Nothing New in the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest

If I just ignore how a craven contest excludes some fractal artists like me while privileging others, I'm sure everything will work out for the benefit of my betters.

I don’t want to hear about why art competitions should be run professionally using fair play to promote excellence and diversity rather than favoring a select group. I’d much rather be openly exploited and cynically scammed.

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan…
–The Beatles, “Revolution”

Guess what’s new on the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest front?


Is that what you expected? It’s what I expected.

If you thought Garth Thornton’s resignation from the 2009 BMFAC selection panel, or, better yet, his ethical example and thoughtful public account of what prompted his action would make any difference, well, then you just haven’t been paying attention for years.

If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to read Thornton’s public post announcing his resignation. You can clearly see who he is and what he believes. His post also provides a contrasting window into some of the BMFAC judges revealing who they are not and what they do not believe.

If the director and his friends who serve as BMFAC judges could be shamed, they would have been from the start. The competition is, as Tim and I have long argued, all about them. It’s always been a publicity stunt to garner personal gain and to further their professional careers. From the beginning, it should have been an invitational exhibition for the director and his circle, a showcase for the particular Ultra Fractal school of fractal art they’ve all been pushing for years, but that would have looked more insular than prestigious. So, a “contest” was concocted — a contest that would allow them to place their work inside what would appear to outsiders to be a juried, international art competition. The catch, of course, is that they were the jury who ended up selecting themselves for nearly half of the previous two exhibitions.

And how could they insure that this international show “that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it” would really be about the kind of art they actively promote? And, furthermore, how could they also advance the profile and sales of Ultra Fractal, the fractal software many of them either author, sell, teach, code, or otherwise push? One shrewd way would be to set the submission requirements for entries at a large scale that only Ultra Fractal could easily reach. After all, an art contest can only draw from the entries it receives, just as it can be consciously designed to choose judges and make rules to ensure that it gets only the kind of entries it wants.

But, of course, this is a new year, and the contest has made at least one ethics-friendly change. Probably. The rules make clear that the judges’ work will not be included in the 2009 contest, although some readers have pointed out the rules explicitly say nothing about the judges’ art ending up in the exhibition. Semantics — or loophole? Time will tell. The “contest” is the web page, listing winners, alternates, and honorable mentions. The exhibition is another matter entirely, as demonstrated by the 2007 BMFAC where no information about the physical show was ever included on the “contest” web page.

And if the previous contests weren’t slanted enough towards openly fostering UF, what with primarily UF judges picking primarily UF winners, this year’s contest actually includes Ultra Fractal’s author as a judge. Given BMFAC’s history of overt UF bias, this is such an arrogant, in-your-face move that it surely cannot escape notice as a gross conflict of interest, especially after another author-judge of commercial software did the right thing and resigned.

But mum’s the word, and the director isn’t commenting — on anything. Not on the many conflicts of interest tied to the judging panel. Not on the rules ambiguity that could once again slip the judges into the exhibition. Not on why smaller entry sizes would somehow mar the exhibition. Not even on a prominent judge’s resignation and possible replacement. Apparently, the less all of us know, the better.

Not that anyone much cares, though. Obviously, the sponsors don’t care that the contest isn’t managed with the customary professional protocols, especially if they are as hands-on as past sponsors who insisted work by judges be included to insure against the exhibition’s “insufficient quality.” Obviously, some of the judges don’t care that the whole thing is UF-friendly and that they face visible conflicts of interest leading to their own financial and/or personal gain. If the sponsors cared about how the contest was run, they’d intervene. But they haven’t. If the judges in question worried about having conflicts of interest, they’d resign — especially after reading Garth’s recent post and witnessing his moral example. But they haven’t.

And what about you? I have to assume you’ve noticed how BMFAC is run and realize its operation is suspicious. So, I have to assume that many of you probably don’t care either. A crooked contest is better than none, you will tell me, and BMFAC is the only game in town. I’ll put up with shady doings, you’ll say, because participating is the only chance to promote myself in the hope of getting to join the privileged, piffling group literally running the whole show. You OT guys can keep your idealistic revolution for inclusion of all fractal artists and schools, you’ll say, because I want BMFAC judge status and privilege for myself, so then I, too, can lord it over others– just like they do. After all, you’ll tell me, their immoral example is the surest path to success in fractal art marketing: tie everything to your own self-promotion — even to the point of creating callous publicity stunts and calling yourself a “prestigious fractal artist”.

When all is said and done, I predict the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest will be considered a success. It will have more participants than ever, perhaps even handing out up to 100 meaningless Honorable Mentions this year. Blogs will cite it as a representative sampling of the most important fractal artists in the world, instead of mostly and merely a narrow UF school that features masking and layering. The competition’s judges will profit both personally and financially, as a certain software sells and online classes on how to use that software fill up. The director will be hailed as a noble philanthropist, instead of a career-boosting manipulator.

And, maybe — maybe after a cycle about as long as the Fractal Universe Calendar‘s existence — maybe as the same people and styles of fractal art benefit from a deliberately devised system of inbred favoritism year after year after year — maybe after a fourth or fifth go-around of winding up as the 99th HM — maybe then whispers of a revolution will start to be heard in every Fractalbook forum and journal and chat room.

And, maybe then, you will remember. You once saw the plan.


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Will the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Do the Right Thing?

Maybe no one will notice if I say nothing...

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
–Mark Twain

Image seen on

I wanted to pop on briefly and second what Tim said in his last post. I’ve known Garth Thornton since I helped test early versions of Xenodream years ago. I always found him to be thoughtful and straightforward. I’ve long admired his art, and he continues to create stunning work — like this piece seen recently on Fractal-World:

The Google Search Engine by Garth Thornton

The Google Search Engine by Garth Thornton

In short, I’ve long had respect for Garth — but never more than I had this week. He is the only judge of the competition to ever address Orbit Trap’s objections as to how the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is run, and, certainly, the only one to act based on his scruples after reflecting on how his actions might appear to others. Moreover, he could have resigned silently — out of the public eye. Instead, he made his conscience an open book — even going so far as to post his reasoning for resigning on a public forum. By his actions, he has shown himself to be estimable.

Would that some of the other BMFAC judges faced with financial conflicts of interests do some similar soul-searching. If they don’t want to listen to me, perhaps they should listen to Garth:

[T]he 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.

Would that the competition be run without such a heavy blanket of secrecy. If Garth had not posted his rationale to the FractalForum but had simply sent a private email, would anyone have even noticed that he stepped down? As it was, how many of the other judges learned of Garth’s resignation by reading it on Orbit Trap? A high profile art competition does not have to operate like the CIA, nor should fractal artists have to scour the Web for months probing for any word about BMFAC’s exhibition — which is exactly what happened in the last contest. Even today, there is not one photo — not even one sentence — about the details of that exhibition on its own web site.

Would that the director relax the massive size restrictions for entering the contest — restrictions that privilege Ultra Fractal and its users while impeding or excluding other programs and artists. BMFAC should be a showcase for all schools of fractal art. If the majority of the judging panel is composed of UF artists, teachers, web hosts, code writers, advocates, and even the software’s author, then please rename the competition and just call it what it is: The Benoit Mandelbrot Ultra Fractal Art Contest. Truth in advertising is preferable to a smoke screen most of us can easily see through anyway.

Would that BMFAC’s sponsors rouse themselves from their slumbers and get the right thing done. Do the competition’s sponsors — Fundación Vodafone España, Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, ICM 2010 (International Congress of Mathematicians) — approve of how the contest is being managed? Does their silence mean they have no moral qualms — even in the face of a prominent judge’s resignation? Past BMFAC sponsors have not always been so hesitant to assert their influence on the competition’s day-to-day operations. Previously, according to the contest’s director, BMFAC’s sponsors insisted the judges be included in the exhibition, as this memorable passage from Orbit Trap’s archives recounts:

I am well aware that people were not happy about judges’ work appearing in the ICM exhibition alongside contest entries, but we made it clear from the outset that contest entries would not be the only art shown. This year is no different. The sponsors require this as a hedge against insufficient quality being submitted [my emphasis]; it is, after all, their money at risk.

Would that some of the other BMFAC judges facing conflict of interest issues of both financial and personal gain voluntarily review the facts and search their consciences as selflessly and honorably as Garth Thornton did. Or, if such acts of moral courage were forthcoming, would they have already taken place? Perhaps the sponsors need to take action again this year. But instead of ushering some judges into the exhibition through the back door, maybe the sponsors should do the right thing and usher some of judges off the selection panel and out the front door.

Maybe instead of a hedge against insufficient quality, the sponsors should consider another hedge — a hedge against insufficient integrity.


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Conflicts of Interest in the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest

So whatever gave you the idea I'd eat you and sell your eggs through my produce company?

Don’t you trust us?

I am starting this post with a premise. Either the organizers and sponsors of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest know absolutely nothing about how to run an art contest, or they have chosen to deliberately disregard established safeguards and universally accepted standards and practices.

I continue to be surprised by how many of Orbit Trap’s antagonists seem to believe that Tim and I are just making up contest regulations out of whole cloth, or are trying to impose our own eccentric guidelines on the beleaguered BMFAC. Take, for example, this recent remark by Ken Childress on his blog (find link via Google):

I didn’t really object to anyone on the panel having images included in the exhibition. Yes, this event is a contest. No, it’s not the kind of contest OT wants to lead everyone to believe must be run.

But it’s not just OT who believes that art competitions should be run using established and agreed upon protocols; it’s nearly everyone else — ranging from federal/state/college art associations to international symposiums on ethics in fine arts and cultural activities. I’m afraid it’s BMFAC’s director and sponsors who either don’t know about instituting methods to shield art contests from abuses, or they have intentionally not implemented such safeguards in order to not be bound by them.

The BMFAC director, in an exchange last week on the Fractint Mailing List, said my previous OT post was “written by someone who knows next to nothing about the contest.” Actually, I’m very familiar with contests in quite a few artistic genres. I served for six years as an Associate Dean in a College of Fine Arts in a moderately-sized (13,000 students) public university. Part of my job responsibilities included overseeing an artists in residence program and competitions in the disciplines of music, theater, film, creative writing, and visual art. One of the first things the college dean insisted I do was to draft conflict of interest policies for the competitions. So, I did some research — research the BMFAC organizers and sponsors either never bothered to do, or, more likely, don’t want any of you to do. Here’s what I found.

From the College Art Association’s “Statement of Conflict of Interest”:

A conflict of interest arises when an individual’s personal interest or bias compromises his or her ability to act in accordance with professional or public obligations. In situations where no public scrutiny or oversight is possible, the risk of a conflict of interest increases.

One way to understand a conflict of interest is to describe the situation as a conflict of roles. A person having two roles — like someone who sells commercial software and who is also judging an art contest that includes submissions made with that same software — may experience situations where his two roles conflict. The conflict can be denied or possibly extenuated, but it nonetheless exists. Playing two roles is not necessarily wrong, but the contrasting roles definitely provide an increased incentive for inappropriate acts in some circumstances.

Furthermore, the idea that BMFAC has any public scrutiny or oversight is laughable. The organizers have been consistently secretive, even to the point that the 2007 BMFAC site contains no information at all about the 2007 exhibition — no announcement, no location, no dates, no photographs, no reviews, no nothing. It took Orbit Trap seven months to discover whether the exhibition had even taken place.

One would have to be blindfolded on a deserted island not to see that BMFAC has a discernable and overriding bias. Over its three years, the majority of the judges have been UF users, teachers, web hosts, code writers, and advocates. The majority of the winning entries shown in the two previous exhibitions were made with UF. The judges’ back-door submissions to the previous two exhibitions — almost without exception — were made with UF. The majority of alternates and honorable mentions were awarded to UF users. Several current or past students, enrolled in UF classes taught by two BMFAC judges, won or placed in previous competitions. The enormous file sizes required to enter the contest heavily favor UF, the most easily scalable software — even to the point where some non-UF using fractal artists cannot render images large enough to participate in this contest designed to showcase, as the 2009 BMFAC rules page states, “art that represents our art form.”

And, in case anyone still has the slightest doubt about what kind of fractal art this competition privileges, this year one of the judges is the author and owner of Ultra Fractal. So, if what I’ve outlined hasn’t convinced you of BMFAC’s overt UF bias yet, maybe you need to back up and re-read Tim’s last post.

Barbara T. Hoffman, in a chapter entitled “Law, Ethics, and the Visual Arts,” which appears in the seminal book Ethics in the Visual Arts, cites the definition of conflict of interest used by the International Council of Museums “Code of Ethics for Museums.” It states a conflict of interest is:

The existence of a personal or private interest which gives rise to a clash of principle in a work situation, thus restricting, or having the appearance of restricting, the objectivity of decision making.

Responsible Conduct Research, based at Columbia University, provides the following account of what constitutes conflicts of interest:

A conflict of interest involves the abuse — actual, apparent, or potential — of the trust that people have in professionals. The simplest working definition states: A conflict of interest is a situation in which financial or other personal considerations have the potential to compromise or bias professional judgment and objectivity.

But the clearest and most detailed discussion about conflicts of interest in the arts comes from a comprehensive study done by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies. Their report is entitled “Conflict of Interest Policies in Arts and Culture Funding Agencies” (linked here in a .pdf file) and says:

Conflicts of interest arise when a person making a decision is faced with more than one interest against which to judge their best course of action. The conflict typically of most concern is that between a person’s personal interests and their professional interests.


Indeed, as many of the policies cited later in this report recognise, the mere perception that a conflict of interest might exist is enough to make such a conflict an issue for concern – whether or not it is ‘real’, or whether or not it tempts an individual to act inappropriately.

As you can see, there is an encompassing history of concern over the problem of conflict of interest in the area of the fine arts. This is not just a case of Tim and I wanting to impose “our way” of running contests or of Orbit Trap promoting “conspiracy theories,” as one of this year’s BMFAC judges said recently on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List.

In fact, it does not matter whether you and I think the BMFAC judges are honest and would never act inappropriately. What matters is the recognition that a conflict of interest exists. That perception alone is enough to contaminate BMFAC’s integrity and erode public trust.

The IFACCA survey goes on to say that conflicts of interest become especially troublesome when “people in the arts who are appointed to decision-making bodies” (like judges of an art contest) might gain financially or personally from rendering services and notes that

An obvious type of gain is financial, but other types of gain are equally relevant, such as the ability to gain prestige, wield power or advance a career.

Financial conflicts of interest permeate BMFAC’s selection panel. Two of the judges are authors and owners of commercial software, Ultra Fractal and Xenodream. It is inevitable that the competition will have entries made with these software programs. If entries created with both programs do well, it is reasonable to assume that both authors stand to benefit financially. Whether the authors make a pittance or a fortune is irrelevant because what matters here is the principle. Even if the two author-judges were to miraculously make no money, conflicts of interest, as we’ve seen above, are often about the mere appearance of impropriety. Therefore, I repeat the charge I made in my last post: the two judges who are authors of commercial software should immediately resign.

Another financial conflict of interest is self-evident. Two of the BMFAC judges are or have been on the faculty of the Visual Arts Academy where they are paid (by charging fees) to teach courses in the use of Ultra Fractal. Again, if entries made with UF win, it stands to reason that one or both instructors stand to benefit financially. Even in the unlikely event that enrollment doesn’t rise should UF submissions make another near-sweep of the exhibition, the improper demeanor is enough to be a conflict of interest. These instructor-judges should also resign, or, at the very least, should not be teaching classes in any year when the contest is being held.

I hope you can also see why Orbit Trap protested so vehemently over the inclusion of work by BMFAC’s judges in the last two exhibitions. It was not because, as some of our adversaries claim, that we are bitter whiners who hold grudges and produce bad art — or similar invective tossed at us as a smokescreen for failing to directly address our arguments.

No, we were upset because including the judges’ work was a glaring conflict of interest resulting in personal gain for those individuals. Rather than simply paying the judges, either directly via the sponsors or by charging an entry fee, BMFAC’s director and sponsors gave them a free pass to display in the “contest” exhibition. This action resulted in each of them (follow along with me from the quote above) gaining prestige, wielding power, and advancing their careers — even to the degree where they could anoint their heads with crowns and write their own ad copy declaring themselves to be “the most important fractal artists in the world.”


OT readers might find an ongoing dialogue I’ve been having about the contest with some locals over at the FractalForum of interest. Things really picked up when Garth Thornton, one of the two current judges who is an author of commercial software, showed up to address the conflict of interest issue. To date, Thornton is the only BMFAC judge to ever come forward and speak to OT’s allegations. You probably owe it to yourself to read the whole exchange, although you will have to join the forum to make comments.

This excerpt serves as the basis for what I said to him:

Your main points seem to be that you and Frederik [Slijkerman] are qualified to be judges because “we know the software’s weaknesses inside out,” any money made from selling software will be insignificant, and that including vendors as judges “will have a minor influence.” In short, although you admit that you might benefit financially, even if minimally, your claim is that your presence as a judge will have little overall effect, and that I should just trust you.

The way any competition earns trust is by being proactive and showing that it is aware of potential abuses by putting visible policies in place to keep any potential improprieties from occurring. These steps have become standard practice in art competitions. Any competition that deliberately foregoes such policies immediately arouses suspicion and appears less trustworthy.

And, for our more anxiety-inclined readers, this excerpt might make you excitable. It begins when Thornton says

I can confirm there is no form of remuneration for judging.

to which I say

I personally believe contest judges should be paid for their time and effort. One reason BMFAC is fishy is that it has no entry fee. Many artists, including me, generally despise such fees, but they are a necessary evil. Such fees are used to pay judges and screeners and to cover the administrative costs of running a contest (like publicity and printing images, for example.) Most significantly, entry fees do not create conflicts of interest; in fact, their presence makes abuses and inappropriate behavior less likely.

I do have a question, though. Could you clarify what you mean by “remuneration?” Are you saying BMFAC’s judges will receive no money? Or are you saying all of the judges receive no compensation at all — compensation like having their own art work included in the 2009 exhibition? I’ve already said on OT that I’m taking on good faith that no BMFAC judges will have work hanging in this year’s show. But some of OT’s more paranoid readers have written to me pointing out that the 2009 rules only say the judges are excluded from participating in “the contest.” Nothing whatsoever is said about the judges not being a part of this year’s exhibition.

Moreover, one of those nervous emailers wonders why Rick Spix is on the UF Mailing List saying things like

“As to having work in the shows, it seems like a good way to pay those folks for a good many hours spent doing the judging thing.”

when the issue is presumably dead and the general assumption from the posted rules is that the BMFAC judges will not be recompensed by displaying their own art in this year’s exhibition?

You could quell these rumors by stating categorically that no art by a BMFAC judge will be displayed this go around. Better yet, to be more convincing, the director should come forward and make a public statement clarifying this matter.

I am curious to see what Thornton will say in response. I do not expect the contest director will see fit to issue a proclamation.


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Has the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Cleaned Up Its Act?

Will I judge my hands to be cleaner if i wash them with soap i programmed myself?

What! Will these hands never be clean?

It’s baaaaack. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest returns for 2009 with freshly scrubbed rules.

Past co-director Damien M. Jones made the announcement last night on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List:

Good evening listfolk,

I would like to inform you that the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 is open and accepting submissions. This is a contest to select images for exhibition at ICM in 2010. The submissions period closes October 10, 2009.

For complete information, please visit the contest web site:

Thank you for your attention.

Damien Jones

So has the competition cleaned up its act, or is there still some dirt lingering under its fingernails? Well, no pun intended, you be the judge. Here are my initial impressions:

Have the Judges Been Taken Off the Wall?

It appears that the contest’s directors and sponsors took some of Orbit Trap’s past criticisms to heart. Previously, as we pointed out many times, the contest was tainted by including the judges’ artwork — even to the tune of 50% of the exhibition. To its credit, this year’s competition appears to have remedied this arrangement. From the rules page:

Eligibility: Anyone may submit their own artwork to the contest, except selection panel members and their immediate families.

That’s more like it. Giving credit where credit is due, I applaud this change which certainly makes considerable strides to promote fairness, reduce conflicts of interest, and remove the sense that the whole thing was deliberately undertaken to be little more than a self-serving publicity stunt for the judges.

But I know what the more paranoid among you might be thinking. The rules are clear about the judges being disallowed from the contest — but what about the exhibition? Are they also excluded from that venue? After all, since some of the judges are (self-described) “prestigious fractal artists,” should they not receive some compensation for donating their time so willingly? I agree that, compared to previous years, the formal details of the exhibition are more sketchy and could have been left vague to allow wiggle room for tweaking at a later date. However, on this front, I’m going to take the directors and sponsors at their word and assume they are operating on good faith. Unless I learn otherwise, I’ll presume that no asterisk clauses or extenuating circumstances will arise to allow any of the judges to display their own work in the 2010 exhibition. And, if the judges deserve compensation, I would hope the competition’s sponsors would pony up a fair monetary payment for services rendered rather than provide wall space beside the winning artists.

Follow the Money

But just as one conflict of interest disappears, another rises to take its place. Consider this year’s panel selection members:

Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Honorary Chairman
Javier Barrallo (Spain), The University of the Basque Country
Damien Jones (UK), fractal artist and programmer
Kerry Mitchell (USA), fractal artist and programmer
Janet Parke (USA), fractal artist
Juan Bautista Peiró (Spain), Polytechnique University of Valencia
Frederik Slijkerman (Netherlands), author of Ultra Fractal
Rajat Tandon (India), University of Hyderabad
Garth Thornton (New Zealand), author of XenoDream
Mark Townsend (Australia), author of Apophysis

What would be one of the most serious conflicts of interest for a judge in an art contest? Could it be the opportunity to make a business profit by serving as a judge?

Imagine this scenario. Imagine an art contest where some of the judges are in the business of selling art supplies — you know, like paints, brushes, canvases, frames, mattes, and so on. Imagine further that these judges would be certain to know that some artists entering the contest would be using their products. And not only would they be able to recognize their products in given artworks, but so would many of the other artists and viewers who would examine the prize-winning entries. It stands to reason that the more their products are associated with the winning entries, the more money they are likely to personally make.

Does the above situation sound like a conflict of interest to you?

I would guess that the authors of various fractal software were included as judges in this year’s competition to give the appearance of greater balance. After all, there has been some previous criticism, from Orbit Trap and other parties, that past competitions seemed skewed to a particular software platform. Including the creators of Ultra Fractal, Xenodream, and Apophysis is probably designed to show that this year’s BMFAC has no prevailing bias.

And maybe it succeeds to that end. But it leaves a worse problem in its wake.

Two of the programs, Ultra Fractal and Xenodream, are for sale. Their authors have a clear financial investment in their respective software’s success or failure. The situation would be different if the software was freeware. But it’s not. There’s hard cash to potentially be made from product placement — and this competition provides a world stage for advertising fractal generators. The software that winds up in the winner’s circle will invariably be associated with artistic success — especially from an exhibition built to acquaint newcomers to the field of fractal art. In short, if Ultra Fractal and Xenodream images do end up in the exhibition, two of the panel selection members will most likely make a profit as a direct result. And that, gentle readers, is a classic example of a colossal conflict of interest.

Please understand that I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything unethical here. After all, no judging has yet taken place. Conflicts of interest are not so much about individual personalities as they are about compromising situations. Conflicts of interest establish an atmosphere that opens loopholes, create opportunities for preference and for gain, and, worst of all, allow abuses to more easily occur.

And some conflicts of interest are so visibly inherent as to be unmistakable. Would you think it fair if Olympic athletes were judged by their own coaches — or, more to the point, by the merchants who make sports equipment and apparel? Such coaches and merchants would surely stand to financially benefit if their protégées or products won a medal. But the Olympic community would deem such an arrangement to be outrageous and demand such shenanigans be rectified. So why should the fractal community sit still for a comparable state of affairs?

The bottom line? The two authors of for-sale software should resign from the judging panel immediately.

