The Fractal Art Manifesto Revisited

While it may not be as well known today as it has been in the past, The Fractal Art Manifesto, written back in 1999 by Kerry Mitchell, is one of the very few attempts to formally define fractal art.  If you visit the Wikipedia page for Fractal Art, you’ll see that quotations from The Fractal Art Manifesto make up half of the introductory section of the article.  The point of view expressed in The Fractal Art Manifesto is something that needs to be addressed by anyone challenging the current state of Fractal Art since that current state today reflects much of the thinking in that singular document.

In a nutshell, my disagreement with the Fractal Art Manifesto (FAM) is that it over exaggerates the role of the “artist” and minimizes the role of the computer program in the creation of fractal art.  Furthermore, it grossly generalizes what art is and subsequently blurs the boundary between simpler kinds of graphical work like design and ornamentation with that of the more complex, expressive works that engage the viewer on higher, more thought provoking levels.  It’s just this kind of view of fractal art that leads so many fractal artists today to view fractals as just another artistic medium and themselves as just another kind of artist capable of producing work of similar status once they “master” their fractal art tools in the way other artists of the past whose own mastered their medium and tools to make their great art.

From the FAM:

Fractal Art is not:

Computer(ized) Art, in the sense that the computer does all the work. The work is executed on a computer, but only at the direction of the artist. Turn a computer on and leave it alone for an hour. When you come back, no art will have been generated.

“Executed…at the direction of the artist…leave it alone…no art”  Well, that “direction” the artist gives is what?  Choosing a formula, a rendering method, zooming in or out; it’s more like “placing an order”, like choosing menu options than directing the actions of a digitized paintbrush.  The balance is off; the computer does more of the work, much more, not less of it.  The fractal program draws the entire image, we just choose the options and chose only from the options.  “Direction” is an overstatement.  “Initiate”, “select” or “adjust” is more appropriate.

The fractal program is the major contributor while the operator’s role is trivial.  Adjusting parameters is not a terribly difficult or demanding thing.  The fact that the process can’t be automated and left for the computer to do on its own doesn’t mean it’s a difficult one.  Parking lots have attendants and supermarket checkouts have cashiers to scan bar codes and take payments.  Both of these functions need human supervision, but neither of them are hard to perform.  Adjusting fractal parameters is actually a fun thing to do and all one has to do is pay attention to what works and save the results.  I’m not sure such “work” qualifies one for the label (and role) of “artist”.  The role of the fractal artist is minimal because the work the fractal artist does is minimal.

In keeping with the theme of The Artist, rather than the more humble computer term, “user”, the FAM goes on to speak of Mastery, that great and glorious status in the fractal art world that says, “You’ve Arrived”.  It’s a common theme (and myth) in today’s fractal art world to talk about “prestigious” fractal artists.  The concept was found in the FAM too.

(Fractal Art is not:)

Random, in the sense of unpredictable. Fractal Art, like any new pursuit, will have aspects unknown to the novice, but familiar to the master. Through experience and education, the techniques of FA can be learned. As in painting or chess, the essentials are quickly grasped, although they can take a lifetime to fully understand and control. Over time, the joy of serendipitous discovery is replaced by the joy of self-determined creation.

Techniques of fractal art?  “As in painting or chess…”   That’s a pretty lofty comparison, which again reinforces my opinion that what’s wrong here is not so much whether the term “artist” is appropriate or not, but that the contribution of the artist (or whatever) in fractal art has been exaggerated and that this overblown role once accepted leads onwards, logically, to the assumption that fractal artists can be classed into novices and masters because what they do is so complicated and challenging.  And note the extension of the comparison between the two classes of novice and master into “serendipitous discovery” and “self-determined creation”.  Novices, like prospectors go wandering around looking for gold, while The Masters make themselves it by transmuting lead using their advanced skills.

There’s more…

(Fractal Art is not:)

Something that anyone with a computer can do well. Anyone can pick up a camera and take a snapshot. However, not just anyone can be an Ansel Adams or an Annie Liebovitz. Anyone can take brush in hand and paint. However, not just anyone can be a Georgia O’Keeffe or a Pablo Picasso. Indeed, anyone with a computer can create fractal images, but not just anyone will excel at creating Fractal Art.

The FAM makes another reference to photography but again it simply takes everything too far.  After all: just how much is fractal art like photography?

Fractal Art is a subclass of two dimensional visual art, and is in many respects similar to photography—another art form which was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. Fractal images typically are manifested as prints, bringing Fractal Artists into the company of painters, photographers, and printmakers. Fractals exist natively as electronic images. This is a format that traditional visual artists are quickly embracing, bringing them into FA’s digital realm.

“Sub-class of two dimensional art…”  Meaning what?  It’s flat and you can look at it.  There’s some very subtle reasoning going on here, Mitchell is trying to connect fractals to all of visual art.  The categories are described in very general terms so that they will be broad enough to qualify fractals for membership.  But what exactly do fractals and photographs have in common?  Better still, what does fractal art and photographic art have in common?

