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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Fractal Art, Phase Two

Bold, new, full-color, fractal art

What? You didn’t know even know there was a Phase One? Well, let me begin there, then. At the dawn of fractal art.Phase One, the first stage of fractal art, has been oriented around software. The big developments in fractal art came from developments in the software that made it. True color fractals were a big development in fractal art over the more primitive, 256 color fractals.

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

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

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

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

Phase Two thinking says, “If this image was a painting, what style of art would you say it most closely resembles?” Phase Two thinking calls fractal art that looks nice but lacks expression to be Decorative Art. It calls fractal art that evokes feeling, emotion or vivid thoughts to be Abstract Expressionism. Phase Two thinking enters fractal art through the art door and not the math door. Phase Two speaks respectfully to the Rocket Scientists but explains that beauty, while taking many forms, is the only parameter in art.
Jackson Pollock is the true father of fractal art (even if his drip paintings aren’t fractal). Benoit Mandelbrot is the father of fractal software. This is the Phase Two perspective. Pollock said, “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said.” Phase Two listens to the art, not the artist.

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

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Do You Need Professional Help?

Sure you do. But, the kind of professional help I’m talking about is online software courses. I know that sounds like a common subject line for spam, but this is the real thing and it includes some of the most popular fractal art programs in use today –taught by experts and reasonably priced.

The place is Visual Arts Academy and according to Virginia and Sparrow, who run the place:

VAA started about five years ago, answering a specific need for a venue for two classes based on PhotoImpact. It was an offshoot of the PhotoImpact International bulletin board, with which we are still associated.

Since then, the virtual campus has exploded to include courses on Ultra Fractal, Apophysis, Xenodream, Bryce, Poser (the lingerie dolls on Renderosity) as well as many of the more mainstream digital art programs like Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, and PhotoImpact. There’s also some courses on web design, MS Office and Photography.

Perhaps you know all that stuff and aren’t interested in taking a course by “experts”? Well, you –yes you– could be one of those experts! Let’s call you, “Expert Without a Course”.   Here’s what Virginia and Sparrow say about that:

We are always interested in new classes for a variety of software. We do tend to lean to digital art but would be more than willing to talk with a potential instructor for any class he or she thinks could work in an online setting. We’re also open to different class structures than our usual six-weeks-plus-one format. The instructor and the school split the tuition: VAA keeps an administrative fee and the rest goes to the instructor. Those interested should contact us at

I think this is exciting. There aren’t too many places where you can find courses for something as exotic as fractal software and here is one which already covers three of the most popular programs and is open to providing more. Based on what I’ve seen in various online forums and mailing lists, there’s a lot of people asking for help and much of it revolves around the same basic things. Yes, there’s already quite a number of online tutorials available (I’ve written one for Sterlingware) and there’s always the option of asking for help in a forum.  But I know from my own experience that a significant number of users really would prefer something more formal and structured — and that’s Professional Help. But first there have to be some Professional Helpers.

Although I’ve never taken any of these courses, I think the fees are reasonable, ranging from $25 for a one semester, several week course to $50 for double semester courses. The fees of course cover the basic cost of running the online school as well as providing some compensation to the instructors for their efforts and the careful attention they give students. If you think you have specialized expertise in the area of fractal art, or in some other area of digital art, then this could be a great way for you to share that expertise in a more organized and formal setting and be compensated for it.

The instructor won’t be in the room with you.  But maybe that’s better.

You probably won’t make enough to quit your day job or anything like that, but I think the way the Visual Arts Academy has set things up is one which benefits both instructors and students. There are some real advantages to this over the more casual forms of online help.

Anyone could conceivably start up their own online school and start teaching students independently, but working through an established online entity like the Visual Arts Academy might make it easier for them as well as their students. Just as Ebay provides a secure and trustworthy environment that attracts individuals to do business with each other, an organization like VAA can bring instructors and students together and handle the basic administrative functions.  These administrative things in any business, online or offline, can become a real headache for people just getting started.

Current fractal art courses at VAA include: Apophysis Exploration, and Apophysis: Beyond the Basics, by Travis Williams; Working with Ultra Fractal, Ultra Fractal Masking Techniques and Ultra Fractal Artistry by Janet Parke; and XenoDream by Joseph Presley. Although not currently offered, Kerry Mitchell used to teach a course on working with Ultra Fractal formulas.