Additional Ca-Chinging

Another, perhaps lesser, conflict of interest, and one that Orbit Trap has noted in previous BMFACs, also involves making money and has not been washed clean. Two other judges could also make a profit — depending on what software dominates the contest and exhibition. Why? Because both do or have taught courses in using Ultra Fractal at the Visual Arts Academy. Again, if UF racks up the kudos in this year’s BMFAC, then Ultra Fractal will then be associated with internationally award-winning fractal art. UF, however, has one substantial drawback. I’ll let the instructor of the course “Working with Ultra Fractal” explain:

Ultra Fractal is a powerful, feature-rich, and extremely versatile fractal generator that allows the user to explore many types of fractals and to create amazing images. But it has, by nature, a very steep learning curve.

There’s the rub. You want to win those art prizes, but the prized program is designed for someone with an advanced engineering degree. Don’t worry though. One of the BMFAC judges will come to your aid — for a fee.

It stands to reason that the more exposure UF gets as a “winning” program, the more likely cyber-seats in UF classes will be filled.

These “faculty member” judges should also resign either their teaching job or their judging job, but I won’t get my hopes up. Even a dump truck of Lava won’t wash the pie off some hands.

Size Matters, or How Loaded Are Those Dice?

And is there much doubt what fractal software will once more prevail when the BMFAC smoke clears? Let’s do the math with a short assembly of the judges:

Frederik Slijkerman — author of Ultra Fractal.

Damien M. Jones — formerly hosted the UF web site for many years and has been considered such “an evangelist” (his phrase) for Ultra Fractal that he even wrote a lengthy apology to explain his expressed devotion to the program.

Janet Parke — teaches UF classes online.

Kerry Mitchell — has taught UF classes online.

Mark Townsend — created Apophysis, a program originally made for use with Ultra Fractal.

Given the above roster, I’d say things are looking good for UF users again this year. Hopefully, though, we won’t go so deeply into UF cult worship as to have a repeat of the 2007 contest where several students enrolled in judges’ UF classes picked up awards or honorable mentions. That coincidence left a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.

And if the aesthetic proclivities don’t lean in a UF direction, the submission sizes certainly do. OT complained about the required plasma TV size dimensions in past contests. You’ll be glad to know they’ve gotten even more gigantic this go around:

Artwork that is selected must then be provided in high-resolution format, sized so that the largest dimension is 8000 pixels. If a high-resolution version of the artwork cannot be produced, it should not be entered. Some images may be selected for printing at even larger size (12000 pixels in the largest dimension) so entrants would do well to be aware of the size requirements. This is particularly important for certain types of fractals (e.g. flames) which are difficult to render at large sizes.

12000 pixels? What are you making? A mural?

Well, maybe yes, as it turns out. One of this year’s BMFAC judges is an expert on murals.

Sorry, Apo users. You’re screwed with those flames. Sorry, post-processors, you too — unless you have a system with a quadrillion gigs of RAM. And for users of stuff like Ferguson or Gintz software — you know, software authors who somehow didn’t make this year’s all-inclusive judging cut — well, you can render large but your graphic processing functions are somewhat limited. So, by design, that pretty much leaves an entry pool of UF and (to a lesser extent) Xenodream images — that is, the rare programs that can make works to massive scale but also heavily process them.

OT has argued before that there is absolutely no reason to insist that all fractal art must have gargantuan dimensions and be printed the size of a barn door to be artistically successful. No, this insistence that bigger is better is a precisely calculated, exclusionary provision contrived to limit the playing field rather than level it.

So, To Conclude

My initial impression of this year’s BMFAC is that it has only partially cleaned up its act. The judges have been handcuffed outside the gallery door, but the helping hands of BMFAC still need some conflicts of interest and agenda items scrubbed off with industrial, anti-bacterial soap.

And other questions remain for later discussion. For example, how will the judges handle mixed media collages made in UF5 that are submitted to this “fractal art contest”?

And what kind of overriding aesthetic about fractal art is being perpetuated with this contest? That question has crucial implications for all of us who engage in some form of fractal art. Jones makes clear in the rules that he wants to avoid all stereotypical “garish, 70’s style imagery.” I guess I’d sleep better if I didn’t wonder whether he’s replacing that tired trope with another stereotype of his own — a stereotype that, in its own way, is just as narrow and “garish” as those spirals that were once de rigueur for the now defunct Fractal Universe Calendar. Artwork that, in his words, is

uniquely fractal; artwork that uses fractal tools to produce less-fractal imagery is not as desirable (but is not disqualified). We want artwork that will look good when printed large (i.e. has lots of good, interesting fractal detail).

Admit it. You know what he wants. He wants it to be big. He wants it to have detail. He wants it to appeal to Janet Parke. And he wants it replicated over and over and over by her students until it becomes the only critically recognized expression of what fractal art can be.

He wants your multi-layered UF monstrosities.


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Infinite Jest?

Slimazoids Visit Gnarlinspike Badlands

Slimazoids Visit Gnarlinspike Badlands by Garth Thornton.

Posted to Fractal-World.

One of the hardest parts of my job is figuring out what other people will think is funny. You’d think that would be easy, but my own sense of humor is far from the mainstream. I can’t assume others will laugh at the same things I find funny.
Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoonist

Tap. Tap tap. Is this thing on?

Oh. Hi. Hey. Thanks for coming. Say. If you’re like me. Have you ever wondered…

What’s easier artistic material? Tragedy or comedy?

As a writer, I’ve always found comic themes more difficult to pull off than tragic ones. Maybe that’s because most of us are more likely to agree on what constitutes a tragedy. But evoking laughter in a reader — well, good luck.

And I wonder if amusing a viewer with a visual image isn’t twice as difficult. After all, the perceiver of the image generally has only visual cues for clues. Often, there’s no narrative set-up. No underlying context. No cathartic punch line.

Garth Thornton, one-half of the creative team behind Xenodream, walks the fence very effectively in the image above. The caption provides the context for appreciating the joke — that is, there is a deliberate, conscious attempt to steer viewers to see Thornton’s humorous point-of-view.

And, really, there’s nothing wrong with guiding viewers to intended interpretations. There have been discussions back in Orbit Trap’s salad days over whether images have inherent political content — or if such a subtext is created only by the act of titling. Some fractal artists insist on not titling images, or are prone to using only numerical titles. Such practices, they argue, do not pressure viewers into making assumptions about thematic content and allow the broadest latitude to form individual interpretations.

My response would be that viewers are always free to forage in images and come up with their own idiosyncratic, thematic angles. Titles and captions don’t contaminate interpretation; they merely suggest one possibility that occurred to the artist. And why shouldn’t artists provide viewers with possible road maps, especially if artists hope to imply political, social, technological, horrific, and, yes, even comic overtones.

But humor, because it is so inherently subjective, is extremely hit or miss. And all the more so if visual clues come off as vague or garbled when “read.”

I’m certainly not the first artist to dwell on this subject. From “‘Snot Funny: Humor and Art” by Kate Alexander:

It is difficult to think of humor and intellect as going hand-in-hand: just like the divisions of mind and body, humor is considered base, and mutually exclusive to higher cognition. After all, humor is very corporeal: laughter is the physical response to something funny. If you have any doubts of this, just consider these questions: did Jesus laugh? Can you imagine Muhammad telling a joke? Or Buddha, mid-meditation, passing gas and giggling?

This very issue has repercussions in art as well. The function of art has, for several centuries now, been expected to fulfill some philosophical purpose. Art is supposed to make us think. This especially overwhelmed art in the wake of the Conceptual Art movement, as artistic skill was thrown out the window, and the “idea” reigned supreme. It is thus that we separate the high arts from the low arts: art that is “funny” is not respectable.


But, some might say, if the separation of high art and low art did not exist, art would be indistinguishable from mere “entertainment:” a Peanuts comic strip would be as aesthetically valuable as a Bruce Nauman; Will Ferrell would be more of a mover-and-shaker than Sol LeWitt; Andy Samberg’s crude SNL digital shorts would be as artistically legitimate as a Jean-Luc Godard film. I myself try to fight the elitist reputation of art historians, but all I have to say is: yikes.

The profiling couldn’t be any clearer. Tragedy is high art. Comedy is lowbrow. The plank to the back of the head in Laurel and Hardy. The poke in the eyes by Moe Howard. The snickering you try to stifle when a friend clumsily misses the last stair step. These are the pulled fingers of low culture. The true intelligentsia prefers a more royal approach: We are not amused.

Yes, it’s far easier to show angst and anger in one’s art — or just title an image with some ominous, obtuse phrase to ensure maximum heaviness. Like Nascar Bazaar. Or throw out reason entirely and just make shit up on the spot like Janet Parke. How about: Tressione. Or: Asundriana. Well, are you laughing — or bowled over by the ponderous connotations — or just beginning to feel the first flushes of weepiness?

It’s far easier to imply something serious than it is to venture into comedy’s minefield. After all, exactly what kind of a reaction do you intend? Which of the following do you hope your freshly minted comic image brings forth: mild amusement, a touch of mirth, extreme rib-tickling, presidential smirking, ironic elbowing of shared insights, sarcasm leading to furious fist-pumping, slapsticky pratfall guffawing, parody or insult or blunder or pranking? Look at all the wrong exits your poor viewer can take. Maybe that’s why titles or captions can sometimes serve as a kind of pre-set, interpretive GPS system.

Still, it’s so easy to get lost in the comedy forest:

The Lion Just Woke Up

The Lion Just Woke Up by Maria K. Lemming

Pretty funny, huh? Or, is it? It depends, I suppose, whether you feel the lion is:
1) sleepy, and has a groggy, foggy look that suggests a bit of whimsy, or
2) startled, and thus p’unked upon awakening to find you inexplicably hanging about the lair, or
3) hungry, making you potential and available cat food and the whole situation definitely not funny.

Or, how about this — an image that shares some stylistic attributes with the previous one, yet does not necessarily lead to the same responses:

Hurry to Dress

Hurry to Dress by Elenyte Paulauskas-Poelker

Is this funny? I guess it’s your own call. Poelker’s image always makes me smile, but I’d be hard pressed to explain in depth why I think it’s funny. Something about its mix of implied chaos, a frenzy found in that captured moment, and the abstract, contorted body desperately trying to squeeze into clothing. Maybe you find all of this too familiar and therefore depressing. I don’t know. Can’t you see I’ve wandered into dangerous waters here? I mean: if you have to explain the joke, then…

Finally, mixing math and humor tacks on another grievous level that can result in blank looks rather than laughter. After all, “fractal humor” is probably a sub-genre of the broader “scientist humor” field. Often, such jokes rely on a rudimentary understanding of some genre-specific jargon and arcane knowledge. Here’s a case in point. First, study the image, which appeared in the “Fractal Humor” section of the FractalForum message board:

Malformed Child

Malformed Child by Dave Makin.

Posted to

Now, follow along carefully as Makin lays out the joke for you:

This is z^2+c where z and c are a 3D system i.e. not fully 4D.

It looks like the malformed offspring of a quaternionic Mandy and a hypercomplex Mandy [smiley].

Well, kids, isn’t that funny? Isn’t it? Or, as they say, did you have to be there?

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Still More 6 Reviews Using 6 Words

Jonah by Catenary

Jonah by Catenary

Nicely named. Shows guts. Suitably claustrophobic.

a006 by Alice Kelley

a006 by Alice Kelley

With this ring I thee iterate.

Communing with the Spirits by Philip Northover

Communing with the Spirits by Philip Northover

So much for your dingy afterlife!

The Boyfriend by Dennis Halbin

The Boyfriend by Dennis Halbin

“Have my daughter home by 10:00.”

ka39 by Yasuo Kamei
ka39 by Yasuo Kamei

Could your tank be too acidic?

The Trumpet Player by Elizabeth Mansco

The Trumpet Player by Elizabeth Mansco

Yeah, play that crazy horn, man.

and, because OT cares or needs to fill more space, a bonus review:

Furnace by Aexion

Furnace by Aexion

Is it getting hot in here?


Fractal Universe Calendar Update:

Keith Mackay, former editor for the Fractal Universe Calendar, posted on another blog that the 2010 edition will be the final one published by Avalanche Publishing and noted that “the calendar and ‘contest’ are dead.” To our knowledge, though, there has been no official word from either the most recent editor or from anyone at the publishing house.

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Beyond the Valley of the Fractal Dolls

And will it make my breasts more self-similar?

Does this fractal make me look infinitely fat?

Detail of Fractal Nude Study by clifftoppler. Link contains nudity: here.

I am doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs…
Hole, “Doll Parts”

I want a doll! I want a doll!
Neely O’Hara, Valley of the Dolls

I know this blog usually wrestles with weightier subjects like contests and calendars and kings, but I’d like to move on to a more pressing topic. It’s a question, really, and one I’ve asked myself now and then ever since I rendered my first render.

Why do some people like to kidnap naked women and entrap them in fractals?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Artists, analog and digital, have been doing something similar for a very long time. Pull up that footstool as you remember both your history and your semantics:

The nude has become an enduring genre of representational art, especially painting, sculpture and photography. It depicts people without clothes, usually with stylistic and staging conventions that distinguish the artistic elements (such as innocence, or similar theatrical/artistic elements) of being nude with the more provocative state of being naked. A nude figure is one, such as a goddess or a man in ancient Greece, for whom the lack of clothing is its usual condition, so that there is no sexual suggestiveness presumed. A naked figure is one, such as a contemporary prostitute or a businessman, who usually wears clothing, such that their lack of it in this scene implies sexual activity or suggestiveness (See also: nudity and sexuality). The latter were rare in European art from the Medieval period until the latter half of the 1800s; in the interim, a work featuring an unclothed woman would routinely identify her as “Venus” or another Greco-Roman goddess, to justify her nudity.
–Wikipedia (which understands leaving things uncovered), “Depictions of Nudity.” Link contains nudity (duh): here.

The unusual businessmen found in the wild by Wikipedia aside, I remember most of the above staging and parsing from art history. But what’s the special attraction of imprisoning using naked nude women in fractal and digital art? Next slide please:

The human body contains variations of all geometric shapes such as the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, the cube, etc., making it an ideal subject for exercises in rendering and demonstrating artistic ability and creativity. The body is viewed as a design form of shapes, highlights, and shadows.
–Museum of Art and Archeology, “Addressing Nudity in Art.” Link that does not contain nudity but just a bunch of words instead: here.

Right. Math. Art. And that other technical stuff. Sounds good. Just be very precise about highlights and shadows as you increase the size of your Poser model’s conical breasts. You’re covered then and only see design forms and nude pixels. Surely there’s nothing else for discriminating art appreciators to see. Right?

Wrong. Some people see naked people and are offended because your artistic creation:
1) has naked people in it,
2) is impure and indecent and immoral,
3) is sexist,
4) is stupid,
5) is non-representational (no one but a Poser replicant looks that good),
6) is embarrassing to all concerned,
7) is NSFW and I’m at work right now,
8) has way too much image compression, dude

but none of the above is what I think when I see a naked woman nude figure trapped within the confined deep space of a rectangle — fractal spirals twinkling like galaxies beside her flesh highlighted features — Sierpenski triangles sleeting like cosmic rays through her flesh exposed skin surfaces. Instead, I think


We interrupt your pleasant blogging experience to bring you this important message from SOMA.

Hi there. I’m David X. Machina. I’m not really a blogger. I just play one on this blog. I’m the titular head director of SOMA: The Society of Museum Ambiance.

SOMA has one monomaniacal goal: To keep ads out of art museums. Physical museums have been operating under our guidelines for some time. True, physical museums have lobbies, curio shops, and city busses packed with gratuitous, self-promoting ads. But, so far anyway, I’ve never been in the MOMA, about to enjoy viewing Starry Night, only to have a television screen suddenly appear in my peripheral vision and display a certain and inexplicably popular ad for Axe deodorant. Can we all agree that seeing that guy with fire hoses for armpits would probably ruin the mood for experiencing Van Gogh?

And yet something similar happens nearly every time I enter online community galleries that showcase digital art. I am aggressively bombarded around the borders of my vision with saturation advertising. How can I focus on viewing art when flash ads featuring the mortgage rate in every state and country are blinking around the edges of my perception? Or if I’m trying to view a piece called “Still Life with Fruit,” why must I have vertical Google ads on either side? The right side is trying sell me organic strawberries, and the left side is pitching unauthorized whiskey-making equipment. In contrast, physical museums never barbarically intrude into my senses and pollute my aesthetic experience in such a manner (unless you count tour guides).

Even movies and DVDs are not so brazen. In these mediums, commercials fill the screen before the feature starts or is played. Concerts and stage plays are not rudely interrupted when the “art parts” are occurring. So why do so many online community art galleries use the very model clinically tested to always undercut the sublime for the sell — television?

Renderosity is the worst. Are you as tired as I am of all of those sultry, Poser-derived, replicant-skinned, Xena wannabes slinking around the edges of every screen? What a sorry collection of seductive sorceresses, pallid vampiri, curvaceous buccaneers, gypsy cheerleaders, armored harpies, gothic sunbathers, bikinied demon-destroying hellcats, and Cleopatra impersonators.

And how come so few Poser artists spent time in medical school and yet so many are more skilled at breast augmentation than the finest plastic surgeons?

And I'm cold.  Would you be a good boy and turn down the fan speed on your computer?

Hi there. I’m Venus. I hope everyone with testosterone out there can see through yet another spurious claim by Orbit Trap. Now, please excuse me as gravity pulls me right over on my face.

Detail of Coffee Break by Alyah. Link contains nudity: here.

Banish them all from your visual field. Join SOMA today*. We will gladly waive the membership fee**. All you have to do is tighten your resolve or perhaps pay annually for a premium membership. So the next time your will weakens, and digital gallery art begins to dissolve under the peripheral influence of the chief’s shapely daughter and her bison-hide lingerie, just go all Zen and begin chanting SOMA’s motto like a mantra:

Succubi Today?
I’m Gone Tomorrow!

Together, we can hold the line for a better cyberspace filled with chain web sites of our own ads-free, digital Louvres. And, no, I don’t want fries or a buxom mermaid stripper in a pirate outfit with that art.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

* Side effects of joining SOMA include peaceful contemplation, ruminating on life’s mysteries, cathartic epiphanies, and erectile dysfunction which is caused by everything.
**Although you can still send donations to the Tim and Terry Slush Fund/Ponzi Scheme for Wayward Poser Replicants. No amount will be considered too small.


these poor women look so cold. I feel sorry for them — adrift, clothingless, caught in the framed confines of a fractalized void. I want to just surf into one of Renderosity’s countless Poser merchant shops and purchase a parka — maybe some L.L.Bean-tinged boots — at least a space helmet and some oxygen tanks!!

I mean if these Poser merchants can so completely objectify women by literally selling their digital hair, skin, breasts, and other shank-to-flank body parts, then how about rendering up and draping some of these goosebumped models with a warm Snuggie made out of fiberglass, steel, insulation, neoprene rubber, and Kevlar.

And I don’t mean to single out or pick on clifftoppler. I actually like some of his work (like this richly textured scan). His was just the most recent example of the naked-woman-ensnared-in-a-fractal pic that came across the transom of the UF List. It’s the particular sub-genre that baffles me — not the individual practitioner.

In the end, we can and probably should debate the multi-faceted moral, cultural, sexual, and digital underpinnings of this stylistic phenomenon of fractal nudism. But, first, we must have empathy for the tragic souls condemned to drift infinitely, insensate, iteration after iteration, through self-similar space — and maybe send them some battery-operated heated ski gloves and tube socks once the world economy recovers.

Because we always knew that in space no one can hear you scream — but who knew — that in fractal space — no one can see your clothes.

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Odds and Ends #3

It's a secret.  Don't ask.

Don’t ask (because they) don’t tell.

[Image seen here.]

Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off.
Samuel Johnson

What’s up in fractaldom lately? Who knows? It’s a secret.

Let’s do a run through of a few of my ongoing bugaboos.

The Fractal Universe Calendar

Uh-oh. Something has changed. But what exactly? And why will neither the editor nor the publisher make plain what’s transpired?

The main Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) site has definitely been revised. How? Any mention of a 2011 calendar has been excised. And I didn’t imagine that such notations were still recently there because a Google search of “fractal universe calendar 2011” turns up the following cached strings:

A fractal calendar for the year 2011 is now planned, and [editor] Panny Brawley will…


…these pages in anticipation of a calendar being published next year for 2011.


The submission process for the Fractal Universe Calendars is currently CLOSED. We anticipate that it will reopen in early 2009 for the 2011 calendar.

These are all gone now. In fact, both the entire FAQ page and the Submit page have been scrubbed.

The text on the home page now reads:

The annual Fractal Universe ® wall calendar has been published by Avalanche Publishing, based in California, for the last few years as one of its best-selling lines. The calendar has been professionally printed and distributed, and on sale each year to the public via the Avalanche Publishing official webpages and in retail outlets across the United States, Canada and United Kingdom.

A calendar for the year 2010 is currently being published, and the images have now been selected. Thank you to all those who took the time to submit their images, and congratulations to the successful artists!

The submission process for 2010 is therefore now CLOSED.

Later in the year a gallery of images to be included in the 2010 gallery will also be displayed on this website.

See? No mention of a 2011 calendar at all. Is Avalanche Publishing really going to deep-six “one of its best-selling lines”? Or has the selection process now gone underground — to word of mouth, as it were? Is another contest forthcoming for 2011 — or will art be directly solicited by the publisher?

Ssssh. Apparently, it’s a secret.

So, in the interest of OT’s readers, I sent the following “enquiry” via the FUC’s Contact page:

Dear Editor and/or Publisher:

I have a few general inquiries:

1) Will there be a 2011 Fractal Universe Calendar?

2) Will submissions for it be handled as they were in the past using an open call under a competitive framework?

3) Or will submissions be only solicited directly from artists?

4) Will the editor/editors’ work be included in the 2011 calendar?

5) If a competitive format is used, will the names of the “judges” (publishers who make the final selections) be made public?

6) Of the artists included in the 2010 calendar, how many were selected from open submissions and how many were directly solicited?

7) Why have I never received a reply from anyone at either the Fractal Universe Calendar web site or Avalanche Publishing for questions I have submitted previously over several years?

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Terry Wright

Orbit Trap

Since I’ve never received a reply for any of my previous queries, I won’t hold my breath expecting a response this time.

After all, such matters deserve to be a secret. Don’t they?

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest

Good news. The two sites (2006 and 2007) for the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) have been restored. I guess Damien M. Jones, co-director of the competitions, has uncorrupted his server, an odd technical malady described in a previous OT post. Jones even gave a long, somewhat arcane, rather woe-is-me-flavored explanation of his server meltdown on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List — including this enigmatic tidbit:

My role as a web site host is no longer required, and I cannot fulfill that role adequately in any case (especially not for those sites that have moved on).

Nothing stays the same forever. Nor should it.

Jones notes that moves for some sites he was hosting on Fractalus, like the Ultra Fractal site, were “on the horizon.” But what this observation means for the UF List or the restored BMFAC repositories is anyone’s guess. And I might consider shopping around for a new virtual home if I was a fractal artist currently squatting on Fractalus.

Since the BMFAC sites are back open, and since Jones seems in a talkative mood, it never hurts to once more ask: Does the site restoration mean that a 2009 contest will be held? Will judges again be UF heavies and given pass keys to the back door of the exhibition? Will anything about the 2007 exhibition ever be mentioned on the 2007 BMFAC site? Because, as we know…

Nothing stays secret forever. Nor should it.

Troll Update

OT’s trolls appear to be giving up or just giving in to apathy lately. They’re just no fun anymore in their semi-retirement.

WelshWench seems content to talk about her blog makeover(s) and world travels. The last time she got irked enough to blast us, nearly a year ago now, all she could muster was a name-calling list. What should we say in return? I know you are but what am I?

And there’s no sport left in Keith Mackay’s idreamincolor forum, where I was banned after one post, and which has given up the ghost. And his wedreamincolor group blog hasn’t seen any action for over two months — all the while keeping Dzeni’s crowing post about her successful vote-spamming phone book cover campaign at the top.