This the core issue in understanding fractal art’s position in the larger art world.  Fractals are a medium and that medium has limitations that mediums like photography don’t have.  Yes, fractals are like photography in the sense that we “capture” imagery rather than create it by hand, but a camera is not much like a fractal program window.  Photography deals with realistic imagery; people, objects, human drama; while fractal programs are limited to geometric constructions.  Only in a broad, academic sense do fractals and photography have any connection.  And fractal artists are only brought “into the company” of painters and printmakers because they all make prints if they happen to use the same printing store on the same day.  I guess that would also bring them “into the company” of people getting passport photos and picking up baby and wedding photo enlargements too.  “Mom! Dad! I stood in line with Da Vinci today!”

Anyhow, it goes on with the misconceived idea that fractals are just another visual art medium and thereby suitable for the same artistic endeavors (when fully mastered) that artists in any other medium attempt.  I’ve bolded in red further examples of this from the rest of the FAM below to illustrate this:

Fractal Art is:

Expressive. Through a painter’s colors, a photographer’s use of light and shadow, or a dancer’s movements, artists learn to express and evoke all manner of ideas and emotions. Fractal Artists are no less capable of using their medium as a similarly expressive language, as they are equipped with all the essential tools of the traditional visual artist.
Creative. The final fractal image must be created, just as the photograph or the painting. It can be created as a representational work, and abstraction of the basic fractal form, or as a nonrepresentational piece. The Fractal Artist begins with a blank “canvas”, and creates an image, bringing together the same basic elements of color, composition, balance, etc., used by the traditional visual artist.
Requiring of input, effort, and intelligence. The Fractal Artist must direct the assembly of the calculation formulas, mappings, coloring schemes, palettes, and their requisite parameters. Each and every element can and will be tweaked, adjusted, aligned, and re-tweaked in the effort to find the right combination. The freedom to manipulate all these facets of a fractal image brings with it the obligation to understand their use and their effects. This understanding requires intelligence and thoughtfulness from the Artist.

(emphasis mine)

The last paragraph, “Requiring of input…”, makes the act of creating fractal art out to be a process that is as much under the control of the artist as it is with a painter in his medium.  If that were actually the case then fractal art would contain much more variety and personal style that it does because each artist would be literally sculpting the image remotely through the program’s controls with almost unlimited outcomes.

By “every element” I would assume Mitchell is referring to the list of items that goes into the “assembly” of the image in the previous sentence.  But such elements are merely the parameters of a fractal image that we’re all familiar with and they don’t give anyone anything like what I would describe as the “freedom to manipulate”.  What the artist can control in fractal art is limited and this is why so much of fractal art has the same style and appearance.  In fact it is easier to spot the program a piece of fractal art was made with than it is to guess who made it.  It’s the “style” of the program that characterizes fractal art, not the style of the artist.  This is in huge contrast to what the FAM portrays as fractal artists working with in their medium like high tech painters.  Whatever “thoughts” the artist might have in all this are largely irrelevant because there’s little opportunity to work them into the equation like there is when a painter imagines something and then takes up a brush to paint.

Most of all, Fractal Art is simply that which is created by Fractal Artists: ART.

Therein ends the majestic document called The Fractal Art Manifesto.  Notice the emphasis given the word art at the ending –all caps.  Why such an in-your-face kind of emphasis?  Manifestos, especially art ones, tend to be emphatic proclamations, but I think it’s important to recognize another, perhaps historical reason for why Mitchell (typographically) shouts the last word of his manifesto.  And that is the theme of defending the integrity of fractals as a bone fide art form before disapproving (and technophobic) art critics.

From the third paragraph of the FAM:

…similar to photography—another art form which was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. (emphasis mine)

I don’t know what the situation is today, but ten years ago when the FAM was written, it was at least perceived by Mitchell and others that fractal art was being shrugged off by some artsy folks (curators, critics…) as not being art at all and trivialized by such statements as “that’s just Photoshop” or “anyone can do that”.  Damien Jones, on a web page entitled, Of Fractals and Art, hosted alongside the FAM makes similar allusions to the weak reception fractal art has received by some in the art world:

Probably as long as there has been art, there have been people asking whether this or that qualifies as art. Fractal artists often catch a lot of flak concerning their art. We sometimes have difficulty being included in art shows or in selling our work; we’re not always taken seriously, so to speak. We are treated as dabblers, pretenders, rather than as artists expressing ourselves through a new (relatively unexplored) medium. Since I consider myself a fractal artist, I’m not exactly an unbiased party, but I do at least have reasons for why I consider fractal art a valid art form.

Our art is best received by those who know nothing about it. They simply look at what we create, and their reaction is one of surprise, awe, delight… a range of positive emotions. They don’t ask whether it’s art or not; we present it as art, they accept it as such. No, our problems often seem to come from those who know a little bit about how we do what we do.

(emphasis mine)

“Those who know a little…”  They’re the problem people.  Or is it those who take the time to find out –a little more?  And think about fractal art –a little more?  That’s my problem; I started thinking about fractal art for myself.  But this is another topic for some other time…  If you’re interested, Jones goes on to say in his micro-festo much the same sort of things as Mitchell does in the FAM.

