That’s how it was for Orbit Trap’s campfire singalong days.

But is still singing and the campfire isn’t going out.  What is doing right that Deviant Art, Renderosity, the Ultra Fractal Mailing List and so many other community venues  (largely dead and forgotten) have been failing at?  Half the postings there on annoy me and the other half seem unimportant.  Is that the magic combination for a vibrant and self-sustaining community site?  Something for everyone and a steady stream of provocation?

The web-rings are no longer breathing.  They were a great idea in the 90’s but Google has done a better job of locating fractal art sites for the last 10 years.  The community art sites are brain-dead; Flickr’s beginners out-perform Deviant Art’s masters on a regular basis these days.  I have no idea why should be thriving in such a wasteland, but it is.  Maybe there’s something about the social environment at that draws in people from the old stuffy places? –and keeps them coming back.  Something nourishing and enticing?  What could it be?

Even I’ve joined in on some of the threads over there and I almost always avoid opening my mouth in a forum these days.  If a place like that can engage someone as jaded as me then there must be something special going on, whatever that invisible quality might be.  I’m even reviewing their contest and I find art contests distasteful.   Based on all that, I guess I ought to say that the first prize should go to themselves in the category of Most Relevant Fractal Art Community Site.

The email tells me that there’s three categories to the contest and that they’ve been carefully defined.  But the first lesson in judging art is to stop listening to the people around you and ignore the boundaries they’ve constructed.  Trust no one.

I’ve made up my own categories and the first is a general one and I call it the At Last! Something I Wish I’d Made And Could Take Credit For –category.

And the winner is…

My Secret Garden by SaMMy. Click to view full-size at

My next category is one which most fractal artists will immediately relate to.  I call it the Astonishing Thing That I Cannot Describe –category.  The winner is obvious, but only if you view the image full-size.  For that reason I’ve only included a link.  No thumbnail or fair-use version can do justice to this great golden vision.  You have to go there and see it life sized or not at all.

Next, a category for which there was really only one serious contender.  The Best Rendition of Bocklin’s Isle of the Dead I’ve Seen Recently –category.  The author calls it “Mandel-blob” but remember: when judging art stop listening to others even when it’s the artist themself speaking.  I think this one’s my favorite.  But that’s not a category.

Mandel-blob by Buddhi

Hey!  It certainly is the year of the Mandelbulb, isn’t it?  My next category is the Best Rendering of the Mandelbulb Formula, Now Let’s Move On To Something Else –category.   This one really is very nice.  I’m not being sarcastic; the coloring and shadows and detailing is very well done.  Congratulations, Kraftwerk, for making something new out of something that’s become rather stale very quickly.  Nice screen name too.  That isn’t a category but might be one worth adding next time.

Living Ornaments by Kraftwerk

Did I saw let’s move on from the Mandelbulb?  Next category is Second Best Rendering of the Mandelbulb Formula, This Could be a New Genre and the winner is Kraftwerk, again.  Maybe it all depends on how you render these formulas and not the formula itself.  There’s something majestic about this image.  It’s got something impressive and attention grabbing about it.  Back in the old days of vinyl records this would have made a great album cover.

Golden and Delicious by Kraftwerk

Next up is the Hey, I Like Those Colors But I Bet No One Else Will –category.  I don’t know why palettes like this are so uncommon.  There’s a real retro Sci-Fi mood to anything using these sorts of muted colors.  Maybe it just doesn’t appeal to the young folks? (I’m 45).

Thistledown by Dave Makin

The final category, the You’re A Better Man Than Me Gunga Din –category.  It’s an animation.  Two weeks of rendering?  For me, two minutes to render something is too long.  The winner is Buddhi with Flight Through BulbBox a very detailed and extensive 3d fractal tour.  Two weeks!  He must have more than one computer.

Wait, one more category:  Not Really Part of the Contest But It Should Have Been.  I guess these stills in the animation section were just meant to be placeholders or something, but this one looks great.

Dangerous Spaceship by "bib" (not bub!). Click to go to page for video.

I’d say Dangerous Spaceship is one of the top five images.  And I’ll bet it’s not even part of the contest, technically speaking.

Well, contests are like that.  The winners don’t always win.

Eva Schindling: Wild Future Scenarios

Circuit Explorations – Tube Visualization from evsc on Vimeo.

Far out eh?  Here’s another one…

Circuit Explorations – Pixel Visualization from evsc on Vimeo.

It’s like a little orchestra or ensemble.  Each piece adds something.  The mouse cursor is the conductor, but these musicians never make a mistake.  I like this kind of hard-core techno-art.

These three Vimeo videos were created by Eva Schindling.  Originally from Austria, Eva just recently joined The Advanced Research Technology Collaboration and Visualization Lab (ART Lab), at the Banff New Media Institute in Banff Alberta Canada (out west in the mountains).

From the About page on Eva’s website she says this about herself:

Way back when Lingo was the word, i discovered a world beyond static graphic design and since then i have been on a spin – trying to land somewhere in the gray zone between art and design. With an growing appetite for science and wild future scenarios i aim at artistic research and try to employ computational design techniques and complex system theory.

“Wild future scenarios”   “Somewhere in the gray zone between art and design”  I think she’s done that quite well.  The two videos above, and particularly the first one have that exceptional wild and futuristic quality to them.  When the colored tube starts to rotate and we look inside it, it’s as if it’s no longer a mere visualization of the sound input but actually something with a life of it’s own.  Fractal art has always been about picking up the data and admiring it for it’s own sake.  That’s why we call it art.

In the next one you’ll see an even higher level of creativity as the song Eva has chosen to visualize becomes the actual waves we see and starts to splash against itself adding a new, alien, element to the mix.  The sound now formed becomes transformed and sloshes about the way waves ought to behave.  This thing is alive and talking.  See and listen for yourself.

Rainbow Sound Collision from evsc on Vimeo.

I finally found some time to screen capture a liquid sound collision. The application is fed with the song “Singing under the Rainbow” by World’s End Girlfriend. The two stereo channels are positioned on opposite sites of the tube and cause their waves to collide. The color changes are caused manually during the process of recording.

[from the Progress page on]

I get the feeling there’s more to these visualizations and I’ve merely scratched the surface here.  Eva works at a very technical level both with actual programming as well as with electronic components (hardware) and just as it is with fractals and fractal art, the underlying mechanisms that create the cool graphics are not so easily grasped as the imagery itself is.

Anyhow, I look forward to seeing more of Eva’s Wild Future Scenarios.  I’m sure her talent and technical skills provide a rich contribution to the other team members at ART Collaboration and Visualization Lab.

Hydra: Sculptures from the 4th Dimension

Another program from the extensive digital treasury of Terry Gintz.  Unlike Fractal Vizion which contains, metaphorically speaking, a full fractal orchestra, Hydra is a solo performance where the star is the quaternion, a richly talented Pavarotti of the fractal world who needs not even a piano for accompaniment.

I mixed Time with Space...

Perhaps the label Michelangelo of the Fractal World would be better since quaternions are 3 dimensional –or more correctly, 4 dimensional– and therefore resemble sculptures more than paintings.  There’s been a lot of excitement lately about the (so-called) 3D mandelbrot, the Mandelbulb, but here’s something I find more visually exciting as much as it’s practically ancient as far as fractals and fractal art goes.

Quaternionic algebra was introduced by Irish mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton in 1843. However the use of quaternions to describe rigid body orientations has a much older history dating back to at least 1776 in the work of Euler.
Hamilton knew that the complex numbers could be viewed as points in a plane, and he was looking for a way to do the same for points in space. Points in space can be represented by their coordinates, which are triples of numbers, and for many years Hamilton had known how to add and multiply triples of numbers. But he had been stuck on the problem of division: He did not know how to take the quotient of two points in space.
The breakthrough finally came on Monday 16 October 1843 in Dublin, when Hamilton was on his way to the Royal Irish Academy where he was going to preside at a council meeting. While walking along the towpath of the Royal Canal with his wife, the concept behind quaternions was taking shape in his mind. Hamilton could not resist the impulse to carve the formulae for the quaternions i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = -1 into the stone of Brougham Bridge as he passed by it.

Most fractal things (are quaternions fractals?) take their origin from the work of Benoit Mandelbrot in the latter part of the 20th century, but here’s something dating back to 1843 and in part to 1776.  Euler?  Yikes.  He was Ancient Greek or something, like Pythagoras and Copernicus.  Close enough.  Let’s get to the pictures.

Thanks to Mr. Gintz’s programming expertise all we have to do is push some buttons and play with the color palettes.  I’m not really sure what a quaternion is, but that just adds some magic to the recipe.  Here’s a quote that shows I’m not the only person a little disoriented by the concept of a quaternion:

Time is said to have only one dimension, and space to have three dimensions. […] The mathematical quaternion partakes of both these elements; in technical language it may be said to be “time plus space”, or “space plus time”: and in this sense it has, or at least involves a reference to, four dimensions. And how the One of Time, of Space the Three, Might in the Chain of Symbols girdled be.” — William Rowan Hamilton (Quoted in R.P. Graves, “Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton”).

Actually, that helps a bit: “a reference to four dimensions”.  It’s got four numbers instead of three.  Like a tricycle with a steering wheel.  Hypernion, on the other hand, doesn’t even bring up a page on the Wikipedia and a Google search for it just suggests that I’ve made a spelling mistake.  Anyhow, on to the pictures.  Or videos, rather…

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I like this one.  I like it a lot.  And I don’t care if it does look like the stopper from a  champagne bottle.

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I did a video capture to show you the interesting way in which they’re made.  The color gradient silhouette is just a draft of the final image, but sometimes that temporary image has interesting qualities of it’s own.  There’s not a whole lot of animation really, just a slow revealing of the silhouette, so for simplicity and better image quality I saved a few silhouettes to compare with the final images.  Just like with Fractal Vizion’s L-system and Fractal Landscape creation, Hydra’s quaternion images have an extra dimension to them, that being the cool way in which they’re produced.

Temporary Silhouette

Final Image


Final Image

Here’s a few more to give you an idea of what the program can do.  I should mention that Hydra comes with a nice Help file but that I didn’t look at it until after I’d made all these images.  The program is pretty straightforward and hides the complexity of quaternion creation behind a couple of menus with easy to chose options.  Another nice touch is the addition of a random generation button which seems to be a trademark of Terry Gintz’s programs.  He really makes it easy for you to get started right away and then to start experimenting.  That’s the kind of algorithmic art programming that I like.  These next two are Hypernions.

I like the ancient artifact look

The hypernions have squarish characteristics

The coloring is great to work with.  Open the palette editor and just click on the random palette button.  After that there’s a few simple adjustments you can make to alter the palette.  The images you see here are custom palettes I made this way.  The whole thing is pretty intuitive.  Not all fractal programs are this easy to use.  Here’s my two palettes if you’re interested in trying them out in the program: bluewrap.pqz and yellow-clay.pqz

I think it's map of North America

Ice cream, but true-colored ice cream

More ice cream

Sometimes Hydra makes some really surprising things

Sometimes they're just interesting stones to collect

This one looks rather fractal and very lifelike. Reminds me of the wind carved stone formations in the Southwest U.S.

This is one is a zoomed-in detail from the surface of a quaternion

Some experimenting. Hydra does very nice texturing. They really are like sculptures.

Different palette. Hypernion formula. Whatever that is.

Just a nice rock to add to the collection

Hypernion. A square version of the image from the start of this blog posting.

I find these clay constructions quite intriguing and I want to try out every formula and its variations. That's how I found this one.

Well, what else is there to say or show?  You can rotate the quaternions just like any other kind of sculpture and view them from different angles, lighting, surface texture and other variable characteristics.  It makes Ice Cream and Islands; Bubble Gum of the Gods; Brush Stroke Drafts and something new that I’ve termed computoids after the word asteriods in the sense of exotic computer made rocks.  Perhaps you have to be a bit of a rock collector to really enjoy this program.  It’s got a real natural style to what it does.  And style is what I think is very important in fractal art and algorithmic art programs in general.  Hydra produces imagery that is visually appealing.  There’s other programs that can render the complex formulas you find in Hydra, but they don’t render them in the same graphically appealing ways as Hydra does.  Great programs like this take more than just technical talent to make they take artistic talent as well.  There’s a lot of artistry that programmers like Terry Gintz put into programs like Hydra.  That’s why it’s so easy for people like me who just push buttons to make interesting stuff with them.  There’s an awful lot of power in those buttons.

Fractal Vizion’s Performing Arts

For those of you who don’t know… there’s a lot of fractal programs out there!

One the most unique is Terry Gintz’s Fractal Vizion. In fact, I’m not sure whether it was intended to be a straightforward fractal generator or some sort of desktop electronic performing arts revue. The program just seems to work differently than any other fractal program I’ve used. Behind every button on the Fractal Vizion Remote Controller is a different performer and always,  a fresh, randomly created performance. The ways in which it actually works –not just the images that it makes– are fun to watch. It’s a performance.

Now that I’ve acquired video screenshot powers I can bring these Fractal Vizion Performances to a wider audience. I’m sure that not everyone familiar with fractal art is familiar with Fractal Vizion.  Ladies and Gentlemen: Everything is authentic. Nothing has been “faked”. Try the program out for yourselves and see that you too can turn your desktop computer into a three-ring circus. Or rather, a nine-ring circus.

I’ve captured the two most interesting performers here. L-Systems and Fractal Landscapes. There’s a bunch of others that also put on a performance at the push of a button.

L-Systems are not the usual sort of thing one expects to find in a fractal program. But Terry Gintz has a flair for making programs with a much wider repertoire of computational powers than most developers would even attempt. Watch how the L-System creator works: first it draws a colored wireframe and finally it renders the finished L-system. The process and the final product are equally interesting. Most programs are not this interesting to watch while they’re rendering. It’s like watching an artist work. See for yourself…

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And now for the Fractal Landscapes.

I love these Fractal Landscapes. Every one seems to suggest a different opening scene from an old Sword and Sandal movie, a sub-genre of movies, largely Italian made from the 50s and 60s, that dealt with themes from the history and legends of the Greek and Roman classical world.

There’s probably many ways to render these sorts of images but the style that FV uses is a good example of the program’s author expressing his own artistry and artistic style. Perhaps I’m the only one obsessed with looking at these landscapes, but the slow, multicolored way they’re drawn, as if some magical curtain was being slowly pulled aside, or some ominous shadow was moving across the land and bringing forms into being, makes the final products of this process only part of the show.

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Well, I hope you enjoyed the show(s). Even if you never try out the program for yourself, you’ve at least seen a little bit of the vast and varied machinery of fractal programming. Sometimes fractal art is just a program. The program draws something and then it draws something else. All you keep is the memory of what you’ve seen and the wonder.’s Modern CA –Animation Wonderland!

There are Cellular Automata java applets, and then there are THESE Cellular Automata java applets!

I’m excited.  These things are pretty cool.  Some of you may have seen them before.  They’ve been online since 2002, or so.  But there’s certainly nothing passe about them.  It’s hard to see anyone passing or even matching the creativity of these applets.

They’re a little harder to link to and they’re animated, so here’s some examples to give you a taste of the feast that’s waiting for you over in’s Modern CA wonderland.  The real applets look much better than these smudgy videos, but this will give you a quick idea of how amazing they are.  They’re a bit like the old TV screen test patterns with an Art Deco style and neon coloring, but living, animated and in full color. They’re like kaleidoscoped circuit boards and things that just can’t be described.