Fortunately, when the chips are down, we can usually rely on our el supremo troll, Ken Childress, to bail us out and lower himself to the occasion. But even he’s been in suspended animation lately after turning his OT sucks blog into a personal photoblog to parade nature shots of his backyard and such. But, shaking off his recent torpor, he’s finally roused himself for a few new across-the-bow shots. And, sure enough, some of his like-minded locals, who’d been keeping mum about all the snow and flower pics, drifted back for some latent grousing. Responding to my previous post, Keith Mackay observes that

Picking a fight with a journal entry that is over a year old would be bizarre for most people, but not for them. It’s good for ratings and they know it. That blog is built on meanness and that’s what people like to see. That’s why the trash on reality TV is so popular. The bigger the fight and the more anger that you see, the more viewers that you get.

I am not just speculating about this. The number of views on my web site has gone up in the last 2 days and I haven’t done anything there to cause that.

Then Mackay comes back unapologetic three days later to add:

Actually, I have to take that back. I figured out why there were more views on my site and it wasn’t because of OT.

To which Toby Marshall helpfully adds:

Still doesn’t change the fact that muckraking sells…

Wait, guys. I’m confused. After all, Rick Spix said in the initial journal entry referenced last post that:

I reckon I can relate with all the Orbit Crap bs. Ya gotta understand that they are a VERY MINOR thing and almost nobody has even heard of them.

See why I’m perplexed? If no one has ever heard of us, then can we really be said to be successfully muckraking? But if we are effectively pandering in reality-TV sleaze for ratings, then aren’t some people actually bothering to read this blog? What a quandary.

And wasn’t I talking about transference last time — that is, the tendency of our adversaries to act out the very behavior they are projecting on us? Weren’t Spix’s remarks fraught with more than a little meanness? And what do Childress & Co. mean by muckraking? Would an example be like when one’s photoblog of nature pics stalls, so you (once more) hit OT up side the head, and, sure enough, the regulars drift back for another round robin of snarky personal comments? Would that be muckraking?

Childress needs new material, too. He returns, again, to his tired complaint that we are authoritarian and delete comments, although the only example he cites is himself. He claims we cut him off because “they could not handle my questions and refutations of their posts.” Close — but no cigar. Actually, we just got tired of refuting his remarks — the same ones — at length — over and over again. That brick wall was getting slick with the blood from our heads. Even so, we’ve left up many of Childress’ novelette-length rehashes. They’re still available for browsing in the archives. And we certainly gave Childress a longer rope than his compatriot Keith Mackay gave to me — a fact Childress consistently chooses to ignore — making Childress’ righteous anger over censorship to be situational.

But wait. Hold the (cell) phone. It seems Childress has revamped the comments policy on his blog to read:

Comments may be deleted if I think they cross the line as to what I find acceptable.

Meaning, I guess, “if I don’t like them.” But that’s okay because Childress can still claim the moral high ground over us since:

I will indicate that a comment has been deleted if I have the need to delete a comment.

Such a disclaimer, of course, absolves Childress of any ethical fuzziness. Why just delete a comment when you can also publicly embarrass the person who made it?

Childress also has political problems with OT:

Oh, and the political comments give you an insight into just how the OT mind works. I know OT is dying to tie fractals with political commentary. But, it just doesn’t work very well. Certainly, OT has never been able to successfully manage it.

Childress neglects to point out that politics only came up because Spix said in his entry that OT put forth “overly spun ala K Rove ‘opinions’ and allegations.” I was only playing off Spix’s allusion to Bush’s former advisor. In truth, I have previously written on OT about fractal art and politics — and anyone can view a (very non-censored) comment by Childress on this issue and my reply to him. I’ll let readers decide which of us argues the topic more convincingly.

Besides, there are more than a few examples of fractal political art. I suggest Childress wander over to Guido Cavalcante’s Fractalmix blog and look at these two powerful images about global warming. In fact, I believe both were even made with Ultra Fractal — the very program Childress serves as an apologist for promotes.

You can check the blurb for yourself to see that last point is no secret.



I have received a reply to my inquiries about the status of the Fractal Universe Calendar from Tina Oloyede, who has not been an editor for the venture for several years but currently manages the calendar’s website. Her answers shed considerable light on matters pertaining to the questions I asked above. I have replicated her answers below as a service to OT’s readers because I believe this is a significant development in an issue this blog has been discussing for years. Oloyede’s complete remarks can be found in the comments to this post.

1) Will there be a 2011 Fractal Universe Calendar?


2) Will submissions for it be handled as they were in the past using an open call under a competitive framework?


3) Or will submissions be only solicited directly from artists?


4) Will the editor/editors’ work be included in the 2011 calendar?

Probably not.

5) If a competitive format is used, will the names of the “judges” (publishers who make the final selections) be made public?


6) Of the artists included in the 2010 calendar, how many were selected from open submissions and how many were directly solicited?

N/A – the publisher has always made the final decisions in the past as to which images will be included in the calendars.

7) Why have I never received a reply from anyone at either the Fractal Universe Calendar web site or Avalanche Publishing for questions I have submitted previously over several years?

I can’t give you a specific answer, but apologise on behalf of the editing team that this has occurred to you.

This may possibly have been due to technical problems with the website, or perhaps web server spam filtering.


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Sharing the Love

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

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

[Image seen on FiveThirtyEight.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like claiming someone deletes posts and censors comments?

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

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

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

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


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

Odds and Ends #2

Fractalus Agonistes?

Fractalus: Too Big to Fail?

[Photograph seen on]

Have you been keeping up with fractal art current events? Let’s see…

Speak, Damien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU: Actually, yes.

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

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

O Fractal Universe Calendar Where Art Thou?

Last year:

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

This year:


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

–Will there be FUC contest this year?

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of contests…

The Fractalforums and UltrafractalWiki Spring 2009 Fractal Art Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear FractalForum Mods,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for hearing me out.

Your blogging bud,



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Curiouser and Curiouser

And don't let the door hit your software on the way out!!

Ultra Fractal: Bailed or Booted from its Home?

[Photograph seen on Recession Profession.]

Hmmm. Odd events are piling up.

First, as I previously reported on Orbit Trap, every scrap of information pertaining to the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, both the 2006 and 2007 iterations, were suddenly deleted recently from their web home on Fractalus. Fractalus, of course, is hosted by fractal artist and BMFAC co-director Damien M. Jones. I would think, at the very least, the competitions’ winners* deserve some kind of explanation as to why their successful entries are no longer being showcased. To date, Jones has provided no reason as to why both competitions were inexplicably expunged.

And now, to further muddle the mystery, there was this recent entry by Frederik Slijkerman, the creator of Ultra Fractal, on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List:

Today the Ultra Fractal web site was moved over to a different provider, which was supposed to be a smooth transition — but unfortunately there were a few hours during which downloads and support via e-mail were not available.

Also, the formula database is temporarily off-line.

Like the BMFACs, the Ultra Fractal site was hosted by Jones at Fractalus.

One has to wonder why sites are suddenly evaporating or jumping ship from Jones’ Fractalus domain.

It would almost seem like some kind of deliberate purge is taking place. But surely not. The idea that perhaps Slijkerman disagreed with Jones over some little something is ludicrous. And it’s preposterous to presume that Jones would inexplicably find Slijkerman irrational and a rampaging security threat and surreptitiously give him and UF the boot. Really, such a scenario is completely…um…absurd…and…

Wait. Something’s coming back to me now. Some vague memory of an email Jones once sent me. I think it’s actually in the OT archives. I believe it went something like this:

Wed, 11 Jul 2007 20:55:11 -0400
From: Damien M. Jones
To: Terry Wright
Subject: Re: Eclectasy Hosting


I wrote Lynne [Edel] earlier today to let her know that I would no longer be able to provide you with access to my server. She is the owner of the domain. I know that she is not responsible for your actions; however, I knew that I would not be granting you further access (except as necessary to download a copy of your content) and that would likely mean would need to be moved.


She did ask why I had taken this step, and I indicated that your recent Orbit Trap postings have destroyed a lot of the trust I had with you.

One such hosting boot from Jones is curious enough. Another would be curiouser — especially when added to the curious evaporation of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest sites from Jones’ server.

*By winners I mean the BMFAC contest entrants who were actually selected for physical exhibitions and not BMFAC’s judges who also hung their own works in the same shows leading some people to suspect both contests were deliberate self-promoting publicity stunts designed to suggest to the undiscerning that the judges had also been chosen to appear in juried international art competitions.

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More Thoughts on Good and Bad Fractal Art

And I've commented until I'm just skin and bones...

Too much “good” fractal art is killing me.

[Photogragraph seen on]

I liked Tim’s last post. I think he’s right. And I figured why not carry on this conversation a bit more.

Maybe so-called good fractals truly are bad because they’re made for the wrong reason. In a way, fractal art got off to a “bad” start. Fractal images were first shared on Usenet with its threaded comment structure. Consequently, fractal art (unlike, say, digital photography) initially only had one primary outlet for mass distribution. So images were posted with comment threads in mind. This led to institutionalizing the following criteria: The longer the comment thread, the better the image. So, almost by design, fractal art became about making art to please others more than creating art to please yourself. Vision isn’t what you see but how you see others seeing you. This model still holds sway and is embraced by Fractalbook today — only with many more bells and whistles.

Worse, certain fractal artists cooked up contests that skirted ethics and deliberately rewarded their own work and that of their friends. What then happened? Their aesthetics eventually became the rubric for “good” fractal art — first with the Spiral Swirlies School (Fractal Universe Calendar), then with the layered fractal pancakes that privilege more recent versions of Ultra Fractal (Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest).

But truly good art rarely wins the People’s Choice Awards — that is, generates the longest, gushing comment thread at deviantART or Renderosity, serves as a FUC headstone/eyecandy for a month, or wins that “big” contest like BMFAC. In fact, truly good art is often deemed ugly. Such a designation, of course, labels such art as bad, at least in the conventional wisdom and in the eyes of the undiscerning. So, it’s shunned. After all, to acknowledge it, even as strange or different, would call the established order into question.

But isn’t that what good art is supposed to do?

I guess I feel that fractal swans aren’t choked because they are either over- or under-processed. They’re choked while still cygnets by slavishly adhering to the BMFAC/FUC rules, aesthetics, and codes of artistic conduct. UF propagates the status quo, even makes replication of the prevailing “good” model easy, since only a few of the fractal programming wizards write the cardinal codes. The UF serfs gobble up the UF List crumbs, then fire up their photocopy machines. But, like copies, each successive tweaked dupe loses something and adds to an ongoing digital landfill glut. But what’s more important? Making stunning, relevant art? Or keeping the pecking order in check? Everyone knows the drill. Emulate the (self-proclaimed) “most important fractal artists in the world” and they’ll probably put their hands on you and let you into the temple. Just as long as you understand you’ll always be a “grasshopper” that must never dare to question or challenge the masters.

And, as experience shows, if you don’t deliberately imitate your “betters,” the result is a foregone conclusion. You wind up a perpetual “loser.”

How to break the cycle? Easy. Make the art that pleases you rather than the art you think other “good” artists want to see.

Tags: fractal, fractals, fractal art, fractal blog, benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest, fractal universe calendar, mississippi school of anti-fractal art, choking the swan, cruelanimal , orbit trap

R.I.P. — Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest?

And, no, my gun is not shaped like a minibrot.

And how long would you say have these alleged fractals been missing?

[Image seen on self-delighting soul]

I stumbled into a bit of a mystery this afternoon. What happened to the fractals displayed on the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest websites?

Not only the fractals but everything else is MIA: winners, also rans, losers, judges, intractable sponsors, lists of rules, photos of the directors hanging with Mandelbrot, everything. All gone. Sites for both the BMFAC 2006 and BMFAC 2007 contests have gone dark.

What went down? Anyone in our newly established non-existent community know the scoop?

Here are some off-the-cuff possibilities followed by snappy rejoinders to each:


a) The sites are temporarily down for maintenance.

b) The sites are being moved to a new location.

c) The known-to-be-insistent sponsors severed funding and insisted the sites be shuttered.

d) The bandwidth expenses for hosting the nearly 50 honorably mentioned images from the 2007 contest became too much to fiscally handle.

e) The BMFAC judges finally became so shamed from participating in such a blatant venture of crass self-promotion that they revolted, hacked the sites, and brought them down.

f) Although the contests had no entry fee, submissions to the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art have fallen off so much that self-publicity from the BMFAC was no longer “profitable” enough for a few of the judges/teachers to use the buzz to fill classes, and thus the contest sites collapsed in upon themselves like a spent black hole.

g) God actually does exist, noticed the gross travesty of BMFAC, and smote their web presence.

h) Pressure and negative criticism from a certain unmentioned blog eventually forced the BMFAC to go gently into that good night.


a) Possibly, although the rest of Fractalus (BMFAC’s former server) seems to be humming along just fine.

b) Maybe, but wouldn’t the previous sites have a message indicating a move is in progress or has been made rather than showing surfers blankness?

c) Doubtful. The BMFAC sponsors were always shadowy straw men. They were vilified as being responsible for the contest rules that let the judges into the show through the back door as a “hedge against insufficient quality,” but the 2007 rules (same as the 2006 rules) were announced long before any sponsors were named.

d) Could be. Having 50 rather than the more traditional 5 honorable mentions certainly ups the page hits. But since both the 2006 and 2007 contest sites hosted the images of all entries, this supposition is unlikely.

e) Yeah. Right. (Rolls eyes). When recursive pigs iterate.

f) Well, six courses in “Fractals and Flames” are still listed and apparently going strong, although one of the BMFAC judges is no longer currently listed among “the faculty.”

g) Be nice to think so, but I suspect God has bigger fish to fry — like whipping up plagues of locusts for former Bush Administration war criminals.

h) Chances are slim. According to defenders of the unethical practices of the status quo and a few roving trolls, no one actually reads or (shudder!) would ever take this certain unmentioned blog seriously.

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200 Weeks of the Fractal Window Weekly at Renderosity

Scratch by Simon Kane

Scratch by Simon Kane (SimonKane)

I’ve moaned plenty in the past about the fractal art areas of virtual art communities like Renderosity and deviantART. Sometimes, in such places, observing and discussing art becomes tangled with mutual admiration and friend-gathering. That’s why OT has christened such online haunts as Fractalbook.

But when these communities make efforts that live up to their mission, such actions should be noted, just as the creative efforts of individual artists and editors should be commended.

Recently, the Fractal Forum at Renderosity put together a retrospective of 200 Weeks of the Fractal Window Weekly. Whatever your fractal art tastes, I urge you drop by (or register to do so since some links in Renderosity open only for users who are registered as members). It’s always insightful to get an overview of work that’s been shown at an established “gallery” over a period of years. Personally, I enjoy examining pieces of widely differing élan, so I figured why not post a few that I especially enjoyed. I agree with Tim who said in a recent post that “fractal art is evolving into a number of unrelated styles.” Such forking of the paths can sometimes be seen in this collection.

Before beginning, though, I see that the FWW editors, Barbara Din (DreamWarrior) and Vivian Wood (Tresamie), took some thread flak for their choices. I hope they won’t take the criticism too much to heart. The act of presenting such a retrospective should probably provoke some worthwhile public discussions. But I’m glad the editors took the risk and made the effort. I notice some evolving styles on display but find no prevailing bias.

The image above by Simon Kane may be my favorite of the collection. Line, form, and motion collide here with a force that startles and causes the viewer to second guess depth perception.

Once Upon a Time by Elizabeth Mansco

Once Upon a Time by Elizabeth Mansco (mansco)

Elizabeth Mansco has a painter’s sensibilities and is sometimes drawn to narrative suggestion — traits, not surprisingly, I find attractive. The fluid forms, waves of light, and washes of colors are very sensual here. And the embedded texture of shadowy Sierpenski triangles is striking.

Poissons by Paul DeCelle

Poissons by Paul DeCelle (PaulDeCelle)

I enjoyed these UF takes on the work of Lars-Gunnar Nordström by Paul DeCelle so much that I’ve written previously about themtwice. They were, arguably, the most interesting fractal art series I saw last year.

The first three images I’ve selected were made using Ultra Fractal. Contrary to rumor, I don’t detest the program. But its best practitioners do reveal a certain refined UF style and one much different from the more conventional aesthetics of the Fractal Universe Calendar.

Reaching Out by Aad Kleingeld

Reaching Out by Aad Kleingeld (kleinhoon)

Whoa. It’s Tetsuo — The Radiator Hose. You don’t need those leftover 3-D glasses from watching Coraline to feel the disjunction and perceptual pull from Aad Kleingeld’s gnarly XenoDream creation.

Find Them in Hidden Places by jennyfnf

Find Them in Hidden Places by jennyfnf

The careful construction of this processed Fractal Explorer image by jennyfnf caught my attention. Harsher geometric forms brush against bursts of line light and play off mysterious smoke forms and cascading, patterned edifices. The overall effect is strangely dreamy.

There’s much more to see and explore while poking around in this retrospective. If the less socially stunted or more outright paranoid among you choose to scroll down to brave the comments, well, just remember what I said earlier about not taking whatever gets said to heart.

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My What a Big Fractal You Have #3

Now, back to my sculpture of Jupiter made from Doritos...

I and my superior aesthetics cough faintly in the face of your antiseptic algorithms.

[Photograph by theveryquietroom]


Maybe you’re right. It’s all about the math. Our art form traditionally privileges the scientific mind of the programmer and needs only dribbled gifts from mathematicians to move forward with formulaic self-expression. Any art that results is just another random variable in the string of the theorem — relentlessly abstract and utterly meaningless. And, above all, nothing need ever be deliberately shaped for fear of contaminating the purity of the equation.

There’s no point in naming images because that’s somehow unsporting. The practice fringes on insulting the viewer by having the gall to steer her so roughly into interpretation and rudely intruding on her free associative aesthetic experience. Better to call all of our images simply by integers. RandomFrac436778X should insure that no one will wander into thematic or moral reflection. Leave all that photorealism crap to Lewis Hines and metaphorical animal fables.

And never nudge your fractal into political or social commentary — or, by extension, to suggest anything at all about RL or everyday experience or personal emotions or everlasting truths or stuff remotely tangible whatsoever — because any suggestion of deliberative intent infringes on “the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery.”

So, yeah, you’re probably right. I think we should all follow your advice to rid the fractal world of that “disease” infecting all that we do: art. It must be fully expunged. Who wants to be a part of that world anyway? We all know it’s filled with pompous fools wearing berets and jabbering about pretentious bullshit. We don’t need that mock hipster scene. After all, it would contaminate us. Flee from the museums like you would anthrax. Our wired trenches of individual galleries are more than enough to sustain us. We’ll always have our ever multiplying Fractalbook “friends” and cuddly algorithms to comfort our recursive spirits. We swear it here and now. We’ll never allow our sacrosanct parameter files to become diluted enough to become a part of that artsy fartsy world.


And if that is the prevailing attitude of our community, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After waves of purity purges, the artists will trickle out beyond our borders for the bluer, more open skies of digital art. And only the fractalists will remain. But they won’t be fractal artists. They’ll just be fractal makers. How is all. What is irrelevant. Because making the fractal correctly without contaminants will be imperative. The fractal solution, so to speak. And just count all the insurgents to lock away: filters, titles, representation, even art itself now. The triumph of the form. The extermination of all content.


Remember my continuum? It wasn’t a hierarchy. FRACTAL wasn’t at the bottom and ART at the top. It was deliberately a horizontal line, not a vertical one. There was no judgment implied. There were only choices to be made.

And I think this gets us to the main difference in our views. You fall on the line much closer to FRACTAL (Math). And I fall much closer to ART (Disease). In the end, I agree with Jim Muth. We both are on the same team, but we have very different ideas about how to win the game.


I gotta say it though: I actually think your views are the prevailing ones, which is why I’ve always felt like an outsider in this community — and why I no longer even call myself a fractal artist. I’ve heard every one of those whispers about post-processing being cheating. It’s giving in to the disease. It’s destroying the innate beauty. It’s exposing those precious math-given fractal forms to the germs of art. Careful, or our once perfect algorithmic expression is going to catch something. Something like art. And there’s no coming back from that un-iteration to the bloom of ever being antibacterial again.


But here’s my problem. In creative writing, inspiration is real enough but too rare to be dependable. You have to put in the drudge time, the laborious revision, the tinkering with time-tested literary devices. If you don’t, well, enjoy that mostly empty notebook.

Likewise, I can’t count on my every algorithmic tinker and tweak being a masterpiece — contrary to some Fractalbook cross talk. I don’t have the advantage of being either a math geek or a programmer, so I have to work — consciously and deliberately — at getting results that please me. So I put in the time using what I know about the elements of design — you know, those building blocks from way back when for producing something artistic.

I worry that limiting one’s intent to only showing “the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery” at the expense of titling and political commentary and emotional suggestion and now even art itself is probably what got us in this whole mess in the first place. I’d say Fractalbook is filled to the virtual rafters with fractalized flotsam cranked out on the assembly lines to satisfy precisely that prime directive.

And that proof might show the eventual shackles of monitor mode. You can always be a maker but rarely a shaker. For me, anyway, that way madness, or at least atrophy, lies.

Or, worse, handcuffs and blindfolds. I confess. I seek a deliberative and shaping hand beyond the algorithms. And I accept my shunning from our community as one of the diseased and now disbarred, as well as the loss of my title as “fractal artist.” A “digital artist” I guess I will be. I suppose I should turn in my keypad for this blog and remove my membership from assorted fractal communities and forums.

What’s that? Do I hear faint cheers in the background?

Or…maybe it’s time for more of us to move on to wall mode. To embrace the opportunities the fine arts provide rather than just flirt with their amenities while cursing their foibles as both tawdry and beneath us. To consistently kick sand in the face of the fine arts could be risky. Unless you enjoy being called a fractal craftsman. For. A. Very. Very. Long. Time.

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My What a Big Fractal You Have #2

You are Monitor.  Only you exist. Everything else...

If someone was to print out my images and see something more, or less, than is visible on the computer screen, I’d say stop looking at prints and stick to what you see on your monitor — that’s the real thing. Whatever extra shows up in a print is just artifacts, by-products — as artificial as Mondrian or Klee’s brushstrokes. Is that crazy?

Crazy? No. But virtually biased? Hmmmm. Art can also live and live well in RL.

I don’t believe I claimed that all good art has to have texture. I just said I saw little point in making high-end Giclée prints without giving any thought to using texture. If one chooses to ignore an image’s surface quality, then a photographic print would probably do just as well. I also never suggested that texture is the only element of design. Obviously, others — like pattern, color, composition, and perspective — are equally critical.

I outlined the two mindsets I’ve used while making art. The first, monitor mode, involves working fairly small and focusing on how one’s work will appear in digital space. The second, wall mode, means working large from the start with the intention of eventually making a fine art print. Each mode has its own advantages and disadvantages. Wall mode slows everything down. Processing time is considerably lengthened. Increased computer firepower is a must. I now make probably one-fourth the amount of art I once did in the same time frame. True, I’m more discriminating about what I release than I once was, but, using wall mode, each image now takes four times longer to make. Computation time is not the only factor, though. I’m constantly scouring every nook and cranny of an image as I work on it. Because I’m thinking in wall mode, tiny details now matter greatly.

Wall mode, or prints anyway, has other disadvantages. Some digital coloring and lighting aspects can lose a little in translation. A knowledgeable printer can often work around these
deficiencies, but rich reds and deep blues occasionally wash out a bit, and certain backlit features radiant in digital art fade. But, surface texture is significantly enhanced when images move from the flat screen to a wall-mounted, top-grade Giclée. Those “artifacts,” as you call them, are just as real and foundational as anything else in the image, meaning that texture can be substantial in either monitor mode or wall mode. Take away Klee‘s brushstroking “by-products,” and, well, everything falls apart — whether viewing his paintings from near or far.

Of course, a close-up examination of the texture of paintings sometimes does look worse. Personally, I prefer to view art by the impressionists from way across the room. Standing nose-to-nose with an impressionistic painting ruins the magic trick. It’s like going to see your favorite band rehearse and watching the guitarist practice his leg splits and the singer rehearse his “spontaneous” yelps, struts, and hair flips. Once you see all the un-natural exuberance and practiced choreography, the thrill is somewhat gone.

