Fractal Art: No Money

I want to talk about the money in fractal art.

Where in the fractal world is there any sort of commercial success?  I don’t mean someone making some trivial amount of money, I mean someone making enough money to, as they say, quit your day job, kind of money.

Is this the financial forecast for Ultra Fractal sales?

Of all the artists, programmers, publishers, online instructors and other types of individuals in the fractal world, who would you say would be the most likely to be making some serious amount of money?

My first guess would be Ultra Fractal author, Frederik Slijkerman.  Ultra Fractal currently sells for $69 US for the standard edition and $129 US for the full featured, animation edition.  It’s a very popular fractal program and has been for ten years or so and is an ongoing concern as they say in business circles.  But has it made Frederik so rich that he’s moved into a castle and spends most of his time in his counting house counting all his money?

I don’t think so.  As far as I can tell, Frederik spends most of his working time at a regular (non-fractal) programming job.  (His Linked-in profile) I’m sure he’s making something off his sales of Ultra Fractal, but even if there were 500 paid-up users of UF5, and I think that’s a gross overestimation, that works out to about $35,000 US.  But put that in “earning a living” terms and it’s not much of paycheck compared to a regular job.

So, Frederick, of all people in the fractal art world who I would guess to be in a commercially viable position is probably making more money at his day-job than at his “fractal-job”.

I wrote a post last year entitled Is The Name Of Our Hero Benoit Mandelbrot Being Used To Market Ultra Fractal?.  But now I’d say that even if anyone ever had the idea of attempting to promote UF via this contest (and why would anyone think that?) that now it’s obviously a waste of time.  There simply are not enough users of fractal art software to generate even a modest income on an ongoing basis.  In short, I think Frederik’s motives in creating and selling UF are more personal than commercial.  I’ll bet he could make much more money with the time he spends developing UF by putting it to use on projects of a purely commercial and straightforward business nature (i.e. his day-job).  The fractal art world would have to change considerably, such as grow significantly in size and become much more trendy for this to be any different in the future.  And who’s to say most of those newcomers wouldn’t opt for the freeware program ChaosPro?

More personal than commercial“.  I think this sums up all the rest of the fractal world from a money-making perspective.  But let’s look at online instruction anyhow, which, like UF,  is something that has had ties to the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art contests via the judging panel.

No, there’s not much money there either!  Courses were about $25 US for a ten week course (two and a half months) and twice that for double semester courses.  Assuming you were a very keen instructor and you taught four course semesters a year and had a full class each time (not likely) what great pile of cash would you be rolling in at the end of the year?  Ten students a course, for instance, four times a year, and you (the instructor) get what?  Well, you wouldn’t get the whole $25 tuition, you’d have to split some of it with the online school who have their own administrative expenses to cover (and they want to get rich too, right?).  How about you get $20 per student at 10 students per semester and four semesters a year?  That would be (a whopping) $800 US per year.

Look before you leap --into the riches of online instruction!

Of course, if you’re trying to cover the rent  and buy groceries (you can’t get rich if you die on the way) then you might consider teaching more than one course.  Say you managed to teach 3 per semester.  3 x 800 is $2,400 US per year.  This is beginning to sound like a Get Poor Quick Scheme.  If money’s an issue then you need another job or you’d better just stay with a day-job.

Not surprisingly, none of the current or former judges of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest are teaching online courses anymore.  Did they make too much money and decide to retire?  I don’t think so.  Their interest was, again, “more personal than commercial”.  I suspect they simply wanted to explore the option of teaching UF skills in an online environment.  Sure, there’s some money to be made, but it’s a token amount which might be some compensation for the instructor’s efforts but not a serious way to make a living or elevate one’s standard of living.  Would such a fractal-job income mean anything if you were applying for a mortgage? or a business loan?  Or how about bragging rights at a cocktail party?  “Hey, that’s nothing, man!  I’m a professional online fractal instructor and I made eight hundred bucks last year!”

Now how about selling artwork?  That ought to be worth something.  Hey!  Isn’t that how Picasso and Warhol got rich?  Ironically, I think this is probably the least profitable enterprise in the fractal art world.  And why would I say that?

Well, for starters, fractal art, like all digital art, is not collectible.  You can’t buy an original fractal print like you can an original painting.  You could print a limited edition of images and then (honestly say) you’re destroying the digital files (image and parameter files) just as print-makers destroy the original printing plate for art prints they sell after printing a numbered series of prints.  Throw in your (really famous) autograph into the package and then charge a bundle.

But the big problem with fractal art is that there’s so much of it around and it’s so easy to make.  People can shop around and find similar stuff for sale cheaper or even make it themselves. Can’t do that with Picasso’s paintings or Warhol’s silkscreens.  And of course fractal art isn’t as popular and as critically acclaimed as such traditional artworks are.  There’s probably money to be made in selling prints or fractal art for illustration purposes (book-covers, magazines…), but again, it’s some money, not enough to live on much less get rich at.  Yes, I think we’re back to the “More personal than commercial” aspect to things.

Alright.  Now I come to my main point in all of this:  Issues in the fractal art world are not taken as seriously as they would be if there were commercial interests at stake.