Remember, the video quality isn’t near as good as what you’ll get from the real applets running in your web browser.  But to view these short videos you won’t need a java plugin or have to go there and search around.  Here’s four to get you started.  The first is about 15 Mb and is an embedded file I made from a video screen capture.   I think it’ll stream if you push the play button.  The next three I posted to YouTube and are more bandwidth friendly but the quality is proportionally lower as well.  I’d made a bunch more but the quality was so bad when I posted them to YouTube (they convert them to make them low bandwidth and fit in their video player) that they no longer were worth looking at; and when I embedded them directly into the blog page they wouldn’t play on Windows (although they played fine for me on Linux, which is ironic). Modern CA Animation Theater:

The site has been around for some time but I only discovered it a week ago through a Google search on “cellular automata java applet”.  I hope the site  doesn’t disappear anytime soon because it’s got to be some of the finest generative art that I’ve ever seen.

The mandala versions are some of the best ones, they’re the ones that start off as diamonds and look kaliedoscoped.  In fact, I think they are kaliedoscoped.  Such a simple, old-fashioned trick and yet it works so well.  In fact, the kaliedoscope is probably the oldest example of algorithmic art.  It’s rather ironic to see it combined with something as space age-ish as a cellular automata applet.

I had quite a bit of trouble at first trying to capture the imagery.  I know (or that is, used to know until my recent crash course) very little about video “screenshots” and file formats.  Video is just plain complicated when compared to the relatively simple world of still images.  And then when you add in the “conversion” that YouTube does to shrink file sizes and make everything fit the aspect ratio of a movie, the confusion compounds.  It works okay for “photographic” video, but for crisp, clear, high-contrast digital art subjects, one needs to find custom solutions (and make custom mistakes).

The higher the vidoe quality, the higher the file size?  Not always.  I made a nice video capture with xvidcap using flash video (flv) that was much smaller than mpeg-2 and much clearer too.  Then I made one that looked perfect.  It ought to have looked perfect since it was a “lossless” codec.  20 seconds of a 400×400 px video was 152 MB!  But it sure looked good. Video is quite a lot more work to make and a great deal harder to present, bandwidth-wise.  Also, there doesn’t seem to be any video format equivalent to the png or gif still image formats which favor blocks of solid color instead of the smooth gradients that jpeg is better at compressing.  These CA applet images would be prime candidates for indexed gif or pngs if saved as still images (I saved one frame as a true color png and it was only 3.5k).  And since video is just a series of still images, I figured there would be a similar video codec.  Maybe there is?  Not all video is necessarily going to be photographic.  In particular, digitally created imagery is often simple blocks of color and would work much better with a codec designed for that sort of “gif or png-type” imagery.

One thing I learned right away: you can easily make a long, high quality video and still keep the file size down really low –if there’s nothing in it! Just as with still images, big blank areas make for small file sizes; file size is directly equivalent to the amount of details in the imagery.  But you can always bring the file size down if you’re willing to cut down on the quality and turn everything into melting plastic.

Back to Collidoscope.  I’m still getting oriented within the Cellular Automata (CA) world.  It’s nothing like the Fractal world; it’s much more scholarly and theoretical, which of course is what makes Collidoscope such an incredible find: I’ve never seen CA used in such a powerfully artistic way.  Most CA applets are usually illustrations or demonstrations in some scholarly discussion paper and don’t seem to have been made with any sort of artistic context in mind.  Maybe fractals were the same in the early days?  I doubt it because fractals, even the basic mandelbrot set stuff in black and white have an obvious aesthetic appeal.  CA is more text-bookish, in general.  But these applets aren’t the usual sort of CA stuff.  In fact, although I’m hardly an authority on these things, I’d say these are the most advanced CA that have been made.  And highly artistic too.

I’m still on the learning curve with these applets and have only just figured out what all the buttons do and what the parameters are, but I have learned that the author of all this amazing stuff is George Maydwell.  From George’s site I found some info:

Cellular automata have fascinated me ever since I read Martin Gardner’s column about Conway’s game of Life in Scientific American many moons ago. I have wasted lots of computer resources playing with cellular automata. One of my missions in life has become to inflict my unique vision of cellular automata upon the world.

I’m particularly interested in fast programmable color cellular automata. I’ve got a bunch of different web sites all devoted to cellular automata. I also have much free cellular automata software available for download. All of the software is fast and all of the cellular automata are color! As the world expert in hexagonal cellular automata rules I can show you literally dozens of hexagonal rules which are not boring. No one else in the world can do this.

By far my best site is Modern Cellular Automata – Live Color Cellular Automata which uses a small Java applet to power a plethora of live exhibitions of cellular automata. I’ve been told that this site is “amazing”. Certainly I’ve found the tools used to be the best cellular automata software I’ve ever experienced. Once you’ve played with Modern Cellular Automata software anything else (besides my other software) is just slow boring black and white cellular automata.

Conway’s Game Of Life is still one of the most popular and well known cellular automata. In spite of for the most part being bored with Game Of Life I decided I wanted to see what it looked like in color, so I set up the Color Game Of Life Visual Exhibition, using the Modern Cellular Automata Java applet. Even I have to admit that the pattern collection for Game Of Life has some very cool formations, particularly when viewed in color using a fast machine with a good Java implementation.

I even resort to stealth cellular automata. Some of my coolest cellular automata work isn’t even labelled as cellular automata! Collidoscope is a cellular automata screensaver for Windows which runs large hexagonal simulations at video refresh rates. Its way cool and far less boring than any Conway’s Game Of Life screen saver could ever be! Not only is Collidoscope a cellular automata screen saver its also a cellular automata wallpaper generator. Its so far ahead of its time that only I know just how advanced it really is.

My very first cellular automata web page is my SARCASim homepage, which has more fast free cellular automata software for Windows. Unlike current versions of Collidoscope, SARCASim is programmable. In reality I seem to be the only person ever able to program it, but at least I’ve provided a bunch of example data files which illustrate different rules. As far as I know SARCASim is the only general purpose cellular automata software powerful enough to simulate virtual ants. Papers and other stuff which doesn’t quite belong on the other sites ends up on this page.


If you check out his CA site, I would suggest (like a tour guide would) that you start with the section August Addition and in particular the page Brain 3.5 Rule Mix Lab (cool title) .

Check off the Pattern or Mandala boxes (or both) for what I think is the best viewing method and then just click on any of the variations listed.  I found lowering the rate to 30 or 15 made for better viewing because there’s just so much going on in the applets that 75 is too fast.  If you click on the applet once or twice it will restart with a new color palette.

After that check out the other August Additions pages and remember to check off the Pattern and Mandala boxes.  They look very good when checked off together.

There’s a site map page which really helps to find everything and get a grasp on what the whole site contains.  The author says a lot of complimentary things about his applets but I think he’s just being honest.  They really are remarkable and stand out from everything else that I’ve seen relating to CA.  They’re so simple (40k!) and yet the results are nothing less than hundreds of eye-popping digital animations.  That’s computational creativity for you.

Kandid’s Cellular Automata and the Creativity of Computational Art

Of all the things that the Genetic Art java program Kandid does, I had always found (until recently) it’s cellular automata features to be the most enticing and the most disappointing. The cellular automata, true to their synthetic, space age name, looked very computer-ish and although the high contrast color palettes complimented this quite well there was one big problem: everything it came up with all looked the same.

This is a common problem with generative art, but with some persistence one can often find ways to direct the machine in more profitable directions. Kandid being a genetic art program, it works by choosing two images and creating a new generation of images based on variations of their parameters. In Kandid these parameters, sensibly enough, are called chromosomes. You can’t play with the chromosomes but you can combine them (i.e. breed them) with another set and adjust the environment in which this happens by altering the values for mutation, cross-over and scale.

Unfortunately, cellular automata (CA) images aren’t scalable due to the nature of the mechanism by which they’re made; you’re stuck with the size of the image and that appears to be limited to about 427×427 pixels. Fractals have the ability to redraw the details within an image at a larger size, that is, you can zoom into them, but CA actually create a unique pixel collection that is a function of the size of the image. So they’re pretty much a what you see on your monitor is all you’ve got. I found this out by trying to “breed” a little one with a big one. It’s nothing like breeding horses or dogs.

After a few runs that simply repeated the usual boring results, I started to get reckless and contrary to what common sense would dictate, breed the ugly, sickly, lame ones with the good ones. That was how I made my break-through. Sometimes I would breed what looked to be a completely empty image, nothing but a solid square of color, with something more appealing. Other times I would add something really simple and dull to the gene pool. These new combination lead to new outcomes and I think that’s one of the keys to working with these generative/computational/algorithmic programs: explore and experiment.

All of these images here are entirely the result of the genetic art breeding process of selecting two images and clicking on the “generate next generation with sexual reproduction” button. The other button is “generate random next generation” which amounts to just randomizing the chromosome parameters (I guess) instead of creating variations from the chromosomes of two selected images. The entire image, color, lines, texture –everything– was purely the result of just pushing buttons. I didn’t even alter the hue or anything else in a graphics program. So what you’re seeing here is exactly the sort of results anyone would get if they made the same selections as I did. (I also played with the environmental variables too, in order to, if I understand them correctly, increase the mutation rate, cross-over and variety of scales: longshot/closeup sort of thing.)

Moral questions abound: just look at this hideous notification which appears when you close the program:

There’s something I find appealing about these CA images. They’re rather simple (and rather small) and yet after spending a half hour or so in the virtual breeding laboratory, the simple style and high contrast color palette starts to grow on you. They’re kind of like what miniatures are in painting and sculpture; a sort of specialized sub-genre. I like the harsh, technological look, which brings me to the second part of this posting:

The Creativity of Computational Art

While human intervention can take computational imagery and rework it into a more attractive form, the artist most often erases or dilutes the very aspect of computational imagery that makes it unique and stand out from the rest of the “art” world, which is its mechanical creativity. It might “look better” when the artist gets done, but ultimately the effect is to produce imagery that is already common place and lacks the freaky appeal that is the direct result of the  non-human and untouched by human hands computational process.

I think perhaps that fractal artists can be separated into two camps: those who seek the wild, untamed imagery that grows ready-to-pick from cold, mechanical algorithms; and those who want to use that sort of imagery, domesticate it, so to speak, and utilize it as the raw material in their own creations.

Except it isn’t really their own or really very creative. In fact, I would say that such a traditional approach to creating art is more imitative and results in images that resemble “typical” artwork. This probably sounds strange to many artists because isn’t expressing one’s “creativity” what art is and has always been about? Yes, that’s true, but now there’s something better. I believe that better art, more “original” art, will be made by artists interfering with the machine less and spending their time trying to find good imagery instead of trying to construct it themselves. I think the forte of fractals and other types of computational imagery is their artificial, mechanical style and that this contrasts greatly with the human touch which artists, well-meaning but misguided, want to add to “make it art” or to make it “personal”.

Computational art is more sophisticated. Picasso’s Guernica, a fine example of “typical art”, is quite predicable and follows the well worn trails of tradition. Picasso expresses the horror of the bombing and captures the human tragedy and suffering and manages to place the actual historical event of Guernica unavoidably in the middle of our collective town square, literally like a billboard, so that it will never be forgotten. The style in which Picasso painted was new back then but now it’s old. The lasting impact of Guernica is the way it memorializes that historic and shameful event and exemplifies the power of art to express and influence social and political thought.

A noble thing to do, but from my perspective also a rather primitive one. Artists are always doing these things, noble though they may be, they are also less interesting because they are so common. I actually feel that paintings that are difficult to understand have more lasting appeal because they’re perennially open to new interpretation (or any interpretation). Pollock’s drip paintings have that eternal quality. Computational processes lack the intelligence of the human mind, the mind of an artist, and thereby produce things that are unpredictable and unconnected, unrelated to traditional art and (when they look good) produce works that are refreshingly unique and much more creative. I like to think of computational art in a musical sense as being “strange new chords” –combinations of notes that musicians, especially well-trained musicians, would never create or attempt to create, but once we hear them we marvel at their ingenuity. Bold and new –that’s the essence of creativity.

The opening chord to the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, was created haphazardly and today is difficult to reproduce because even John Lennon, who composed it, couldn’t actually remember the precise combination of notes he played or how he strummed them to get that same sound. I heard this in a documentary where Ringo Starr recounted the original event that took place at a recording studio. What makes machines so “talented” is that they don’t really know what they’re doing: they are unreflective and unthinking. That’s why I say that artists who use fractal imagery to contruct more elaborate images of their own creative designs are hopelessly doomed to repeat what others have done. Once in a while someone constructs something interesting, but the artist’s contribution most often obscures fractal art rather than enhancing it. (This is part of what Terry was getting at when he noted that many DA artists made better work in their early days.) Machines have no such bad habits, or any habits at all, and the best ones are idiot savants performing amazing feats of computation and yet unable to draw the simple pictures that any child can.

The job of a computational artist is to push buttons and turn dials. Everything else is folly.

Where is the West Texas of Fractal Art?

For those of you young-er folks who have grown up with computers and the internet and consider all that technology and online media to be normal, you don’t know how really dull and boring things were before home computing came along.

My biggest technological thrill when I was growing up back in the early 70’s was owning a short-wave radio.  I was like 8 years old and  I remember tuning in some Eastern European radio station that seem to play nothing but a station identifier composed of a short sound bit of an orchestra playing a few notes.  It was a real magical experience.  It drifted in, then out, and just when you turned up the volume to hear it better it came blasting back again, bouncing off the ionosphere or something.  Nowadays we can watch webcams from the other side of the world.

Another big thrill for me was taking electronics apart and just seeing what happened when I shorted out parts of the circuit boards.  Things would click, lights would go on or off, and once in a while some smoke would appear.  As long as the thing was only powered by batteries it was perfectly safe, I guessed.

I owned a cassette tape recorder the size of two bricks, the kind with big white piano-like keys to control it.  I got a real technology thrill from recording friends and family members and playing it back to them.  They got a thrill from that too.  An even bigger thrill came when I discovered that if I touched parts of the solder covered side of the circuit board with my bare fingers when a blank cassette was in play mode, various musical squeaks would jump out of the speaker.

Roy Orbison, a musician from West Texas was once asked by an interviewer, “Why have so many talented musicians come from West Texas?”  Roy responded with something to the effect that, “There’s not much to do in West Texas so people have to come up with ways to entertain themselves.”

I’ve always wondered if silence and emptyness was actually more inspiring for creativity than the constant chatter of “important artists” and one’s “helpful friends”.  It’s true that artists will sometime get ideas and inspiration from the work of others but too much inspiration from the work of others leads to nothing more than imitation and rigid, inbred “styles”.

And now back to the creative abuse of technology:  Pete Edwards of Casper Electronics (“the friendly ghost in the machine”) had been doing some very advanced tinkering with common electronic equipment.  His own words and his two YouTube videos here say it all.  It’s something to think about when we leave this little bit of West Texas and head back to the New York City of Fractal Art.  I’m not talking about where you live but where your mind is.  The online Fractal Art world is mostly a little social club devoted to self-congratulation, as I think Terry’s recent series commenting on the folks over at Deviant Art has shown.  If you’re already in West Texas then I’d suggest you stay there; you’re not missing a thing.

Image by Pete Edwards at Casper Electronics.