What’s missing from that list? The course that only you, the expert without a course can teach. There’s got to be a million things people can learn about Ultra Fractal, and let’s not forget about that other thing –art– how about something on Post-processing in Photoshop or something a little more general like Design Theory for Fractal Art. Or why not something like Programming With Fractal Math?  If you know how to do something, there’s a good chance that other people will want to know how to do it too.

Don’t think that because you’re going to be charging students a fee to take your course that no one will want to spend the money. $25 to study an exciting area of fractal or digital art for several weeks with someone who has an established reputation in the field is a trifle, even for an online venue. Think of the possible mentoring relationships that could be formed and the influence on the art form it could have in the years to come.

Come to think of it; maybe the one thing that fractal art really needs right now is a school. A place where serious students and experienced instructors can engage in some disciplined training and development. You can tell your friends you’re an online Professor and put Dr. in front of your screen name.

Seriously, this could be a really big thing.

Man of the Year

I view Garth Thornton’s recent resignation as a judge in the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 as a cause for celebration and renewed hope in one’s fellow man.  I know that may sound rather lofty and glorious, but what Garth has done is definitely the most encouraging event that I’ve seen in the fractal art world this year.

As an editor of Orbit Trap for the last three years, and as a silent observer of the fractal art world for more years than that, I’ve seen a lot of self-interest, self-promotion, self-indulgence and just plain self-ism (it’s becoming an art form).

Although I have no window by which to look into Garth’s mind and know exactly what his reasoning was, or to speak on his behalf, the initial trigger appeared to be a debate on  The mere fact that Garth was willing to participate in such an open and extremely frank discussion immediately suggested to me that this guy was different from the rest.  I got the impression that it was his nature and everyday way of doing things to be open and responsive to the opinions of others and to be much more community minded than most are.

That alone was enough of an improvement in the area of leadership in fractal world in my opinion to be noteworthy.  But then, to see someone of Garth’s status in the fractal art world actually change his mind about a controversial issue and express it publicly was simply awesome and honestly, left me stunned.

Most forum discussions don’t accomplish much.  You get the usual posturing remarks and the “me versus you” mentality arising, again and again, as the prevailing pattern in online forums.  My opinion is that forums are where people go to commiserate and to build up a network of people who agree with them –they’re looking for a place to relax, not wrestle with ideas.  Few people honestly debate the issues raised and truly give any serious consideration to  the ideas (if any) that are presented.  Garth, evidently, happens to be one of those few people who do.

I think it’s important, for those of you who may not be aware, that Garth has paid a price for his decision.  It cost him something to do what he did.  He’s given up a privileged position that would have given him extra status in the fractal world.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen before, but I hope others who are in positions of leadership in the fractal art world will take this example that Garth has made of acting according to principles of community building and not just short-term self-interest.

The year isn’t anywhere near over, but I doubt I’m going see anyone better or more worthy than Garth Thornton to receive an award like this.

But who knows?  I’ve certainly found Garth’s actions to be inspiring.  Maybe someone else might too.

Is It Official?

The rules page on the official website for the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 was changed overnight.  The list of the Selection Panel Members (judges) has been abbreviated and now no longer includes the name of  Garth Thornton who yesterday announced his intention to resign on

New Page (above)

Old Page (below)

Garth Thornton Resigns from Judging at the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009

While it may not be official yet, a  response by Garth Thornton to a thread at early today gives a fairly clear impression that he intends to step down from his new judging role at the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009.

I have come to the conclusion that there is likely to be sufficient perception of conflict of interest that I should resign as a judge. I have no regrets except for the resulting inconvenience, and apologize to anyone who may be disappointed with my decision.
(Garth Thornton on

Here’s more of Garth’s comment. He is responding to previous postings by Dave Makin and Terry Wright regarding conflicts of interest:


having trust in a panel is an easy answer. However, I have to disagree with this position, as the whole point of conflict of interest issues is not to rely on integrity. For a contest, anyone of questionable integrity or clearly lacking in credibility should not be a judge anyway. More generally, whether the context is awarding financial contracts or judging contests, a series of questions may be asked. First, people are expected to declare any personal conflicts of interest. Then there may be consideration given to whether the interests have a material or other effect on the outcome, and whether the person should participate or be party to any discussions, and whether or not they should have a vote. The exact approach depends on the kind of organization. In many contexts it is standard for the person to step aside from the entire process. Both objective and perceived conflicts of interest have to be considered.