But sometimes scrutinizing texture makes the viewing experience much more enriching, as I noted with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The intensity of his work seems incredibly vibrant to me when closely inspected. And I never appreciated Willem de Kooning much until I stood within a few inches of several canvases of some of his “women.” I remember being truly frightened.

My point, again, is that wall mode and monitor mode are just different ways of seeing — even if what you are looking at is the same thing. As you live for months with a now large Giclée print mounted on the wall of a room in your home, you come to see that particular image far differently than it appears on your monitor — not because the image itself has changed, but because the presentation of that image has undergone a dramatic, perceptual shift.

Obviously, my grounding aesthetics run to painting, as a few minutes poking around my web site will certainly demonstrate. But digital art (and, by association, fractal art) is probably more rooted in the aesthetics of photography where texture is less concerned with surface and more tied to patterns and lines — those “neat clean details unlike anything a human hand could make” (as you said so nicely in a recent comment). And that’s where I probably made my mistake.

Yes. I said it. I made a mistake.

My mistake was assuming that Parke and Monnier’s use of Zoomify was the first step to wall mode thinking. Since they both sell prints, I jumped to a presumption they were magnifying parts of larger images to give detailed views in order to provide a kind of print preview for potential buyers. If so, then I struggled to understand why more attention was not paid to revealing aspects of texture. But, then again, I was approaching this situation as a print promotion — and, yes, from my prevailing painting aesthetics.

But I could have been wrong. Their use of Zoomify may have had nothing to do with selling prints. Maybe it was a way of exploring “the bigger picture” from photographic aesthetics. If that is so, then they are taking steps to think outside the confines of a boxed-in screen. They are throwing a switch to light the viewing room very differently. They are tearing down the blinds and opening windows that reveal a detailed scenery in a way similar to exploring a parameter file — although I agree with you that it doesn’t go deep enough. Still, if this is the intent of Monnier and Parke, then they are to be commended for taking steps to help people see with new eyes, and I was wrong to chide them, and I apologize.

But, when I think about all this zooming around, deep parameter file exploration is probably not limited to software like Sterling-ware. I’d guess anyone using Ultra Fractal could pop in a parameter file and see what it produces at various magnifications. That would seem to be the main selling point of the UF List — to see and possibly tweak images as they can only be seen in UF. However, I’d argue I could also do something similar. I could take the master .psd file of a finished post-processed image of mine and make it public. Then, anyone possessing Photoshop could take a somewhat similar “parameter file” tour of that image.

I said somewhat similar. You and I both know it wouldn’t be quite the same.

You know what I wish? I wish our community would stop falling back so often on the this or that fallacy. Fractal art has to be made this way!! It should be displayed that way!! This is the best software!! No, that is better!! This has no post-processing — so there!! This is mostly post-processed — take that!! And on and on and on. Is this a dead end — or just the birth pangs of bringing forth the next evolutionary step?

Monnier says in his comment that

If one is looking for such a painted look, then the best thing to do is
use paint and not a computer. Using filters on a fractal image to
deliberately lose resolution doesn’t make any sense imho.

Sounds good, but it’s too restrictive. Not everyone can manipulate tools like brushes and paints properly — or deal with being exposed to the chemicals involved. Paint programs are just another kind of tool — like masking. Losing resolution is only a problem if you place the “fractal” completely over the “art” component in fractal art. Conversely, in some cases, I’d argue maybe it’s precisely the loss of resolution that makes a particular image successful.

Monnier says in another comment that

The ease with which it is possible to implement ideas into algorithms
and then works (especially with the new object oriented programming)
makes it [Ultra Fractal] for me without any doubt the best tool available for
algorithmic art.

Well, maybe. But doesn’t he really mean for processed algorithmic art. The layers and masking tools found in UF are really the same processing functions done in graphics programs. And, as Tim and I have argued previously, once you import that photo into UF5, you’ve moved out of the realm of algorithmic art and into the area of mixed media. Moreover, those resolution-killing filters Monnier dislikes are also run by using algorithms.

But I’m no better and can be just as dogmatic. Remember this from last time?

Maybe it’s time to take the first baby-steps toward that equally important big big art thing.

Whoa, Terry. That’s really unfair. Stop looking at everything through your own bias to the aesthetics of painting. Go back above and read what you just wrote here in paragraphs 12 and 13. Now, stop being so judgmental and stay in that time out corner until you can finally behave yourself.

This or that has got to go. We need to start thinking of our art form as more of a straight line, doubled-sided arrow — sort of like the “Threat Assessment Chart” Rolling Stone currently uses. On the left end of the arrow is the word FRACTAL, and on the right end is the word ART. All of us fall someone on this arrow — some resting closer to FRACTAL and others resting nearer to ART. Fractal art, then, can never be this or that. Instead, it’s a wonderfully complex and richly varied continuum. All each of us does is decide on what point of the arrow we want to set up our own house.


P.S. I really appreciate your willingness to have a these conversations. It’s this kind of creative give-and-take that allows complex issues to get fleshed out and discussed in depth. There’s no reason to assume that you and I (or any two people) would see eye to eye on everything. Nor should anyone assume that either of us are strict absolutists who see no exceptions to our own ideas and cannot understand well-articulated positions made from different perspectives. Debates are a way of understanding the dimensions of a concept (like fractal art) — not an inevitable slide into prickly antagonism between warring camps. In our community, everyone is much too quick to put up their force fields at the first sign of disagreement. I understand why, I guess, but only to an extent. Most people are content to build bridges and share common interests but show claws at the first sign of a critique. So, when we are critical on OT, many people immediately conclude we are being much too harsh. But I’d argue it is this very lack of honest discussion that has led to an impasse in our community’s ability to develop comprehensive, coherent fractal art theory and criticism. So, again, thanks for being willing to go out on a limb with me.

And, if you are upset about this post, well, I suppose you can always call me irrational, claim I’m a threat to this blog, and toss me off your server.

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My What a Big Fractal You Have #1

Do you see what I see?

No art, Sherlock…


I really enjoyed your last post. I, too, have been thinking about the desire some fractal artists have to reveal more of their images in ever expansive detail. The methods fractal artists use for doing so seem to vary. Some prefer to draw the viewer into the act of making the image and employing interactivity by including parameter files (as you discuss). Others prefer a more static, sensory bombardment for viewers by allowing ever larger and more high rez versions of individual works to be studied in detail. My question is: What’s behind this impulse to go big?

What brings this whole matter to the forefront is that two well-known Ultra Fractal artists, Samuel Monnier and Janet Parke, have used a new tool called Zoomify to display zoom-and-pan windows that allow considerable detail to be seen in large images. Two by Monnier can be found here, and Parke’s can be found here and here. Why, exactly, are they doing this?

Is it because we know deep zooming is cool? We like checking out those YouTube vids of endlessly Zen lower depth dives into fractals exhibiting rivering recursion and self-similarity that stream out of the frame and immediately reappear. So, is Zoomify a deep zoom mechanism for still 2D images? Or is it just a digital magnifying glass?

Or are these two UF artists starting to look at their own works from the viewpoint of a big canvas? After all, both announce on their web sites that prints of their work are available for purchase. Could they be moving through the paradigm shift I call passing from monitor mode to wall mode? These are radically different mindsets. Once you begin to “see” all of your work as a poster-sized print on a wall rather than something the size of a sheet of typing paper on your monitor, everything — from perspective to aesthetics — changes.

Which brings me back to Jim Muth’s musing from my last post: Are there really some fundamental differences in the fractal community between people focused on math and people focused on art? And isn’t a fusion of both the final goal: fractal art?

Here’s my concern. When I peer through the Zoomified looking glass at these images, you know what I see? Bigger fractals. What I don’t see is more detailed art.

If you’re going to start acting like your fractal images are indeed similar to a large canvas, shouldn’t you start paying much more attention to the concept of texture? Even just a little bit? Isn’t texture a long established critical component for art?

And how much texture do these ultra-magnified Ultra Fractal images have? I’d argue absolutely none. Not a single, tactile peak or valley can be seen.

And isn’t that odd? Many UF images certainly look highly textured. Does Zoomify demonstrate that seeing is not believing? For all those piles and piles of layers and masks, are UF images really flat as a pancake?

Or, do I mean flat as an unprocessed photograph?

And am I looking at the details of fractal art — or merely the details of a picture of a fractal? It really does matter. It matters as much as what you see looking at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a museum and what you see looking at a picture of Sunflowers in a book.

And that brings me back to prints. If you’ve blown off all concerns about texture to the point of having none at all, then why bother making anyone a Giclée fine art print to museum specifications using archival inks and papers? After all, there’s no surface grain to showcase or enhanced tactility to “bring out.” Save your money, collectors. Opt for that cheaper, flatter photographic print instead.

I think one’s fractal art should have as much art as it does fractal. Otherwise, I question whether one is truly a fractal artist. Perhaps, instead, one is a fractal maker.

And I have my doubts that these two designations are the same thing.

I’ve been working in wall mode since 2003, as the Binoculars Room on my web site should demonstrate, and texture has become an essential part of my self-expression. But, of course, I admit to heavy and deliberate post-processing to the point where I am satisfied that my (sometimes atom smashed) fractals have also turned the corner to become art. That’s the point of wall mode. To help viewers see the big big picture as you see it. Not in a book to wonder how you made the piece. But on the wall to more clearly see how you made it.

It seems these two UF artists have that big big fractal thing down cold. Now, maybe it’s time to fully embrace wall mode and not just flirt with putting a magnifying glass to a flat, canvas-sized picture. Maybe it’s time to take the first baby-steps toward that equally important big big art thing.

I am troubled by these thoughts and their ramifications. I hope we can have a conversation about some of these reflections. I look forward to hearing what you think.


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Jim Muth: The Original Fractal Blogger

Snake Tree by Jim Muth

Snake Tree by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 4-12-97

I’ll try to post a different image every day, until I make my point that complicated formulas are not necessary for new and unusual fractals.

It appears that Jim Muth has yet to make his point, although, come April, he will have been posting his fractals and writing about them for twelve years. His encyclopedic Fractal of the Day (FOTD) site, graciously hosted by Paul N. Lee, is a treasure trove of not only fractal art, but also Muth’s thoughts on the passing parade of the fractal art scene since 1997.

In a way, Muth’s FOTD dispatches remind me a bit of Garrison Keillor‘s news from Lake Wobegon, but FOTD is spiced with more serious philosophy and contains much less Midwestern folksiness. The feels-like-home trappings are not unlike the world found at A Prairie Home Companion, for Muth updates regular readers with daily fractal weather reports and tales on how the fractal cats passed each day. But it’s the images, their parameter files, and Muth’s wide-ranging musings on art, philosophy, mathematics, politics, and fractal fads and fashion that endure and continue to reward with repeated readings.

If you’ve never tried blogging, you might easily underestimate Muth’s ongoing, monumental achievement. I feel fortunate if I can come up with something to say every week or two. But Muth’s been plugging away providing daily communiqués from Fractal Central since 1997 (over 4000 posts to date). Muth is unquestionably the original fractal blogger — blogging long before the term blog had even been coined. He is fractal art’s Boswell, our Scheherazade whose stories keep himself — and, by extension, us and our art form — alive. Truly, Muth’s accomplishment is nothing less than a continuing diorama that captures the zeitgeist of fractal art.

Let’s drop in here and there and see what’s up…

Pollock by Jim Mutth

Pollock by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 9-28-97

Fractal visionaries:

Today’s prize-winner fractal is named in honor of that not quite so famous American abstract artist, J. Pollock. The resemblance to the paint drippings which made him famous is quite apparent.

I achieved such an effect by taking a nondescript Rectangular plane fractal and redoing it with the inside fill set to epsilon cross. I’m not sure how this option achieves its effects. I think it colors the image according to whether the points’ orbits come closest to the real or imag axis.

Until recently I had never used this option, considering such a fancy fill method artificial, but I have now had second thoughts about fractals. There is no such thing as a “natural” or “pure” fractal other than the bare formula. And since a natural fractal doesn’t exist, it makes no sense to try to maintain fractal purity. And since I no longer must try to keep my fractals pure, I will be able to use the entire range of Fractint‘s coloring options without compunction.

Muth is ahead of the curve on several fronts here. First, he recognized the connection between Pollock’s action paintings and fractal geometry before doing so was fashionable. Second, he put the old post-processing fracas to rest almost before it even started. Once any action is taken beyond the formula, including simple image generation, every fractal is already tainted. So color away and break out the filters. Photoshop, here we come. And, for UFers, feel free to pancake layers with wild abandon. Just be sure to leave off any self-congratulatory and hypocritical notations like 100 layers — No post-processing. Muth grasped early on that UF masking and layering were unnatural before UF users even started tweaking.

Diabolically Clever by Jim Muth

Diabolically Clever by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 5-18-99

Fractal enthusiasts:

I received an e-mail today from one of my readers, commenting that the FOTD is taking on a dark aspect. Well, I guess it is. But I rather enjoy darkness and daring to think the deep, dark thoughts that others try to keep submerged. And current events are doing nothing to push my darker thoughts aside, as today’s FOTD shows.

Today’s fractal plumbs the deepest depths of darkness — right down to the underworld itself. The picture exemplifies the darkness. I have named it “Diabolically Clever” for no reason other than its resemblance to the fiery pit. It was created with my MandNewt05 formula, using the <atanh> function to initialize Z and the bof60 inside fill to supply the colors, which were juiced up just a tiny bit in Photoshop 5.0.

The scene is one of utter chaos — one of the most disorganized fractals I have ever found. No two areas show the same character. The lower half, with its blacks and reds, seems to be reflecting the smoke and fires of the great pit below, while the greenish upper half gives only a hint of the celestial blue glories that lie in that direction. I suspect that if the picture extended a few inches lower, the very demons of Hades would be seen screaming and shrieking as they hot-footed over the coals.

Most of the left part is occupied by a strange, ghostly, almost-circular skeleton arc, with Mandel bud-like indentations. The two sides of this arc are of totally different character. A geometric spot of brighter color toward the upper right of the picture does little to relieve the gloominess of the rest of the scene. Actually, this spot of brightness and color hints at some vague familiar memory from long ago that I cannot quite recall.


The weather here today at Fractal Central was far more heavenly than the fractal. The sapphire blue sky, cottony clouds, and temperature of 72F 22C made it a perfect day to do anything under the sun. I chose fractaling, which I was not quite under the sun when I did it, but within sight of the sun.

Now the time to close down the fractal machine has come. But I’ll be here again tomorrow with another diabolically clever fractal and if I get myself out of the doldrums, a bit of philosophy. Until then, take care, and only my humility prevents me from admitting how great a fractal artist I am. That is if fractals are art.

This post really shows the dimensions of Muth’s talents. For one, it reveals how adept he is at understanding and breaking down his own work. This is seen both in his explanation on the fractal’s disorganization, and in his observations as to how the color gradations correspond to moods. For another, Muth’s courage to buck the prevailing fractals-as-eyecandy aesthetic is clearly stated and clarified. If fractals are indeed art, a notion that he jabs with mock humility at the post’s end, then they are capable of considerably more than just being pretty wallpapers. Art embodies all of our experiences and moods; it is not necessarily limited to “the better angels of our nature.” Muth is clearly jabbing us in the ribs as he concludes. His willingness to dare “to think the deep, dark thoughts” proves he believes that fractals are art.

Writhing Discord by Jim Muth

Rising Discord by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 10-19-99

Fractal enthusiasts and visionaries:

Green and magenta just don’t blend harmoniously. They create a chromatic discord. But sometimes discords can add to the artistic value of a work of art, so I let today’s color palette stand in its discord. Combined with the writhing, twisting elements that surround the central midget, the picture fully deserves the name “Writhing Discord”.

The picture (as indeed are all my pictures) is in the spirit of a fractal of 10 years ago — a single-layer image that would have been awesome in the days when people were just discovering fractals. Sometimes when I sample the images posted to ABPF, I wonder why I bother calling myself a fractal artist at all. It’s clear to me that those creating the images I see there are doing something far more artistic than my humble and not very serious efforts.

Actually, I have never outgrown the awe I felt when I read that first article about the Mandelbrot set over 15 years ago. I am an explorer, a fractal photographer who tries to faithfully record the things he finds in the abstract world of fractals. If the things I find do occasionally make art, so much the better.

Unlike some fractal artists I’ve known, Muth is comfortable in his own skin. He neither tries to defend his approach, nor does he go out of his way to attack the artistic means and preferences of others. Muth was prescient to comprehend that our art form might split between those who lean to math and those who lean to art. These two camps have fundamentally different aims, contrasting mindsets, and dissimilar aesthetics. But Muth knows what he wants. The looming schism he sees on the fractal newsgroup does not threaten him but is merely a new way of using fractals for self-expression. Maybe he feels settled because he’s never lost the awe (have you?), and he’s still busy recording, still trying to get each fresh discovery right. I suspect that’s why he continues to blog, too. Each successive FOTD is another chance for novel discoveries. And, since he often does make art, “so much the better” — for us, his gentle readers and viewers.

And, by the way, you owe it to yourself to read the rest of this entry for Muth’s sublime philosophical discussion of life before birth and life after death.

Fractal of the Day for March 15 by Jim Muth

Fractal of the Day for March 15th by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 3-15-00

Fractal enthusiasts and visionaries:

I see that the FracTint vs UltraFractal debate has heated up again. Of course, it’s no secret that I’m a Fractint user, and have been since version 2.1. I still have that early version stashed away in a remote directory of my old 8mhz 80286 machine. The executable file of that ancient version is named fract386.exe. The file size is a whopping 32,541 bytes, and the date is 10-23-88 — 9:06p. Things have come a long way since then.

Actually, I feel that the big debate is a bit overwrought. I see Fractint and UF as complementing each other rather than competing, with Fractint emphasizing the mathematical aspect of fractals, and UF with its multiple layers emphasizing the artistic aspect. My view is pretty near the middle in this debate, but if asked to choose a side, I would side with the Stone-Soupers, since I am more interested in the math than the art.

Today’s fractal comes from the formula 4Z^(-2)-5Z^(-1)+C. The area in which the scene lies consists of features that resemble elephants with heads on both ends. The parent fractal is rather interesting, with a train of Mandeloid fragments shrinking to infinity. This fractal definitely deserves the further investigation that I will give it tomorrow.

I was unable to think of a name for today’s picture, and finally settled on the technical description “FOTD for March 15” as the name. The image, which originally was a bit drab, was given post-processing in a graphics program to liven it.

Ah, yes. The never-ending generator wars. Mine’s bigger and brighter and faster than yours. The Fractint old schoolers vs.The Ultra Fractal cult vs. The XenoDream clan vs.The Apophysis conclave vs. The Chaos Pro and Fractal Explorer tribes vs. The Houses of Ferguson and Gintz vs.The lone wolf self-made programmers. Again, Muth is magnanimous and relatively non-judgmental here. He can see both sides but admits he falls more into the math camp. How ironic, though. I’d now consider UF to be more about the math (or, as Tim once noted, about the engineers) and a decision to export fractals to graphics programs to be a route that’s more about the art. And, here, in a moment of historical recursion, Muth admits livening up his image in Photoshop. What goes round…

A Midget by Jim Muth

A Midget by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 5-31-00

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

The final FOTD for the month of May should feature a fractal worthy of the occasion. And indeed it does. Today’s midget, to which I have given the simple, non-assuming name “A Midget”, rates (IMO) a much-above-average 8 on my 1-to-10 scale of fractal worth.

Surprisingly enough, the image is another accident. When I entered the parameters, I had intended on combining Z^(-2) and Z^(-20), but for some reason I forgot the minus signs and inadvertently calculated -2(Z^2+Z^20)+(1/C). And this time I can’t blame the cats.

But, as today’s picture shows, the result was not bad. The formula draws a crooked fractal with a shrunken, crooked Mandelbrot set lurking near the upper left corner of the frame. The little M-set is fairly conventional, but it is surrounded by the fractal debris that breeds interesting midgets. When I saw this, I got out my mathematical microscope and went in search of these midgets.


The mathematical aspect of the midget is not exceptional; the coloring is what makes the scene. In fact I put so much effort into coloring this image that I actually feel I’m in danger of becoming a fractal artist. At this rate, you’ll soon be seeing me creating fractals with something like multiple layers.

Of course, I’m jesting. I would never desecrate a fractal by dropping it on top of another image. As for transforms — who knows. When I calculate 1/C instead of C, I’m already doing a transform. Maybe sometime in the future I will use more complex transforms, but for the foreseeable future it’s fractal purity.

(In the sixth grade, Sister Theresa caught me staring at one of the girls, and told me to keep my thoughts pure. And now at this late date I’m finally starting to do it.)

Butthead: I’d like to desecrate something.
Beavis: Huh. Uhh. Snort. You said…desecrate.

Joseph Trotsky once called my work fractal vandalism. And, here, Muth takes a less-than-subtle potshot at the UF pancake patrol for desecration. Oh, well. No one’s perfect. Because, after all, only one of them is wrong.

And I hate to say this, Jim, but Sister Theresa has already got the goods on you. You’ll soon have stinging hands and be shuffling off to the confessional. Remember, Catholic sins can be committed in thought, word, and deed. Those cunning nuns had all the angles covered. If you think it, it’s the same as doing it. Your thoughts while girl gawking were instantaneously impure — and now your thoughts, still not kept in check, have turned to…layering. That word does have a kind of smutty, lusty connotation, doesn’t it? Mask me, then layer me, baby. Ick. That sounds like something adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Bless me, father, for I have layered. If you know what I mean…

Pinkness by Jim Muth

Pinkness by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 8-12-00

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

For today’s average-quality fractal it’s back to the formula -1Z^(-11)-11Z^(-1.1)+(1/C), with a bailout radius of 200. As I stated in yesterday’s FOTD, this formula draws a most unusual fractal, which is too large to fit on the default screen, but is worth closer examination from one end to the other.

A prominent feature of this parent fractal is a large fan-shaped object. Today’s scene with its unusual midget lies buried deep at the edge of this fractal fan, where chaos begins.


The fractal weather today was rather pleasant, with mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 86F (30C). The fractal cats approved of the conditions, and showed their approval by spending most of the afternoon in the yard. In the evening, when the mosquitoes got too thick, they came indoors.

I did a bit of philosophical pondering this afternoon on the question of whether fractals are art, a topic that has been keeping the UltraFractal list so busy these past few days. Of course it’s a futile topic, since no definite answer is possible, but it never fails to bring a flood of comments.

Why, I wondered, does this one topic bring such activity every time it arises? Sometimes I feel that the UF list exists only as a forum for fractal artists to re-assure each other that they are indeed creating real art. I had assumed that fractals are art if that’s what the creator intends, and that they are mathematical curiosities if this aspect is emphasized. In my case, I consider my FOTD’s to lie in a grey area somewhere between art and math.

IMO, It is the attitude of the creator at the time of creation that determines whether an image is simply an illustration of a pre-existing object or a newly-created work of art. If we want our fractal images to be art, then they are art. We don’t need the rest of the world reassuring us that we have indeed created a work of art. If we want our fractals to be illustrations of the amazing things numbers can do, then they are such illustrations. If we want our pictures to be a bit of both, as I do, then they are a blend of art and mathematics.

On the other hand, I can understand why traditional artists denigrate fractals as art. By profession I am a graphic artist. At one time, the tools I worked with were things such as a light-table, rubber cement, x-acto knife, straight edge, t-square, ruling pen, air-brush, zip-a-tone, and so on. I spent years becoming skilled in the use of these things. Then computers came. Of course, a computer now does all this tedious work far better than I ever could by hand. I don’t resent computers, for they make my work far easier, but I miss the old days of 25 years ago, when it was not so easy to produce a clean and accurate camera-ready mechanical.

Having spoken my bit, I find it’s time to shut down the Fractal Central and call it a night. Until tomorrow, take care, believe that fractals are art, and they’ll be art.

If you believe this to be profound, it is profound.

I believe it is profound.