Pete Edwards writes:

This is a modified Nintendo video game console. It is a very simple bend and is a lot of fun to play with. To bend this unit I simply added a patch bay to a handful of points on the video processing chips. The Display can be tweaked by either connecting points together or by feeding in external signals, like audio or voltages from my modular synthesizer. the video shown above is an example of how the visuals can be controlled using clock signals from my modular synth.


I guess it works a bit like a light organ.  Here’s a video Pete made showing the setup in action:

Here’s another of Pete Edwards giving a live performance.  It’s not too visual (because it’s rather dark) but the music, or sound sculpture, is interesting.

Jpeg Engineering

Now, we all know that it’s our DNA that controls our physical characteristics.  DNA contains the information which determines how we develop from fertilized egg to adult.  DNA, in turn, is literally coded instructions similar to binary computer code.

DNA is encoded using sequences of four different amino acids grouped into pairs.  The arrangement of those four variables ultimately controls the synthesis of proteins and all other more complex structures and assemblages which together make up the entire human body or the body of any living thing.  What you look like (and other physiological things) is the result of this simply constructed, but lengthy and intricate, DNA code.  The code creates the body.

Now imagine doing experiments with that code and then being able to quickly see what the results would be.  Swap a few genes to change your hair or eye color.  Or maybe, load your DNA code into a text editor and do search and replace on sequences wherever they happen to occur.  Swapping this for that wherever “this” appears.  Or maybe just picking any arbitrary sequence and replacing it with the same sequence in reverse order?   And then quickly being able to see what sort of mutated creature results.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Jpeg files, as anyone who’s accidentally opened them in a text editor knows, are just such a collection of codes, although, once again, not exactly the same as DNA, but having the same effect.  The various numbers and symbols in a jpeg file are the stored information that tells your computer monitor what to display –the code creates the picture.

Glitch-Nine by Luke Roberts, 2006 (Originally a wall texture photo)

Alright, now imagine doing search and replace on the jpeg code, swapping hexadecimal symbols with other symbols and then viewing what the altered file now looks like.  This is literally changing the DNA of the jpeg image like one would roll dice because surely one has no idea whatsoever what the results of such reckless scrambling of the encoded image information will be.

From the Flickr page:

A series of images created by modifying the code of JPEG images.

Created with Hexplorer mostly by using the “find and replace” tool to find a certain hex combinations (usually about two characters works best) and replacing them with something else.

items are from between 08 Feb 2005 & 21 Jun 2006.

Here’s a few screenshots of Hexplorer from the Hexplorer page at Sourceforge:

Hexplorer Screenshot from Sourceforge

Hexplorer Screenshot from Sourceforge

I’m sure there’s other programs that can be used to edit hexadecimal code, but this is the one Luke Roberts used to create the images displayed here.  I assume all one would have to do is save the altered file and then reload it in an image viewer to see the results.  Just like editing the html of web pages and viewing the changes in a browser.  This is literally, “painting by numbers”.

Glitch Three by Luke Roberts, 2006

Luke Roberts has this to say about Glitch Three (from his Flickr page):  “With Hexplorer, if you replace 1 with 0 or something similar to that (like 2 with 8 or something) this is what the image usualy turns out like.”

Only in the digital medium could such Frankensteinian methods be used.  It reminds one that the digital medium is in many ways nothing at all like the traditional, hand-made medium of oil paintings and clay sculptures.  Digital is much more fun and rewards those who experiment.

Glitch Eight by Luke Roberts, 2006

Glitch Eight: “My favourite of my glitch works so far. It’s a self portrait originally. I like the colours and the fact that you can see a bit of hair and my eye. ”

Glitch Four by Luke Roberts, 2006 ("another self portrait")

Glitch One by Luke Roberts, 2006

Luke Roberts calls this “Glitch” art, but I think a better name is Jpeg Engineering (or editing) because to me it more resembles Genetic Engineering than the reckless crashing of electronic devices which is what I would normally expect in the creation of Glitch Art.  Although I guess the unintended consequences of editing the hexadecimal codes is in keeping with the malfunctional nature of glitches.

This is just an amazing idea and I’m going to have to try it out myself.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.  The hexadecimal code is really like the parameter file of the picture and controls the pixels.

When it comes to digital art, think pixels, not pictures.


If you’re interested in looking at more of Luke Roberts’ work, his Glitch Art set is here where you can view all 12 images in the set at a larger size.  His main Flickr collection is here which contains photography which, as it turns out, is what his main artistic interest is and not the editing of jpeg hexadecimal files.  He also has a website at

A Dozen by Daniel


I don’t like slick computer art but I like Daniel Eaton’s Incendia gallery. The more polished and “professional” computer art gets the more it reminds me of advertising and other kinds of soulless, slithering graphical lifeforms. But Daniel Eaton (aka “Apophysitis”) has somehow managed to construct creative and appealing imagery with a program I had considered to be just another eye candy machine. Maybe Incendia is something special in the world of 3D graphics or maybe Daniel’s success with it just shows that it’s not what tool you use that matters but how you use it.

Although these images are, for the most part, simple and lacking the “wow” factor that most 3D galleries seem to indulge in, they have a real appeal to them. Their simplicity gives them their style. I think most computer artists tend to pull out all the stops and do a “glitz-blitz” on their images. But I think making good digital art is as much an exercise in using restraint as it is in getting the most out of the software.  I think that’s why I found Daniel Eaton’s Incendia work so interesting.  I’ve selected an even dozen to review here.


20080815113333_1: Fractal Philishave? Nicely done and not overdone. Note how the simple coloring enhances the look of the smooth metalic surface and allows the perforated detailing to be appreciated.  Or were they just the default settings?

CircleCity Perspective_1

CircleCity Perspective_1:  This one has a real 3D look to it and the simple sky and lighting all fit together to create something quite vivid.  The coloring is good too.  Notice the grainy, “sand spray” texture.  Daniel uses that quite effectively in some other ones I’ve reviewed here.

Circle City_1

Circle City_1: Chariots of the gods?  It has an Eastern look to it.  The fuzzy glow makes it interesting and combined with the ray-traced appearance that the lighting and shadow gives, the effect is one of mystery and transcendence.  I’m starting to hear chanting, so let’s move on.


20080821005011.bmp_1: Another fractal assemblage and it ought to be a fairly ordinary image except, once again, this one just seems to shine in a special way.  Maybe I ought to check out more Incendia galleries.  I know Xenodream makes 3D fractal images like this, but I don’t remember seeing so many interesting images like this in a Xenodream gallery.  But again, I’m guessing the difference is made by the artist and not so much the program.


20080812211300_1: I don’t know why this one made my short list from the 435 images Daniel has on display in his gallery.  Yes, that’s four hundred and thirty-five.  And those just the ones he uploaded to Picasa.  Digital tools tend to make us all very productive.  It would have taken a lot of time  and considerable expense for a painter to produce 435 paintings.  But that’s just the way digital art is.  The old palette and beret crowd just can’t keep up with us, space-age artists.


20080816200011_1: Enough of what I have to say.  Let’s hear what Jack Williamson said about Daniel’s 20080816200011_1 in his short story, The Lake of Light, from the April, 1931 issue of Astounding Stories:

At our feet the glistening river of fire plunged down again in a magnificent flaming fall. Below, its luminous liquid was spread out in rivers and lakes and canals, over all the vast plain. The channels ran through an amazing jungle. It was a forest of fungus, of mushroom things with great fleshy stalks and spreading circular tops. But they were not the sickly white and yellow of ordinary mushrooms, but were of brilliant colors, bright green, flaming scarlet, gold and purple-blue. Huge brilliant yellow stalks, fringed with crimson and black, lifted mauve tops thirty feet or more. It was a veritable forest of flame-bright fungus.


What_Lies_Beneath… Far out, eh? Jack’s got something classic pulp sci-fi to say about this one too:

In the center of this weirdly forested subterranean plain was a great lake, filled, not with the flaming liquid, but with dark crystal water. And on the bottom of that lake, clearly visible from the elevation upon which we stood, was a city!

A city below the water! The buildings were upright cylinders in groups of two or three, of dozens, even of hundreds. For miles, the bottom of the great lake was covered with them. They were all of crystal, azure-blue, brilliant as cylinders turned from immense sapphires. They were vividly visible beneath the transparent water. Not one of them broke the surface.


GreenCandyBowl_1: Jack never envisioned anything like this silver-topped, metalic blue wedding cake, but then who could have envisioned the sort of imagery that digital artists produce today back in the 30’s?  Even now it’s hard to describe how digital art like this is made and relate it to the more traditional, hand-made methods of making artwork.  One thing I like about computer art –and this image is a good example– is the unrealistic, alien, spacey appearance that the imagery often has.  The sides of this “cake” look metalic like the foil covering of a satellite.  Not to mention, of course, that it’s hard to say what it is, or even label it.  Computer art is quite creative in that sense.


20080811152915_1: It’s got the rainbow colors that normally look pretty tacky, but combined with the sand spray and the little knives –all on a simple gray background– the overall effect is a good one.  How many 3D artists would dare to use such a plain background when they could chose from any number of textures?  But the simple background here is what I think makes the whole work look balanced.

Sand dollar_1

Sand dollar_1: This and the last one are my favorites.  The graininess complements the 3D imagery by adding some variety and complexity to what would otherwise be another shiny plastic clone.  Sand Dollar_1 has a Da Vinci, Renaissance look to it I find.  Very subtle coloring and a style that is rather non-digital.  I guess sometimes fractals, even 3D fractals, just need a little extra rendering help (or a few accidental effects).


RustBowl_1: A very simple structure and yet intriguing.  Notice the small glowing line inside the ball; that’s the sort of subtle touch that I think sets Daniel Eaton’s work apart from the other.  The simplicity to this image almost makes me think it’s non-digital and something silk-screened.  Everybody’s got their own tastes when it comes to digital art –especially 3D artwork– but I find Daniel’s work to have a style all its own and one worth taking a look at for why it’s so effective in a medium that seems to thrive on excess and complexity.

Daniel’s work is significant because, as I mentioned earlier, I believe the better, more interesting –more creative– work will be made by artists like him who can get a good grasp on how to use their software tools, experiment with them and use their features when they serve a purpose and not just as defaults and requisites. I’ve come to realize that computer programs are not like the traditional hand held tools that painters and other artists use. Getting creative with computer programs requires an experimentalist type of personality that instinctively pursues new and sometimes oddball ways of using a program –not to make art but to just explore and experiment.   Computer art is an art form of remote control: driving robots and controlling machines in a place we can’t go.

Mastering established techniques and having great self-discipline is not necessary in digital art like it is in the traditional arts. Digital art favors people who like to goof off and just have fun. That’s what’s wrong with fractal art: hard work never pays off and that’s why so many are so poor. A good program, a playful attitude and at least one good eye; that’s all you need to make good computer art. Funny thing though, there don’t seem to be that many people around like Daniel Eaton who can do that.

Fractal Animation: Reel #2

Allow me to play Film Class Professor.  Before we dim the lights and roll the film I will give a short lecture which hopefully will enlighten our understanding of these short animations posted below, or, at the very least, become the price of admission you will pay to sit in a comfortable seat and watch films and get a university degree at the same time.

I went to YouTube and searched on “Apophysis Animation“.  About three hundred links came up.  I sorted them by viewer ranking (number of stars) and then shortened the list by including only those less than a month old because I was interested in seeing the more current stuff.  This came to 18 and I looked at almost all of them.  Not all of them I watched to the end, mind you.  Judging animation is more time consuming than still image art.  A better review of course would have included a much wider time frame than just the last month.  But let’s talk a bit about fractal animation and where I think it’s going and why.

Jock Cooper, a fractal animator whose work I reviewed a year ago and who had a short work that I particularly liked, in part due to it’s spectacular fractal music accompaniment (which he also composed) left a comment to my last posting on fractal animation where he said, “Yes fractal animations are basically boring. But I don’t know what can be done about it. It’s not like you can add characters and a plot.”  An artist of Jock’s stature is worth listening to and taking seriously.  If he’s not the best Ultra Fractal animator, he’s certainly one of them, as well a being a superb creator of non-animated fractal artwork.

And he’s absolutely right in what he’s said.  What can be done about it?  I salute those, who like him, have spent a good deal of time in mastering the technical complexities of Ultra Fractal animation.  If most non-animated fractal artwork had that much effort put into it, the whole genre would be that much better for it.  But fractal animation is a tough job and folks like him face some really serious challenges because you can’t simply make high tech cartoons with “characters and a plot” with fractals like you can with other forms of computerized animation.  All of the good fractal animations I’ve seen have been multimedia presentations with carefully chosen musical scores that complement the moving images.  Perhaps because fractals are so abstract, they need sound to help take up the slack that characters and a plot does in other kinds of animation.  And even creating one minute of such a combination of engaging visuals and sound is no mean feat.  It’s not something one can just pick up and play with for a few months and then win a contest create something impressive.

Part of the problem, as I’ve suggested, may be that good animation isn’t really about good graphics. What makes a short film interesting is what happens in it. It’s different than making still images which are intended to be stared at and focused upon. When someone tries to animate that in the form of a parameter sweep, deep zoom or fly-by, the viewer instinctively expects something to happen, some significant change to what they’re looking at to occur. Strangely enough then, fractals that look good as still images may not have any animation potential to them.

And still images that don’t look so great may have a lot of animation potential to them.  Daniel White’s Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb which I discussed in my last post is a typical depiction of the Mandelbulb, 3D mandelbrot formula, which really isn’t all that exciting, visually, when compared to most renderings of the common, 2D mandelbrot formula.  But what made Daniel’s short animation interesting was the sound and the sci-fi/horror theme of venturing into the unknown.  He used sound dramatically as well as editing in a dark, blacked-out segment in which to build suspense.  Those graphics wouldn’t impress too many in the fractal art world, but he used them to tell a short and simple “story”.  What looks good in animation doesn’t seem to match what looks good in still fractal artwork.

This shouldn’t be so surprising though. Consider photography. Many exciting still images are actually snapshots of athletes or other people engaged in vigorous activity frozen in time and presented in a completely different context than the moving image clip they would be a part of if they were animated, that is, presented as a short film clip.

Or how about landscape photography? How many breath taking panoramic vistas would be more appealing as short video takes from an airplane? There are some. I’ve seen some clips taken from airplanes flying low over African grasslands while herds of antelope race along or as flocks of birds take off from lakes or rivers. But the subject of interest is the movement of the antelope or the birds and not really the landscape which forms the background. The background is more photogenic as a still image than a moving one. And I think fractals are, for the most part,  more like backgrounds than animals.

I hate to say it, but I think fractal animation is going to be short-lived and merely something of a fad. Abstract animation is a hard sell to any audience and today’s audience has been spoiled by a steady diet of 21st century Hollywood CGI and computer animation. Audiences aren’t wowed by moving fractals as much as they are by a gorgeous still image of one. Fractals look best when they can be stared at and studied. That’s why people paint sunsets. They want to stop the sun right where it is and savor that moment and then be able to come back again and again to look at that perfect and unmoving sunset.

Having said all that…

Now it’s time for the fun part.  Fortunately, in this online classroom, we don’t have to wait for the lazy graduate student in the projector room to come back from his smoke break before we can get started.  We can start right away with a mouse-click.

(Apophysis Animation)  Has a nice soundtrack.  That spacey, techno-dub, drifting thing has an abstract quality that fits in well with abstract graphics.  This is not a bad music video, but that’s not saying much since most music videos incorporate imagery and music that blends together like oil and water.  This one isn’t like that at all.  I watched this one more than once.  That pretty well says it all.