While I’m not in a position to give an official statement, I was told that a maximum of 25 contest entries will be the only exhibits, so I would be surprised if that is not the case. I assume that Rick was speaking hypothetically or referring to past contests.

I’d like to clarify a few points on the way.

First, I think you’ve misstated the summary: my claim did not include that you should just trust me, it was that since I did not regard the financial outcome or the overall effect as significant, trust was not a factor. However, obviously if one does not accept my assertion, it would be a factor.

The second is where you say “could receive financial gain as a direct result of the competition.” I think indirect is the correct term, as there is no sales presence or even advertising at the exhibition or contest website, and no deals being done. A closer analogy might be product placement, which is totally indirect. The implication of direct financial gain covers a range of possibilities, none of which apply here. Calling it indirect still makes your point, without misrepresentation.

The third is the subsequent statement “A reasonable person might further conclude that chances to procure personal gain for both of you are also substantial.” This has some ambiguity, as syntactically it qualifies the chances as substantial, while conveying a suggestion that the gain is substantial. There is also the ambiguity between the two meanings of substantial, “having substance” and “huge”. Thus, readers could take away an impression anywhere between “a tangible chance of making some gain” and “could make a fortune”. I only mention this because on a first quick reading I got the latter sense and had to read it again for the presumably intended meaning. I just want to add that a reasonable person could only conclude that either of us could make a large amount of money from this contest if they are totally out of touch with market realities.

Although I’ve argued that the actual conflict of interest is not significant, I accept that perceived conflict is an issue. It is an honor to be selected as a judge, but that’s not a big motivator for me so it mostly amounts to a service (ok, with some pleasure in assessing the merits and voting for the best.) However, if people perceive a conflict of interest, it devalues the service. There are always a few people who are “wrong, somewhere on the internet,” so satisfying everyone can’t be my goal. Nor can it be a popularity contest, or a vote of confidence in integrity, because that isn’t the question.

I have come to the conclusion that there is likely to be sufficient perception of conflict of interest that I should resign as a judge. I have no regrets except for the resulting inconvenience, and apologize to anyone who may be disappointed with my decision.

It’s possible that I may get around to producing a contest entry, but I had no prior plans to do so and this was not a factor.


Is The Name Of Our Hero Benoit Mandelbrot Being Used To Market Ultra Fractal?

It’s been more than three years now since the original Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest made it’s debut.  For those of you who haven’t been following these things, we’ve criticized the Contest over a number of things but primarily for the reason that the contest favors art work made with the program Ultra Fractal rather than presenting a wide range of Fractal Art.  This was a big deal to me because the Contest has a very high profile in online Fractal Art community as well as with the general public and therefore will go along way towards shaping people’s impression of Fractal Art as well as the future direction of it.

The Contest websites for all three Contests (2006, 2007, 2009) say that “We are choosing art that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it—or if they do know it, they know only garish, 70s-style imagery.”  It’s this official purpose as well as it’s actual effect that initially caught my interest.  I’m interested in the ongoing evolution and popular impression of the Fractal Art genre.

The Mandel-buck Formula (requires layering)

Like I said, it’s been three years, or at least three contests now since it all began. When it initially started many of our criticisms here at Orbit Trap were met with the response that the Contest was new and just starting out. For those reasons, valid or not, I restrained myself from making what is probably the most obvious observation about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests, that being that it’s all about promoting Ultra Fractal as the apex of Fractal Art and subsequently, the only program of choice for serious, professional artists.

Since then, the only significant change to the contest has been the removal of the judges own, self-selected (and Ultra Fractal made) works from the exhibition, which totaled close to 40% of the actual exhibit. We were told in the past that it’s inclusion was at the request of the previous sponsors, but all of the previous sponsors from both years are here this year and it seems that none of them have requested that. It mysteriously appeared and it mysteriously left.

