Why The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Makes Fractal Art Look Amateurish

I apologize for not keeping a closer eye on the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2006. If I had, these comments of mine wouldn’t have come a whole year late, but it’s just recently that I was able to view the entire exhibition (PDF Catalog here) which includes the works by the judges which wasn’t displayed on the contest site, which is where most of the online attention has been focused. The artist’s notes that are displayed with the exhibition artwork make for interesting reading, for those of us who have a critical disposition. They alone, ought to raise a few eyebrows and cause some to blush.

Yes, it’s embarrassing for me to say I’m a fractal artist and think that I am in some, even very remote way, part of what this contest claims to represent. I’m a naturally trusting sort of person, as I suspect most fractal artists are. I just naturally assumed that such a prodigious-sounding event as The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, would be good for the whole genre even if it didn’t cater to my own particular artistic tastes and methods. If the Ultra Fractalists wanted to lead a parade down main street then surely I could take some pride in it also, even if I wasn’t part of it?

A few words about criticism I think are needed here, since criticism seems to be something new to the Fractal Art world. I should add that the word, “reasonable”, which I use often, can be defined as: “Not excessive or immoderate; within due limits; proper; as, a reasonable demand, amount, price.” [1913 Webster] I mention this because I’ve met a lot of people who incorrectly think, “reasonable”, means, “Anything I can think of”.

Some of my thoughts:

-it is reasonable for the selection panel of a public contest, who are performing the role of critics themselves, to receive criticism regarding their selections

-when all of the submissions for a contest are posted in a single place on the internet, it is reasonable for other people to form opinions regarding the judges’ choices since they are now in a position to judge for themselves

-fair and impartial judging, or at the very least, the reasonable attempt to provide it, is a reasonable expectation when submitting work to any contest

-it is reasonable for a publicly held contest to receive publicity which includes public criticism

The connections that the judges have with each other, the contest organizers, and the artists submitting work to the contest speaks for itself regarding the level of impartiality that other artists can expect from this contest. I’ll let readers connect the dots themselves because they’re so close together it hardly needs to be done for them. But one comment anyhow: the clear association that some of the judges have with the selected works (contest works) in the form of either software, formulas or other algorithms used to create them, make an impartial judgement of these works appear extremely unlikely. I’m aware of these connections because a number of the judges are noted for their contribution, by name, right in the notes that accompany the selected artwork!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, at least one of the judges’ own works is of such doubtful artistic merit, and so out of place with all the rest of the contest winners, that the only reasonable explanation that I can see for it’s inclusion in the exhibit, is the privilege that all the judges have been given to self-select one of their own works for the exhibit. Compare it with the contest entries and ask yourself, “Would that have been selected if it was subjected to the same selection process as all the rest?”

Which raises another point: Why, after an entire year has passed and a second contest with almost identical rules (some are verbatim) has been concluded, have so few people said anything about this insult to Fractal Art? Fractal Art as a genre, can hardly be taken seriously or receive any respect if it’s most prominent and visible members operate public contests with little regard for fairness or principle. This makes Fractal Art look amateurish. And if you don’t have a problem with that, then you’re an amateur too.

It reminds me of an incident that occurred over at Renderosity. Groups of friends in the fractal “community” routinely voted for each others’ work as a team in order to boost their ratings and hopefully make it into the Top 20. The way it worked is they posted a comment under each of their friend’s work and marked it with a “V” to indicate they’d voted for it so their friends would do the same for them.

Well, in addition to distorting the results of the Top 20, a selection of work whose intended purpose was to showcase the better Fractal works at Renderosity (which usually get ignored because they’re buried in the enormous quantity of work that gets posted there), they went on to give the whole community a bad name by playing the same game in the Terragen Community.

A few of these fractal “artists” decided to start posting their Terragen images in the Terragen Community on Renderosity and then do the same “team-voting” thing. The Terragen folks got rather upset when their Top 20 started to fill up with second-rate works by a small group of newcomers, and started asking where these folks were coming from and what was going on with the voting. I guess the Terragen folks aren’t afraid to speak up and do some investigating when they see things are not quite right.

I think Fractal Art’s reputation and development ought to be just as important as getting in the public spotlight and promoting your own personal artwork. I think “Art” is more important than individual “artists”. In addition to being a maker of fractal art I’m also a viewer and fan of it. I like fractal art. I like to see new talent encouraged and new styles given the attention they deserve when they have artistic merit — that’s how an artform develops and becomes refined. Otherwise, it becomes the domain of a few oldtimers who’d rather replicate themselves and their tired styles while any new ideas or fresh talent that arises is sidelined to smoulder away in obscurity.

Tim Hodkinson

Technorati Tags:

How comments work: After the approval of your very first comment you will be able to post future comments immediately to any posting. Any username or fictitious email is good enough.

7 thoughts on “Why The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Makes Fractal Art Look Amateurish

  1. Better yet, Thomas, become a Judge and you can add anything you like to the exhibit.

    I have a feeling though, that the selection criteria for being a Judge is pretty complex and involved and only a select few could meet those special requirements.