(Apophysis Flying Bird Anim…) I love it.  But why do I love it?  It’s a pretty, um, elementary use of Apophysis 3D (is that 3D?).  The music is wonderfully retro, but I’m 44, so my idea of retro might not be yours.  I’m thinking old Kraftwerk.  This bird is timeless and almost a fossilized animation.  And yet it’s not terribly old is it?  It’s got a neat style to it.  A good example of how animation follows a whole different set of rules than still imagery does.  As a still image, this thing would not be too impressive, to put it politely.  The guy made the graphics and the music.  A fairly talented man, I’d say.

(Julia’s Revenge)?  Well, it’s just a title.  A few things to note.  It starts and ends nicely and not just when they music cuts out.  Again, the dreamy, spacey, driftin’ to alpha centauri on the old man river of the milky way music seems to be suited to all sorts of fractal animation sequences like this one.

I found this one to be like “geometric ballet”.  In fact, near the middle when the camera pans out over a surprisingly flat panorama and the golden bubble appears, I was reminded of ballet dancers and point shoes and some very expensive scenery changes.

(The living fractal apophysis…) Spooky music, eh?  Works nicely with the octopus-o-saurus.  Some bits were a bit jagged, at least when I viewed it on my computer, but the attempt to present an ancient sea creature swimming through a vast, dark sea came across pretty well.  Finding an animal-like image that looks good and animates well is a tricky thing, I’m sure.  At times I was confused by whether the creature was turning around or swimming backwards, or what.  But that also added some mystery to the scene.  After all, it’s supposed to be something we’ve never seen before.

(Alien Space) This one’s probably the most well executed one from a professional standpoint.  It’s got some rather good editing in it.  The author obviously has gone to some effort to make sure the graphics sync reasonably well with the changes in the music.  Once again we have the dreamy, dub-like soundtrack that fits with almost any kind of abstract animation.  The narration is an interesting aspect.  Of course, that’s all done by the musician and the animator has simply worked their stuff in around it.  Perhaps narration is a good trick to remember and even a simple voice-over by any animator describing how the imagery was made or adding in poetry or quotations would complement fractal animation as well as music seems to.

I don’t know if the Sun sequence was made in Apophysis (it looked awfully realistic) but Apophysis 3D seems to excel in making all sorts of spherical things.  There’s a lot of layering and combining of imagery in this one.

It gets a bit repetitive in spots, but then the whole thing is 9 minutes long.  9 minutes is a pretty long time to animate without repeating something.  Still, this one is very good and explains why it was so highly rated on YouTube.

(My Best Apophysis Animation Yet) Although this one probably looks a little plain after seeing some other ones like it, I think it’s not too bad since it syncs well with the soundtrack and ends (fairly) well, although a little off-time with the music.  I particularly like the laser light appearance in this one and how in one of the pans where the camera pulls off backwards into space the animation really uses the 3D architecture of the imagery to it’s greatest advantage.

(You Appearing) Hmmmnn… This posting is almost becoming a review of Apophysis music videos.  The fractured imagery in this one at the beginning blends perfectly with the reverberated piano.  Perhaps that’s what made me include this one: it’s got some very good moments in it as far as the use of fractal animation goes.  Some of the “dissolution” sequences (where the element are moved apart) really shows how complex some of the IFS imagery can be.  There’s squares, rolled up scarves, and wispy curly-cues all from the same image and each with different coloring.  It’s viewable in higher resolutions but I didn’t try it as I’ve got an 8 year old computer with a fairly basic integrated video card.  Resolution could be an important factor when viewing fractal animation I suppose, since a lot of detail is lost in the video compression used to create the lower resolution streams (smudges and stuff).  And how good would most movies look if you viewed them through a smudgy, foggy window?

(3D IFS Fractal:  Inside the Sierpinski Temple) A silent movie, for a change.  I can’t quite figure out what makes this one so appealing.  It really shouldn’t be any more impressive than any 3D environment from a video game, but it’s got a style or mood –or something– to it that makes it interesting.  There’s a simple video of the outside of the temple which although it has the same Sierpinski structure, isn’t anywhere near as interesting as this little drive around on the inside is.  Who would ever have thought the inside of a Sierpinski “temple” would be so much more interesting than the outside?  Maybe it’s the lighting and shadows that gives the impression of exploring a secret, forbidden place, flashlight in hand in the middle of the night.  Or it could just be that the Sierpinski architecture (from the inside) is of itself something of interest .  Anyhow, it’s short and silent which suggests that plain fractal animation on it’s own can still be interesting.

(Fractale) I apologize.  I threw this one in for laughs.  It’s got to be the worst fractal video I’ve ever seen.  I believe the initial cover image (which is the only good point) is by Kerry Mitchell.   I doubt he gave permission for it to be used as no self-respecting artist would allow their work to be abused like this (except for thousands of dollars, of course).  Inside there’s probably even more examples of copyright infringement.  See any else you recognize?  But worst of all it’s just a slide show.  Yaaaaaaaawn…  And the music?  Why do people even bother to make stuff like this?  Hopefully whoever made this one gave up making videos after this.  Don’t tell your friends about this one; we don’t want this sort of thing going viral.  It’s not likely to.

Well, that’s it, class.  Congratulations on finding the easiest and most agreeable way to get a course credit in your entire college career.  After viewing these examples does fractal animation have a future?   Sorry, does that sound like an exam question?  I didn’t mean to frighten you.  Come back next week when we “study” Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in cinemascope.

The Big Flat Plateau of Fractal Animation

A few years back I was excited about the possibilities of fractal animation.  Fractal animation, as I saw it, would be literally living and moving fractals.  Fractal artists were about to become fractal film makers and the art form would take on a whole new dimension.  And after seeing a couple of very exciting algorithmic but not strictly fractal animations, I was, yes, excited.

These days I’m bored with fractal animation.  It started out with a very rapid ascent and then, equally rapidly,  reached a plateau where it is now, languishing in endless variations of  oozing parameter transforms and deep zooms into nothing and nowhere.

It’s not for lack of hard work, though.  Fractal animation takes a lot of time and processing because, in the same way as traditional films are made, the movement is produced by sequencing many still images together to give the impression of movement.  I mention that because some may think that digital animation is different.  Animation is resource hungry and multiplies the work required even to the point of making thirty images for a single second of animation.  Those brave pioneers who have been dabbling in fractal animation are hard-working and dedicated individuals.  You have to be to take on something as intensive as animation.  Fractal animation takes as much work as still image creation does as well as requiring a few things that still images don’t.

Here’s where fractal animation gets bogged down: film making is more than just a complicated, high tech  slide show.  For instance, something has to happen.  Still images only have to look good, but animation requires some sort of progression and  development of an idea.  People just look at still images and everything is all there all at once to be studied –nice and simple.  But with moving images one has to engage the audience and move them along some sort of story line without leaving them all behind or without making the message so simple as to bore them.  With more abstract content of course, the messages or ideas in the animated sequence become less of a story than simply a visual experience, but the need for some progressive, development which will engage the viewer isn’t any different than it is with producing an animated cartoon.

In short, I believe that fractal animation is just too different for the old, still image visual techniques to work.  Artists who have been successful in the still image area will not necessarily have any advantage in the area of fractal animation other than the software skills necessary to operate the program.  What looks good as a still image can easily appear flat and boring when animated because transforming the parameters of pretty graphics to make them flow between one shape and another, while it may be a good start to an animated sequence, on it’s own is really nothing more than a demonstration of animation and not the use of it.

An artist can get away with work of a purely ornamental character in the realm of still images, but with animation the lack of expression or message sticks out like a sore thumb –nothing is happening.  Instead I think animators should concentrate on simpler imagery with regard primarily to interesting shapes and structures.  It’s a different game than the still image thing; animation is all about action.

Fractal animators need to make their own rules and be prepared to pioneer their own styles.  It’s all crap right now.  So go ahead and experiment and do outrageous things that only you would do and have never been done.  Cross boundaries and mix fractal imagery with everything you’ve got in you animation spice cupboard.

And now, having said all that, here’s a cool zooming/fly-by with orchestrated soundtrack of the late, great Mandelbulb by none other than Daniel White who I now declare to be the first recipient of Orbit Trap’s Fractal Hitchcock award.  Get ready to scream…

Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb

Directed by Daniel White, Starring “The Mandelbulb”


More at TwinbeeUK’s YouTube page

Janet Parke’s Ultra Fractal Courses Available as Ebooks

So you want to be a fractal artist?

The well-known fractal artist Janet Parke recently stopped teaching her highly popular Ultra Fractal courses at the online  Visual Arts Academy.  But just this week she has released them in downloadable ebook form for self-study.  You can read all about them here on her website.  The ebooks contain the text of the courses and are packaged as standalone Windows programs (.exe file) with a browser-like interface.  They  can be purchased from her website for download:  $20 for one; $35 for any two; and $50 for all three.

I’m sure this is all good news for Ultra Fractal fans because it seems to me that Janet’s UF courses have been very popular with a wide range of UF users and highly recommended by those who’ve taken them.  Although I’m sure many more students would have liked to have taken them while they were being offered at the VAA, this ebook release will at least make that possible for them in a self-study format.  From her website:

My beginning courses were always sold-out before each semester started, and a majority of the students continued through the 2nd and 3rd courses. Unfortunately, the demands of my full-time job have increased and I no longer have time in my life to give the personal attention that VAA students came to expect. So, after more than four years and nearly 400 students, I needed to find an alternative to teaching the courses online.

The recommendation of former students is probably the best praise any course of study can get and Janet’s UF courses have plenty of that.  You can read some testimonials on the Ultra Fractal Course page on her website, but I’ve seen similar things said on the UF list and on blogs and forums.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say anything negative about Janet’s UF courses.

According to her website, the course materials that Janet put together for all three VAA courses was quite substantial:

By the time I’d finished writing the third [online] course, the series comprised 1000 pages (if printed), illustrated with over 900 images, containing pretty much everything I’ve learned and the techniques I’ve developed since I began working with Ultra Fractal in 1998.

As I said in a previous posting about the VAA the formal instruction offered by courses like Janet’s is a real benefit to the fractal art genre and the beginning of the development of a professional aspect to what has pretty well been an art form defined by hobbyists (like me) and lacking any serious study and refinement.  Fractal art needs more teachers like Janet and not merely more places where artists can post artwork and get casual community feedback.  The community feedback of friends and fans is almost entirely composed of shallow compliments punctuated, whenever a contest arises, with binges of vote spamming.  That kind of attention doesn’t help artists and may even hurt them by making them think everything they do is good and never needing any improvement.  Worst of all, the art form never seems to expand beyond the common and the cliche.

As much as I’d like to see Janet reap a reward for all her hard work in compiling these three popular courses into self-study ebooks, I’m doubtful that students will get as much out of these self-study courses as they did from the online, VAA courses that included advice and commentary from Janet herself.  The ebooks may contain all the written course materials, but they don’t include Janet!

I’ve never taken any of Janet’s VAA courses but I’m sure the feedback students got from Janet on their coursework was a big part of the learning experience and must have had something to do with the enthusiastic recommendations they gave to other students to take the same courses.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from purchasing these ebooks.  After all, at the price of $50 for all three you’re getting all of the texts for the three online courses at less than half the price you would have paid if you’d taken the courses through the VAA.  That alone makes the ebooks a great deal for anyone who wants what those courses had to offer but unfortunately can’t take them now because they’re no longer offered.

What I’m saying is, while Janet’s self-study ebooks are a great way for her to continue to offer the basic content of her UF courses to an unlimited number of students, what the fractal art world really needs is another Janet Parke to take over teaching those courses and give the sort of formal feedback and advice that only a seasoned professional like Janet could offer. It might take more than one person.

There’s a big opportunity for a fractal artist out there with some teaching experience and technical ability (software skills) as well as some understanding of artistic principles (composition, design, color…).  Well, even if you don’t have the art stuff, teaching Ultra Fractal skills is what I’d guess would be the most popular fractal art course offering that someone could get started with and right now that position is completely vacant.  Sure, Janet will be a tough act to follow, but she’s also cleared a fine path for you and established a high level of student satisfaction.  I’d bet you’d get a good number of students signed up from the start.  Also, I guess you’ll need to really love fractal art and teaching others about it because I don’t think you’re going to get rich doing this sort of thing.  The way I see it, the fees are really just a modest compensation for your efforts and not what actually motivates people to do this.  Give it some serious thought.  Travis Williams is doing it.  And so is Joseph Presley.

Some of you already spend all your free time giving advice about fractal art to people over the internet.  Why not go professional?

Fractal Land has seen the Light!

Here at Orbit Trap we’ve been accused by some of being too “preachy”.  Maybe it’s true.  Consider this:  A recent reader and veteran fractal artist, Marcos Napier, has credited Orbit Trap with helping him to usher in “A New Era” for his fractal artwork and his website,

Somehow inspired by things like what has been said in this post (and many others) at the Orbit Traps Blog (“Make the art that pleases you rather than the art you think other “good” artists want to see.”), I decided it’s time for a facelift here and to go back to the fractals. For a while, the galleries will stay as they are now but they will change soon.

Yes, Orbit Trap helped him get straightened out and see things more clearly.  Especially to see those “good artists” more clearly.  Now he’s back on track and excited about fractal art again, thinking for himself instead of looking to the “great artists” for inspiration.  Marcos isn’t about to retreat into a life of narcissistic, self-admiration, though.  In fact, Marcos, I would say, has embarked on a much more exacting and professional approach to making fractal art than he did in his previous “life” where he devoted himself to the imitation of “good artists”  –the false gods of fractal land.  Imitation is hard because it’s unnatural.  It does offer some comfort, however.  One can feel content and confident about their work when they’ve managed to replicate the style and substance of the “good artists” –because everyone will say so.

Doing your own thing, that is, being creative, has no such comforting herd of admirers to make you feel good and give you a false sense of accomplishment. In fact, the fractal art world today is a rather hostile place for creative people.

…unless you’ve developed the self-discipline required to judge your own work.  Only then will you be truly independent and free to pursue the art that excites you.  To do that though, you need to know yourself well enough so that you can avoid the tempting lure of self-deception that makes one think that everything they make is great.  Some serious self-reflection and careful analysis of one’s opinions about their own work will soon educate you enough so that you will not be fooled by the tricks and constant flattery your ego keeps filling your mind with.  Focus on the art, not who made it.  That at least is a start.

After that I started to update my fractal pages not really often or thinking to keep a “fractal gallery” always active but according to whatever good work I thought I was making. At some point, I found UltraFractal, and even though I didn’t like it much at first (I was a Fractint addict!) I started using it and started to produce things like mad with the new possibilities. Soon… the first invitation to an exhibition happened. I started to look at things more “professionally” so to speak. And this is what made me stop, after some time.

Yes!  Did you see that?  Critical acclaim destroyed him.  Or rather, destroyed his creativity.  Marcos though he ought to act differently and work differently once he had attracted an audience even though, ironically, it was his previous, freewheeling attitude and approach which had probably attracted his audience to begin with!  It’s probably a very natural reaction to the attention of others: we shift our attention to the audience forming around us and away from our art.  Naturally, the art suffers and the audience either drifts away or becomes populated with people who like what “good artists” and “professionals” make.  But for the artist, they’ve alienated the only fan they most desperately need.  I’m not talking about your Mom, I’m talking about you –the artist.  When you lose your own interest, your work withers and so do you.