It’s all a different matter this year because the “bugs” in the Contest’s design that we criticized when it was new have now become intentional features in this 2009 “final release” of what is now likely to be an established, annual institution in the Fractal Art world. In other words, the jury is no longer out and it’s time to reach a verdict, which is: The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest was intentionally designed to be a platform from which to promote Ultra Fractal.

What bothers me most however, is it’s use of the name and reputation of Benoit Mandelbrot for such a publicity stunt.  The name Benoit Mandelbrot is one that all fractal artists will identify with and recognize.  His monumental discoveries in the realm of fractal mathematics are surely acknowledged as the very foundations of our bold new art form, Fractal Art.  It’s precisely this universal and foundational aspect to Benoit Mandelbrot’s reputation that the contest takes advantage of to present its art exhibiton to the public as the Olympics of Fractal Art.  The name and presence of Benoit Mandelbrot gets people’s attention —and respect. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to suggest that that’s precisely why he was asked to give his name to the contest.  Who better to represent the face of fractals and Fractal Art than Benoit Mandelbrot himself?

In a fractal art contest, especially one which claims to be an exhibition that will introduce the public to the genre , one would expect a more universal theme that reflects many styles and methods in fractal art, just as Benoit Mandelbrot is an icon for all of the fractal world in general.  The organizers said, “We want to show diversity of fractal styles” but they have never done that.  I think it’s fair to say that after three consecutive contests with the same rules, that they never will and also that they have never intended to exhibit any diversity in Fractal Art.  All they’ve presented is a diverse number of Ultra Fractal artists.

It stands to reason that the extremely high visibility that Ultra Fractal receives by being the program that produces the majority of the winning entries will attract interest in it and likely increase the sales of it.  Isn’t this why companies sponsor contests and similar high profile public events, or why advertisers compete for exposure at these venues?  Anyone who knows anything about marketing a product can see what a plum position Ultra Fractal has been placed in.  And it’s not even a paying sponsor!

The exhibition of art work by judges who where also fractal artists has had the effect of insuring that Ultra Fractal received the highest visibility and status in the contest.  What could be a better advertisement for any product or tool in an art contest than to show everyone that all the judges use it?

The organization and judging of the contest is so closely associated with people who stand to gain from an increase in Ultra Fractal’s popularity that it begs the question of whether the contest was orchestrated entirely to promote Ultra Fractal by increasing its visibility and status in the eyes of new fractal artists and the public as a whole.  All of that has the potential to translate into more sales of the program ($79 – $139/license) as well as enrollment of students in their fee-based online courses ($25/student).  These are not merely academic matters of artistic style or differences of opinion as to “what is Fractal Art?”, they are commercial interests, business interests, all of which in an online environment needs only advertising and exposure to grow.

Should I go on?  They have a new judge this year.  Guess who?  It’s the author and owner of Ultra Fractal.  I guess the success of previous years shows that they don’t have to be subtle anymore.  If you’ve already got the King, Queen, and Jack of Ultra Fractal in your line-up, what’s the big deal with adding the Ace?

Sorry, but I wasn’t born yesterday.

But some people say that the fractal world is too small to find qualified judges who aren’t associated with Ultra Fractal in some way, either commercially or personally.  Well, I guess that is quite true, but only if  the fractal “world” you’re talking about is made up only of your close friends and professional associates.  There really is more to Fractal Art than Ultra Fractal.  But you’ll only see that by paying a visit to Google and searching on “Fractal Art”.  By attending the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest you won’t see much more than the heavily layered, “non-garish”,  Ultra Fractal school of Fractal Art.

Benoit Mandelbrot has not endorsed Ultra Fractal or any other piece of fractal software, but the way the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests are being run that’s exactly what his name and the good reputation that goes with it suggests and is being used for.  Benoit Mandelbrot is what fractals are all about; the contest bearing his name naturally gives the impression that Ultra Fractal is what Fractal Art is all about.

It would all be different however, if the contest had selected a neutral panel of judges and had not placed any restrictions on what type of fractal imagery could be submitted.  This could have been done (in 2006, or done in 2007, or done in 2009…) by chosing someone with art credentials who’s an outsider to the fractal art world, or at the very least, a wider range of judges who’s demonstrated preferences represent an authentic sampling of fractal art styles and methods.  Had the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests been run and judged by fanatical Fractinct people and selected largely Fractint art work, I would have the same objections, although the commercial aspect to those objections would likely not exist as they do with a proprietary, closed-source program like Ultra Fractal.  This has all been said before here on Orbit Trap, but since the organizers of the Contest are now sticking to the Contest’s original design and make up of the judging panel, I can only assume –the organizers like it the way it is which is the way it always was.