For instance: nobody really cares how the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests are run because winning or losing is purely a (temporary) matter of online status and has no impact on art sales or any other fractal commercial enterprise in any really significant way.  Maybe a few more UF licenses get sold because of the publicity, but I doubt it has any significant effect on anyone’s personal wealth or lifestyle.  (Actually, there is very little publicity generated by the BMFAC, isn’t there?)

I’ve seen artists advertising images on their websites as “Winners” in the BMFAC, but the real commercial opportunity would be selling prints right at the exhibitions themselves or at least taking orders.  Despite the other failings of the BMFAC, they have succeeded wonderfully in preventing the contest from becoming commercialized.  They don’t even sell a simple $10 souvenir poster or  wall calendar.  They could easily do this online from the contest site as well as from a table at the exhibition (hey, who needs a table? just stand by the door and sell them like newspapers).

Yes, the fractal art world is almost ascetic in it’s attitude towards fractal art and community events like contests.  We’re all in it for the art or for other things that have never had any commercial value like the social scene.  I believe that will change if fractal art ever develops a serious commercial side to it.  Until then it’ll continue to have the casual atmosphere of a community art club where even the big names are involved for reasons that are “more personal than commercial.”

6 thoughts on “Fractal Art: No Money

  1. For my personal experience, having been involved in fractals (but more generally in mathematical imagery) for over 15 years, my total financial gain in all that time is less than $2,000. My costs (printed, mounted works for an exhibition here and there) are higher than that ‘income’, so I’m at a loss. But then again, who is in this sort of thing for the money?

  2. You mentionned software authors, online instructors and fractals artists selling (supposedly high quality) prints, but what about people selling goodies (t-shirts, mugs, calendars…) with their -most of the time boring- fractals printed on them? I’m sure they don’t earn much from it, but it seems quite an important market overall and I wonder what is the real size of it : how much money is generated in total each year selling these goodies ?

    In addition, there are probably some digital artists out there that use fractal techniques/tools to create abstract art and showcase their artwork in physical galleries without ever mentionning the term “fractal”. Obviously I’m not selling anything and not dreaming about becoming rich with fractals ever (there are so many talented people in this domain), but who knows if some fractal piece of work has not been already sold several hundreds (thousands) of $ ?

  3. The only ones that make any kind of profit are the “middle men” who benefit from the sales and distribution of things termed as “fractal”: The publishers of books, calendars, prints, and other such items. After all, they are business people.

    The actual “creators” only get a bit of notoriety and fame, if they are lucky to have a wide enough audience (which is extremely rare). And they may get a small amount of monetary compensation, but nothing to really exist off of.

    “Fractal Art” is way too abstract for the mass population to spend money on, especially on a regular basis. And that is the only way any so called “artists” will ever get rich from their fractals.

  4. I know that a few people (myself included) have sold individual pieces for hundreds of dollars. I suspect that some have sold pieces for thousands. But, as Paul says, any profit to be made is probably by the middle folks and definitely not the artists. To my mind, there’s no economic reason for fractal art to be profitable. It’s just not a scarce resource (in the economic sense)–anyone can create it and it’s way too easy to create zillions of images. That’s why, if you go to those “upload your image and sell prints” sites, you’ll find a boatload of crap (including mine) and very few “good” works. Lots of people trying to sell and very few, if any, actually selling.

  5. Strangely an unwillingness to offer fractals for sale when they had been accepted for exhibition was a reason for my eventually resigning from the local arts club. At the time I didn’t feel the prints had a sufficient durability to justify making them available, but I’ve since lost all inclination to do so as mobility and energy decreases with age.

    That said, the pictures did stir a sufficient amount of interest amongst the public for me to feel proper marketing would have resulted in sales. Good fractals can be attractive when printed to a reasonable size and properly framed etc; but I would agree with Kerry the online galleries are useless as a sales outlet.

    I also agree with Kerry it is sublimely easy to produce “crap,” but there has been little or no effort to establish a quality criteria. Maybe the time isn’t right, but a wide public audience will need to develop a consistency of respect at some stage for a more general acceptance to be achieved. High value sales are unlikely without this development. After all, the majority of artists who use traditional materials find it difficult to make a living from art and many fall back on teaching as the major source of income.

    Will fractal art eventually find a place in the public museums and art galleries, and hence into the commercial galleries? I suspect so. Time alone should give historical significance and this will call for representation, but – as with photography – it will need the attention of collectors to give impetus for such acknowledgement.

  6. I tend to think that once we have large scale real-time 3 dimensional holographic displays, higher dimensional fractals will find there way into Vegas and theme parks. Real time calculation of huge intricate holograms will infiltrate the rave/club scene.

    I don’t see a large amount of money in the development of individual fractals, rather I see there being a lot of money in the formulas that generate fractals, if patents are granted to the creators of the formulas and they are allowed to collect royalties when the technology to capitalize on the formulas finally emerges. Note that this technology is probably a few years away, although right now Clearstream, Nvidia, or ATI could produce a custom series of “club fractal” cards that might be able to produce nice looking large 4d (4d for movement, 5d would give better variation.. etc.) realtime fractals. The color schemes would have to be picked out, formula variations, etc. all of which could potentially earn money, especially if popularized in a music video by someone popular.

    Or you could sell fractals as texture packs for artists…

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