And this

Sometimes I feel that the UF list exists only as a forum for fractal artists to re-assure each other that they are indeed creating real art.

is a prophesy of the phenomenon that today OT calls Fractalbook.

With one adaptation: The re-assurance Muth mentions has now mutated into mutually assured, virally contagious back-slapping and ego-stroking. So, this prophetic FOTD gets my smells-like-a-masterpiece ***V***!!!

Challenging Midget by Jim Muth

Challenging Midget by Jim Muth
Fractal of the Day: 1-13-01

Fractal visionaries and enthusiasts:

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a fractal fan, asking me to tell more about fractals. Since I had no idea of where ‘more’ started, I didn’t know quite what to tell. But once I sat at my keyboard this morning to reply to the e-mail, the philosophical muses came to life, and the words flowed almost of their own accord. The following four paragraphs are a slight revision of the letter I sent earlier today. Perhaps the philosophy is once again ready to arise.

My interest in fractals is mathematical, artistic, and philosophical. Mathematically, fractals are simply graphs of iterated mathematical functions. Artistically, fractals offer a means of expressing one’s artistic aspirations, though I consider the importance of this aspect to be somewhat exaggerated. My main interest lies in the philosophical aspect of fractals.

Perhaps the question most often asked about fractals is, “what are they?” In addition, I often wonder, “are fractals real?” The answer can only be, “fractals are the things numbers do, and numbers are pure abstractions”. The Mandelbrot set does not exist in the sense that a tree does. No one will ever find a ‘real’ Mandelbrot set; they will find only pictures of it. The M-set exists only because human beings evolved with the sense of vision, and to better understand the workings of math functions, find it helpful to turn the functions into pictures. In essence, the Mandelbrot set exists only because we created it with our minds and sustain it with our computers.

Much is also made of the fractal nature of the real world. We hear about the fractal nature of trees, ferns, clouds, coastlines, etc. These things do indeed have a fractal surface appearance, but they are not true fractals in the mathematical sense. A true mathematical fractal continues unchanged to infinity regardless of how much it is magnified. The ‘real world’ fractal objects such as trees and clouds ultimately break down into individual cells and water droplets, and finally into atoms, which no one shall ever observe directly.

But according to quantum theory, atoms also are nothing more than convenient pictures, models created in human minds from mathematical functions. And I have heard it said that numbers themselves are creations of the human mind. So is the ‘real world’ the world’s greatest fractal? The answer to this challenging question is what I am currently seeking.


The fractal weather today here at Fractal Central was once again comfortable, though not nearly as mild as yesterday. The partly sunny skies and temperature of 42F (5.5C) lured the fractal cats onto the porch and into the yard, but once in the yard they quickly decided it was a bit too chilly, and soon returned to their radiators.

And this leaves me with nothing to do but shut down the fractal shoppe and call it a night. I’ll watch a junky old movie if I can stay awake. Until tomorrow, take care, and beware of the fractal witch.

Is the real world the world’s greatest fractal? I don’t know, Jim. It’s certainly filled with chaos, isn’t it? And we, as a species, seem to keep making the same self-similar mistakes over and over again. And the fractal (art?) images I create seem to come from something I’ve seen in my head — and these images seem to say something about the world as I see it. They do seem to be models of mental pictures that started with mathematics. And what is art if not the world according to its creator?

Goodnight, Jim. I’ll take first watch tonight to keep an eye out for that fractal witch. I hope the fractal weather stays nice and the fractal cats stay warm. And you take care, too, okay? Watch that bad movie, if you can ward off the Sandman, and sleep well. And, soon, I, and all of us, will see you again tomorrow…

Hat tip for this post to PNL.

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Short Takes: What I Like

Orbit Trap recently passed 100,000 hits. Tim and I would like thank all of our readers for your ongoing support (or lack thereof), and we both look forward to exploring fractal art “to its hiding place,” as Dr. Frankenstein says, in 2009.

I thought I’d begin the new year by dispelling an apparent misconception that I hate everything. I certainly do not. In fact, I see fractal and digital art that I like all the time. Here are a couple examples:

2 Architects #4 by Jürgen Schwietering

2 Architects #4 by Jürgen Schwietering

I’ve long enjoyed Jürgen Schwietering’s amazing images. They are probably closer to algorithmic art than fractal art, but they definitely display similar iterative-recursive properties. His images are based on a program he wrote for simulating the growth of crystals, and the resulting art reveals pattern formations that bring to mind geological erosion and other maze-like, unsteady kinetics. The blueprint intricacy of lines and shapes is sometimes enhanced by the use of color, as in #17 dots 1, and Schwietering occasionally blends photographs seamlessly into his graphics, as in his amazing Self-Portrait.

Schwietering appears to be a Renaissance Man of wide and varied interests: photography, computer programming, video broadcasting, languages (fluent in four with “good notions” of two others), Zen, music, travel, snowboarding, surfing, and the list goes on. His graphics site hasn’t been updated since 2004, so I guess he’s been otherwise engaged in recent years. Here’s hoping he surfs back eventually to create more of his algorithmic visions. Until then, I’ll be waiting patiently and continuing to frequent his standing museum.

Sky Bolts by Vicki Brago-Mitchell

Sky Bolts by Vicky Brago-Mitchell

Vicky Brago-Mitchell, recently commenting on OT about several images in the most recent Fractal Universe Calendar, told me that “of course you wouldn’t like mine any better.” But don’t be so sure.

Brago-Mitchell has been making fractals for a long time. Her web site currently has 123 galleries. Quantity does not equal quality, true, but Brago-Mitchell has learned a few things over the years. Mostly, she lets her fractals breathe. Although she works mostly in UF, she’s resisted the commonly used multiple pancake method of composition — as if grasping that complexity doesn’t automatically mean artistically improved. Instead, Brago-Mitchell’s compositions rest in single-digit layers that are moved into Photoshop for enhancement. This methodology brings out the light and shadows in the image above to further complement the feeling of motion. Brago-Mitchell also understands that sometimes what is not seen becomes integral, and she leaves expanses of darkness and shadow and thus allowing absence to shift a viewer’s perspective — as in “Lantern” (look how the light diffuses) or “Seaweed” (where the recursive leaf forms disappear in shadows). Mitchell also likes to play with varied forms and formulas like the Gaussian diamonds of “Bazaar” or the Torus underwater vines of “Expectation.” And the four images I’ve cited here are taken from only two galleries. There are still 121 others to explore.

Although some of Brago-Mitchell’s more conventional spiral stuff makes me shrug, she has a good eye and isn’t afraid to use the comfort zone her experience brings to use familiar techniques to bring off fresh discoveries. Like Schwietering, Brago-Mitchell is a colorful personality with multiple past and present interests — student body president candidate at Stanford, stripper, Japanese translator, elementary school teacher. Like Stephen Ferguson, Brago-Mitchell has an interest in putting fractal animations to music (her husband, John, composes the music). She also keeps an active blog where she isn’t afraid to air her political views, and I admire her for that. Personally, I’d like to see her politics creep now and then into her art.


Art_2903 by Arte em Fotos, Fractais e Photoshop

Then again, I don’t like everything. Welcome to VirtualVisions, a company more than happy to teleport (for a fee) you and your loved ones and your pets and even your stuff into a netherworld of fractal backdrops. The process is described on a NFO page on the web site:

We beautify your digital photos through an artistic application of graphics called fractals, from our unique creation, resulting in excellent adornment of your photos as you can see on this gallery.

The application overlaps, partial, or completely, the original background of the photograph, creating a seamless integration of the photo main subject with the harmonious background, transforming your photos in true and agreable [sic] artistical [sic] masterpiece!

The only description on VirtualVisions’ profile is “male.” This is no surprise since nearly all of the victims trapped in VV’s fractal phantom zones are shapely female models. Pity the woman in the image above who seems to have inexplicably wandered into a Japanese tentacle rape anime. And doesn’t your heart go out to this bathing beauty who apparently dove into deeper recursive waters than she planned? And what’s to be the fate of this woman who looks more boxed in than Custer? I suppose we can at least be grateful that VV’s models retain remnants of their clothing. Some women who meander into such “fractal universes” are not so lucky. I find it despicable that fractals are used for such objectification. Such work not only degrades women; it degrades our art form

But VV wants to make more than fractal-glamour-photographic-fusions. Go on and lock your pets in these fractalized (like caramelized) dimensions. Here’s a space where no monkey has gone before. And what’s the deal with this:

Be careful! Contents are hot!

Yes, I’ll have a venti skinny latte. Hold the protein and energy, though, and substitute PCP instead.

Art_06198 by Arte em Fotos, Fractais e Photoshop

Here’s another problem. This kind of “work” continues to perpetuate the stereotype that fractal art is little more than a trippy back projection for a Grateful Dead concert. It strains to make phony far out karmic cosmic associations — you know, like the Fractal “Universe” Calendar. Buying into this pigeonholed vision of fractal art won’t make your photos an “artistical masterpiece.” It will, however, immediately turn them into schlock.

Mark Townsend once noted in an OT comment that fractal art should not be judged by its worst examples, and I agree. But there are sound reasons why Tim and I expressed concerns over the image importation features built into Ultra Fractal 5. Although VV appears to do his fractal teleportation using Photoshop, UF5 will surely allow such exploitation and way-out bogusness to further proliferate.

I don’t know whether VV’s commercial venture will succeed, but I know that what he’s doing is not fractal art. It’s some of the worst fractal kitsch I’ve seen to date.

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Of Calendars and Kings: Avalanche Publishing and the Fractal Universe Calendar

An out of date villain?

And he’s not even joking.

[Cover seen at Comic Coverage.]

i can’t believe this is still an issue.

–Michael Faber, comment on wedreamincolor

If if [sic] means anything to anybody, the contract between the Publisher and Editor will not be changed.
–Panny Brawley, FUC Editor, comment on Ken Childress’ blog, 3-16-08

I feel your pain, Michael. I, too, would enjoy writing on more exciting and expansive subjects than…calendars. But, come the New Year, as anyone can see, the Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) will be engaging in business as usual. As long as this enterprise continues to hold its annual contest in the manner it currently does, then Orbit Trap will just have to continue pointing out FUC’s lack of professionalism and apparent preferential treatment.

And, really, am I the one talking about it? The one paragraph mention of FUC I made in my last post resulted in:
1) a short story length defense from 2009 FUC editor Keith Mackay.
2) a novel length repetitive screed from anti-OT blogger and Avalanche Publishing apparent spokesperson Ken Childress.
3) multiple comments from the individuals above and other FUC-loving parties.

There’s really no point in re-addressing recycled objections in detail. The fact that these folks have an agenda and a stake in preserving the status quo should be obvious to any reasonable person. Besides, a review of OT’s archive will illustrate that Tim and I have already returned every volley. No need to beat a dead (sea)horse.

Instead, here’s a nutshell capsule of how to redo the FUC and run it professionally. Try these iterations, and we’ll be happy to move on to other issues.

Stop All the Secrecy

Any contest worth its salt will be completely transparent in its operation. The FUC is shut tight. The editor (Brawley) and the publisher (Avalanche Publishing) have yet to answer a single question to any of the multiple inquiries Orbit Trap has made. Why should any of the following information remain under wraps? Who are the final judges? Don’t the contestants even have a right to know who is passing judgment on them? How many additional images can editors submit to the final cut? What are the names of all past editors? What percentage of works selected for all past calendars was art by either a current or past editor? How many selections from past calendars were directly solicited by Avalanche Publishing and were not chosen from the competition — and what are the names of those solicited? What safeguards are in place to prevent conflicts of interests — like editors screening in their friends, or current/former students, or even themselves? Why are signatures allowed on submitted images rather than using blind judging protocols? And why are you hiding from such questions?

Pay Your Editors Properly

You know. With money. Not by including their own work. This is bad form from the start. No one is arguing the editors don’t work hard or shouldn’t be paid. So fork over the cash, Avalanche Publishing — but keep your initial round judges out of the competition they are screening. Such a process raises inherent risks of conflict of interest. No one should have a free pass if you are running a legitimate contest — least of all someone doing the judging. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest also needs to learn this same lesson.

Pick a Format and Stick to It

Are you running a contest or not? You seem to be. You ask for open submissions, screen out applicants, create a pool of finalists, and pick the winning selections from among the finalists using a panel. That sounds like a contest. Oh. But wait. You also reserve the right to ask for submissions directly from artists. That sounds more like an invitational process of direct solicitation. If I was a contestant, I’d be annoyed that all artists are not created equal here. Apparently, there’s an elite, royal class than can bypass the competition by being given a key to the back door. Why are you doing this? Is it to make the FUC contest/invitational appear to be completely juried (and thus more prestigious) when it actually isn’t? This is a trick the BMFAC picked up and led to its exhibition becoming half comprised of its own judges. Knock it off. Please. Pick one or the other. Either run a professional contest using standard protocols. Or solicit all submissions directly from fractal artists.

The Numbers Add Up to Preferential Treatment

Stop insulting our intelligence. By OT’s calculations, just over 40% of the images appearing in the Fractal Universe Calendar from 2004-2008 were the work of just four people — all former or current editors. That’s quite a coincidence for an unbiased selection process. Something’s wrong. Fix it. Stop letting the editors in. Or stop soliciting from the same people (like Linda Allison) year after year. Or, preferably, both.

And that’s it. No more having your cake and eating it, too. Do these simple, conventional things, and I will stop worrying and gladly move on to other kinder, gentler topics. And, most importantly, Michael’s belief system will be fully restored.


Hey, kids. Did you know that Orbit Trap posts are now available in high-definition on Blu-Ray? Order* yours today and see what you’ve been missing. Deleted scenes. Making of Orbit Trap documentaries. Fuzzy webcam bootlegs of Tim and me planning a fractal apocalypse while laughing maniacally. Blooper reel (gems like “Welcome back to Obituary Trip and — oh shi — can we take that again?). All this and so much more with OT HD. In fact, here’s an exclusive sneak peek at the deleted scenes from today’s post that had to be cut due to time constraints. Roll it:

The Crush That Crushes

Wedreamincolor contributor and phone book image advocate, Dzeni, made the following remarks on both Childress’ and Mackay’s blog:

As for OT, they are like a bad train smash. Can’t look at it, can’t look away either. They have flamed me often enough that I suspect Terry has a crush on me and has not yet worked through it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it :)

Happily married. Sorry. Not that my first requirement for a soul mate wouldn’t be obsessive-compulsive vote-spamming.

Break Out the OT Black Ops

Somebody finally makes some cogent comments over at Childress’ blog like

Maybe it is your obvious hatred for that blog [Orbit Trap] that causes you to argue more emotionally than logically.

and former heckler WelshWench immediately senses a rat and says in her best Secret Agent voice:

I smell a sock puppet.

Yes, of course. It couldn’t possibly be that a person would thoughtfully disagree with someone of Childress’ rhetorical skills. It has to be a conspiracy theory. For the sake of deflating the espionage, I suggest Childress simply check his stats. I’m sure he knows when either of us at OT drop in. And, besides, why would I bother to bury a comment there when I can put it in a post here (like I’m doing now) and reach twenty times the audience?

I Smell a Guest Post in Our Future

Here’s Childress warming up to my style found in a passage I penned last post:

I guess it must take a professional writer to come up with such a nauseating sentence of the magnitude of that last one. My young daughters can write better than that.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing I, too, would prefer their writing to his.

Remedial Math for Idiots

Here’s Mackay schooling me:

Speaking of idiots, the equation 400+200=600 is too complicated for Terry Wright.


I have two images in the 2009 calendar. One is on the cover. The publisher pays an extra $200 for cover images, so that is $200 for one image plus $200 for the other one plus $200 for one of those images to be on the cover. That’s 200+200+200=600, or (200+200)+200=600, or 400+200=600. I’m not sure that Wright has the brain power to comprehend this complex math so if he has access to a first grader he might ask him for help.

Maybe Childress’ daughters could tutor me? And, actually, the equation I’d like you, as the 2009 editor, to solve and then explain is why 40% of the FUC images from 2004-2008 were culled from just four past or present editors. Get back to me when you’ve worked out a satisfactory answer to that particular problem.

Speaking of the Either/Or Fallacy

Hi. Keith Mackay’s phone here. Keith can’t answer because he has zero bars on this blog. That means he never got the call to think twice about making this statement:

The publisher always has the final say. A conflict of interest cannot and does not happen. By agreement between the editor and publisher, the publisher is required to include one image from the editor in the final cut. That’s how the editor is paid. The editors do not decide which of their own images are to be included in the final cut. Terry Wright is full of crap on this one and anyone who buys into his conflict of interest/self jury theory is an idiot.

Being an idiot, let me spell it out slowly for Keith. Paying. An. Editor. In. This. Manner. Creates. A. Conflict. Of. Interest. Screeners or editors here are indeed judges. They are judging the first round and determining what the final judges (whoever they are) will see and choose. A judge’s work should not be mixed with contestants’ entries that he or she has judged. And, in the case of FUC, judges have a state of affairs where multiple images of theirs (like Mackay in 2009) can somehow be included. The judges are obviously still in the pool even after their compensation has been factored. How does such a double bonus occur unless additional, uncompensated work by the judges is included among the finalists?

Want to avoid such conflicts of interest? Pay your judges but keep them out of the winner’s circle.

Run That Sucker Like a Business

Childress, again, apparently acting, again, as spokesperson for Avalanche Publishing:

But, if you are striving to make a living, then you have to appeal to your market. That may be altering what you really want to do. But, that is what any business that wants to succeed must do.

The context here is considering one’s audience, but the subtext cuts both ways. Childress has argued before that Avalanche Publishing (or any business) has the right to do whatever they want to succeed. And if what they do looks and smells wrong, then we’ve argued OT and others have every right to ask questions and expect answers. Childress forgets OT has an audience, too. And it’s more interested in fair fractal contests than numbers of calendars shipped.

It seems the publishers have also not considered OT’s audience. Here’s a little run-it-like-a-business brainstorming for Avalanche Publishing. Google yourself. Go ahead. Try it. We did. Here’s what we saw. Let’s make a list and check it twice (as of this post):
1. Avalanche Publishing home page.
2. Amazon site featuring Avalanche Publishing products.
3. MSN Shopping site for Avalanche Publishing.
4. Orbit Trap.

Your heuristic results may vary. Or maybe OT will jump up a slot or two once Christmas passes. Here’s the point, Avalanche Publishing. Orbit Trap gets multiple hits daily from Google searches of your company. And what’s one of the first things those potential artists and customers read as they formulate opinions about your company and all of your products? The answer is: Orbit Trap’s accounts of your ongoing handling of the Fractal Universe Calendar. And it looks like OT’s writers will have to compose more blog posts and letters and forum comments and the like again in 2009. I don’t need an MBA to see how this situation looks on a balance sheet when you run the potential consequences through your bottom line.

*OT in HD not currently available to our Earth-dwelling readers. To extra-terrestrial subscribers: Write us for details using the envelope icon to your right.

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Holiday Road Trip

Road Trip

How much further or at least self-similar?

[Image seen on a-line skirt.]

Hi kids. Time to pile into the OT station wagon and take that holiday trip out on the fractal art information highway. Let’s see who’s in mood for giving or receiving this year.

Forget that blurred Autobahn scenery. We taking our time lounging on the sleepy two-lanes and checking out Fractalbooker small towns.


Just two contributors on the face page. Dzeni is definitely in the mood to receive — especially eager for your votes to push her up the snowy slopes. Your call-to-action clicking will place her higher in phone book cover contests. And, in return, presumably, she re-gifts you with her vote the next time you enter a contest sponsored by a utility company.

Keith, though, has been having a blue Christmas for going on a month. A fractal apocalypse is upon us, and there’s no rapture bail-out forthcoming. He says his interest in fractal art “is all but gone” and observes that most web haunts are “quiet,” “falling apart,” and “it seems like everyone has stopped talking about fractal art.” He then says:

I wonder if we are in a fractal art recession — that maybe the fractal bubble has burst. Maybe fractal art is fading out. Or maybe it’s just me.

I know. You want snark. You expect me to say something like: Right. Don’t delete your Fractal 401K galleries from Fractalbooking sites just yet. Sorry, Keith, it’s just you. But…

…but, well, maybe it isn’t. I admit feeling glum sometimes when driving through most Fractalbook truck stops. There’s a certain sameness of expression and artistic interior design. It’s pervasive — like a chain restaurant. Is it because the most popular programs produce stepped-on variations of a set number of programmed patterns? Has the old superstition of clinging to fractal program containment for tool-testing purity ended up in a cul-de-sac? How much fractal art is produced with the wall in mind rather than the monitor (or, worse, for a “friend’s” compliment hug)?

Like Keith, I sometimes wonder whether we are now living in an empire in decline. The excitement that once seemed electric, and that (illusion of?) joy of sharing new discoveries with others — no, with artists who could peel back and understand our steps of individual craft — seems lost in a white out. If we’d only tied a rope from our house to the Usenet barn, maybe we could find our way back. If we had a time machine. If there was no Fractabook where everyone’s a double genius halving their brains into left and right pieces of cantaloupe: half artist, half critic.

But, in spite of no sunrises for months in many of the colder regions of Fractalbook, go far enough south and the ice melts to reveal treasure. I still see fractal art I like — but it’s getting diffused and blurring into the boundaries of digital expression. I understand the challenge of limiting one’s tools, but the reverse option is just as enticing. Why not have a boatload of tools at your disposal? That boat is a graphics program like Photoshop. Is the result of post-processing really a polluted fractal art — especially when UF can now mask and layer and import photos? No, in truth, most contemporary fractal art is now polluted, but in a good way. It’s undergoing hybridization. It’s breaking free of its self-limiting craft corner. It’s blending into the overall strip mall of digital art. Perhaps, finally, it can now be just another school — instead of being put out in the snow banks and being forced to watch the real art madrigal feast from outside a frosted window.

But you have to look hard to find true artists who have more on their minds than stroking their egos and socializing in a mega-corporate safe house. And, as recent posts have tried to show, sometimes processing outside the generator box helps.

Ken Childress’ blog:

Holidays, notwithstanding, Ken is generally always in a grumpy mood — ready at any moment to snap at invisible commenters to get off his virtual lawn. Lately, he’s been on a fractal calendar kick. Why whine about THAT calendar when you can make your own using Ken’s do-it-yourself schema? Ken, handier than a Home Depot employee, provides a list of vehicles (his term) for making your own calendars and thus “liberating” yourself from the tyranny of public complaining. Ken says:

So, the choice is yours. Be proactive and do something creative, or continue to whine and complain about something over which you have absolutely no control and won’t change because you decide to complain about it. Chose to do something for yourself, or chose to try to tear down others because you aren’t happy about some aspect of the venture.

I guess Ken forgot that OT beat him to the punch by nearly a year. We put out our official Fractal Alternate Universe Calendar last December. We were proactive. We were creative.

Strange though. We still felt like pointing out that THAT calendar results from an ethically shaky contest. Maybe we need more date-making therapy sessions. Or put up a few more posts that tear stuff down. Or develop a new Herculean undertaking — like The OT exclusive and free 2009 Fractal Alternate Universe Calendar!!! Or, most likely, Dr. Ken needs to heal himself.

But can he? The critic who rails against critics is still whining about us in both of his supposedly Zen-inducing, throw-your-complaining-down posts championing his self-help snake oil of calendar liberation.

Fractal Universe Calendar:

And speaking of calendars…

Ring them bells. The images for the 2009 FUC are once again back online. Now that this year’s model has hit the mini-malls, Avalanche Publishing and the FUC editors must have once more let the dogs out. How have you been able to go on living without seeing this

January by Keith Mackay from the 2009 Fuc.

January by Keith Mackay

[Image seen on the Fractal Universe Calendar Image Galleries.]

image by FUC 2009 editor Keith Mackay or perhaps this

February by Keith Mackay from FUC 2009.

