Is the 2011 BMFAC Accepting Entries from All Artistic Mediums?

Y by Mark Wallinger

Was this object made with fractal hardware?

Y by Mark Wallinger. Photograph seen here.

Fractal art is a fractal look and doesn’t have to be something rendered from computing a fractal algorithm.
–Tim Hodkinson, Orbit Trap

Two remarks have caught my attention this week. The first was baffling but exhilarating. The second was risible and sadly without irony.

The first had its genesis in a phrase tucked away on the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) Rules Page. Under Section 3.9 titled Content, the first sentence reads:

Artwork may be submitted that is created with any tools, software or hardware [emphasis mine].

This juicy tidbit led to the first of two remarks. Kali, over on FractalForums, shakes his head and wonders:

Any tools? software OR hardware? Does a hammer count as a hardware tool? can I build a menger sponge made of wood and then take a photo?

Yes, it certainly sounds like one can do such things and call them legitimate entries. Has BMFAC actually broadened its scope to include Phase Two fractal art? If so, this is unquestionably a major step in the right direction.

Regular OT readers will recall that we have been advocating that the prevailing definition of "fractal art" has too long been limited to works made by artists using computers and software. We have argued that fractal art can also be produced using non-fractal software and even conventional artistic tools — and have gone so far as to advocate that such art is a legitimate form of expression when considering what comprises fractal art.

Tim first defined Phase Two fractal art on OT back in early 2009. He notes:

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

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

Tim then expands on this line of thinking again, in a prescient OT post entitled "Fractal Art without a Computer." He observes that

this could be the beginning in what could become the complete unraveling of fractal art as a genre. After this we will all see fractal art from a Visual Context instead of a Software Context. We will see that Fractal Art revolves around visual appearance and not around the software that made it. Fractal Art will be defined by visual criteria and not by its association (whether it’s noticeable or not) with fractal software.

In short, following such reasoning, fractal art becomes any art that somehow displays or utilizes fractal properties/characteristics. How that art was made is irrelevant and becomes more appropriate for a discussion of mediums. In other words, art made with computers is no more "fractal art" than art made with another more orthodox medium like, say, painting.

I followed up Tim’s hypothesis by demonstrating what Phase Two fractal exhibitions might look like (say, this and this and this). Moreover, in another post, I explicitly argue that traditional artistic mediums can and do create fractal art — and go on to contend that BMFAC, a competition showcasing such art, should broaden its content and accept entries other than those that are computer-generated. At the time, I said:

If fractal art is art that has fractal characteristics like recursion and self-similarity, then the traditional mediums of the fine arts can be used for our genre just as easily as software. In fact, one could build the case that a true exhibition of fractal art would showcase art made using a variety of self-expressive tools — including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics design, and other recognized mediums. Software utilizing fractal algorithms to generate images would still be included, of course, but would merely be another component in the artistic arsenal, and such imagery might be broken into distinctions like algorithmic art or digital art, depending on the amount of graphic processing an individual artist used. But fractal art would be a category of art, like abstract expressionism or cubism, and not winnowed down to be only the primarily Ultra Fractal images that will win this year’s BMFAC.

However, if Kali and I are reading the 2011 rules correctly, this year’s BMFAC has radically changed the playing field. Over the years, I have been one of BMFAC’s harshest critics. But I will be the first to commend BMFAC’s organizers if they are indeed accepting submissions of fractal art from all artistic mediums. I applaud such a bold and provocative action, for it surely marks a substantive leap in the evolution of fractal art as a bona fide discipline. I would even argue that such a broadening of fractal art content represents a paradigm shift of staggering proportions. None of us may ever again be able to look at fractal art through the narrow lens and exclusive mindset of art that is limited to images created with algorithms and computer software.


The BMFAC Star Chamber 

The "Prestigious" BMFAC Judging Panel

[Photograph seen here.]

I said when I started this post that I stumbled upon two attention-getting remarks this week. The second came from the furiously-pounded keyboard of Esin Turkakin as she chided Tim and his last post for "smearing" the BMFAC jury, for "questioning its ability to judge 3D," and, worst of all it seems, for

attacking the jury in the process with no ground…

Oh. It is to laugh. To the point where my sides hurt. Because:

a) It’s appropriate for Tim to speculate on the make-up of BMFAC’s 2011 selection panel since the names of said jurors have inexplicably not yet been released. It’s unprecedented, not to mention bizarre and amateurish, for any (serious) fine arts contest to announce and promote itself without simultaneously revealing its judges and funding sources. What’s stopping someone from prematurely entering the competition and then later being tapped as a judge? Presumably, such an entry would be disallowed, but, given that we’re talking about BMFAC, don’t expect to see such a circumstance (or much of anything else constituting ethical weirdness) officially barred in writing on the Rules page.

