What the Fractal Universe Calendar did for Fractal Art

What has it done for fractal art?  It’s brought publishers to the realization that fractal art can be bought in bulk like any other stock imagery they already use.  The years of contests, editors, sorting, sifting, short-listing and final cutting are over; just find someone who knows how to make the stuff and order a dozen.

While Cornelia Yoder might be “flabbergasted” over her recent rise to fame, laying claim to what used to be a highly contested and multi-artist production, I see this sudden development as a sign that the calendar publishers have gotten wise to the over-inflated view that fractal artists have of themselves and their cliche artwork.  Publishers don’t need “artists”, they just need one person who can perform the fractal equivalent of a flower arranger.

Flower Arrangement 2 by Craig Hein Design


Now I know some of you like the kind of fractal art that the calendar features (year after year) but that’s okay because there’s many people who love looking at flower arrangements and they have about as much variety in artistic style as the calendar’s “fractal arrangements” do.  I’m not interested in pointing out what is “good art” and what isn’t, I just want to point out that “fractal arranging” has become a very common skill which is easy to acquire and needs only a little “tweaking”, as they say on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, to enable one to produce work that can be considered individual.  It wasn’t that way back in the 90s when these delightful, shiny ribbon things first burst onto the fractal art scene, spinning and sparkling in ways fractals had never spun or sparkled before.

Easy and Efficient Online Floral Arrangement Ordering from FTD


I have a funny anecdote to tell: back a year ago when the Fractal Universe calendar was going through some changes and looked to be closing up and then to be producing one last issue without a contest, I thought they had made a new calendar out of old images from previous years.  So I went to the calendar site and compared the latest calendar’s set of images with the archives.  Immediately I was sure I spotted some duplicates!  I searched the archives to find what image and from what year they’d taken it –but I couldn’t find them! The ones I thought were reprints weren’t reprints at all it seemed.  But it was hard to be sure so I went over each year again because I was sure I’d seen a few images from the new calendar that matched ones in the archives.  Finally, I had to go through the process really slowly and carefully: I would look at the new one I suspected of being reused and then look at a single archived image and then look back at the new image again and then repeat the process with every archived image.  It took a while but I was certain I’d find proof that they’d rehashed old calendars.  It was like in the old cop TV shows where they have a witness look over the mug shot books again and again because the detectives can’t believe none of the criminals in the book match the person the witness saw.  Then it dawned on me:  These fractal images are all so similar that they have no distinguishing characteristics –They all look the same!

So, is it any surprise that the calendar publishers have come to the same conclusion?

Publishers now believe that…

  • Fractal art is a type of craft, not a type of art
  • Fractal art is anonymous because it lacks the personal style that traditional art, like painting or even photography has had, and which gave its creators name-brand recognition
  • Hundreds of artists can make those “flowers in a blender” fractals and it’s a nice, safe style for mass consumption because the wall-calendar buying public is primarily looking for decoration and inoffensive gifts, not the latest cutting-edge fractal art
  • There’s no reason to pay more than a token fee for fractal art because artists have been lining up year after year just for the thrill of getting offline attention and online bragging rights
  • If they ever get into the paper plate business, they’ve got enough fractals to put off hiring a design department for a hundred years

So the next time you hear someone trying to defend things like fractal art calendars because they “introduce fractal art to a mainstream audience”, just tell them the story about the great Fractal Universe calendar and what it did for fractal art.

The only way fractal art will ever become mainstream is by becoming mainstream.

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5 thoughts on “What the Fractal Universe Calendar did for Fractal Art

  1. I agree with all that, but I fail to see how this effects fractal art as an art form. Is there a single mass-production calendar featuring any art form with its more sophisticated and deep extremes (I’m excluding the classics of certain famous painters, that’s not quite relevant to this issue) ? Yes, calendar publishers see fractals as stock, as craft, whatever you would like to call them, but calendar publishers are important for any art form how? I personally wouldn’t buy the said calendar, I wouldn’t look twice at any of the fractals, precisely the reason why I really can’t see why these calendars merit such serious elaboration.