    The 3D is pretty neat. Reminds me of scanning electron microscope photos, except that your image is much more clearer and detailed. Black Body Emitter? Far out.

  2. This post presents such a “target rich environment” that it is hard to resist. But, I shall and make just a few comments.

    Why do you feel the need to turn this blog into a personal vendetta against this particular contest?

    Weren’t Terry’s juvenile, slanderous rants from a while back enough?

    The rules and/or criteria were clearly spelled out this year. Damien gave a detailed explanation when Terry questioned his ethics. You don’t like it, so what. Create your own contest or exhibition and set your own rules.

    I doubt anyone associated with the Mandelbrot contests is afraid of criticism when it is reasonable and appropriate. Your rants are idiotic.

    Grow up, get over it, and worry about your own “art” before criticizing others.

  3. “This makes Fractal Art look amateurish. And if you don’t have a problem with that, then you’re an amateur too.”

    Ken, you’re an amateur, too.

  4. Well Tim, you have your opinions. But, I’ll stake my art against yours any day of the week. I’ll also stake the art displayed in the contest against yours any day of the week.

    But, you and Terry, as do most cowards, you don’t address any points made to your posts. You two state that you don’t mind controversy in this blog, yet you both run away from direct confrontation to your posts.

    Amateurish? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. ROTFLMAO.

  5. Ken,

    We’ve had many more posts on OT that have nothing to do with the competition. But, obviously, Tim and I feel the practices of this major fractal art contest raise serious questions of impropriety that deserve very close scrutiny. You, apparently, think everything is running along hunky dory. We must, I’m afraid, disagree on this matter.

    You say we’re cowards? How so? Because we dare to speak out and thus expose ourselves to ridicule and insults from people like you?

    Then you chide us for running away from our posts? Who’s hiding? We’ve put our opinions out in the open for everyone to see. We’re still waiting for someone to actually engage our observations in some meaningful way and point out why we’ve got the whole thing so terribly wrong. And, for the record, calling us names is not the same as actually engaging in discourse.

    Why do I have to create my own contest in order to have one in the fractal community that is run fairly? I don’t want to write my own laws either. I’d prefer the people who administer contests and laws do so in a just manner. If they do that, I have no problem with them. If they do not, then, as an artist or a citizen, I reserve the right to speak out and protest against what I see as injustice.

    You think I was juvenile? It was Damien who went so rudely ad hominem earlier in the summer — telling me, with all Christian charity I’m sure, that I “was speaking out of my ass.”

    You found Damien’s previous explanations convincing? I found them to be thinly veiled rationalizations that dug him into deeper rhetorical holes with each successive paragraph.

    Whether a contest director agrees to a sponsor’s stipulations, or whether a contest has a long history or spells out in detail its pre-arranged guidelines has absolutely nothing to do with whether such competitions are being run using conventionally accepted protocols designed to keep fine arts contests ethical and fair.

  6. Terry –

    I say you’re cowards because you (and Tim) ignore direct questions. I say you’re cowards because you refuse to apologize when you are wrong.

    I’m waiting for some substantive evidence that there are any ethical wrongdoing with the Mandelbrot contests or the Fractal Universe calendar. You openly questioned Panny’s and Keith’s ethics wrt the calendar process with no proof. No apology was offered. I call that cowardly.

    If you are going to go on and on and complain about a particular contest or calendar, and provide no evidence of ethical issues, then it is reasonable to tell you to go form your own contest or exhibition. All you and Tim have done is whine incessantly that you don’t like the rules that were setup and spelled out. I’ve read through them several times and I don’t see any issues of ethics. I also appreciate that the organizers and/or sponsors of the exhibition can set whatever rules and format they choose for their exhibition. I can appreciate you not liking the format. But, do you do anything to try to effect changes? Do you provide evidence of ethical wrongdoing and suggest ways to avoid such things? No, you don’t. You just claim that there are problems, without evidence other than you don’t like the setup. So, create something that is more “fair”, in your opinion. Whining on and on only makes you look quite petty.

    I’ve argued with Damien many times. I’ve also seen him argue many times. His arguments are anything but what you describe. I have no dog in the Mandelbrot contest issue. I’m not a judge. I didn’t participate. But, I see no evidence of any ethical issues. You and Tim didn’t suggest how to make it better or more fair. As I see it, that opens you up to having your posts questioned.

    Insults? See Tim’s reply. Isn’t that also what you are doing with your reference to Damien?

    Tim gave no examples of the “amateurish” nature of the contest. He just chose to ridicule one of the contest entries, though not by name directly. What is amateurish about the contest? No evidence or examples of “fairness or principle” problems either, just statements that it is so.

    The comments about “Ultra Fractalists” is just silly. There is a reason UltraFractal is used by so many people, including most of the prominent fractal artists. It is simply, hands down, the best, most capable program available. There are some who don’t like to hear that, but that’s the state of the world at the moment. But, if it isn’t your tool of choice, what’s the problem? Tools are tools, and if other tools get you where you want to go, then why the need to whine about those who choose to use UltraFractal?

Comments are closed.