This third iteration of the Contest is a confirmation of the previous two.

Part of the problem, I suspect (as I have suspected from the very beginning) is that the contest is really a one-man show.  One man set the rules; one man chose the judges; and one man did it all to promote Ultra Fractal as the tool of choice for professional artists.

That man is not Benoit Mandelbrot.


It’s the job of the Coroner’s office to make an official pronouncement of death

I’m filling in at the Coroner’s office while he’s away on vacation.  That is, the Internet Coroner’s office.  That’s where the virtual, online dead go.  I was told to just “tag ’em, bag ’em and put ’em the fridge till I get back”, but I thought I’d leave a few notes about this one particular cadaver that came in recently since  I’m sure most pathologists aren’t too well acquainted with the fractal art world and will appreciate some expert help regarding the cause of death.

He’s going to need some help with this one.  I can see the Coroner staring at the body and wondering, “Why would such a young blog with such a bright future and so many friends end up DOA?”

Well Doc, basically, blogging is all about writing stuff that people want to read.  The internet puts thousands of high quality newspapers, magazines, even movies and not to mention specialty websites and also online encyclopedias like the Wikipedia in easy reach of everyone with internet access.  You have to write about things that no one else can (or will) write about.  It’s that “niche” thing.  And for that you have to be a bit of a freak.  They didn’t have a single freak.

Normal people write about normal things and freaky people write about freaky things.  On the internet, most visitors are by default disinterested.  Like I said, they’ve got plenty of great places to go (and online games too).  Good blogging attracts and holds the interest of complete strangers who don’t know who you are (or don’t care) but they’re interested in what you have to say because it’s rare and special.  In fact, a good blog will appeal just as much to its enemies as it will to its friends.  Maybe even more.  Wedream(ed)incolor had way too many friends, a sure sign of early onset terminal conditions in a blog (more commonly referred to as “hyper-irrelevancy”).

Good blogging is fresh, insightful commentary on topics that are rarely discussed (or better yet –taboo).  It’s not a group thing and most people aren’t really interested in giving raw, honest commentary about things (and posting it on the internet for everyone to read and react to).  It’s the same as art criticism or any sort of criticism; you have really get excited about it because the social fallout wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.  How many people actually get excited about writing criticism and not just reading it?  Yeah.  They didn’t even have one of those over there.  It’s like kidneys; it’s good to have two, but you’ve gotta at least have one.

A blog made up of self-conscious backslappers trying to produce something worth reading was just bound to fail.  Of course, some of them never even posted anything once.  That’s a definite warning sign of blogging cardiac arrest.

I’ve been through all this before: blogging just isn’t for everyone.  Commentary (public and published) might attract a lot of readers, but it doesn’t attract a lot of writers.  Of course, I would have thought that Orbit Trap’s own experience would made that fairly plain, but I guess everyone has to experience these things for themselves.  Morgue’s are full of those.

“If you  build it… they will watch!”  Too much work by any single person on an internet site doesn’t inspire others to join in and help out, it inspires them to stay out of the way and not touch.  If you want to be a real masochist then try asking for donations as well.  Better still, accept the fact that good blogging requires a strong vision and intense focus and that’s not likely to be found in a group of people like it is in a single person.

What else should I mention to the Coroner?  Oh.  Some of the next of kin are likely to come around and insist on doing CPR  despite the obvious stiff and bluish condition of the cadaver.  “It’s the summer!” “It’s just getting started!”  “Everyone’s just busy with other things at the moment!”  “Orbit Trap poisoned it!”  It’s a traditional custom of mourning in the fractal art world: a last ditch attempt to resurrect a social project that lacked a society.  They like to think that they did everything they could, although they didn’t actually do anything at all when it was alive.

Maybe a forum would have been a better idea?

Xaos 3.5 is here!

Cool fractals made chillingly easy (Parameter file: “fract0.xpf“)
Xaos Website

So simple

What’s new in 3.5? Glad you asked.