As time went by, I started making fractals like crazy, zillions every day. And I started to look at my images with a different approach than when I started making them. It was no longer fun – I guess I was trapped in the Guild (or by the Guild?). I started to get more and more frustrated with what I was doing, thinking everything was boring and ugly (and it was!) and that I would never be able to make such good art as these people from Renderosity (that was the hit of the moment). Despite having 1200 images posted here, I was not interested even in looking at them again. Then… suddenly I stopped making fractals.

Yes, Renderosity and Deviant Art are good places to become disillusioned with fractal art.  You know you’ve hit rock-bottom when you’ve piled up a big collection on Renderosity or Deviant Art like some drunken vagrant lying in a pile of garbage in a dark alleyway.  Trapped in the Guild?  That’s the Ultra Fractal Guild, as any avid reader of Orbit Trap will know.

I’ve decided to send the images I didn’t like to the fractal heaven, and some images are now gone. I’ve kept those that really interest me, who cares if it’s a simple spiral, or a 256-colour image made in Fractint? I am the first person that must like my work. I don’t work for the masses, I don’t work expecting public admiration (although I must say it’s quite nice when you’re invited for an exhibition at the Lincoln Center as I was…), I don’t make fractals based on how many comments they will get at some community site. I just do this to please me.

How many of you out there have the guts to make 256-color images!  I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia article for those of you who don’t know what that is.  Art is a funny thing; sometimes simpler methods have more sophisticated results.  But you won’t find that out by following the herd or clinging to your membership in the Guild.  You’ll have to experiment.

But, take heart, unlike imitation, experimentation is a natural thing.  That is, it’s natural for people like Marcos who love art more than they love online socializing and a false sense of accomplishment.

Assumptions About Art

I was reading a very erudite New York City art blog a few months ago. One of its postings came up in the results of a Google search I made. As is often the case with websites like this, after reading the initial posting that my Google search had brought me to I checked out the rest of the site and soon lost interest. It’s just that I seem to find a lot of discussions about art to be merely high-brow gossip, revolving around artists and having little relevance to actual artwork.

The posting that eventually turned me off the whole site was one in which the mayor of New York had complained “in the media” that a recent, publicly funded art exhibition was offensive to most New Yorkers and wasn’t fit for public display. The posting went on and on, and I never reached the bottom, but one sentence the author wrote still sticks in my mind to this day, months later.

“Why do people assume that art is always something intended for public display?”

Amongst all the highly refined commentary on the various participants in the New York art scene and the fragile opinions that they seem to hold, this statement stood out like a brick crashing through a window. “Yes,” I thought, “why do we assume those things?”

Over the weeks afterwards, whenever I was thinking about art things, I would occasionally stop and rephrase a question from the perspective of assumptions. Why do you assume that art should be intelligent? Why do you assume that art should be: explainable? collectible? interpreted without context? intended to impress? not purely self-indulgent? Or basically, why should I assume that art has any particular consistent and persistent qualities at all?

Why do you assume that art should be art?

I think the advantage of listening to art critics once in a while is that they often have sharp insights into what this thing called art is that we have so much interest in –an interest which they also share– but which is so often obscured by their over active interest in jargon, crackpot social theories, and, of course, the eccentricities of individual artists.

Why do you assume that serious art, which is applauded by millions of people, has more significance or greater value than a cheerful squiggle which only you seem to appreciate?

Why do you assume that art is something that can be defined?

I came to this thought: Everything is art and nothing is art because art is what we chose to call art. The stuff of great paintings appears in our everyday world but we don’t recognize it because it doesn’t have a frame around it. If we would only observe more carefully the events and objects of everyday life and have the expectation of art, like we do when we enter a gallery or open an art book, we would be confronted with so much art that even closing our eyes would not stop this river of art. And then art would be a label that we would apply to nothing because it will have become as meaningless and trivial as labeling every tree in a forest.  And the term, artist, would be equally meaningless because everyone who can see would be some sort of artist with a vast collection of work in their memory cells.

Another thought:  Why do you assume that popularity is the ultimate indicator of good art when it has already so often conflicted with your own tastes in art?

Why do we assume a blog posting has to have a coherent theme and a logical ending?

E-hell – enough, Guido!

Good evening, and welcome to This Week In Opera.  Tonight’s special offering comes from the world of fractal art, an email list for the fractal program, Ultra Fractal.  What makes this opera so avante garde is that the performers believe they are actually participating in a online discussion, while only the audience knows they are in fact starring in an opera.   Even I was not so quick as to realize what was happening and before I realized it, had deleted half of the libretto.

However, I salvaged a few of the highlights from this opera verite, and can only hope, gentle viewers, that they will please you as much as the other great operas we have shared, here on This Week In Opera.

As always;  my apologies to Verde.

You have mail.  And thus the curtain rises...

You have mail. And thus the curtain rises...

Listen!  Woman are raped to make cellphones!

Listen! Woman are raped to make cellphones!

Now I have a good reason not to buy a cellphone.

Now I have a good reason not to buy a cellphone. Thank-you!

Scoundrel!  Will you expose your mind like this before the la-dies!

Scoundrel! Will you expose your mind like this before the la-dies!

There's more!  Children harvest the organs of our  computers and toil amidst the graves of our machines.  Look!

There's more! Children harvest the organs of our computers and toil amidst the graves of our machines. Look!

Enough!  Guido!  E-hell!  Stop it!

Enough! Guido! E-hell! Stop it!

Yes!  Oh Yes!  Yes, YES!!

Yes! Oh Yes! Yes, YES!!

Brothers!  Listen to what he says.  I also see the Earth is melting and besides we can always use the label "OT" for filtering purposes.  Figaro!

Brothers! Listen to what he says. I also see the Earth is melting and the moon has now been defiled; besides we can always use the label "OT" for filtering purposes. Figaro!

Enough!  Guido!  E-hell!  Stop it!

Spam! Spamming the list! Spam! Spam! Stop the SPAM!

you can always...

I suggest maybe join Facebook and join (or create) a group there specifically to highlight your concerns. Oh, what a beautiful mornin', Oh, what a beautiful day! I got a beautiful feelin' Everything's goin' my way!

Listen!  Woman are raped to make cellphones!

You see, all these complaints about nothing are giving an extraordinary value to things that balanced people never would argue. From time to time somebody show up with a new orientation as if the aesthetical choices would break the peaceful order of the list. In the very examples of today´s messages you can see that some are fractalizing, others are presenting questions about hardware, looking for the benchmarking address... So life continues like every other day. Go ahead and make a good fractal instead to play as a corner policeman.

Was there a vote? Did I miss it?

Was there a vote? Did I miss it? WHen did this group stop being about Ultrafractal?

Ciao, ciao, CIAO!  Don't misunderstand me. Ciao!  The leucocytes! The heart!  The Ciao!  The Fora!  The Fora!  The fora for-a you!  Figaro!  Bully!  Netiquette!  Ciao, ciao. But then you must also accept the consequences.  Ciao!  Ciao!  C-I-A-O  --Ciao!!!

Ciao, ciao, CIAO! Don't misunderstand me. Ciao! The leucocytes! The heart! Ciao! The Fora! The Fora! The fora for-a you! Figaro! Bully! Netiquette! Ciao, ciao. But then you must also accept the consequences. Ciao! Ciao! C-I-A-O --Ciao!!!

Enough!  Guido!  E-hell!  Stop it!

There seem to be no consequences! Just like in the Jos Boogen Era! I fear that the same is happening again now! Where are you, Damien, when you are needed?? Where? Where! WHERE!!!

Figaro!  Script-aro!  Why are you all, ta-alking so?  I don't run the list, but I wil fix it -yo!  Who's Guid-o???

Figaro! Script-aro! Why are you all, ta-alking so? I don't run the list, but I wil fix it -yo! Who's Guid-o???


Hi, all friends of the list! Stop the problems! Every thing has its time! In this festive season forget your problems and your difficulties for a short while: Enjoy, have a merry christmas and a h e a l t h New Year. "Today is my day!" I have posted the follow image last year. A friendly gentlemann, Erhard Waschke, member of this list, has told me, how to put my own name and othergood things (helps). I say "thanks" to all, who had help me! With heartly greetings!!!

How long shall The Consequences wait!  Am I nothing more than a phantom of the UF List?  Ha!  My head is burning.  Always burning!!!

How long shall The Consequences wait! Am I nothing more than a phantom of the UF List? Ha! My head is burning. Always burning!!!

The End! This thread is now closed!

The End! This thread is now closed!

Bravo!  Bravo!  All is opera/ nothing is opera.  Master, is this not the way of The List?

Bravo! Bravo! All is opera/ nothing is opera. Master, is this not the way of The List?

Java Applets: Superintelligent Shades of the Color Blue


“Somewhere in the cosmos, he said, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking treeoids and superintelligent shades of the colour blue…
–Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What could be more intelligent and etherial than a clever java applet like this one made by Jerry Huxtable.  It’s creative and I don’t know why.  Applets by their very definition are tiny, but clever programming seems to be able to give Herculean strength to those little pieces of interpreted java code.  In fact, this applet has no buttons or sliders whatsoever; it starts automatically when you visit the page and the only way to turn it off is to leave.  You can’t save anything or load anything, the only thing the applet needs from you is a mouseclick.  This is almost as minimal as a screensaver.

I had to push the zoom button (oh, there’s a button) and then take a screenshot of the zoomed image.  I had a lot of fun with this thing.  Jerry, the author of the applet says, “At present there is too much variation in the child images – they often don’t bear any similarity to the parent.”  But I found that to be good thing.  One click and you could be jumping from one branch to another in the animal kingdom of genetic art.  Other similar genetic art programs I’ve tried like Kandid suffer from the opposite problem: imagery is too monotonous.  But I’m the kind of person who likes to push all the buttons and move the sliders to the very end, so a genetic art program that hops rather than walks is fine with me.

For those of you wondering what genetic art is:  genetic art is imagery made by a process of combining the graphical parameters of  other images to make new, hybrid ones.  You breed images.  If you ever wanted to grow up and live on the Island of Doctor Moreau and create a world of hideous monsters and reign supreme over them, laughing madly during the day and barricading yourself up in a fortress during the night while your insane brood prowls and parades their grotesque and abominable lives to the accompaniment to a bloodchilling symphony of  screams beneath the light of the moon…  Well, try playing with genetic art instead.

These are rough hewn images; torn from the Earth and spilled from the test tube.  I like them.  There’s an artyness to them.  Good art doesn’t have to be great art.  There’s the smell of flowers and then there’s the smell of old air freshener.  Which one is more provocative?  More suggestive of genetic speculation and mutative properties?


What about the applet?  How does it work and what’s it all about?  In Jerry’s own words (and the site is offline at the moment):

This applet lets you create art using a genetic algorithm. It generates a random mathematical function and displays an image representing the function in the centre square. It also generates twelve random variations on the image, displayed in the squares around the outside. Click on the centre square to create new variations, or on one of the small images to move that image to the centre and create variations on it. Press the “Zoom” button to see the centre image displayed larger in a new window. Press the “Tree” button to show or hide the function tree (or at least as much as will fit) of the centre function.

See a gallery of pictures created with this applet.

This applet is (like all my stuff) still under development. At present there is too much variation in the child images – they often don’t bear any similarity to the parent. There’s a lot of tweaking of parameters to be done to get the mutation rate right. Other things which need to be done are to implement crossover between images and determine a good mix of mathematical functions to choose from. There should also be a way to save your art.

How does it work?

The applet builds a tree representing a mathematical function, with one node per function, leaf nodes being variables such as X, or Y, or numbers. This function is then randomly called to determine its probable range and then normalized to that range so you actually get valid colors. The function is then called for every pixel in the image to calculate the color of the pixel. There are two sorts of node: color nodes and numeric nodes. A color node returns a color when evaluated, a numeric node returns a numeric value. The root node is always a color node, but nodes below this will usually be numeric. For example, one sort of color node calls three numeric nodes to determine the red, green and blue components. Another calls a single numeric node and looks the result up in a color map. The mysterious “N” function you may see is a normalising function which samples its child function to determine its likely range and normalises it to between 0 and 1.

Mutation is done by traversing the tree and probabilistically changing parameters or type of a node or by pruning the tree at any point and replacing the pruned part with a new random subtree.

All you need to know is click on something.  Even the current image in the center can be clicked on to, uh, –breed it with itself.  See how weird this gets?  If things start to get really ugly then just click on any of the outer images that look completely unlike the center one, or just refresh the page in your browser which will re-initiate the applet, kill all it’s children, clean up the lab and allow you to start all over again.  C’mon, it’s not murder if you’re wearing a lab coat.  I forget who said that.  Doctor somebody…

Enough of that.  Let’s get to the art.  Here are a few of my favorite things…

Mount Java Applet Sinai

Mount Java Applet Sinai

Red Land

Red Land

Also Red Land

Also Red Land



Dissolving Seascape

Dissolving Seascape



Arctic Horizon

Arctic Pathway

In for landing

In for landing

It worked for Rothko

It worked for Rothko

Why won't it work for me?

Why won't it work for me?

What else?  I would like to thank “Talfrac” Rafael La Perna from Italy, the home of art, for unknowingly tipping me off to this java applet via his Flickr gallery.  Would you like to view his DNA?

Presenting… Fractal “Art”

I think the recent image by Guido Cavalcante, made in Ultra Fractal and used in a posting to illustrate the oceanic garbage dump phenomenon, is a good example of the contrast between art and craft, two concepts which I discussed in a recent post.  In a nutshell, I defined art as expressive imagery and craft as ornamental, decorative imagery.  These differing functions set art and craft apart from each other: art functions as a thought-provoker and craft functions as a table cloth.  Sorry, I’m being harsh.  Craft is visual beauty; pleasing to the eye and exhibiting the visual novelty of the medium that it’s made from –silent and elegant.

The Garbage Path by Guido Cavalcante

Guido’s image is an excellent, text-book example because, with all due respect to Guido, it has no real value as craft.  By this I mean that the image as a decoration is not very appealing.  In fact, the image is actually rather ugly and revolting.  No one would want this as their desktop wallpaper or printed on a coffee cup.  Anyone sending this out as greeting cards to their friends and family would have to be an environmental activist intent on awakening their social circle to this oceanic waste disposal problem.  Your Mom won’t be displaying a card like this in the living room if you send her one.

Your Mom might, however, when discussing what her children are doing, or when discussing environmental issues, bring out the card to show you what her son has told her about garbage in the oceans and how he’s using his artistic skills to impress the issue in the minds of others.  Notice the context that the image might be used in:  it’s always associated with the topic of oceanic garbage and never as a pretty picture.

Now, the image could have been something visually attractive and ornate and then might have been something displayed on a coffee table in the living room (art doesn’t have to be ugly) but the effect that such a prettier image would have as an expression of  this environmental problem would likely have been much less.  The focus of art is on expression and not decorative appearance.  Of course, if the artwork deals with a different idea or concept other than the contamination of nature, then it may be something that could be appreciated for it’s visual beauty or style as well as whatever expressiveness it might have.  Some works of art just look nice up on the wall and add to the decor of a room in your house.  Here’s one:

Villa by the Sea by Arnold Bocklin

Villa by the Sea by Arnold Bocklin

Bocklin’s image has some nice natural scenery in it and illustrates (no pun intended) the huge amount of skill and craftsmanship that an artist needs before they can even begin to create art with such realistic subject matter.  The painting medium is hard work and in addition to all that effort Bocklin has added his own dreamlike vision with surrealist elements (eg. note the size of the waves and yet she and the area around her is dry and strangely peaceful and remote).  I’ll bet most people looking at this image have all sorts of thoughts moving through their head.  Thoughts they wouldn’t have if Bocklin had merely painted a nice natural scene by the sea.  That would have been nice too, but it wouldn’t have had the mental engagement that makes the actual painting a work of art rather than a work of craft.