February by Keith Mackay

[Image seen on the Fractal Universe Calendar Image Galleries.]

image and cover selection also by FUC 2009 editor Keith Mackay? And do you truly feel such winning samples represent the finest existing work our genre has to offer comfortably slotted into one of only a handful of current mass-marketed products showcasing contemporary fractal art? Oh, by the way, there’s work by some other artists in the 2009 edition of the FUC, too. You may be surprised to learn that some of them did not even also serve as screeners assigned to help jury the competition.

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest:

And speaking of competitions…

Santa’s Workshop at this site is dark and nailed up. That way no further blizzards can get in. The place hasn’t changed since announcing the winners and legions of also-rans last year. Not a peep about the 2007 exhibition held in Spain nearly a year ago. Not even a Polaroid of the judges hanging next to the winners. Not one photo or word at all about the 2007 physical installation and exhibit, although there were plenty of power shots of the co-directors smoozing from the year before. It seems you can only read about the last BMFAC exhibition on Orbit Trap. And as far as a 2009 BMFAC? Nothing so far. Nothing — but the silence and emptiness of blank, pixel-less space.

Hopefully, that last sentence doesn’t encapsulate your holiday mood, gentle readers. Bwaaa Ho Ho Ho. Pile out of the car, kids. And be sure to take off your boots. Tim and I don’t want you tracking those messy gradients all over OT’s virtual carpet.

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Deep Deep Smashing

High-speed photography by Michele M. Ferrario

Milk Spill. High-speed photography by Michele M. Ferrario.

It’s as though the creative process is no longer contained within an individual skull, if indeed it ever was. Everything, today, is to some extent the reflection of something else.

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Everyone knows you can’t cry over spilled milk. But, apparently, you can observe its recursive patterns.

I suspect it’s no surprise if regular OT readers, at least those with a more highly developed sense of pattern recognition, see fractal patterns when things are smashed or blown up.

Other people have sure noticed. Some have been exploring computing methodologies that use fractal analysis to explore seismological patterns of underground nuclear explosions. Others claim our sun sends us fractal twitters about its storm seasons and note that

Every 11 years, the Sun experiences its own “storm season,” with violent explosions in its atmosphere, with an energy equivalent to a billion megatons and travelling towards Earth at about 1 million km per hour (about 0.05% the speed of light), though sometimes much faster.

Predicting such events is not easy, but now, plasma astrophysicists at the University of Warwick have found that key information about the Sun’s “storm season” is being broadcast across the solar system in a fractal snapshot imprinted in the solar wind.

And still others work overtime to decode the universe and insist the Big Bang, the mother of all deep smashing, expanded into fractal space grids:

Even more interesting is [Charles] Seife’s illustration that mathematical formulas for the expansion of gases (following fractal patterns, actually) are exactly like equations for the transmission of information. Fractals, fractals, everywhere and every bit is real. Let’s consider the Big Bang. When the Bang occurred (or God lit a giant match), it threw out information bits that spread via explosive expansion in fractal pattern(s). When it is finished expanding and all of the bits of info are evenly distributed throughout forever-ness, the universe will be dark and empty and the light of Genesis will no longer “be”. This is entropy — until the next match strikes.

This post looks at what happens in the instant after a match is struck. Such a glimpse is only possible due to the window on nature provided by high-speed photography. Does this process call up an image of a slo-mo bullet lazily imploding a watermelon? Well, high-speed photography is now as many iterations beyond such grainy super slow blow-outs as today’s laptops are removed from those wall-sized, blinking light computers seen in early episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The best place I know to sift through the next wave of high-speed photography is a Flickr group dedicated to the art. Most of the photos below had their origins in this open community, although a few were found on other web sites.

And, before we start the tour, let’s ask: what’s the point? Well, I want your eyes to back up mine. After looking at fractals for over ten years, these everyday objects, captured and frozen in the moment of impact, reveal familiar patterns of self-similarity and characteristics of recursion I’ve seen again and again in generators. After all, if the Big Bang can be visualized out of algorithms, then why not a detonated egg?

We know fractals can be deep zoomed. But can fractal forms also appear when the things of this world are deep smashed?

And who are you going to believe? Me? Or your lying eyes?

High-speed photography by Stefan (photofrog)

Egg. High-speed photography by Stefan (photofrog).

Exploded objects, naturally it seems, burst into self-similar bits. High-speed photography captures a tableau revealing such fractal properties before debris is too far-flung. Here, the eggshell breaks into self-similar sections as the yolk is pulled into a triangle and the “egg white” becomes dendrites.

High-speed photography by Johnny Chung Lee

Beer Bottle. High-speed photography by Johnny Chung Lee.

Beer bottles have always blown up real good making them a staple of Western saloon brawls. Again, the glass shards here quickly become self-similar projectiles, and the liquid splays out in a recognizable fractal pattern. Don’t take my word for it. Compare the pattern to the central form in this fractal image by Janet Parke.

High-speed photography by Jasper Nance

Antibacterial Soap Bar. High-speed photography by Jasper Nance.

You don’t need to squint to see the self-similarity here in bashed forward (head) and backward (tail) patterns not unlike splatters from entrance and exit “wounds.”

High-speed photography by spyzter

Crayons. High-speed photography by spyzter. Image credit by Khuong.

This time the self-similar chunks nova outward in a semi-spiral from the calm eye. Coloring gradients got nothing on this one.

High-speed photography by Pulse Phototronics

Computer Chip. High-speed photography by Pulse Phototronics.

The mound erupting from the corner of the chip reminds me of some of the 3D quats I’ve seen in QuaSZ (like this). Or is this photograph a wish fulfillment Rorschach after enduring another day of Vista?

What do you think? Do you see what I see? I certainly hope the patterns I recognize are not contained to my skull only.

UPDATE: Tim notes in an email: “I found the egg photo to look very similar in appearance to the common Phoenix formula in mandelbrot mode.” See for yourself. I wonder if that is what I was thinking subconsciously when I made this image ten years ago.

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The World According to Fractalbook

Let's go parking, baby, and I'll show you my page views...

****V**** is for Victory

[Image initially seen at the Sun Gallery.]

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are filled with passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Fractalbook is Facebook on fractals.

Fractalbook has little to do with fractals, and even less to do with fine art. Fractals may be a common hobby that links Fractalbookers together, but neither fractals nor art are the raison d’etre for Fractalbook.

Fractalbook is about networking — about socializing — about schmoozing.

There is only one art to be found on Fractalbook. The fine art of sucking up.


Fractalbook does not care about your technique or your aesthetics or your software. The fact that you market a line of virtual lingerie for Poser Babes lounging around in animated gifs bores Fractalbookers.

Only one question holds the interest of Fractalbookers: Will you be my friend?

Or possibly: How many page views-full screens-comments-fave saves-toplist votes do I I I have?

Or maybe: If you’ll scratch my back post, I’ll…

Fractalbook is not lizard-based. It’s canine-driven. It’s all scratch and sniff.


Every Fractalbooker is a genius. And every post is a masterpiece. Or this is what everyone will tell you. If, and only if, that is what you tell everyone else. Often. Always.

Everyone is nice on Fractalbook. Even when everyone initially shuns you. Because you are not yet in with the in crowd. Just do more open toadying, and you will be fine.

Fractalbookers often say they want constructive criticism. But they don’t. They much prefer fawning sycophants.

If you actually give constructive criticism in Fractalbook, you will be seen as not nice. In fact, Fractalbookers will then assume you are an asshole. And we all know assholes don’t have many friends. Or get many hits. Or rack up many faves.

That’s because assholes in Fractalbook place their dignity over their social status.

Silly assholes. They actually think Fractalbook is about art.


Fractalbookers think Fractalbook has noble, even highbrow origins. Something like a quilting bee or a debating society. But even more cultured. Like maybe their own personal Louvre where each Fractalbooker can be both artist and patron. Master craftsman and astute critic. Philosopher-king and mountain mystic. Pablo Picasso and Robert Hughes.

But an Art Pantheon is not the blueprint for Fractalbook. It has roots in a much more familiar model.

High School.

Fractalbook is not about art appreciation and criticism.

Fractalbook is instead driven by twin engines: Popularity. Gossip.

It’s not what you make in Fractalbook that counts. It’s what you say to who you know.


Which brings me to the point of this post. We had a really good look at Fractalbook in action this week. For a background, look at this comment Dzeni left on Orbit Trap a few days ago. And then look at the response she got on a Fractalbook conclave here. This one incident is a microcosm of Fractalbook.

So, what happened? Well, it’s hard to tell. But Fractalbookers don’t care much for ferreting out facts or understanding background details. They act only on knee-jerk emotion.

Dzeni was among three finalists in a competition. The winning image would appear on the phone book for a major metropolitan area in New Zealand. Judging would be based on an online popular vote. A local paper ran an article about the competition. However, for some reason, the article featured two of the finalists but said nothing about Dzeni or her entry.

Dzeni wrote Orbit Trap to solicit support to rectify this situation. Of course, since Orbit Trap is not a Fractalbook site, Dzeni did not have to be nice. As everyone knows, we at OT believe in constructive criticism and are therefore assholes who, in turn, must be insulted. And, who knows, slams aside, Dzeni might succeed in appealing to our sense of fair play since we sometimes write on the “perceived injustice” of corrupt contests like the BMFAC and the FUC. Here, says Dzeni, is a bona fide case of fractal contest injustice. Do we have the guts to pursue it?

Well, do we, punks?

The Fractalbookers definitely had the guts. They flocked, in an ironic post entitled “Democracy Sucks,” to Dzeni’s defense and began swamping the contest site wielding their mighty ***V***’s to rescue both their “friend” and the good name of Fractal Art (capitalized like Good Deeds in an old morality play). These Fractalbooking warriors, armed only with keyboards, were most valiant. Listen to their battle cries:

I voted for you…twice actually, because I have two e-mail accounts (hopefully that’ll help offset the newspaper’s impact).


voted again from another email account. Good luck!!!!!


I agree, contests where anyone can vote don’t say much for talent but more about how many people you know, or how much work you put into rounding up voters.

Hey. Wait. That last guy is no Fractalbooker. What an asshole. He’s actually making sense by stopping to reflect on the issue at hand.

In the end, I’m not sure how much of a mass appeal Dzeni made or how many sites she went imploring. She certainly pandered heavily for votes (for two contests) on this blog where she is a contributor.

Here comes the guts part. Should the Fractalbookers rushing blindly to vote to correct such egregious fractal injustice have first paused to ask a few questions?

It does seem unfair that Dzeni was left out of the paper. She certainly has every right to point out the omission. But is she also justified to plead indignantly for votes? Should those voting not be professional — whatever the circumstances — and cast their ballots for the image they feel is best?

And who is at fault here: the competition or the paper? Dzeni assumed those running the competition were to blame, so she asked her “friends” to act quickly to offset the situation by punishing the contest sponsors’ obvious fractal bias with a tidal wave of mass votes. But maybe the paper is the party at fault. Maybe they just ran out of space. Maybe since her image was the only one that didn’t have “Auckland” in the title, they decided not to publicize it. Maybe they found Dzeni’s piece too political or something. Or maybe they were going to do a follow-up article later.

Maybe, indeed. It turns out the paper was the culprit. And they say they are going to do another article featuring Dzeni. But, even after this resolution, Dzeni is still openly campaigning for votes and needs them “now more than ever.”

I wonder. Do those votes now leave a somewhat bitter aftertaste? Or are they merely chits to be called in when the next Fractalbooking “crisis” pops up?

And was this really a case of fractal injustice? After all, although Dzeni’s entry has a fractal background, it looks like more of a mixed-media Photoshop piece. Could this whole kafuffle not be about fractal art but all about netting the most votes? And who benefits here? Our genre and our community? Or Dzeni — who’s admits she’s competitive, did her networking homework, and stroked the right shock troops?

The odd-asshole-out above is right. This is not about talent. This is about how many friends you troll for to vote for you you you and push up your stats.

And that’s Fractalbook in a nutshell. Art, like democracy, sucks. It’s all about me me me and my primary place in the clique.

Welcome to the world according to Fractalbook. It’s the rule of the worst, and the triumph of the most passionate and determined suck-ups.

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Deep Deep Zooming

Neurons (Microscopy)


[Microscopy by Dr. L. Blood]

I pursued nature to her hiding place.
–Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Many things previously called chaos are now known to follow subtle fractal laws of behavior. So many things turned out to be fractal that the word “chaos” itself (in operational science) had redefined, or actually for the FIRST time Formally Defined as following inherently unpredictable yet generally deterministic rules based on nonlinear iterative equations. Fractals are unpredictable in specific details yet deterministic when viewed as a total pattern – in many ways this reflects what we observe in the small details and total pattern of life in all its physical and mental varieties, too.
Patterns of Visual Math

I have always enjoyed seeing fractal patterns and forms come to light from exploring the smallest caverns of nature. And I thought it might be fun to take a short tour through a few galleries of microscopy.

The neural patterns seen in the above photograph I see regularly in programs like Sterling-ware. The XTALENT Image Gallery at Nanoworld, an Australian research site devoted to microscopy and microanalysis, includes a gallery of artistically modified work.

Feather of a Dominican Cardinal by Ian C. Walker

Feather of a Dominican Cardinal

[Microscopy by Ian C. Walker.]

The feather and fern forms in the image above have turned up for me in Vchira, Fractal Zplot, and Fractal Explorer. The image above was seen in the 2005 Nikon Small World photomicrography competition. The site contains extensive galleries of the competition’s winning work going back to 1977.

Petal of a Cowslip Flower

Surface of the Petal of a Cowslip Flower

[Microscopy seen on Eye of Science]

The image above illustrates a self-similar replication I’ve sometimes encountered in XenoDream. Postwork in Bryce also produces a comparable effect. The image galleries at Eye of Science are comprehensive and include microscopy work of crystals, fungus, bacteria/viruses, and botanical structures.

Dhofer 019 (Meteorite)

[Image by Tom Phillips]

Ultra Fractal work, like that of Samuel Monnier, sometimes looks like the image above. Moreover, some glass and distortion Photoshop filters can produce corresponding effects. There are over 1000 stunning images to be seen in Tom Phillips’ microscopic meteorite galleries.

Today’s tour only scratches the surface of microscopy galleries found on the Net. Here are a few more to sample:
Molecular Expressions Photo Gallery
Olympus Microscopy Resource Center
Micrographia: A Light Microscopy Resource
Digital Image Galleries at the Light Microscope Forum (check out “Polarized Light”)
Gallery at the TLL Microscopy and Imaging Facility
Microscopy Links on Galleries
Links at
Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.

Next time: Deep Deep Smashing!!

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"I Don’t Have to Show You Any Stinkin’ Software"

Software?  We ain't got no software...

If you’re the fractal police, where is your software?

Aaah, leave it to the cutting edge crowd over at Keith MacKay’s idreamincolor forum to ask the big questions and come up with the big-headed answers.

Over a month ago, MacKay posited this head-scratcher:

Lately I have been wondering if we have seen everything that fractal art has to offer. Sometimes I wonder if there nothing new to be seen in a fractal. Is everything just a variation of something that has already been created?

In this thread I would like to see examples of what you consider to be new or unusual in fractal art. What do you think?

And the results poured in. Well, sort of. Two people answered. Apparently, the idea of actually doing something new — or even finding something new — never occurred to any of the other forum members.

The first responder found plenty of groundbreaking new work. In fact, he cited and linked to no less than fifteen images … ten of which were his own. Talk about product placement. This reminds me of a certain somebody who was put in charge of a certain somebody else‘s vice-presidential exploration committee — and ended up choosing himself.

The second responder never really addressed MacKay’s question. She preferred instead to go on a tear against the “fractal police of dA [deviantART]” for not accepting her melded fractals with non-fractal materials (read: photos) into that community’s fractal art repository.

The two responses, however, did have one thing in common — of course. Ultra Fractal. Obviously, to them anyway, UF is the only option for pursuing the “new and unusual.” The first responder cited its availability of new formulas (written by him?). The second responder swooned over the profound possibilities of UF5’s image import feature. And there, Orbit Trappers, in a self-similar nutshell, lies the future of fractal art.

I could point out that new formulas are always being added to UF — in much the same way new filters are always being created for Photoshop — so this is really only an ongoing evolution of already existing features. I could further point out that graphics programs like Photoshop have allowed artists to import photos and layer them into fractals for at least over ten years — that is, if one wanted to dirty one’s artistic soul with the heinous offense of (dare we speak its name?) post-processing. I could even go so far as to point out that I argued in an earlier OT post that communities like deviantART and Renderosity should question whether “fractals” made with UF5 imported photos are actually mixed-media creations and should properly be placed in more appropriate galleries. I could point all of this out, but none of these observations would address the real question raised. That is: what, indeed, represents the shock of the new?

Like the Shadow, the respondents know. UF must the sole tool of the next new wave.

If so, all of us will soon nod out as we succumb to a mass theta state. Repeat after me: same as it ever was.

Seriously, if MacKay really wants to “think outside the box” as he says in a recent blog post, then he and his certain blogging friend might start by throwing that box away and getting rid of UF entirely. In fact, maybe both of them should try making fractal art without using any software at all.


As I pointed out in my last post, many artists are making some kind of “fractal art” without relying much, if at all, on using software. Rose Rushbrooke produces amazing fractal quilts — as do other artists like Diana Venters and Elaine Ellison. Eleanor Kent‘s tools are fabric and photocopiers. Lesley Kice builds textile-based installations that demonstrate fractal characteristics. Fractal art should be broadened to include much more than images manufactured in a generator like UF. And, perhaps, such out-of-the-box examples might serve as a good place to start looking for something “new and unusual.”

To try and include every example would be overwhelming, so, for the sake of discussion, I’ve decided to limit this post to a few cases that probably fall under the general area of sculpture.

Fractal Table

Fractal Table by Wertel Oberfell with Matthias Bär

This is an installation piece that grew out of studies of fractal growth patterns. It is extremely detailed. To see other views of the Fractal Table, including the intricate table top, go here. Does the concept of translating fractals into furniture have potential? I think so, although I’m holding out for a discount deep zoom sleeper sofa.


Neon 3D Hilbert Fractal from Perfectly Scientific

Why settle for a simple OPEN sign when you can have lit-up complex mathematics instead? I suspect true Hilbert neons would require an infinite amount of tubing, and, really, who has that much space in their rec room? Still, if you have a spare $500, you can own this:

Our sculpture is the level-2 Hilbert fractal, which for 3-dimensional space means 2^6 = 64 vertices. The neon run thus passes through 64 lattice points. Notice the beautiful properties that a) each short run of the Hilbert fractal is straight, b) each run goes in an ortho-direction (x, y, or z direction exclusively), and c) the fractal starts and ends at the sculpture’s base, allowing for elegant mounting.

Now if they would just attach a beer logo to it…

Wind me up for hours of recursive action.

Variation-Fractal (2004) by David C. Roy

Roy makes wood-based kinetic sculptures put into motion by springs and pulleys. The one above, named by his daughter, certainly displays remarkable self-similarity — especially when set into motion (see a flash animation here). This particular one will run for 16 hours and is limited to an edition of 9. It will only set you back $3200 — plus the exertion of starting it. About the design, Roy notes:

The Variation series is the result of my continued exploration in the world of kinetic patterns created by 6 overlapping wheels that orbit a common center. Each orbiting form is designed to hold a particular orientation by rotating in the opposite direction from its orbital motion.

Although Roy states that he wasn’t thinking about fractals when he made this piece, a surprising number of his sculptures seem very fractal in their designs.

Overcast with partial infinity?

Design Sketch for “Fractal Cloud” by Miguel Chevalier with Charlie Bové

“Fractal Cloud” is a massive sculpture slated for the dockland area of Marseille and created as part of a public commission. It consists of a complex web of optical fiber cables. The cables change color every hour and appear metallic in daylight. By night, however, the sculpture is illuminated with colored projectors and (according to the artist) “works as an astronomical clock.” What makes it fractal-like? Chevalier explains:

The fractal cloud multiplies itself infinitely in a network and a play on scale that breaks with classical perspective and Euclidean geometry.

Look at the human figures in the picture above to try to imagine the scale of this piece. There are more images of the proposed installation here.

I'm all broken up about it.

Tetrahedron Man (2006) by Henry Segerman

Segerman created this object and scripted it to navigate through Second Life, the gigantic, multi-player, online world. In addition to this figurative sculpture, Segerman has created many other fractal objects for Second Life, including fractal trees, hypercubes, and (my favorite) a “Fibonacci Pinecone.”

This is fractal art made for a world other than our own. So, to MacKay and his friends, I ask: Is this work outside the box enough for you?

This post covers only one software-less area of fractal art. I imagine I could just as easily put together a similar post in other areas like ceramics and fiber art. So, the next time someone tries to buffalo you by pointing out that a for-engineers-only program like UF is the end-all wave of the future, forcefully remind them that you don’t need no stinkin’ software.

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Guerrilla Fractals?

Bee Pole by the Jafagirls

Bee Pole by The Jafagirls

No review this week. But will you settle for a meditation instead?

If we assume that fractal art is indeed a legitimate fine art form — and I do — then every facet of fine art must be open to fractal art. I’ve argued in a previous OT post that fractal art can be used for political expression. Guido Cavalcante, in another early OT post, advocated using fractals for social commentary and for “making the hidden visible.” And Tim has shown, in a meta sense, that digital art can even be utilized to hold a mirror up to the fractal community.

But can fractal art max out with perfect subversiveness? Can fractals be used for guerrilla art?

Lenin with Mittens

Lenin with Mittens

[Photo by majorbonnet.]

Some artistic genres that were once perceived as more suited for the craft section of the remaindered bin have come out swinging. The knitting community, in particular, has long showed a penchant for creating and displaying art using guerrilla tactics. Rose White, who lectures on the history of guerilla knitting, summarizes her talk as follows:

Contemporary knitters feel very clever for coming up with edgy language to describe their knitting, but the truth is that for decades there have been knitters and other textile artists who are at least as punk rock as today’s needle-wielders.

Knit Tank by Mariann Joergensen

Knit Tank by Marianne Joergensen (and 1000 volunteers)

Any artistic movement faces certain struggles and some internal criticism when being born. Apparently, according to a post on 24c3 entitled “The History of Guerrilla Knitting,” the crucial turning point for knitters came at the close of the 1960s:

Another schism happened at the end of the ’60s and beginning ’70s. Then enters our heroine: Elizabeth Zimmermann. She was commissioned to make a sweater. She gave it to the company but they re-wrote the patterns using a proprietary system. Disgusted by the process, she started her own company and she’d invite knitters to be the boss of their knitting, distinguishing the “blind followers” from the “thinking knitters.” The point was to put the control of what was going on back into the hands of the knitter. It’s like Linux versus Windows.

Sound familiar? Fractal art is waiting for a similar transformational break. The prevailing monarchy — with its de rigueur software (UF) and its corrupt, self-serving contests (BMFAC, the FUC) — constitute our comparable “proprietary system.” These Fractal CEOs create competitions designed to first and foremost highlight their own art, then claim in subsequent publicity materials to be showcasing “high quality works by the most important fractal artists in the world.” Even OT disliker Ken Childress catapulted such propaganda again last week on his blog (no link):

UF is the program of choice for many of those who are the most respected fractal artists today.

And Childress proves this claim by … simply making the claim — as if saying so makes any utterance true, just like judging a fractal contest that includes your own work makes you respectable and “important.” Meanwhile, Childress gets to hang out with the self-selected Kewl Kidz in the Fractal McMansion. Why rock the boat when you’re sitting on a velvet cushion in it?

So, it looks like we are at a crossroads. And here’s the question of the hour. Are you a “blind follower”? Or are you a “thinking” fractal artist?

Cosies for Anchors 1Cosies for Anchors

Cosies for Anchors by Maskerade

In many ways, the textile and fiber arts have a head start, but there are encouraging signs. Rose Rushbrooke continues to break new ground with her fractal quilts. Eleanor Kent uses knitting needles and photocopiers for her fractal-laced textile creations. Other fiber artists, like Lesley Kice, create installations exhibiting fractal properties like self-similarity. And if you prefer wearing your art, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will gladly show you how to make your own fractal earrings.