XaoS 3.5 has been released for download. This version contains a new Portuguese translation, several bug fixes, and some UI improvements for the Windows version.

So maybe I over-reacted. I find their use of version numbers is a little strange. 3.2 added language support for Romanian. 3.3 added a formula parser.

And what about 3.4?

In addition, 3.4 includes several fixes and improvements to the native language support and translations. The most significant of these is that accented characters are now displayed correctly on modern systems.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I think they’re reserving the big 4.0 version number for the introduction of Esperanto.

The formula parser is the big deal now with this program. Before you were limited to the dozen or so hard wired formulas and their 6 variations in different planes. Most of the formulas were interesting to look at for a little while and probably made for a nice introduction to fractals but there were only a few that you could really do much with. The formula parser changes all that although (like most formula parsers) it can be a little slow.

But now at least there’s an unlimited number of formula options by which to make use of Xaos’ great rendering capabilities. Xaos has the best random color palette generator of any fractal program that has ever been made and probably ever will be made. Combined with it’s simple edge detection filter (which was used to give the above sample images their line drawn look) it multiplies the creative possibilities of what may appear to many fractal artists as a rather simple fractal program.

I don’t know who or how many people use Xaos in serious way to make fractal art. My impression has always been that the number is few. Most fractal artists seem to prefer Ultra Fractal and Apophysis. But I think Xaos, despite it’s simple and small-town look, is an algorithmic art program of the highest quality and one of the most creative tools that a fractal artist can find. One should never underestimate the importance of color and Xaos is virtually a magic wand of creative coloring. A few taps of the shortcut key “P” on your keyboard and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition to all that, Xaos has some other well-known but still worthwhile creative tools. Fast Julia mode (push “J”) enabled me to create the above images from a rather simple user-defined formula (“COS(Z^2+C)/C”). In fact, here’s the parameter file for the above image (the white one is just the black one inverted in a graphics program).

;Position file automatically generated by XaoS 3.5
; – a realtime interactive fractal zoomer
;Use xaos -load to display it
(filter ‘anti #t)
(filter ‘palette #t)
(filter ‘edge #t)
(palette 3 3071 0)
(formula ‘user)
(usrform “COS(Z^2+C)/C”)
(usrformInit “”)
(juliaseed -0.97127736087806896001 0.56929235238298683524)
(incoloring 9)
(julia #t)
(plane 6)
(view -5.60 34.9 83.1 83.1)

Note that there’s a place for user formula initialization. Uh, I don’t know what that means. But there’s another custom parameter to experiment with when you’ve exhausted all your formula permutations of SIN, COS and the other cousins of trigonometry.

The beauty of Xaos is that the program places creative power at the touch of a single finger. That’s what good, algorithmic programming does. It lifts us little folks up onto the shoulders of giants.

Direct Download link for Xaos 3.5 (for Windows)

Rich Jarzombek’s Technique

Editor’s note:
(Rich Jarzombek’s unique fractal artwork was originally reviewed on Orbit Trap back on April 28th as the posting, Realistic Fractals by Rich Jarzombek. Just recently, Rich sent me a more detailed explanation of the technique he uses by describing how he made one of the images found on his website, Realistic Fractals. Nothing’s better than hearing an artist describe in their own words how they work, and when they include step by step illustrations of their creative technique that’s the sort of thing I figure would be of interest to all of Orbit Trap’s readers. Rich kindly gave me permission to post it to Orbit Trap, so here’s Rich Jarzombek’s guest posting.)

The only fractal software that I use is Tierazon. I do all of my work in an allotted screen area of 320 x 240 pixels. On my screen this measures about 3.75 inches (9.5 cm) wide.

I started by choosing one of my few favorite ‘parameters’ (settings that primarily control color). I then created a unique mathematical equation and inserted it into Tierazon. This produced Image #1.

I didn’t see anything interesting in Image #1; so, out of curiosity, I decided to see what existed surrounding the outside of Image #1. Image #2 was found directly adjacent on the left side of Image #1.

Then I decided to see what existed in the upper right hand corner of Image #2 (where the arrow is pointing). This resulted in Image #3 (which is a 10X magnification).

I noticed that this area had perfect left/right symmetry with a lot of different detail. I then somewhat scrolled down along this line of symmetry using a 25X magnification and found Image #4.