It’s the same with Guido’s The Garbage Path; what impresses us with that image is the haunting view of garbage out in the middle of nowhere which appears to be silently approaching.  I’ll bet the impression most people get from looking at Guido’s image is exactly the same as that of the sailor that Guido quotes in his posting who unexpectantly discovered this garbage dump for real by sailing into it.  What is the refuse of cities doing way out in the clear, clean ocean?  This is worse than the imagery of cities buried in garbage from the Disney movie, Wall-e.  What’s so sinister about the subject of Guido’s image is that garbage doesn’t belong there, our world is no longer what we think it is, and that the oceans have become a toilet that can’t be flushed.  Guido’s image does all that.

And that, dear readers, is the difference between fractal art and fractal craft.

Let down and disappointed about the contest…

Wait!  It’s not me.  And it’s got nothing to do with Orbit Trap this time either.

Curious who could be having seconds thoughts about the glorious Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 besides Orbit Trap?  Well, it’s none other than Mr. Velocipede!

Here’s what she says:

I’ve finally had a chance to take a better look at the contest, and I find that I’m left feeling a little bit let down or disappointed. Not with any individual image, necessarily (although as several people have pointed out, a couple of them aren’t even really fractal), but that this year’s selections seem to be heavily weighted toward texture-fields and minimalism.

Heavily weighted?  Actually, as we all know from the deluge of information on how the judging works (I’m being sarcastic) that the winners are whatever the judges, together, decided to chose.  And this is the first year that any of the judges have actually spoken about their selections vis a vis what they personally chose that the whole panel didn’t select.  Mark Townsend, on the UF list mentioned a few of the submissions that he thought were quite good but which didn’t get enough votes to be one of the final 25 winners.  Samuel Monnier, a former BMFAC judge also commented on what he personally thought were good images in the contest which didn’t make the final cut either.

True to her name, Velocipede moves on quickly.

…to All-out Fractal Contest Public Insurrection!  Here’s how our fractal Che Guevarra ignites the masses:

It’s all gotten me started thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of fractals as a medium, and why I like them, which seems to be maybe different than why other people like them, and what the implications are for my own future work and the fractal-art world in general. It’s too much for me to process! And it’s all mixed up with a book I’m reading lately, written in the early 1920s and intended to explain why Modernism was (a) degenerate & evil and (b) doomed to be quickly forgotten. There seem to be some possible historical parallels, but I suspect it’s going to take me some time to sort them out.

Still, it does reinforce my idea that it would be really good if there were more fractal events than just this occasional big contest. I’m beginning to wonder if I might be able to organize some kind of small-scale thing. It’s an intimidating thought.

Sorry, excuse me.  I just have to laugh now. (cough! choke! sputter!)

Sounds like she’s arguing for a wider range of criticism and opinion and not just a single fleeting and transitory annual event.  Would a blog do the trick?  Like Orbit Trap, or probably something much less destructive to the fractal art community.  But don’t you laugh; a fellow revolutionary has already heeded the call.

“I pretty much agree with you. And I support your idea of organizing some small-scale thing :-)”

Orbit Trap has criticized the large image size requirements of the BMFAC.  We thought it would prevent smaller and non-UF works from being included as well as simply being a pointless restriction.  Velocipede adds something new to this and has a very sound art-based argument for it, too.

With the more minimal ones, I mostly just wonder what advantage there is in printing them very large, since there’s not particularly any new detail to be revealed. Graphically, they will no doubt be quite effective, but they seem to ignore the specific potential of fractals to be full of interesting surprises when magnified.

Anyhow, check out the three texture field images she’s referring to, as well as the four minimal images she suggests which don’t need such a large canvas size due to their lack of detail.  You have to click on each-word-in-the-phrase which she has linked.  That’s cute.  I’ve never seen anyone else do that.  I thought it was a mistake at first.

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Art, Craft and Fractals: Part 2

I got a couple of comments to my previous post, Art, Craft and Fractals, which raised an issue which I think needs to be clarified.  The term, Craft, is used in many ways and most of them are probably derogatory in the context of art.  But it’s not my intention to bad-mouth craft, only to show it for what it is and what it is not.

Craft is not immature art or the product of an art form in its early stages of evolutionary development: Craft is imagery that’s fun to look at.  Craft is not imagery that’s thought provoking or which expresses ideas or feelings.  Fractal Craft is simply fractals for the sake of fractals.  It’s people who love fractal imagery cooking up and mixing together new recipes of fractals that scratch our itchy eyeballs –itching for cool, new, exotic fractals.

This sort of thing doesn’t lead to art or create the foundation for a bold new skyscraper of art to be built upon.  It creates delicious taste sensations set out for our consumption and gobbled up before they have time to cool off.  It’s visual hedonism: pleasing, pleasant and pacifying.  Craft doesn’t upset people because it’s silent and anonymous like a decoration or ornamental table leg.  Craft doesn’t express opinions or even suggest opinions or anything complicated like that.  Craft is simply what it looks like: ornamental.

Fractal art might be young as an art form (although I don’t think it is) but that’s different than being juvenile.  Fractal art is the domain of craft because that’s what its practitioners pursue and set out to create.  It’s the intent of fractal artists to produce slick, multi-layered, eye-popping work.  I really have no problem with that because I see craft as a normal pursuit and a perfectly healthy one.  I have a problem with people trying to pawn off their craft as art, but that’s just my own critical disposition.  I like craft, but I like art more.  I’d like to see more art made, but if there’s more craft made as well, who cares?  Who cares? is the long term response to craft anyhow.  It has a fleeting glory and only briefly holds its audience’s attention.  Craft doesn’t enter our long term memory, but exists and is replaced by another shiny icon.

My definition of art and by consequence, craft, is functional.  Craft performs a singular function: ornamentation.  Specifically, in the context of fractals, craft is work that performs that function.  It’s not a matter of what people say it is, it’s a matter of what the experience the viewer has.  If you, the viewer, find some of the works in the BMFAC to be thought provoking or expressive in mood, emotion, idea, whatever, then it’s just as valid for you to defend them as art as it is for me to classify them as craft, according to my functional definition.

I don’t know, is this functional approach new and different?  The obvious corollary is that art is subjective since it may function differently for different people.

Another thing, craft isn’t junk.  I used an illustration of rather “domestic” hand made Christmas ornaments as a somewhat flavorful example of craft, but probably every winning entry in the BMFAC was rather skillfully made and represents artists at the top of the fractal art world.  Perhaps people assume that craft is junk is because in an art context, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, craft is used as a label for amateur, cheesy, folksy, primitive, cliche kind of work.  But for me craft is used purely to denote a type of function the work performs and particularly in the fractal art world, craft is often professional, tasteful, complex and utilizing the latest, cutting-edge techniques.  That’s why artists consider it to be a real feather in their cap when they win something like the BMFAC or the (now defunct) Fractal Universe Calendar contest.  Their peers are saying they make good stuff –like their peers do.

I would prefer to make art instead though.  I don’t get as big a Wow! out of just looking at fractals as I did when I first discovered them.  I’m looking for something that’s different and appeals a wider area of my brain than simply that sugar cubed sized lump that neuro-scientists refer to as the fractal sugar center.  Why any of you professional craftspeople care what I think is odd, really.  Am I not a loser in your opinion?  I make junk, I like junk, and I write junk.  I don’t see what we have in common.

The whole art and craft “dichotomy” just explains what it’s all about perfectly.  Two different types of people whose different intentions lead to artwork that performs different functions.  One doesn’t grow or mature into the other; fractal craft has already grown up, blossomed and gone to seed.  Fractals, the medium, is what we have in common.  Not art.

Art, Craft and Fractals

Art is a term that is used very loosely these days.  I happen to think that this casual application of the label, “art” to everything graphical has produced some confusion in the digital art world and obscured what has traditionally been known as Fine Art, submerging it beneath a flood of what I think is best described as Craft.

So, under the general label entitled, “Art”, I separate out two categories of graphical works: art, and craft.  There’s nothing new to such a division and we’ve probably all heard these terms before, but I’ve resurrected this old-fashioned and contentious division because I think it’s fundamental to understanding any art form, but especially any of our 21st century computerized art forms such as fractal art.  I would say that you can not begin to understand fractal art and the people who are involved in it unless you fully comprehend the difference between art and craft as well as the corresponding differences between artists and craftsman.  Art and craft are very different things and find their origins in their differing, and sometimes conflicting, outlooks on Art itself.  I would say that every art form, not just fractal art, possesses a deceptive appearance of unity and commonality among its practitioners because they all share an interest in a common medium.  The common “medium” in fractal art being fractal imagery.  However, if one takes a closer examination of the actual artwork being produced under what appears to be the common banner of “fractal art” there will appear, as will appear in every art form I believe, two very distinct and independent activities going on under that common label of the art form and it’s medium; that being the pursuit of craft and also the pursuit of art.

Art and Craft Defined
Perhaps not the customary dictionary type of definition, but I prefer more practical definitions to the stiff, technical ones.  Craft is visually exciting graphical work.  Art, on the other hand is all about expression.  Craft is “cool graphics” and “awesome 3D rendering”.  Craft has immediate appeal and makes a good impression with a wide audience.  Art is thought provoking and oriented around ideas and triggers some deeper experience in the mind of the audience.  Art is sometimes hard to understand or relate to at first, and subsequent to this, the audience’s impression is more unpredictable and contingent on their intellectual connection with what the work is about or expresses.  All those factors work, ironically, both to increase the impact of art on its audience and also to limit the size of that audience.  Craft is nice to look at; richly ornamental; variations on a common theme or style.  Art is sometimes unpleasant to look at; suggestive of some idea or feeling; difficult to compare.

Similarly, craftsmen pursue common themes and styles and focus on the visual novelty of their art form while artists share little interest with each other in terms of the techniques and methods of their medium, as the focus of their work is what it says or the thoughts it provokes and for that reason the medium is merely a tool for expressing these things just as pen and paper are tools for writers to express themselves and not issues of great importance.  For artists, the medium is secondary; for craftsmen the medium is primary and their only interest.

Image by divadea

Why Art and Craft are so different
The reasons for these differences between craft and art come from their differing levels of complexity and intellectual involvement.  While it’s easy to say that craft is simple and decorative and art is complex and intellectual, I believe the difference is more accurately described from what attracts my attention when I’m looking at these two categories of art.  Craft attracts my visual interest in the medium, while art attracts my interest to what the medium is being used to express or convey.  Craft is rooted in the medium itself, while art is rooted in the use of the medium to present some mentally engaging experience.

And it’s all about experience, essentially.  Someone once defined art as an experience.  I think this perspective is much better because it zeros in on the common factor in all art –the viewer’s mind.  In this way, craft is a comforting and soothing experience which comes from looking at things which are pleasing to the eye.  Art is a much more varied experience and sometimes the complete opposite of that triggered by craft.  Art is sometimes unpleasant to look at and provokes feelings of disgust and fear.  Who wants to make or look at art like that?  Yes, good question.  I think you’re beginning to see how important –and divisive– the categories of art and craft really are.

Craft is the novelty of a medium
And Art is the novelty of the ideas expressed with the medium. The ramifications of all this for fractal art are enormous.  But then, they’re enormous for every art form.  Every art form has its artists and its craftsmen; every art form has its art and its craft.  Take portrait painting for instance: the Mona Lisa can be described as art because the expression on the subject’s face evokes strange and mysterious interpretations and corresponding thoughts –mentally engaging imagery.  The average portrait painted in oil paints is purely descriptive of the subject and while it may be quite life-like and have required a good deal of skill to produce, it’s really nothing more than a photograph rendered in a very expensive medium by hand.  What excites one about such a portrait is the medium; it’s a portrait “in oils”.  People are impressed with a life-like rendering of someone they know in oil paints because it’s hard to make or because it looks expensive.  It’s the craft they’re interested in, the oil paint medium.  But the Mona Lisa is admired today not because it’s a nice portrait, but because because it’s art.

Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure), by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

Woe to you! Makers of Craft…
In the fractal art world today, most artwork is really the sort of thing I’m describing as craft.  It’s exciting to look at and appeals to most people who see it, but it’s purely one-dimensional and attracts the attention of people who are merely looking for rich, ornamental work that is comforting to the eye.  From an art perspective such work is an empty experience and trivial.  In fact, zooming around in a simple, single-layer fractal program is probably more of an art experience than looking at the latest crop of winners from the BMFAC, the fractal art world’s annual craft show.

While the Ultra Fractal Guild may not incorporate all the high school kids from Renderosity and Deviant Art, it by far encompasses the greater majority of fractal artists today and these people are strictly pursuing the creation of craft, not art.  This is not to say they’re making bad fractal art.  Craft is not bad art; craft is merely flat, one-dimensional, “awesome” art.  The UFG is almost exclusively making works that are purely ornamental, pretty pictures, as someone said, and not work that is thought-provoking or expressive, the attributes by which real art has traditionally been defined.  It’s art, not craft, and they’re craftsmen, not artists because their work is limited to just displaying the cool graphics of the medium and doesn’t use the medium to express anything more intelligent than the latest 3D technique or layering trick.

But fractal art isn’t like those other art forms, is it?
It’s not because fractals aren’t capable of the realistic or figurative imagery that painting, drawing and sculpture have traditionally employed via creative human hands that fractal art today is largely composed of craft and lacking in art.  Abstract art lacks realistic and figurative imagery and yet is still capable of expressing moods, thoughts and ideas, albeit of a much more generic, abstract sort.  And fractals are just like photography in the sense that one captures rather than creates the imagery they use.  If abstract imagery and photography can produce real art and not exclusively craft, then there’s no reason fractals can’t be used to make art because fractals are essentially abstract photography.  Fractals have the potential to be more than just pretty pictures that are sold as decorations at craft shows; they can be art too.

The notion that fractals are not art, or incapable of being art, and are exclusively the domain of craft, is merely the by-product of the current fractal art scene’s own narrow interest in pretty pictures as well as it’s popular annual events like the Fractal Universe Calendar and the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.  More than anything else, those two public events have spread the popular impression that fractal art is exclusively the preserve of the rich, ornamental craftwork they regularly present, applaud and award.  But it’s to be expected that when craftsmen get together to create a contest that they will end up producing an exhibition of craft and not art.  Art is not their pursuit or their interest –craft is.

When will the revolution come?
I don’t expect to see much change anytime soon.  Most fractal “artists” are dedicated craftspeople because that’s their thing.  They’re never going to make real art because they have no urge to do so.  Some of them are extremely good at what they do and I’m sure we’ll see the results of more newly discovered techniques and methods each and every year displayed at the BMFAC craft show.  The Ultra Fractal Guild is all about craft and art is something they’re heading away from, not heading towards or traveling parallel to.  Which is why I said that the sloppy way we use the term, Art, today obscures the divisions in an art form like fractal art and deceives one into thinking that fractal art is one single thing when in fact it’s two things: the traditional pursuit of art; and the much more popular pursuit of producing craft.  Real art has barely begun to be made in the fractal world because there are very few artists.  There’s plenty of craftsmen working away in their fractal woodworking shops and producing “cool graphics” and “awesome 3D effects” but that’s not art.  It’s great craftsmanship and very popular and probably sells well too, but in the long run such works become trivial and insignificant because they lack the substance that real artwork has.