  2. All that said, I have a tangental point to make, which is that fractal art is a strange category that most can’t relate to which I think is the main reason it’s not really acknowledged more widely. It used to refer to only the digital fractals, now it’s (very) slowly expanding to anything that involves fractal geometry (i.e. self repetition, scale variations etc). However, for it to actually merit a separate category, it should provide something new, as in, something that previous art forms haven’t been able to provide before. When photography came along, it provided reality – precisely what most painters were trying to accomplish before- it was fundamentally new, groundbreaking. When digital art came, it provided convenience – no mess of paints, undo buttons, and also mass production. And it’s not just about media- since you tend to associate fractal art not with the media but with the nature of its contents (fractal geometry), we can compare it to cubism, which was very unique and had a philosophy, a manifesto behind it. Fractal art, unless it can show outsiders what it offers that they haven’t seen before (it most certainly isn’t colourful spirals), and unless it produces converging works of art, will always remain as “some sort of digital art” as I end up having to explain to any inquirers. Fractal art needs to distinguish itself, use any and all its differences and innovations and emphasize them, and that to me seems like the only way it can become “mainstream” in artistic communities. I think Mandelbulb was a positive step in that direction, and while I myself have rarely dabbled in video, the most impressive and unique encounters I’ve had with fractals have always been with fractal clips, or at least zoomable images, not static images. I feel like they convey the nature of fractals much better. Also, I can’t seem to be able to wrap this paragraph up, so I’ll leave it as an open-ended stream of thoughts.

  3. Let us first put “fractal art” into perspective (when it comes to “art” as a whole). I could start with the small niche of fractals and work my way up to the larger categories, but when approached from the other direction, you can see why “fractal art” is hardly noticeable.

    “Art” covers a huge range of disciplines, from Fine arts to Performing arts: music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, paintings, architecture, gastronomy, theater, dance, etc… Encompassing a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression. All the various forms, genres, media, and styles.

    “Digital Art” is only a drop in the bucket when compared to all the other areas of “Art”.

    And “fractal art” is such a tiny portion within the “Digital Art” droplet.

    Now “fractal art” becomes nothing more than a single leaf amongst the whole tree that makes up “Art”. Lost in the lushness of such a perennial and massive body.

  4. I must admit that Fractal Calendars are really ugly! Even sexy calendars are much more artistic… However, I think that such a kind of colourful, shining fractal images simply reflect the popular tastes.

    I participated to an important exhibition of Digital Art and Photography in Italy organized by the Art Museum of Chianciano Terme (near Siena, Tuscany) http://www.museodarte.org/EN/Index.htm
    There were about 100 participants from 35 Countries, each of them with 2 or 3 artworks. Well, there were about one hundred (probably more) works of digital art: of these, only 7 were fractal (or fractal based) pictures, by 3 artists (including me). Evidently, the so called “fractal art” keeps a very small space in the wide field of Digital Art!!!

    You can donwload the exhibition catalogue at http://www.museodarte.org/photography_award/Chianciano_International_Award_Catalogue.pdf

  5. Calendars and diaries were useful at work to the extent time and dates move events of self-importance. The pictures were inessential to basic purpose but did supply a fleeting pleasure in those rare moments available for contemplation – and the more so if I’d been given opportunity to select from a variety of calendars, as was often the case.

    As for domestic use, I had relatives supply calendars as Christmas gifts. Not one found space on domestic wall, and silent resentment held sway until courage was mustered for me to say “No more, please.”

    Can fractal “art” thrive in either environment? Well, the publishers have persisted and compensated for their ignorance by seeking the help of others in the selection of pictures. I’d say it was a heavy burden of responsibility placed on Panny and others and the compensation barely adequate. It was a commercial arrangement, nothing more. Cornelia is lucky in that the publishers themselves have taken an affirmative stance, but the burden is now on Cornelia to meet a probably ill-defined standard. She will likely become a better artist after working through the self-doubts which should precede meeting the needs of the commission.

    There is a subtle progress. Does not the number of fractal calenders become more numerous? Acorns become trees. The grove becomes a prospect. beyond is the expectation of forest and the richness of variety. Fractals have to journey from monitor to print for serious recognition. That means entry in exhibitions, publication in magazines, books, the sale of prints, and the development of commercial practicalities by any means and by a host of serious individuals.

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