At the center of Image #4 I felt that I could see a ‘realistic’ image. I confirmed this by making a 50X magnification of the center area and produced Image #5.

Having decided that I found an acceptable image, I then had the software recompute Image #5 but at a larger pixel size (640 x 480) for much greater detail and resulting in the “Final Enlargement”.

I then used this image in a ‘photo editing program’ in order to ‘color enhance’ the image so that it would be easier to interpret by a random viewer. This became “Two Man Circus Act”.

You will note that a transparent blue tint has been applied to the background but the underlying fractal image is unchanged. Also. transparent ‘flesh-tones’ tints have been applied to the faces but the underlying fractal image (eyes, noses, mouths, etc.) is unchanged.

The technique that I’ve described above is a generalization of what I do for almost all of my fractals.

Rich Jarzombek

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Over the years, while browsing online galleries, I have from time to time experienced something that I have casually labeled Thumbnailitis.  It’s a condition that occurs when you see what you think is a very appealing image –in thumbnail form– but when you click on that thumbnail you are suddenly confronted with a full-size image that is not at all appealing and is actually somewhat ugly.  Going back and taking a second look at the appealing thumbnail, I then become much more deeply confused because once again I see something appealing but now also can see it’s similarities with the big ugly image it was clearly derived from it.

The thumbnail looks great, but the full-size image is unexpectedly disappointing.  Although I’ve experienced this often enough as I’m sure many other viewers have, I realize that it’s probably just the opposite of what one would expect.  One would expect the thumbnail image to be a degraded form of the larger image and not the other way around.  Of course, that’s the way it usually is, but it’s odd how thumbnails can sometimes look better than the originals.

Just why would that ever happen?  I’ve considered some reasons for this and I think it has something to do with how people make fractal artwork.

1. Too much detail and no central focus.  When a thumbnail is created it almost always results in loss of detail and blurring of the image.  The result is that smaller elements in the image merge into the background and only the largest are noticeable.  It’s the sort of thing people often try to accomplish with masking except the process is cruder (and much faster).  The result is a greatly simplified and subsequently more focused and less chaotic image.

2. Some images just look better when they’re smaller.  It’s hard to believe, but I think it has something to do with my first point in that our perception of the image is better when we can see it all in a single glance and without turning our head or moving our eyes much.  This happens in offline art galleries; people will sometimes take a few steps back to view a large work of art instead of moving forward to see more detail.  That’s why some of the Great Masters look better as cheap souvenir prints bought in the gallery gift shop than they do as the original hanging in the gallery.

3.  Some images have a great color scheme but really ugly content.  The thumbnail boils that ugly stuff down to just a few tiny, but really glorious, gradients and color combinations.  This is one that always tricks me into clicking on a thumbnail.  There’s something about good color that just excites the visual mind and makes it a tough act for the details of the full size image to follow.  Similarly, some images make better palettes than they do artwork.  The thumbnail contains all there is that’s worthwhile about the image.

4. The Proverbial Art-Hammer.  The process of creating a thumbnail is both creative and to some degree destructive.  The transformative effect usually produces a less interesting image but sometimes the result is better because it does things to the image that careful, fussy artists would never do, that is, blur the entire image all at once with one click.  It’s like one of those wierdo photoshop filters that makes you wonder why anyone would want to make (much less ever repeat) such a simple, degrading effect, until one day you try it on something without really thinking and the result is polished and professional.

Well, there you go.  Thumbnails can occasionally teach us something.  I once saved a thumbnail of mine because it looked so good.  I had to do a screen shot of it because I couldn’t duplicate the effect by simply resizing the image.  The thumnails created by the image viewer for file browsing were made with such a low quality process that no other graphical function could produce the same brutal effect.

Maybe someday thumbnails will be a category of digital art all their own.

How is it that…

…the image that was chosen for the cover of Avalanche Publishing’s 2009 Fractal Universe Calendar can also become the cover image of the May 2009 Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy?

May 2009 Cover of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy at

2009 Fractal Universe Calendar Image Gallery at

It’s not a big deal or anything and the artist, Keith MacKay, as author of the work, and I would naturally assume also the holder of the copyright for it, is free to do whatever he likes with the image but to me it raises even yet still one more question about the mysterious Fractal Universe Calendar: What exactly is Avalanche Publishing paying for if artists are free to re-publish their selected calendar images elsewhere? Could the artists publish their own calendars and include their winning images in them?