Do I expect this to have much influence on the fractal art world?  Not likely.  But again, that’s to be expected because most of them are crafters and they’re immune and indifferent to issues relating to art.  But for me this idea of art vs. craft is cataclysmic; breaking the continent of fractal art in two and revealing two unconnected domains from what was previously assumed to be one.  And the art domain is by far the larger one in terms of creative potential and significance, although it is relatively unpopulated in comparison to the much more popular and populous, craft domain.  Craft, as in all art forms whether it be painting, drawing, sculpture or photography, is always the more common type of work because it’s merely variations on a theme.  But art revolves around creative thinking and expression, and that’s always a scarce resource.  No finer example of this exists than the fractal art world today.

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Talking Tall: Final Chapter

“I had to stand up for myself alone, and you saw what they did to me…
Until all men can stand up for what they believe in, THE SAME DAMN THING CAN HAPPEN TO ANY ONE OF YOU!”

– Sheriff Buford Pusser, 1977, Walking Tall: Final Chapter

Okay, I think I’ve got it all figured out now, how the whole fractal art scene/community/world works.  Let me just put down my cudgel for a second because it’s hard to type with.  For mental navigational purposes, let me say this: I will start with listing what I personally consider to be the main characteristics of the online fractal world, some of which have puzzled me for years, and then go on to explain what I think the source of those features and mysteries are –why the fractal world is the way it is. Keep your shoes on, there’s broken a lot of broken glass around.

A few enduring (stubborn?) aspects to the online fractal art world:

  • Conservative tastes in art
  • Little interest in avant garde, radical ideas
  • Little reference and connection to the larger art world
  • Concentration on a single program and style of work
  • Lots of people actively engaged and producing artwork
  • Very stable and established community and leadership
  • Skill-based, not artwork based status (eg. Rocket Scientists)
  • Seniority based authority is generally accepted

And here’s what I think explains all that:

The interest that most people have in fractal art is the pursuit of rich, ornamental imagery... These people have been drawn to the program Ultra Fractal, because that’s the most effective tool for making that type of artwork. The internet enables these people to network with each other and they’ve gradually established, over the years, a large but informal organization revolving around their mutual interest in UF. I’ll call it the UF Guild; UFG. The higher skill level and greater experience of the older users along with their continued leadership in the development of UF resources justifies their higher status and authority in the eyes of newer members, who also value those things and want to pursue them like the older members have. People who lack such similar interests gain little from their association with the UFG and having little attachment to it, drift away. Over the years, the UFG has increased in size and in the support of its members to the point where it’s now able to convincingly present itself and its art to people outside the fractal art world as the contemporary standard in fractal art.  It would not be a great exaggeration to say that the UFG has become the fractal art world.

Are the contests public or private? Universal or Specialized?
Their annual contests, administered by senior members have become annual awards ceremonies establishing the reputation and talents of newer members while perpetuating those of the older ones. The defence that such contests are private events and shouldn’t be compared with contests that are public where contestants commonly expect judging to follow the customs of fairplay and impartiality is paradoxicly both a reasonable one and not. It’s reasonable in the sense that the UFG is an exclusive, but voluntary, association of artists with a demonstrated preferences and bias for the rich, ornamental artwork that is almost exclusively made with UF.  And yet the UFG has also come to incorporate the majority of what would be considered the fractal art world, or fractal “public”, and in such a “public” setting, the status that so many senior members have as judges and the personal connections they have with each other would be seen as unprofessional because in a public setting such conflicts of interest in judging generally lead to suspicions of abuse even when abuse does not actually occur. But, among the members of the UFG, there is no weakening of their confidence in the judging because they already know these people and trust them to behave in a way which benefits the UFG as they’ve already done for years. There is artistic bias among the judges and in the restrictions placed on submissions, but this “bias” is shared by almost all of the fractal art community, whom, as I’ve mentioned, pretty well make up the UFG itself these days.

If the contest wants to represent all of fractal art, then it needs to become more inclusive and adopt policies that will give every contestant a reasonable degree of confidence in the judging. If however, the contest wants to focus on UF style artwork and artists, then there is little reason to change anything as this is the way the UFG has smoothly operated for years and only UFG members will want to enter anyway.  With the exception of Orbit Trap’s two editors and maybe a few other individuals, there are no serious objections from the fractal art community in how the contest is designed, run, or the final selections it makes.  And this is the conundrum: The UFG has grown to include the majority of fractal artists and has redefined what fractal art is –for most people.  And that is artwork which can be described as rich and ornamental, made in the multi-layered and multi-talented program, Ultra Fractal.  When one speaks of the “fractal art community” they’re really talking about the UFG, whether they’re aware of it or not.  I said similar things two and a half years ago here.

Orbit Trap and the Clash of Fractal Civilizations
This is where Orbit Trap entered the scene. I think you can see better (I can) where the huge differences in perspective on the contests came from. Damien Jones, the organizer of the BMFAC has argued that the contest is not a community event, by which I believe he’s trying to say, it’s a really a special event with “special” rules and practices. He also repeatedly used the defence that the contest’s rules and selection panel were clear and obvious to anyone entering the contest and since no one has to pay an entrance fee or has any reason to enter the contest other than having their work judged by the selection panel there’s really nothing anyone has to complain about. His efforts made the contest a reality and yes his friends make up almost all of the judges and there is definitely a bias toward UF and that kind of artwork, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s a bias shared by most members of the fractal art world, so he could say it’s a very popular “bias” or just business as usual in the UFG.  If the organizer himself was to be replaced with a randomly selected member of the fractal art world with adequate ability, I believe the contest would remain pretty much the same as it is because a blind hand reaching into the fractal art world would probably pick up another UFG member, who has the same perspective.

It ain’t just the fractal art world that’s like this…
It’s these things about the fractal art world that my theory of the Ultra Fractal Guild is an attempt to explain. How well my theory fits the facts as other people see them is another matter. The online world can have a lot of blanks and explaining what goes on there and especially why it goes on, can require a lot of filling in because finding out isn’t often possible. Members of this “alleged” UFG have access to information that I don’t and I’m sure my theory will be greeted with suspicion by most of them (assuming they’re reading it) because I think I’m regarded as a “hostile witness”, as they say on TV. It’s not my intention or desire to pass judgment on the UFG as to whether it’s a good thing or whatever, but just to describe it for those who might be interested in how the fractal art world is composed and how it functions. I find it all rather interesting because I think the UFG exists in similar forms in other online digital art venues because the context I’m sure must be pretty much the same. I think the growth and development of the UFG is a natural one, given the type of interests it revolves around and the type of people attracted to those sorts of things. That’s why I compare it to a guild; an ancient and universal social group, because people tend to cluster and form these sorts of organizations out of mutual benefit in many social contexts in an almost spontaneous way.

Next Part: Continental Drift in the Fractal World: Art and Craft don’t eat together.
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The Fractal Art Guild: How it works

In Part 1 I had said that Part 2 would be the Guild in action, but I think I need to clarify this whole notion of a Fractal Art Guild a bit better before going on.  I really think most of the fractal art world functions like a large association of craftsmen whose closest analogy would be a medieval guild.  I emphasize the world “functions” because the members of this guild do not formally identify with such an association.  In fact, the idea that they’re all part of some guild-like structure probably sounds semi-insane to them or conspiratorial.  But that’s because the 21st century online world has changed the way people associate and similarly changes the appearance of such associations that they often aren’t recognized as formal associations even thought that’s exactly how they function.

The Fractal Art Guild is informal.  One’s membership is really nothing more that an attitude of cooperation and agreement. This shared interest in the things of the Guild is the only thing that defines it in the online context. But that’s all it really needs because ultimately the Guild is a collection of like-minded people, not an ideology or constitution. Membership is dedication to the group and this sort of friendship association appeals very much to people today and functions easily in an online context of email, chat, forums, and mailing lists. It’s the daily or regular online interaction with the Guild which serves to initiate, maintain and renew one’s membership in the Guild as well as to foster it’s development taking eager members to higher levels. The online environment creates a sort of dynamic, living association which makes the traditional, formal indicators of membership: applications; membership cards; meetings; newsletters; and annual dinners look trivial and superficial –mere tokens of membership. In the online environment where people network on a daily or even hourly basis, membership is proven and demonstrated (or disproven and betrayed) in a much more meaningful way that it is in offline groups where interaction between most members is remote and occasional.

I said, the things of the Guild, I should explain that.  The interests of the Guild, as I see it (am I the only one who sees it?), are:

  • Producing fractal art of high complexity and graphical sophistication
  • Ultra Fractal and all things UF-related (to put it bluntly)
  • Promoting the mastery of UF
  • Showing respect for UF Master Craftsmen and trying to learn from them
  • Promoting the use of UF as the apex in fractal art software
  • Defending the reputation of UF and it’s Master Craftsmen (post Orbit Trap)
  • If you’ve got a problem, just leave, don’t make a scene
  • Anyone can join

I know, maybe it sounds like another one of my anti-UF diatribes…  But it’s not.  It’s more complex than that.  It’s not “us vs. them”.  Remember how I said, “One’s membership is really nothing more that an attitude of cooperation and agreement” ?  A number of the Master Craftsmen of the Guild made Ultra Fractal (contributed in some way, large or small) and they promote it’s use and try to aid others in learning how to use it better because that’s the sort of tool they admire.  They like fractal art that is complex and very, very graphically refined and sophisticated –slick and professional.  It’s purely a matter of personal preference and that’s the kind of art they prefer and the kind of software needed to make it.  The Guild thinks that the best fractal art –the most impressive fractal art– is the kind that the Master Craftsmen in the Guild make.  It’s this sort of common cause and shared interest that holds them together and attracts apprentices (newcomers of similar bent) to them.  Like-mindedness is what it’s all about, not coercion or intimidation.

I know it’s a lot to swallow all at once.  It took me a few years, so I don’t expect to hear others shouting “Eureka!” right away.  In fact, I suspect most fractal artists don’t really care about these “online social structures” at all.  But they will when they read the next part, Part 3.

You may have noticed my heavy use of the term, “Craft”.  Sharp members of the audience will suspect I’ve got a reason for not using the more common expression, Art or Artist.  You see the Guild structure isn’t just about building up a community of artists around the use of UF and supporting the attempt of others to develop their mastery of it.  The type of hegemonic and class-based organization that all guilds have, along with it’s amazing stability, is a direct result of their common pursuit of craft as opposed to art.  Art is too much of a hot potato for any big group to handle for very long without self-destructing.  The Guild members, from the smallest to the greatest, all have the heart of a craftsman.  Not surprisingly, they also have the minds and values of craftsmen too.  And what’s that?  It’s coming up next…

Part 3: Artists and Craftsmen: What’s the Difference?

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Understanding Fractal Art: The Guild

In order to understand the current fractal art world you need only to learn a bit about the concept called a guild.  I believe the majority of fractal artists are members of a rather pervasive fractal art guild.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that almost all of the angst expressed by members of the fractal art community towards the criticisms Orbit Trap has made regarding the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests and the Fractal Universe Calendar can be simply explained as two very different groups misunderstanding each other.  (Not all the angst, just most of it.)

But first, let’s look at what a guild is.  “A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade” according to the Wikipedia page.  It’s people who have some activity in common coming together.  And guilds (according to the Wikipedia article) existed almost wherever you had skilled tradespeople; not just medieval Europe but on every continent and civilization.  It seems to me that craftsmen forming associations was an almost innate, natural and universal characteristic of skilled people throughout history.

But in human history these “craftsmen associations” had some other more specific characteristics in common:

  • Well defined hierarchy of membership in which leaders arise gradually from promotion within the guild
  • Extensive apprenticeship training period in which younger members acquired skills and proved their loyalty to the guild
  • Secrets of the trade restricted to guild members only and therefore the exclusive property of the guild itself
  • Leaders govern by virtue of their status and not by adherence to a constitution or written laws

A couple relevant quotes from the Wikipedia page (incidentally, from a section without references or sources…)

The guild was made up by experienced and confirmed experts in their field of handicraft. They were called master craftsmen. Before a new employee could rise to the level of mastery, he had to go through a schooling period during which he was first called an apprentice. After this period he could rise to the level of journeyman. Apprentices would typically not learn more than the most basic techniques until they were trusted by their peers to keep the guild’s or company’s secrets.


After this journey and several years of experience, a journeyman could be received as master craftsman, though in some guilds this step could be made straight from apprentice. This would typically require the approval of all masters of a guild, a donation of money and other goods (often omitted for sons of existing members), and the production of a so-called masterpiece, which would illustrate the abilities of the aspiring master craftsman; this was often retained by the guild.

I think you get the idea.  The fractal art guild isn’t exactly like this, but generally speaking, there are a number of characteristics of the current fractal art scene which suggest it operates just like a traditional guild did.  There is no formal, Fractal Art Guild, but that’s because such formality has never been necessary.  In today’s online communities, there is enough communication and interaction for fractal artists to easily learn the rules of the game and to see these unwritten rules in action.  In fact, the contests, the BMFAC and the Calendar, are clear examples of the Guild in action.

And when I say “the Guild”, I’m not just talking about the leadership, I’m also talking about the lesser membership.  Traditionally, apprentices were not considered members of the guild, per se, but I include them as such because they are part –a very important part– of the whole guild structure.  The guild-like behavior of the contests’ leadership is further expanded upon and confirmed by the guild-like behavior of the apprentices.  In fact, it wasn’t until I began to ruminate on the behavior of the rank and file membership of the Guild that I actually began to realize that there was a guild at all.  A privileged elite does not constitute a guild.  It’s only when a large, underprivileged class desperately wants to join and serve that elite that a Guild is born.  Ironically, 21st century digital art guilds are grassroots movements; bottom-up movements.  One or two sharp individuals who are shrewd enough to know which way the crowd is heading get out and run in front of them until the herd comes to see them as leading and they subsequently are seen as leaders.

That pretty much describes how the Fractal Art Guild was born.

Part 2: The Guild in action — “The contest is not a community event!”

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Have they no shame?

Yes, the winners of the Benoit Mandelbrot 2009 Fractal Art Contest are now out (and this time it’s final).  I’m skipping the usual clever art critic review for now because there’s something that’s just too outrageous not to comment on right off the bat.  If you’ve seen the 2009 winners page you might have missed it –unless you were able to read between the initials!

First off, Joseph Presley has done a nice job on his winning entry, so don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing about the quality of the work that would exclude it from the winner’s circle at any BMFAC for that reason.  I might even go so far as to say I rather like this one somewhat and that Joe has used his multi-faceted image style very effectively once again.  As many of you will know from reading this blog, I’m not a big fan of the heavy and complicated layering that most Ultra Fractal artists use, but Joe has managed to preserve the image’s interesting fractal structures while doing a lot of surface texturing at the same time.  He’s enhanced the image tastefully, not layered it into some monstrosity.

But giving it the title, “Tribute to Janet Parke”?  That’s too much.  Surely even you dyed in wool BMFAC zealots will have to admit that naming your entry a “Tribute” to one of the judges is going just a little too far?