b) It’s appropriate for Tim to worry whether 3D images coming out of fractal art’s new wave will get a fair shake from BMFAC. All three past panels have been top-heavy with mathematicians (and nothing screams art expert like a mathematician) and director Damien M. Jones’s Ultra Fractal-using cronies. What are the usual suspects’ (Jones, Mitchell, Townsend, Parke, et. al.) qualifications concerning and comprehension skills about the latest 3D phenomenon that allow them to be placed in a position to judge such entries? Or, better yet, since BMFAC appears to have now embraced Phase Two entries, how much do these same UF users/software makers and math geeks know about painting, sculpture, ceramics, or mixed-media installations created using fiber? This year, it seems more imperative than ever that at least some members of the panel be versed not only in the newer 3D variations, but also in the more conventional artistic mediums.

c) And past BMFAC panels have given all of us "no ground" to fret or even attack them? Seriously? You mean, the same folks who two out of three times finagled their own art into the "contest" exhibitions — the same fractal-software-making folks who last year blew off clear conflicts of interest — the same for-educational-purposes-only folks who taught fractal art/software courses and later saw former students turn up the winner’s circle? Those same folks? Please, spare us your righteous indignation. Past juries haven’t exactly been paragons of ethical purity and models of moral goodness.

But…thanks, Esin. I always appreciate a good belly laugh.

4 thoughts on “Is the 2011 BMFAC Accepting Entries from All Artistic Mediums?

  1. “It’s appropriate for Tim to speculate on the make-up of BMFAC’s 2011 selection panel since the names of said jurors have inexplicably not yet been released. It’s unprecedented, not to mention bizarre and amateurish, for any (serious) fine arts contest to announce and promote itself without simultaneously revealing its judges and funding sources.”

    As I’ve said before those organising the BMFAC are doing so on a 100% *voluntary* basis – comparing it to Fine Art contests is simply irrelevant as they are generally organised by folks being *paid* to do so.
    The contest was announced online when it was in order to give enough notice for artists to create new works if they so wished – the reason the panel was not given *is because the panel had not been finalised*.
    As soon as it was complete (or at least the basic panel) by the addition of Don Archer, Jonathan Wolfe and Paul Nylander it was announced *the same day* in many blogs/comment sections/newsgroups etc. and will appear on the actual web page shortly (if it hasn’t already, I’ve not checked in the last 12 hours).
    As sponsors and exhibitions are finalised (as many as possible to be arranged for the chosen works) one or two more names may be added to the panel or at least require some input in the judging process *because they care what they pay for and/or what gets exhibited in their space*.
    Obviously the more sponsors and exhibitions the better for all.
    As to “why the rush” – there is an effective deadline to get the winners sorted well in time for the 1st anniversary of the passing of Benoit Mandelbrot.

    As to the “hardware” issue AFAIK it was simply meant as *any computer hardware* but I could be wrong but even if I am wrong it’s fairly obvious that for “sculptures” etc. then they could only be entered as photos of the work to be exhibited as such, not the actual work itself as the nature of the judging and the exhibition/s *very obviously* excludes such possibilities.

  2. It would seem that Fractal Art is coming full circle. It exists in nature, it existed before computers. I can remember plotting points by hand. Computers have simply made it easier and faster to achieve complex images whether one understands the math or not. They all have a valid place irregardless of the tools and materials used.

    Thank you for this post!

  3. Always happy to provide. And I of course love seeing my sentences taken out of context in your posts.
    I have listed my points in the comments that you have taken that sentence out from, and I’m not to repeat them just because you’re unable to comprehend them. Your two points contradict each other. Yes, the jury is not yet formed. The fact that the website is public before the jury is chosen is a completely separate issue from the non-existent jury’s ability to judge 3D. Just because you assume it’s going to be the same people does not make it a fact. I would have actually agreed with you if you had written up that post after they announced a jury with no 3D artist in there whatsoever. The past jury is of course by no means untouchable, and it’s obviously fair game to speculate on their past decisions and their composition. What you’re doing, however, is attacking a non-existent jury for their presumed inability to judge the non-existent 3D entries. I don’t see what’s reasonable about that.

    Otherwise, hopefully the statement about “hardware” isn’t just a slip, and the word can get out there to fractal sculptors so that we can have actual 3D fractals..

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