It sure looks like a pretty strange set up to me, although, fortunately, one in which the artists are getting the upper hand for a change. Normally I would expect any commercial publisher to require some degree of exclusivity when they pay for the use of an image, especially when those images are such specialized creative artwork like that of the Fractal Universe Calendar. I mean, if those images can be sold to other publishers then that would reduce the value of them, I would think.

…and especially when that artwork is the front cover of the calendar!

But then the whole Fractal Universe Calendar has been one long series of secrets anyhow. Why don’t they just put this sort of information on their website so everyone knows how the whole thing works? That’s what makes this double published image so intriguing to me: obviously there’s a lot more (that is, a lot less) to the deal between Avalanche Publishing and the contest winners and their selected images than one would expect if the image chosen for the front cover of the calendar can appear on the front cover of a magazine –in the same year. What rights does Avalanche Publishing get for the four hundred or so dollars that they pay for their images?  Evidently, all they get is the right to publish the images once in their calendar (and the mini version of the calendar if they decide to print one).  Artists reserve the right to do whatever they want with their images even submit them as cover art for magazines in the same year.

Hey, that’s a nice deal!

Reinventing the Real

“You’ll only find dirt, digging where other’s have dug”
–Long John Silver, Treasure Island

Pebbles by Jonathan Hunt, 2008. Made entirely in POV-Ray

There is a definite use and function for digital photorealism, but it is almost exclusively the domain of the craftsman and not the artist. Artists don’t get a thrill out of copying the world around them like dedicated craftsmen do. Artists get a thrill out of the mental excitement that comes from the portrayal of new thoughts and feelings. Photorealism can be used for that; the surrealist paintings of Salvador Dali are what I would consider the best examples of artistic realism. As a painter Dali was average. As a surrealist painter Dali was one of the best.

What fractal art has going for it as an art and not as a craft is that it’s different. Trying to imitate other things might attact an audience for a time, but in the long run there’s little to come back and look at and chances are very good that your work will soon be overshadowed by an even greater imitator. Or equally likely — obscured by a cloud of imitations.

Graphical computer algorithms like fractal formulas and other image generators are powerfully creative because they are original. They can generate imagery that a human would never even think of. If you want to discover buried treasure then pursue the algorithmic nature of fractal art. If, however, you just want to dig a better hole than the last person, then keep digging — the competition is intense.

The Wet Bird by Gilles Tran, 2000. Also made in POV-Ray.

Things have changed very quickly in the computing/digital world and now graphics often have a near (close, but not perfect) photographic appearance making one uncertain at times whether they are viewing a computer-made image or a photograph of something real. It’s strange then, that the old style — primitive — computer graphics of 256-color, or even 8-color, indexed pngs and gifs of the “old” days (1990’s) would have any sort of appeal to someone like me or anyone with any knowledge of computer graphics who one would expect to admire only that which is current and represents the latest technology.

I think however, that it reveals something about art that is very relevant to the digital art world but is something that has yet to be grasped by many who enjoy digital art: Photorealism can be boring!

Imitating reality is pointless in a world of easy realism (i.e. photography) and in a world which, as stupid as this may sound, realism is common and hardly eye-catching because we see it everywhere, everyday.

The Office by Jaime Vives Piqueres, 2004. Yes, this too was made in POV-Ray.

I mention this particularly because I’ve gotten the impression from browsing online digital art galleries, that many people seem to feel that the apex of digital imagery is the imitation of real things — photorealism — and that anything that looks “rough” or “primitive” or “poorly anti-aliased” is shrugged off as unprofessional, unskilled or ugly.

I think digital art is stuck in a very limited (and boring) role of trying to “beat photography” and come up with images that provoke the response, “Wow! I can’t believe that’s not a photograph!”. Although occasionally this may be a rewarding pursuit, it’s a creative dead end. What that means for the future I believe, is that the more interesting and more creative digital work will be produced by people who pursue the types of imagery that have never been seen before and don’t currently have categories or convenient labels. Faking photographs won’t make that happen.