Oh, yes.  You’re right.  Sorry.  He’s changed the name to a very cryptic and obscure set of initials, “JP”.  Hmmn.. Why, come to think of it, that could even be interpreted as “Tribute to Joseph Presley“!  I guess I must be jumping to conclusions again, or reading sinister motives into innocent mistakes or computer glitches.  Sure.  Except there’s a bit more to this “JP-thing” than what the contest site tells you.

For those of you who lack internet access, I have made this screenshot of a gallery page from Joseph Presley’s Renderosity gallery.  Why a screenshot?  Well, because I know from past reporting on events in the fractal art world that these sorts of pages have a tendency to go offline whenever I comment on them.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this one becomes a similar embarrassment to the BMFAC and gets “adjusted” accordingly.  Here it is, if you want to check it for yourself.

There’s more.  In case you can’t read the fine print, here’s what it says beneath the image:

Created w/ UF4 for my friend Janet Parke.

Janet Parke is one of my personal favorites for sure. Not only is her artwork fantastically beautiful, she contributes to the fractal community as an instructor, sharing her time and knowledge with the fractal world. She has been a mentor to me and I find her talents truly inspirational. She has also been a friend to me, offering assistance and great advise anytime I’ve needed it. Last year I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting her in person and found her to be most friendly, intelligent and very fun to chat with.

Check out her galleries at

Thank you Janet, for everything! I think you are fabulous.

Joseph Presley

But you know, maybe none of the judges saw this before the judging took place and if they took my advice and concluded that “JP” was the initials for the artist and not the judge, Janet Parke, then everything’s fine and all’s well in the land.  But it’s been up on Renderosity since August 25, 2008.  That’s 2008.  It’s been up for a year and two months.  And there’s two pages of gushing comments hanging down like ancient stalactites from it.

Which brings me to another thing: the rules for the BMFAC 2009 state:

3.6. Existing Works: We would prefer you create new artwork for this contest. Existing works may also be submitted, but we are more likely to select artwork that is new and fresh.

Is this one too old?  It was made after the last BMFAC in 2007, but almost a year before the call for submissions to the 2009 contest was made.  I’m sure other artists have submitted work more than a year old and maybe even won, but this one’s made the rounds at Renderosity and was featured in the special Fractal Window Weekly #200.  Joe’s a well-known fractal artist, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the contestants as well as the judges had seen this image before it became an entry to the BMFAC.  Not a big deal, really, but the rules state they want “fresh” stuff, and why would they say that unless they want fresh stuff?

Hey, he gave it a fresh title.  There you go.  And sometimes a title can really change people’s interpretation of fractal art.

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A History of the Orbit Trap Blog

Chapter One:  From Kumbaya to Pitchforks

Although Orbit Trap is really nothing more than a niche blog that publishes once or twice a week, and I don’t see anything in the future likely to change that, three years is a long time on the internet and I thought some of our readers might find a brief recounting of its history to be of interest, as small and trivial as it might seem in the context of the Blogosphere and the Internet in general.

Sometime in the summer of 2006 Tim Hodkinson (that’s me), and Terry Wright wanted to create some sort of online presence that would bring together and generate fresh ideas and perspectives on fractal art and to serve as a sort of online showcase for them, both to fractal artists themselves and to the fractal art interested public as well.  Our hope was to stimulate, or at the very least, suggest more progressive and innovative directions in fractal art.

A blog wasn’t our first choice.  In fact, our first idea was a “Best Of” fractal art gallery.  We thought this would be a good way to bring good ideas in fractal art to greater attention and hopefully greater use; showcase the best artwork in one place.  But the more we considered the difficulties of getting “The Best” artists to allow us to showcase their work, made difficult by painful past experiences with other similar online projects, and also the difficulty in actually finding more progressive and innovative fractal art works to start with — we thought something more along the lines of a community forum, discussion, brainstorming kind of thing would be better.

A forum, despite its apparent ability and intended design to bring together many people and enable them to exchange ideas, was quickly tossed out as they tend, in practice, to become shout-fests and verbal, team wrestling events.  That is, when they’re not being derailed by some total neophyte who wants to jump into the thread without even having read the previous postings. Besides, there had been plenty of forums in the past (and there still are) but they haven’t really brought about any sort of artistic awakening among those who participate in them.  Forums seem to end up serving a small number of specialized social functions.  But aside from that, a forum was too wide open and chaotic for the sort of progressive online thing we were looking to make.

I guess a blog was our last choice.  But we thought that if we could get many other people from the fractal world to join it then it would have a chance at being the sort of collective, all-inclusive and importantly, intelligent venue for fresh ideas in fractal art.  A blog posting was a nice way for someone to say something or propose some alternative point of view without being drowned out or “anonymized” in a forum thread.  Blogging puts the emphasis on the initial posting while comments, like footnotes, are there for those who want to add something or go deeper if they care to.  We really had faith in the community to generate innovative ideas and styles if only someone could find a way to get it all started.  It had all the optimism of the original builders of the Tower of Babel and almost the same results.

We tried it out in August of 2006 by sending invitations out to about 20 or 30 of the most prominent people involved in fractal art at the time.  They weren’t just artists, they were anyone who we thought might have something relevant to add to the great online meeting of minds.  Programmers, of course, and also other people who’d shown a thoughtful interest in fractal art in the past.  Even folks whose interests were more strictly in the area of algorithmic art, but were still relevant to fractal art and bordered on it.

Not everyone was interested.  Many had misgivings about having to produce some sort of written article for a posting once a month.  (That was a foreshadowing of the collapse of Orbit Trap as a community project to come.)  Most were excited simply to be part of the next new thing in the fractal art world.  You can go and see all those community postings over at the Blogger site.

I mentioned that contributors had to post once a month?  Well, what do you do when they don’t?  How do you approach someone, someone prominent in fractal art world, who’s “delinquent” in their postings and who was enticed to join the blog when you told them it would be easy?  I’m not talking about lazy people, either.  I’m talking about people who were very busy with their own work, the sort of work that brought them to our attention in the first place and made us think, “So and so’s knowledge and skill would make them a great contribution to the blog”.

After sending out two of these “reminder notices” we decided we had to rethink things.  On the one hand, the blog would end up being written by just the both of us if no one else posted anything; on the other hand, hassling people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do was rather distasteful –for both parties.

We changed the one post a month rule to once every three months around October and started sending out more invitations hoping that we’d eventually have enough postings guarantee enough content to keep our readers interested.  We eventually we had to change the rule to post whenever you get around to it (or else start the hassling all over again) and then waited to see if that easy-going, relaxed atmosphere helped the situation.  It didn’t.  About six months into the life of the blog, a drought set in and stayed.  We had enough contributors still hanging on to keep going, but for the most part they only posted their once a month requirement, and with so few others it was too sporadic and thin to keep an audience much less attract one.  Readers would drop in because of the prestigious contributor list we had in the sidebar of the blog, but there was no growth in readership.

Around June of 2007, despite the fact that most contributors, for all intents and purposes, had drifted away we still clung to the notion of a big community discussion about fractal art issues fueled by blog postings made by a diverse number of people.  It just seemed to be such a good idea; so much talent and experience all in one place.  We couldn’t figure out why in such a fertile environment of fractal artistry such a drought in content was occurring.  But now a new problem was arising.  And this time it ate at the core of the whole project: our own apathy.

You see, it sounds great to include everyone in a project and for sure, on the surface, it looks like the United Nations of the fractal art world; but the effect of such group projects isn’t creative thinking and innovation, it’s a crippling atmosphere of political correctness and general mental inhibition where every radical thought is met with “I can’t say that” and “People will take it the wrong way”.  No one wants to offend anyone.  And it affected us most of all since we were the ones managing the blog and placed in the role of trying to nudge people into speaking their mind and at the same time protect them from the resulting backlash when they expressed ideas about fractal art that clashed with the status quo.

Status quo.  That’s the very thing we wanted to break up in order to see artists be more creative and take more chances with their work rather than sit on their thrones.  But in the end, the group blog thing just became part of all that and now even we found the blog had become pointless, irrelevant and worst of all –boring.  But there were issues that needed to be dealt with; things that needed to be said; and ideas that needed to receive greater attention.  What never seemed to occur to either of us was that we should have just started a blog and written about those things ourselves and not involved all those other people whose forte and interests where in other areas of fractal art and not in the more journalistic pursuits like art criticism and community politics, like ours were.

So in late June of 2007 we began to post on what we thought were serious, meaningful and relevant topics in the fractal art world and if anyone got upset and left the blog, so be it.  And a few people did leave, most did so through the back door, but a few took the venue we had given them for intelligent commentary, to whine and complain about what jerks we were, and use it to make a public announcement that they were thoroughly disgusted with us and were now leaving the blog.   Terry’s web host even booted him off his server with the excuse that Terry had become a madman and that he feared for the safety of his server and all his (many, many) web clients on it.  This was the same man who had “kindly” offered to host the blog, for free, back in July of 2006 when we let him into our plans to launch a group fractal blog.  Good thing for Orbit Trap that we passed on that “kind offer”.

I think I got the ball rolling with my post about why I don’t use Ultra Fractal.  After the dust settled, Terry ignited an inferno by merely questioning, in the comments section of another posting, if fractal art contests were run ethically, considering the obvious conflicts of interest they contained in the way they were judged.  This was the beginning of many inquiries into the fractal art aristocracies known to most people as the Fractal Universe Calendar and the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.  We pretty quickly became pariahs and those contributors who still hung on focused on their displeasure with Orbit Trap’s two moderators and their opinions.  Not one responded with a single intelligent response to the issues we’d actually raised.  But they did make clear how great their opposition was to frank and honest discussion of anything that involved themselves.  I was beginning to see for myself why the fractal art world was such a backward place.  The group blog idea was now actually a hindrance to serious commentary on fractal art issues and we finally put an end to that phase of Orbit Trap after those ather tumultuous three months, in mid-September of 2007, little more than a year from the date Orbit Trap was started.

Of course, we didn’t really have to “kick” anyone off.  By September of 2007 the vast majority hadn’t posted anything for months and, like I said, had drifted off to pursue other things after posting once or twice; they didn’t care for blogging.  The others only “got the muse” to write when we became the object of official outrage and an offense to all those who worshiped the fractal aristocrats or when they stuck to safe and harmless topics that made everyone relax and the readers go to sleep.  They used the comments section to ply their old online forum debating tricks and sabotaged the blog with their own inactivity or used it to proclaim their righteous departure.  I believe they truly thought that without their august presence the blog would surely wither and die.  They hated our criticism of the fractal art world and were probably
happy to be finished with Orbit Trap which was acquiring a somewhat
sinister reputation in fractal land.  If it were a Gothic horror movie, we would have been chased off by a pitchfork wielding mob bearing flaming torches and shouting, “The Monster!  The Monster!”

Actually the mob wouldn’t have been that big because (did I mention this?) most contributors simply lost interest in writing about fractal art and just silently returned to what they were doing before Orbit Trap came along.  I’ve come to realize that only a few people actually find blogging to be fun.  Similarly, there’s always a good sized audience for those who are inclined to do this sort of thing because there’s very little commentary on these sorts of cultural niche things like fractal art.  There’s no money in it, or anything like that, but if you enjoy the verbal sport itself, then there’s almost the same level of motivation as if you were being paid.  Maybe even more.

Most fractal art blogs are photo-blogs.  They’re the author’s own work and if there is any commentary to go with it it’s usually about how the artwork was made or named.  Nobody writes about fractal art in a broader, more theoretical or holistic way, except occasionally.  But it’s not that way with most other art forms.  In the area of photography, painting or sculpture there’s plenty of bloggers engaging in criticism and commentary –it’s a normal thing in the larger art world.  The fractal world just needs to come out of the dark ages it’s in.

But going back to our original intentions, we wanted to talk about fractal art itself, and not just about fractal artwork.  We wanted to create a venue that would engage in serious commentary and criticism of fractal art in general, things that were of significance to the entire genre.  We had a broader perspective on fractal art and wanted to see those sorts of issues expressed because it was absent.  But whenever we commented on the bigger picture: contests; web-rings; styles; Ultra Fractal; well-known people; there would always be a contributor who’d “go tribal” and leap up to defend their group against us.  Not against what we’d said, mind you, just against us personally; some sour, disgusted response complaining that we were complaining.  Not all were so primitive, some were very clever and careful, but always dodging the issues we’d raise.  There was never any honest dialogue.  Just posturing, of an extreme contortionist bent.  A good mascot for the fractal art community back then would have been one of those rubber figures with wires inside and bendable into any position imaginable.

Once we dispensed with all that community town hall meeting nonsense Orbit Trap really begin to pick up speed and sail away.  But we had to scrape those barnacles off or we’d end up abandoning the ship ourselves.  So in September of 2007 we got down to serious work and writing about important things without fear of being attacked and ridiculed from within our own ranks.  The problem with the contests being run entirely by insiders who used them to promote themselves cut to the core of what was wrong in the fractal world with respect to community politics.  The other problem with the contests of course was that they promoted a rather narrow view of fractal art that served the interests of the oligarchs but bored anyone who had an interest in real art.  The contests were a microcosm of the whole fractal art world: inbred and imitative.  The tight little groups that ran them gave them a correspondingly narrow perspective on fractal art.  I might have had some sympathy for these monopolists if they’d managed to actually produce a collection of artwork that was impressive.  As it was, their medieval guild mentality of entitlement produced calendars and contest exhibitions that were almost entirely filled with junk –and much of it was their own work!

If you check out the posting numbers on the original Blogger site where the archives are listed, you’ll see the trends I was talking about.  Big excitement in the first few months shown by the large number of postings and then a sudden and continued drought.  The numbers don’t show the whole picture though, you have to take a look at the postings and see how short most of them were.  Like I’ve said, most contributors were enticed to join the blog on the understanding that they’d give it a try and see how it went.  They gave it a try, but blogging wasn’t their thing.  And for those few that did continue to post, commentary and criticism was definitely not something they wanted to engage in –or even be connected with.  Fair enough, I thank them for coming out of their “comfort zone” and trying something new, but it became obvious by the end of the first year, in September of 2007, that only Terry and I were interested in pursuing this sort of fractal “journalism”.  It also became apparent that fractal journalism was what our readers were primarily interested in also.

Like most bloggers, we kept an eye on our web stats and feed subscription numbers using various methods.   When Orbit Trap started to address controversial issues like the dominance of Ultra Fractal and the aristocratic nature of the fractal community’s contests, more readers started tuning in and staying tuned in.  When we left the group format it became obvious that fresh criticism and commentary were what our readers where interested in even if our former contributors weren’t.  Back-slapping and endless hollow compliments were the hallmarks of artistic criticism in the fractal world up until that time.  People were clearly ready for something else.  I guess we should have started with that “something else” right from the start.  But I am thankful for the opportunity to have met so many big names in the fractal world –especially since now most of them would probably never want to meet me again.

Chapter Two:  Dark Lords of the Fractal Kingdom…

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Welcome to! is our new address. Update your bookmarks and check out the new site! Actually, it’s all older stuff transferred from our archives over at the old, Blogger site.

Why did we move Orbit Trap to this site? 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 30×100 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!

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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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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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.

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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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,

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 500×375 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,

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.

Technorati Tags: fractal artdigital artart lessonsMona LisaMuseum of Bad ArtJackson PollockPiet MondrianMana LisaInnovation

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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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.)

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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