Knitting Machine by Dave Cole

Knitting Machine by Dave Cole

Can fractal artists push the guerrilla envelope? Do we have our own Banksy? And what forms will these fractal guerrilla excursions take? Hacking websites to insert fractal art pop-ups? Quats made with Play-Doh left conspicuously in daycare centers? Wearing cauliflower buds in our suit lapels instead of carnations?

Who in our community will step up? Or is someone already mining this territory? And, please, you won’t convince me the many CafePress commercialistic offerings of fractal thongs can be called erotic sorties into the battleground of guerrilla foreplay.

Back with another more review-type post soon. In the meantime, how about a little music?

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Review of the Week: The 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition

Apparently, I can't run fast enough to get away from this art.

I find art is best contemplated while jogging…

They say you learn something new every day.

Today, I discovered it’s not easy to write a review of an exhibition I never actually attended.

Then again, it’s impossible to actually attend an exhibition when you don’t hear about it until seven months after it has closed.


If OT’s readers and Fractaland in general have been waiting for an update about the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibit, well, as the saying goes, you missed it. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure you aren’t the only one.

I know I was certainly looking forward to seeing it. I missed it, too.

And I even actively tried to keep tabs on it. I regularly scoured the usual fractal art forums, communities, and assorted haunts in hopes of ferreting out any peep about it. What did I find? Nothing. On Fractalus? Zero. Why even the BMFAC 2007 web site remains strangely silent — about its own much trumpeted exhibition no less! The webmaster was certainly not shy about providing coverage of the 2006 BMFAC exhibition festivities. But news of the BMFAC 2007 exhibition appears to have been buried in a witness protection program. Don’t take my word for it. Google it yourself. Try: “benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest exhibition 2007.” I already know what you’ll find. One relevant entry. Here — where one paragraph vaguely states that a winning selection by the artist will be displayed in Spain in November. That’s it. And that’s where I took my only clue to find the MIA exhibition.


I began by checking the Spanish connections to the contest and Googling the BMFAC’s listed judges — especially those who had no work displayed in the exhibition. Doors finally began to open. One judge in particular stood out: Javier Barrallo.

Running a search on him, I found two — and only two — articles about the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition. Both articles are written in Spanish, so I had to rely on Google’s translation engine for an English transcription. I also pasted text into Babelfish for another translation used for comparison purposes. Quotes that appear in this post are derived from Google, and bracketed inserts from Babelfish are sometimes included for clarification.

The first article, which appeared on, is here. The second article, which appeared on the web site of the university where the exhibition was held, is here. I have linked to English translated versions, although the original Spanish pages can be easily found by either following links at the top of the linked page or by pasting a shortened version of the URL address into your browser window.


And what do we (appear to) learn?

The exhibition was held in Pamplona and displayed in the “lobby of El Sario” at the Public University of Navarre. The exhibition ran from December 21st, 2007, to January 31st, 2008 — according to this agenda item in the university’s calendar.

Both articles bill the event as: International Art Contest Fractal Benoit Mandelbrot 2007. Javier Barrallo (Calonge) is described as “the director of the contest.” No mention is made of previously assumed director Damien M. Jones (although this site lists Jones and Barrallo as co-directors) or any of the other BMFAC judges. None of the exhibited artists is mentioned by name either, although the titles of several art works are cited.

Barrallo is a professor of Applied Mathematics at the Public University of Navarre. He appears to be a fairly accomplished academic and has roots in the Ultra Fractal cult community. His work turns up in several “Ultra Fractal Challenge” events hosted by Janet Parke. He has contributed to the UF List Parameters Database. He certainly knows and has ties with Jones — and even co-authored an article with him. These established connections between the “co-directors” might further explain why the BMFAC’s submission requirements are so heavily weighted towards UF — and also why the selected judges are mostly (totally?) associated with the software as well.

One article notes:

Of the twenty-five works that make up this show, fifteen have been specifically chosen and the rest are guest artists.

“Guest artists.” That’s one way to put it. The other article describes the non-winning artists as “invited.” Neither article mentions the professional faux pas that these “guest artists” also conveniently served as the contest’s judges. Nor did the exhibition appear to differentiate the guests from the winners when displaying the art prints. In the photograph above, the only one I could find of the exhibition, one sees (if a black and white photo of an art exhibition can be called “seeing”) an image by self-selected “guest” Kerry Mitchell (left) hung beside juried “winner” Susan Chambless (center).

I’ve said from the start this entire fiasco is set up as a publicity stunt for the judges to exhibit themselves in a seemingly competitive scenario in order to appear juried and thus more prestigious. But, of course, the respectable veneer is a stacked deck from the start. The BMFAC guest-judges are quick to judge others but repeatedly refuse to let others judge them.

I wonder. Can you be a guest at a party you are throwing for yourself?


Here is how Barrallo describes the art in the exhibition:

We try to [give] a representative exposure of what fractal art [is at] this time [and] wanted to have a dozen [ten] artists, expressly invited by [their] capacity in this discipline.”

So, indeed, the BMFAC is meant to be a representative sampling of the best contemporary fractal art. Made primarily with Ultra Fractal. With a backstage pass for the Ultra Fractal-loving judges who get a green light to soak up 40% of the wall space. While a remaining heavy ratio of UF selections comprise the rest of the show. Does that sound representative to you? And exactly what constitutes the “capacity in the discipline” of the judges — other than hanging out near the UF orbit of co-director Jones?

One article notes that the displayed art work was “the computer representation of a single mathematical formula, usually very simple.” In the other article, Barrallo observes that the displayed fractals are

like painting by numbers. Here there is no work [done in a] photo editor but answered [strictly by] mathematical formulas, the outcome of those formulas is translated into numbers and those numbers to colors.

Those fractals sure sound pure as the driven pixel. I’m gratified to learn that no post-processing cheating in photo editors was allowed to taint these pristine proceedings. Oh. No. But wait. Hypocrisy alert. Since most of the winning/invited entries were made using Ultra Fractal, wasn’t nearly every displayed work masked and layered and pancaked to the edge of their event horizons using the graphic manipulation Photoshop-Lite features built into UF?

Long story short: Those suckers on display were hardly “simple.” They’re Franken-Fractals — through and through.


And, hey, all you wannabe BMFACers and OT readers with curious minds that want to know, could this be the reason we’ve heard zippo so far this year about a (now officially cancelled by Tim) 2008 BMFAC? One article states that the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is

held every two years.

Really? That’s news to me — especially since the first two contests were held in subsequent years. Of course, since all of us have been living in a virtual BMFAC news blackout, all of the information in the articles is a revelation. Like the similar (and recently disappeared) Fractal Universe Calendar Contest, Jones & Co.’s primary work ethic appears to be grounded in a smothering secrecy. Isn’t this our community’s big shebang? “Our” International Fractal Art Contest? Wasn’t there a deluge of 50+ also-ran honorable mentions in the big BMFAC winnowing nearly a year ago? Therefore, the rarified exhibition selectees should be deemed exemplary and deserve the further recognition an exhibition should ideally provide. In fact, the exhibition should be the apex of the contest — not a hush-hush throwaway shunted into obscure Google netherworld caches. If nothing else, shouldn’t at least the BMFAC site have some record of their own exhibition to provide a further public illustration of the power and grace of the winning entries — the best-of-the-best sweated over by the BMFAC judges after they first made absolutely certain their own art was grandfathered in “invited”?

Why you’d almost think the BMFAC organizers and judges are ashamed of something.


Did I mention they should be?

Here’s a selection of what I wrote to Jones last October when we had a verbal skirmish in the Xenodreamers group. What I said to him then remains just as true today:

If this were nothing more than an invitational exhibit, no one would be asking questions. But this cozy arrangement to showcase friends is masked as a contest that presumably has rigorous integrity. But the contest is an afterthought that occurs only once the judges have made their initial gallery grab. Without the addition of the contest, the judges could not display their work at all — and certainly not under circumstances that have the appearance of being juried and thus more respectable.


If you want to run a legitimate contest, then pay your judges (even if that means an entry fee) but keep them out of the “winner’s circle.” And if you want to display your work and the work of your friends, then hold an invitation-only exhibit and be satisfied.

As long as you try to have things both ways, questions of ethical conflicts and unprofessional behavior are going to dog you.

Maybe this fractal art contest can still be saved and receive a much needed professional makeover this year — or, as seems to be suggested, next year. If not, then its organizers and enablers can expect the howling will once again be heard — across the expanse of ocean — as far away as Spain.

UPDATE: Fractalus, the site owned by BMFAC co-director Damien M. Jones and which houses both the 2006 and 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests (see hosting information on both home pages), has apparently blocked sometimes blocks a link in this post where I noted that Jones knows 2007 BMFAC spokesperson Javier Barrallo. The link was to a photograph of Jones and Barrallo standing next to an exhibition poster for the conference where the 2006 BMFAC was exhibited. Jones will probably argue the link was blocked out of bandwidth concerns, but one could also just as easily assume that Jones is unwilling to allow OT’s readers to see concrete proof of his association with Barrallo. The photograph can now also be viewed here. Jones is on the left and Barrallo is on the right.

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And 6 More Reviews Using 6 Words

A Bride's Night by FarDareisMai

A Bride’s Night by FarDareisMai

No more Starbucks for flower girls.

Fractal Image 2766 by Jock Cooper

Fractal Image 2766
by Jock Cooper

Well built. Dual core. Intel Inside.

The Sun is Playing by Elizabeth Mansco

The Sun is Playing
by Elizabeth Mansco

Heat index blues? Hit the beach.

the lair by smithgiant

the lair
by smithgiant

Hello? Tree surgeon? I have a problem.

Mediterranean Lands by Fernanda Steele

Mediterranean Lands
by Fernanda Steele

Google Earth? Give me math mapping!

Broccoli by God

by God

Not layered in UF. Still good.


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Images of the Week: Three on a Match

Can I borrow some of your Head On?

A Goblet Emptied by clifftoppler

As I predicted, the boundaries of what is and what is not fractal art would have to be reshuffled once the Fractalbookers shelled out for Ultra Fractal 5.

I said UF5 could be downgraded to a Photoshop plug-in, and here we see the proof. A digital reproduction of a detail of a painting by William Etty was imported into UF5 and then “filterized.” There is nothing fractal about this image, although it appears in Renderosity’s fractal gallery under the genre of “mythology.” The mods at the art community should immediately move this image to the 2D gallery.

To be honest, I rather like what the artist has done with Etty. But this is a case of image manipulation and not fractal generation.

The artist also makes this observation:

I was experimenting with the image import feature new to UF 5, and suspect it may be calling for some reappraisal of their aims by many fractal artists. Would that be a bad thing? Reappraisal should be the name of the game for all artists. We renew ourselves daily.

I explained in an earlier OT post why UF5 will bring about more than a “reappraisal.” It should, in fact, usher in a paradigm shift as to what constitutes fractal art. I’m all for renewing myself daily, but that doesn’t mean we can suddenly call a manipulated digital image (an “apple”) a fractal (an “orange”).

If I was an investor in Ultra Fractal, I would start to worry that images like the one above — asserting to be “a fractal” and claiming to be made primarily with UF5 (with a bit of face tweaking in Painter)– could begin to seriously de-value the software. And why? Because Ultra Fractal could quickly be associated with a stream of very un-fractal art — or, at best, highly diluted fractal art. UF might become to fractal art what Hollywood is to film. Yes, UF streams forth plenty of loosely termed fractal-like “product,” but no one is going to confuse it anytime soon with leading the vanguard of the art form.


Hey.  Who put acid in my nectar?

Hummingbird-WIP by Keith MacKay

To be fair, I suppose this image is more of a work-in-progress than a finished art piece. MacKay posted it to his blog, admitted he was playing around with UF5, and merely noted it “has potential.” To me, it looks very much like what I used to commonly see when BringItIn was first introduced. You know. Pets and friends inexplicably swept into the pinwheel maelstrom of a spiral.

However, I sense real money-making possibilities here. Just pack up your laptop, with UF5 fully loaded, and park yourself next to the caricaturist in a busy city square. Snap a cell phone photo of a patron, grab an email address, and send each mark a pic of themselves trapped in a black hole of swirly swirliness. Or hang around carnivals, preferably near the Tilt-A-Whirl, and render a few snappy, import-heavy “sketches” of festive riders as you compete with those auto-flash shots of the screaming, green faces riding the roller coaster.

Why include this image among today’s reviews? Wasn’t MacKay the artist who so painstakingly “mastered his tools” to produce striking UF hummingbirds? Although I admit the image above is eye-catching, there’s a certain rushed, click-and-shoot quality about it — an ambiance not seen in MacKay’s earlier work. This looks, well, engineered. Like a fractal version of the Canon Sure Shot.

This also reminds me of the Dilbert joke where a computer programmer is asked to write a program that will do everything he currently does. When the programmer finishes the task, the program immediately replaces him, and he’s fired.


I knew moving to Malibu would have its drawbacks.

Canyon Fire by Joan Kerrigan

Maybe someone should call the sewage treatment plant about this problem.

Edge of Darkness by Damien M. Jones

I’ve complained in previous posts that I sometimes find work made with Ultra Fractal to have a kind of cloned, homogenized trait. I speculated this sensation is probably due to the way UF images are made. Someone writes a base formula — and then other UF users step on it producing a string of ad infinitum variations on a theme.

A casual chain of this phenomenon can be seen in the images above. One is from an admitted relative newcomer to fractal art who notes in a blog post in February 2008 that she’ll be taking a UF course from the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art. The other is from the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest director cum soon-to-be-exhibited “judge” and one of the blurbed “most important fractal artists in the world.”

See what I’m driving at when I gripe about everything mashing together to look similar? There’s a certain uniformity of style here — in line, texture, movement, even in perspective. The only real difference is found in the use of color. In that regard, I much prefer the warm (no pun intended), vibrant tones of Kerrigan’s image. As its title suggests, there’s a sense of urgency conveyed and a suggestion revealed about the destructive potential of the flames. Jones’ image just reminds me of something itchy — like chafing or a nasty rash. The only urgency I feel is an impulse to smear Lanacane over the surface of my monitor screen.

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No Remorse

Doing an end run around the jury you sit on means never having to say you're sorry.

[Photograph seen on Memory and Desire.]

The “jury” is still out as to whether the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest will be held again this year, so we don’t yet know whether its judges will once more give themselves a free backstage pass to hang their own art next to the “winning entries” they select. There is one thing we do know though. The BMFAC judges have shown absolutely no remorse for engaging in such a conspicuous breach of professionalism

It’s been two years now since the first competition, and we’ve yet to hear any of the judges knock or question the contest’s framework. They cannot claim to be pawns, for they have never complained to being used as such. If they were not complicit in the set up of the contest, then they are least complicit in not criticizing the arrangement after the fact. Have any of them denied the insider privileges they enjoy? No, they have either remained silent or openly defended the competition’s ethically questionable protocols.

At best, they have a confused view as to what has transpired. They evidently fail to see their own responsibility or the competition’s unbalanced provisions — and who it (coincidentally) benefits. Maybe only an Ultra Fractal zealot like BMFAC’s director could create an entity that so conveniently favors UF fractal art, but the rest of the judges apparently have no qualms about helping out or defending the contest.

BMFAC judge Mark Townsend disagreed there is any UF bias and said recently in an OT comment that he just votes “for the images he likes.” It’s too bad the entry requirements prevented him from seeing much else but work made with UF. He notes that images made in other programs were among last year’s winners — but avoids providing any percentages that would allow an evenhanded comparison. He also had this observation:

To suggest that I (or Sam, or Kerry, or any of the other judges for that matter) would choose Ultra Fractal images (with or without image importing) just because they are Ultra Fractal images, is, I’m sorry, quite offensive.

Fair enough. But since we are keeping score…

I find the competition’s overt privileging of Ultra Fractal — from the massive size stipulations to the near total appointment of judges who use UF to the selection panel — to be offensive. And, I’m sorry, but I find the fact that BMFAC’s judges are allowed to include their own work in an exhibition they have judged to be very offensive.

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6 More Reviews Using 6 Words

Evolving by Maria K. Lemming

Evolving by Maria K. Lemming

Lines. Motion. Color. Perspective. Whimsey. Wonderful.

X09202 by Joseph Presley

X09202 by Joseph Presley

Whose woods these are? Don’t ask!

Undone by Joel Faber

Undone by Joel Faber

Let’s see my brother top this.

Calla Lily by Susan Gardner

Calla Lily by Susan Gardner

I know what Freud would say.

Dead Wood by Michael Faber

Dead Wood by Michael Faber

Let’s see my brother top this.

Unknown FUC Pic

Unknown Fractal Universe Calendar 2010 Selection* by I Forget Who

Engineered in UF for UF engineers.


*Viewing availability in your area may be limited by Avalanche Publishing’s whims and/or the Fractal Universe Calendar editor’s influence.

Warning — prolonged exposure to the FUC pic may produce the following side effects: temporary loss of sentience, irresistable engineering impulses, extreme self-righteousness, acute rhetorical failure, severe urges to join a software cult, and erectile dysfunction (hey, everything causes that). Void where prohibited — or maybe just void.

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Ultra Fractal 5 and a New Paradigm of Fractal Art

I thought I’d try writing a post, in a straight-forward and non-sarcastic manner, that tries to clarify my concerns about Ultra Fractal 5. Here goes.

I believe UF5 has brought fractal art to a critical crossroads. UF5 will almost certainly kick-start a paradigm shift as to how fractal art is seen and will raise serious questions about what fractal art can and cannot be. We — as artists, programmers, theorists, and viewers — should begin a conversation over what we consider “fractal art” to be and speak up as to whether our perceptions of the art form should expanded or restricted.

I fear the answer is not as simple as Mark Townsend suggests when he notes that fractal art, for the most part, refers to “images created with ‘fractal’ programs.” Take this situation. I import a photograph into the lighting features of Xenodream, add an effect like Wild Glass, and save my work. Xenodream allows me to save both an image file (.jpg, .psd, whatever) and a .xep file. I now have a Xenodream parameter file that is 0% fractal. More importantly, I used Xenodream strictly as a graphics program. I have, in fact, sometimes imported fractals made in other programs (like QuaSZ) into Xenodream and put them through this process. I was, in effect, post-processing a fractal with another fractal program. (Note, too, that a strict reading of Townsend’s definition would likely exclude any — if not all — post-processing.)

With the advent of refined image importation in UF5, something similar can now be done in UF. Import your image, run Popcorn through it, and save. Again, you have a work and a parameter file that is 0% fractal. Paul DeCelle’s work to reconstruct paintings using UF proved a fractal-less creation was possible through his personal vision and skill. UF5’s image importation feature will quickly allow any user to now do something similar with considerably less craft and effort.

Here is the point. I think we all would agree with a statement that fractal art is “art with fractals.” But are we now also ready to agree that fractal art can also be “art without fractals”?

The introduction of imported photographs dramatically redraws the boundaries and shifts UF’s focus from fractal production to graphics processing. I would draw a line between algorithms and bitmaps (photos). Townsend used the example of Popcorn. Popcorn, I’m assuming, is like a rendering effect that modifies the fractal-generated image but doesn’t create anything on its own. I’d point out that is exactly how most people would describe a Photoshop plug-in. Photos, on the other hand, are “dead” imagery; they are static. They have no parameters beyond that of a bitmap and are not the products of some other process. Photos, in short, are unlike fractal images.

And here’s one limitation from a technical standpoint. Incorporating photos into UF may be a real challenge when it comes to making a high res file for printing. The bitmaps won’t be scalable like the fractal elements will be because they’re not vectorized. Gargantuan image sizes, like those preferred by the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, might make the import feature of little value unless users think ahead and import only photos at a resolution that will not disintegrate when printed at the size of a plasma television.

Practically speaking, once a photo (or Bryce creation, or Terragen landscape, or Poser figure, etc.) is imported into UF5, the work can no longer be said to be “Made with UF.” It is only “Processed in UF” — hence my suggestion that UF has now become a paint program. At best, the introduction of a photo into UF5 results in a work that is more accurately described as “mixed-media.” At worst, bringing in a photo means that all fractal work in UF is immediately done. From that point on, you are using UF to strictly manipulate that imported photo.

Why does any of this matter? Maybe because of attitudes like this one — found in Ken Childress’ latest blog post:

Are fractal images, post-processed beyond recognition of any fractal qualities, fractal art? I think this question might shed some light on the angst exhibited by OT. Because someone uses UF, by default people may consider their images fractal based whether or not actual fractal formulas are used by the artist [my emphasis]. A fractal image destroyed of any fractal qualities by churning through filters may not have the say [same?] defaults applied to it, especially when it originates in some other program than UF.

Childress feels anything goes — including adding non-fractal photos — if you’re using the inherently more-fractal-by-default Ultra Fractal. I think Childress is mistaken (filters use algorithms, too) and is merely privileging his chosen program. I strenuously object to any and all such default privileging of Ultra Fractal. Though the program may be popular, it is not the end-all to everything that encompasses fractal art. Personally, I find the software leaves too much of its own stamp on what it produces. The “machine” is overly visible for my tastes.

Furthermore, Childress is preaching to the wrong congregation. I know I’d welcome a more expansive view of what fractal art can be. And I’d argue that my work, even when processed “beyond recognition,” is probably more “fractal” than any piece made using imported photographs. Childress should be sermonizing on pervasiveness to those people he cites who find UF more fractal “by default.” And who are these people? Tim and I? No. They are, in fact, the BMFAC judges — regulators of the only current international “Fractal Art” competition. It is people like Mark and Sam and Kerry (all of whom have commented on OT recently) who will be doing the deciding, by default, as to what entries are “uniquely fractal” enough to be serious competitors. That means, by extension, these are the people who will decide what constitutes fractal art and what does not.

And how will these judges judge the “fractalness” of these new photo-infused UF hybrids? By default, I think we already know the answer.

Because, by default, the entire competition is skewed to favor Ultra Fractal. The submission guidelines are barn-door sized and thus exclude work rendered in most other programs. The judges are nearly all UF users and advocates — and the winners’ work (including the judges’ self-selected “entries”) is disproportionately weighted to being made with UF.

I worry that this serious philosophical matter is in the hands of those who have shown a marked tendency to privilege themselves and their own, and who have a history of actions valuing personal ends and fostering private agendas over the greater good of the community.

However, all of us in the fractal community have a stake in this discussion, and we should not allow UF to have a monopoly, especially by default. Apophysis users, practically shut out the competition by the size requirement, deserve a say. As do users of programs made by Sterling-Thornton, Gintz, Ferguson, Pfingstl, and many others. As do programmers who create and use their own software — like Lycium and Earl L. Hindrichs. And, yes, as do those artists like Tim and I who might prefer to do our processing in external programs.

My point: the Fractal Supreme Court is stacked with UF activist judges who will soon be given another opportunity (assuming BMFAC is held again this year) to “rule” on what can or cannot be considered “fractal art” enough to be competitive in the only prominent “fractal art” contest. Such decisions could impact how “fractal art” is seen in the public mind and influence what work is allowed where in art communities. The UF5 question will come up before their bench. How do you think they will rule, by default?

I say level the playing field. Vary the size requirements for entering BMFAC. Include judges from all schools and styles rather than defaulting to UF. And, please, no longer allow the judges to include their own work in the “contest” exhibition.

You have a choice. You can speak up and make yourself heard. Or you can keep silent and let the BMFAC judges speak for you. By default.

I hope my views are a little clearer now. Thanks for listening.

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Ultra "Fractal" 5 and the Slow Death of Fractal Art

By the power invested in me, I hereby declare this photograph to now be a fractal.

I’ve had a little more time now to reflect on the implications of the digital image import features added to Ultra “Fractal” 5, so I hope I can clarify some of my initial observations. I’d also like to address some of the points made in the comments about my previous post on UF5.

When the image importation features of UF5 were announced, I guessed — and I made clear I was only guessing — that Paul DeCelle had used this feature to reconstruct a copy of a painting by Lars-Gunner Nordström. My guess turned out to be wrong, and I stand corrected and appreciate those who wrote Orbit Trap — including DeCelle himself — to set me straight. My speculation was hardly a wild shot in the dark, though — given the timing of DeCelle’s posts and UF5’s release. And, actually, I’m glad to learn my guesswork fell short, since it means that my initial review of DeCelle’s image — which I noted that I stood by — still rings true.

But simply because I mistook DeCelle’s reconstruction for importation, it does not follow that the rest of the reflections or claims made in my last post were also in error — especially my suppositions concerning the ramifications that Ultra “Fractal” 5 may have for both fractal art and our artistic community. In fact, I think it’s worth noting that (so far) no one has come forward to dispute or refute any of those points.

Whether DeCelle’s image was brought in whole or built piece-by-piece is not the real issue here. The point is that Ultra “Fractal” has been and now will even more become a tool for producing a hybridized, “fractilized,” mixed-media art. How DeCelle made the image is purely a technical question. Here are the more pertinent questions: Is DeCelle’s image a fractal — and is it any more a fractal than my lightning-round exercises of importing a digital copy of Nordström into Photoshop and making rapid-fire adjustments?

What DeCelle has done, to my thinking, is vectorized Nordström’s painting. There are programs available, like Potrace, which can do something similar — that is, trace the boundaries of what the software considers the main elements of an image and save that information as the usual vector file of nodes rather than bitmaps. The advantage, of course, is the image can be rendered at any size without a loss of quality. DeCelle, as I said last month, is a skilled artist and his technical achievement here is indeed stunning. His image has considerable subtle detail and doesn’t appear to be a UF “silkscreen” — even if it is.

However, in my opinion, there is nothing fractal about DeCelle’s image, but I don’t think he ever said there was. DeCelle admits just experimenting with UF4’s graphical functions and using them to “paint” a replication of Moment in Blue. Using importation, I utilized Photoshop filters to also paint on Nordstrom’s original, thus my assertion that UF was now just a plug-in. The inclusion of DeCelle’s par file in the comments does not prove the image is a fractal — only that the image was made in UF and that he used transforms rather than imports. Even though UF can be used to make such silkscreen-like images like DeCelle’s Nordström imitation, my under-30-seconds demonstrations were designed to show that somewhat similar modifications can be made more easily and quickly using a graphics program. The fact that DeCelle used UF4 rather than UF5 does not refute my argument; it merely shows that UF long ago built in enough graphics processing capabilities that its output has often been mixed media and not simply fractal art. But now, with UF5, the image import feature means the program’s ability to produce non-fractal art has been significantly enhanced and made much easier. And this returns me to the main argument nobody wants to touch: All work henceforth made with Ultra “Fractal” 5 cannot be assumed to be fractal art because the program can now incorporate any sort of digital imagery into the final result.


Let’s turn now to the comments made on my last post.

Sam is certainly correct that plug-ins like Sprite have previously allowed photo incorporation into UF — but I doubt with the same degree of precise control and subtle integration as the new tool interface. Users don’t have to configure anything; it’s already there. Besides, if this addition is just a formality, why are the designers touting it as a major new feature? It’s bound to lead to more photos being used in art produced, and the enhanced layering capabilities work in favor of making Ultra “Fractal” into Ultra Photo as well. I understand Sam may a have different perspective on this issue. He is probably looking at what UF5 could do. I think Tim and I are talking more about how people, especially Fractalbookers, will actually use the software. Making photo imagery easier to incorporate could be just the nudge to tip the scales enough to make the practice commonplace.

I understand Guido’s observation, too. He’s saying image importing is a natural development for UF. The purpose of any art tool is to empower and enable artists to make better, more versatile art — regardless of what methods are used. Hey, if anyone’s ever advocated using graphics processing to push the boundaries of fractal art, it’s me. I’ve been gene-splicing fractals and rearranging their digital DNA for ten years. One of my critics even went so far as to label my work “fractal vandalism.” So, on a personal level, why would I have a beef with pumping up UF’s (or any generator’s) image manipulation features? Bring it on, I say. Shoot that baby full of graphics steroids. Welcome to my world, man.

But, then again, I’m not the one who’s been making smug judgments for years about fractal artists who lazily stoop to using the crutch of “post-processing.” Nor have I been busy creating “fractal contests” that specify submission size requirements that privilege UF, and that stack the judging panel with UF users/teachers/advocates, and that publicly proclaim Kreskin-like mental abilities to somehow intuit what fractal art can and cannot be considered “uniquely fractal.” In fact, I haven’t even called myself a fractal artist since around 2000. In interviews and bios, I usually describe my work as “fractal-based digital art” — which seems more accurate. So, if the boundaries have finally shifted because UF users can now enjoy the post-processing former game cheats of a bundled mini-Photoshop, then let’s all break out the champagne, put away our semantic parsing, and sing kumbaya together around the fireplace screensaver. But, first, I’d like to make absolutely sure we’re all the same page here and agree that making “fractal art” now means whatever digital kitchen sinks anyone wants to include. Are you with me, brothers and sisters?


I think Guido’s comment hinges on a phrase in the first sentence: nothing more. What Tim and I are saying is it’s a lot more than “nothing”; it’s the beginning of the end for “art with fractals” and the start of what will surely be “photos with fractals.” UF now can double as nothing more than a filter in a paint program. For the truly talented UF artists, this change probably is not a big deal. They’ll continue making their work with their usual precision and vision. But for most of the Fractalbookers, the mass consumers of the UF product, this photo import feature will be the Holy Grail to jazz up what comes out of their assembly lines. With such an easy to use expedient, “Made with UF” soon won’t mean much more than just another digital mash-up.

Poor Catenary — who hasn’t yet figured out that fractal “post-processing” is a myth. Even a few of the self-proclaimed “most important fractal artists in the world” say so. Catenary also believes that

For whatever reason, we humans tend to rate a piece of art more highly if we believe it was difficult and laborious to create. It isn’t a prerequisite (M. Duchamp comes to mind) but I think the view is widely if not always consciously held.

and claims that because “highly layered and processed images…require more work and are thus seen as better,” it must necessarily follow that

you must have worked harder to create the image, since you denied yourself the use of certain tools.

I’d argue that fine art is often assessed by ethereal, subjective criteria that goes beyond considering what tools were used and the time spent using them. How do we know that Duchamp didn’t log countless hours putting his famous urinal to (ahem) “personal use” before placing that art object on public display? And what about the viewer who might happen to prefer my 24-second Fresco tweak of Nordström’s painting to the much more technically skillful and labor-intensive reconstruction of DeCelle’s? Is such a viewer inherently wrong and in dire need of art appreciation rehab?

Catenary’s precepts might sometimes apply to certain exploratory art exercises — like DeCelle’s UF reconstructive surgery on Nordström — but I think they’d generally make poor codes to live by. If I worked eight hours a day for ten years to compose a single three-line haiku like

Me — horse with bum legs.
After ten years, this poem sucks.
Shoot me. Please shoot me.

should I be praised for creating a “difficult and laborious” work or, well, put out of my misery for being a fool? Likewise, using Catenary’s logic, shouldn’t I immediately burn my keyboard and finish writing this blog entry using cuneiform? That way all of you will be more impressed because I “denied myself certain tools” and thus had to work much harder to complete this post.

And, finally, why didn’t I just ask DeCelle how he created his image? As I made clear in my last review, I did not want to know DeCelle’s methods and expressed hope that he would keep his “secret secret.” Why? Because once the Fractalbookers could duplicate his techniques, the newness that made DeCelle’s image so fresh and exciting in the first place would soon be fatally cloned and perish in a death by a thousand cuts posts. But such fears are moot now. With UF5’s import feature arriving on the scene, there are not enough sandbags on Earth to hold back the kitsch floodwaters. I wonder. Will the art form we love be able to survive the Fractal Flickr storm that is sure to come?

Maybe Catenary is right, after all. Maybe we should be asking UF5 artists exactly how they make their images. All of them. Every time. Before any and every public posting. Such a practice should be both standardized and institutionalized. Maybe Fractalus, the home to all that is Ultra “Fractal,” could be used as a kind of Fractal Truthiness Clearinghouse. Damien M. Jones is probably tech-savvy enough to figure out how to administer virtual Sodium Penathol injections and polygraph examinations to all potential UF5 disseminators. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest judges could be recruited to do interrogations and to read read-outs — after all, they have both the experience and the psychic powers to immediately ferret out those images that will prove to be “uniquely fractal.” Par files could be poured over like hanging chads. Images found to be “acceptable” could then be stamped in the upper left corner with a visible icon — perhaps one resembling the seal used by the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s– and then given final approval to be posted in “fractal galleries” on web sites and art communities around the world. Those sorta-kinda-fractal images that almost made the cut, rather like the many Honorable Mentions handed out at last year’s BMFAC, would be given frown-face stamps and be forcibly relegated to the malls of Mixed-Media galleries. Finally, those poor images deemed to be utterly un-fractal, would be stamped with bright red circles with lines through them, a kind of Scarlet Letter of the universal designator for no, and trucked off to be dumped into 2D landfills and never seen again.

Too cumbersome, you say? But then, I ask you, in the wake of what UF5 will surely have soon wrought, how can anyone anywhere ever be certain again that any UF image from this day forward can claim to be “uniquely fractal”?


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Image of the Week: Paul Decelle Redux — or, I Bought Ultra Fractal 5 and All I Got Was This Stupid Paint Program

Moment in Blue by Paul DeCelle

Moment in Blue by Paul DeCelle

Right now I’m having deja vu and amnesia at the same time.
Steven Wright

Regular OT readers, at least those who haven’t burned out their memory circuits with illegal substances or labored in their studio garrets to produce ten spirals to submit to this year’s suddenly slimmed-down Fractal Universe Calendar, might recall that I already reviewed this image about a month ago. And it’s true. I did. And, basically, I stand by what I said then. But, as with social-political-moral issues, there are also two sides to every review. There is a flip side — a shadow side — a dark side of the force, if you will.

Last month, I observed that DeCelle opened up fractal art to “a new way of seeing” and expressed hope that he would keep “his mysterious secret secret.” Well, it seems his secret has been revealed — and what it opens up could well be a Pandora’s Box for the fractal community

The “secret” is likely found in the latest release of Ultra Fractal 5 and its new image import feature — the function of which is described as follows:

Import PNG, JPEG or BMP images in your fractals with the new image import feature. Simply select a coloring algorithm that contains an image parameter, and you can select any image on your computer to use.

The coloring algorithm determines how the information from the image is used. For example, the standard Image coloring algorithm just displays the entire image in the fractal window.

So, I’m guessing that DeCelle was beta-testing the latest UF iteration, and this added feature is his “secret” ready for digestion by the Fractalbooking masses. No groundbreaking, individual, idiosyncratic formula wizardry was involved. It’s just a new twist on the layering functions of UF — but one that will have profound repercussions for fractal art.

Apparently, users now have the capability in UF5 to import digital images (say, photos) and incorporate them as separate layers. Consequently, it will henceforth be impossible to discern how many layers of a UF image are fractals and how many are photos. So, in the future, when you look at a UF image like this

I'm a fractal -- sort of -- although in the future you'll have to always take my word on that.

Aparen by Janet Parke

you’ll never know exactly how the image was made. Are all of the layers fractals? Or are some layers photographs of rusted out car bodies? And does it make a difference?

Maybe not — if one believes that fractal art can embrace radical post-processing. But many UF users have long clung to the fictitious illusion that using UF means they are somehow making “purer” fractals because no post-processing is involved. A laughable remark like this could often be seen on UF images posted to art communities like Renderosity: 100 layers. No post-processing. Sure. As if anything “pure” remained after that sucker had been atom-smashed into a hundred fractal pancakes. But, now, with the introduction of adding layers of photos, can anyone still claim that using UF involves no post-processing? A better question might be whether the resulting images are fractal art at all — or, instead, fall somewhere in the category of mixed-media digital art. The mods overlording fractal galleries at hang-outs like Renderosity and deviantART should immediately begin to wrestle with such questions and determine where UF5 “fractal art” should be properly placed.

I think the implications of this development are staggering, and I suspect both Tim and I will have more to say about this bring-anything-in feature in the days ahead, but here’s an observation right off the top of my head.

Ultra Fractal has now become just another paint program — or, more precisely, a rather expensive Photoshop filter.

Isn’t that obvious? DeCelle imported a digital image of Lars-Gunner Nordström’s Moment in Blue and put it through some layer paces — sort of like running filter rinses over it in a fractal car wash. Is this a complex process — and do you really need to purchase UF5 to get comparable results? Let’s see.

Here is a digital image of Nordström’s original:

Moment in Blue by Lars-Gunner Nordstrom

Moment in Blue by Lars-Gunner Nordström

Here’s what I did. I saved the image above on my hard drive. I opened and loaded Photoshop. I imported the image above. Using the “Artistic” effects, I applied the “Dry Brush” filter and saved my “work.” Total processing time: 47 seconds. The result:

I've been modified into fractal art.

Nordström + Dry Brush filter

I closed the image above and reloaded the original. I applied the “Watercolor” filter and saved my “work.” Total processing time: 13 seconds. The result:

Who waved a magic wand and made me fractal art?

Nordström + Watercolor filter

I closed the image above and reloaded the original. Wanting a little more pizzazz, I applied the Fresco filter, and actually played with the settings for a few more seconds, then saved my “work.” Total processing time: 24 seconds. The result:

Who said the magic words and made me fractal art?

Nordström + Fresco filter

And, hey, I feel your pain. You’re saying: Man, I can’t afford Photoshop — or even Ultra Fractal. Yet, you’d also like to be able to make such state-of-the-tech “fractal art.” No problemo. Here’s what I did. I Googled “free paint programs” and found one called Artweaver. Downloaded it. Installed it. Opened it. Imported the Nordström original, applied the “Oilify” filter, and saved my “work.” Total processing time: 3 minutes, 14 seconds. I could have probably shaved off almost a minute, but I skimmed two other paint programs before settling on Artweaver. The result:

Who laid their hands on me and transmogrified me into fractal art?

Nordström + Oilify filter

Now compare my results to DeCelle’s image-of-the-week above. Aside from the Fresco effect, can you really tell an appreciable difference between the images — other than some minor gradations? Would you say I was engaged in making “fractal art”? No? What if I reminded you that Photoshop filters run using algorithms? You still say no? Then, you tell me, why is DeCelle’s image fractal art, and my quickie exercises above are not? Because I found DeCelle’s image in the fractal gallery at Renderosity? Because DeCelle’s using Ultra Fractal instead of a paint program?

No, I’m (literally) not buying it — and none of the UF cultists’ admirers’ spinning that is sure to come will change the big picture. Adding photo layers to UF is about as anti-fractal as you can get. Doing so means that the basis for an image being “fractal” or not will now have to come from an assessment of the image and not purely from the software used to make it. An image made in UF5 could just as likely be a retouched photo as a traditional fractal image. In the past, it was possible to try to fob off freaky UF images as fractals by (incoherently) arguing they were made entirely in UF, but now such a claim won’t mean any more than saying you made your fractal work in Photoshop using a plug-in.

Face the facts. UF5 is certainly not exclusively a fractal program, and its use will no longer guarantee that the images made in it will be routinely accepted as fractal art and not some other sort of mixed media. Damien M. Jones’ image, for example, the one self-selected for the 2006 BMFAC, will be the sort of image that must be forever suspect hereafter. How will we know he didn’t just add a photo layer of a pic of dead grapevines being charged with an electric current? And will this year’s BMFAC (assuming there is one) have to add a no-UF5-photo-layers clause to the rules? After all, last year the administrators expressed a desire to see only “artwork that is uniquely fractal; artwork that uses fractal tools to produce less-fractal imagery is not as desirable.” Does the addition of a singe photo layer automatically make an image no longer “uniquely fractal”? Moreover, is our entire movement at increased risk for some de-evolution? Unfortunately, UF5 users will likely now have to make images that look more fractal and not less fractal because viewers cannot trust UF artists not to have used some photo layers to make an image more interesting. That’s progress? If you think so, you might as well skip UF5 entirely and “fractalize” your photos by purchasing the much more versatile and $10 cheaper Paint Shop Pro instead.

At least there’s one good offshoot from Ultra Fractal being downgraded to the status of just another image manipulation filter. No more will I have to listen to any self-righteous proclamations from UF users about how legit their fractal art is — and what a cheat and a hack I am because I prefer post-processing fractals using various graphic programs. Think I exaggerate? Here’s Kerry Mitchell, from an OT comment thread on a post about the UF winners in the 2007 BMFAC, taking a poke at the style of art that both Tim and I produce:

All that’s missing [from the 2007 BMFAC winners] are a few Moire patterns and canned filters.

And, now that I think about it, wasn’t Mitchell the same guy who also argued this in another OT comment thread:

With fractals, I think it’s important for every artist to channel their inner rocket scientist to some level. Not only are we using tools (and every artist needs to know their tools), but the tools are not usually ones that are commonplace (almost everyone has a sense of light or stone), so some study is needed to understand what’s happening. Also, we have the chance to create our own landscapes, not “just” to photograph or paint them.

So, Kerry, now that UF has become just another “canned filter” and can be used to “just” paint photographs, do you still feel the same way?


This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine what will happen when the Fractalbookers get their hands on this tool? The kitsch floodgates will burst open. DeCelle, at least, has the good taste to work with an artist of Nordström’s caliber. But I’m betting the Fractalbook throngs will not be so discriminating. Expect a tsunami of “fractalized” photos of pets, kids, online friends, self-portraits, summer vacation shots, and birds-bees-bunnies romping in back yards across the world — and all soon to be posted with obliviousness in the fractal gallery section of an art community near you. Hide your eyes!! Save yourself!!

And, finally, here’s a puzzler to scratch your head over. I see OT former heckler Ken Childress currently has the prominent lead blurb on the main Ultra Fractal site. Bubbling over with enthusiasm and hyperbole, he gushes:

This program is the most versatile and easiest to use of just about any program I have used, not just fractal programs.

Oh really? No learning curve at all, huh? Easier to use than either MS Paint or Elf Bowling, is it? Then why does the main UF page suggest users could perhaps benefit from preparatory coursework by highlighting a salient link to UF classes taught at the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art™? And I see its web page on UF instruction opens with the following:

Ultra Fractal is a powerful, feature-rich, and extremely versatile fractal generator that allows the user to explore many types of fractals and to create amazing images. But it has, by nature, a very steep learning curve.

Somebody needs a time-out and should go sit in the corner for stretching the truth…

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An "Our Ears Are Burning" Update

I’ve been experiencing hot flashes around the ears lately. I think a round-up of the latest buzz reactions to Orbit Trap might be in order.

Let’s start with Keith MacKay’s most recent exercise in pouting:

It looks like Orbit Trap is taking credit for ridding the Internet of the most recent calendar images. I suppose that they could be right by taking credit. I do not know why the calendar web site was modified but I do know why I removed my images from my sites. It was because of OT but not because of their criticism. I can handle criticism. Art is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Besides, if it comes from someone that I do not respect, it is easy to ignore.

The calendar images are governed by contract law as well as copyright law. I removed my images in order to maintain control over them. I felt like I needed to do that after OT ignored my 2 requests to remove my image. They are blowing their horn because they think that it was their criticism that caused the removal. I do not know about the calendar website, but for my part this is not the case. OT reminded me that Internet is not a safe place to put property that should be protected.

What’s that smell in the air? Could it be hypocrisy? If MacKay really believes the Internet is “not a safe place” in which to display “property that should be protected,” then he should consider immediately removing all of his art work from the web. Is his gallery at Renderosity, for example, any more “protected” than the Fractal Universe Calendar site? Aren’t his images just as much at risk there and elsewhere from being used as part of an art review? If he chooses to place his art in public, he — or any artist — will unremittingly run a risk that such displayed work could be used as part of a public commentary — and not necessarily a positive one.

It is easy to forget such hazards if one becomes accustomed to being safely nestled in the loving arms of a Fractalbook art community where every new post is swooned over and reaffirmed as a work of genius. Apparently, in MacKay’s worldview, images need no protection as long as they are placed in an environment filled with verbal hugs and kisses. One wonders if MacKay would be as quick to cry foul if OT had posted a positive review of his work. If so, did he also object when this blog used several of his images in their review? I see no notice that his art was used with permission, and I find no comment from MacKay demanding “protection” for his property. It certainly looks like MacKay requests removal of his images only when they are used in a less than positive context.

Finally, and let’s be clear here, Orbit Trap has done nothing wrong under the “fair use” clause of copyright law. Here is an excerpt from the Copyright and Fair Use site at Stanford University:

Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.

MacKay says he can “handle criticism,” but it looks to me like he’d much rather stifle it. Note this statement: “I removed my images in order to maintain control over them.” Control. That says it all. MacKay is confusing control over his images with the public’s constitutional freedom to comment on and criticize those same images. MacKay wants an audience, but only one that behaves the way he likes. The fair use provisions of copyright law were written precisely to counter this sort of manipulation of free speech.


Meanwhile, former heckler WelshWench still has plenty to say about Orbit Trap. In fact, she seems to be devoting much of her blog space to our many atrocities. I’d provide a link, except I worry about being held responsible for our faithful readers risking losing trillions of brain cells. Well, if you dare, there’s always Google. Here’s a short sampler of her latest rant:

The question always raised by OT’s smug expressions of superiority is why on earth do they insist on complaining about styles of art they personally dislike? Because that’s all it is: they’re not any more qualified to pass opinions than you, gentle reader, or I — unless it is a personal opinion. They wish to be arbiters of taste: well, wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t life just be hunky-dory if we never had to rest our eyes on images we find unpleasant, trite, poorly composed or coloured? Goodness: if that happy day ever came to pass I wouldn’t have to look at any more of OT’s own efforts!

There’s that same smell again. Follow along, if your eyes aren’t glazed over yet. We at Orbit Trap aren’t “more qualified to pass opinions” than you? As far as I can tell, all we’ve ever offered on this blog is a “personal opinion.” But, gentle reader, by her own logic, what makes WelshWench more qualified than you to devote half her blog to passing opinions on us? You see what I mean? It’s a blogging-from-glass-houses kind of deal. Or maybe a judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged thingie.

And, as far as I know, no one has WelshWench strapped in a chair, like Malcolm MacDowell in Clockwork Orange, with her eyes pried open impelling her to look at Orbit Trap’s “efforts.” Assert your forceful will, assuaged Wench. Ignore us — and your “happy day” will soon arrive. Oh. But wait. What would you then have to write about?

This is what I get for insisting on complaining about styles of art criticism I personally dislike!!


Orbit Trap got the following write-up in the links section of High Precision Deep Zoom:

If you thought this was a calm, benign field, think again. This blog offers a completely, totally different perspective on fractal art by commentators who are clearly not afraid to speak their minds. Like it or not, this blog advocates (somewhat viciously at times) for the continued progression of the art and shows no mercy.

Advocating a “continued progression” of fractal art is no cakewalk — especially when one considers the prevailing and entrenched hierarchy, the perks enjoyed by the favored few via corrupt competitions, and the fuzzy snuggly rampant kitsch and sycophantic backslapping overrunning the Fractalbook art communities. Sorry about that claim of viciousness. A deep zoom of OT’s archives will show we have only responded in the same manner that we were greeted and treated.


Update: It has been brought to my attention that MacKay left the following comment in the blog I referenced that also posted several of his images for review purposes:

I’m glad that you like my images, but it would have been nice to know that you were putting them here. It’s not a problem. I just like to know where my stuff is. Thanks.

Translation: MacKay likes the fact that the guy thinks he’s great. MacKay doesn’t like the fact that the guy didn’t book an appointment with him in advance to tell him he’s great.

Bottom Line: If a review is positive, even though permission was not granted, the use of MacKay’s art is “not a problem.” However, if a review is negative, then MacKay’s requests for immediate removal begin to pour in. Control, it seems, is situational and very tone-sensitive.

And speaking of liking to know where stuff is…

Where, exactly, did the images selected for the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Fractal Universe Calendar go? And, more to the point, why were these images abruptly removed — without any explanation — from the calendar’s web site?

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