It’s a perennial topic in the fractal art world: we don’t get no respect.  I don’t know if it’s such a big deal anymore because maybe fractal artists don’t care so much what “the world” thinks about them because online it matters much less.  You only hear from people who like your work or want to buy prints.  You don’t get to see the sneering and snickering of art critics and other members of the intelligentsia.  You have to go offline perhaps for those delightful experiences (or start a blog…).

But I don’t think that fully explains Mitchell’s extreme reverential view of the fractal art medium and fractal art.  I think that’s really the way he sees it.  The extreme view of the mocking art critics is matched and countered by his own extreme view that seeks to defend fractals as being everything the sneering critics say it isn’t.  My own view is something in between.  I would describe fractal programs as more than tools and the users of them as something less than artists.  The resulting medium is something categorically new, consisting of powerful tools for creating decorative patterns and designs but having a “creative ceiling” that can only be overcome if one enlarges their toolset and thereby multiplies the graphical options.  Such advanced processing would then result in the sort of freedom to manipulate and tweak every element that Mitchell associates with traditional visual art.

 

[update 2011/08/26 7:30pm]

It seems Mitchell has sent out a call to all the Ultra Fractal Mailing List to come on over to Orbit Trap and defend the FAM:

Ultra Fractal Mailing List item, 2011/08/26

15 thoughts on “The Fractal Art Manifesto Revisited

  1. In my point of view, I really don’t care if what I do can be called art or not, or if I’m an artist or just a guy who likes to play with formulas and make some pictures out of them. The word “art” itself is just a label, the meaning and boundaries are not always very clear. But nobody can deny that most of the images labeled under the “fractal art” category, requires some amount of creative skills. In my case, I create my own formulas, or I try to find original variations of existing ones. But even using classic formulas, the act of choosing a good spot and coloring it involves some degree of creative work.
    Anyway, I think that the real value of computer-generated fractals, is the fact that the real creator, the true artist behing this beatiful and intriguing images, is Math.

  2. I have not read both the documents referred to in this article, but from the quotes listed, both seem like a self serving, steaming pile of dung. While one may “master” a fractal program, it does not make them an artist, nor does it restrick any newbie from pressing a few buttons and coming up with a similar end result. There are a few people (will not even use the term artist here)that have made money from their designs and programs. These are the chosen ones who have actually won contests, exhibited their work and in some way cashed in. So, they have had some recognition, what is the probem? The problem simply is that classic pictorial art (using your own example of the Mona Lisa again) not only requires skills (maybe perspective, color and draftsmanship can relate to mastering parameters in fractals..but I doubt it)but it requires genius. Now it is certainly true that not all classical artists are geniuses, but while there are spokesman and “masters” of fractal art, there has been no savior, which as you point out in many ways and articles, is missing. But this person can not and will not be successful by simply mastering a program. As you pointed out, fractal art is absract, and as far as abstract art goes, I won’t say its all been done already, but enough has been done that it would take a minor miracle for something to be fresh (obviously not fractal art as it has not enjoyed the embrace that these manifesto’s desire so badly)So again I will say the way to make fractal art a success, is to utilize the strength in fractal design to better illustrate subjects that a viewer is familiar with and can relate to. To give a hint of what is truly in the artists mind and soul.
    A Manifesto is sort of a sour grapes move to begin with, it will not fix the percieved problem
    I give respect to the “masters” of certain fractal programs and their creators, but mastering the program to take advantage of much it has to offer is a long way from artistic genius
    Finally, I would make a slightly educated guess that these early manifestos have more than a little connection to UF. While UF is a wonderful program, with many thousands of users, unlimited choices in expression, it has not allowed a break out artist to appear to the fractal world (perhaps there are a few that think they are such a person). Ultimately these programs are tools waiting for the right vision, not necessarilly needing mastery,or a manifesto, but vision.

    Louis

    PS; I will offer Warhol as an example of vision. Andy hardly knew how to paint, and in many of his most famous works, used a simple silk screen and paint rollers…much of it not even done by him…so the so called “masters” should stop whining and utilize their time and effort to create something memorable.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not think Warhol was a great artist, but he was a genius.

    PPS; I am still awaiting a retort to my On Style 3 comments

  3. I’d like to take a quote from you: “Photography deals with realistic imagery; people, objects, human drama; while fractal programs are limited to geometric constructions.” and ask one simple question.

    Isn’t everything we perceive a “geometric construction” from the macro right down to micro level?

  4. I didn’t know that manifesto existed. Considering it exists on wikipedia, the bane of all researchers, this is not surprising. I suppose after reading this I shall have to go read it in full so I can see it both in and out of context.

    That aside… from what I have seen on both sides after stumbling here over a year ago, everyone is being ridiculous over something that it should be obvious a consensus shall never be reached on.

    Design and ornamentation are still art. Saying that someone is wrong for calling something art in their own perspective is the same as telling someone their opinion is wrong. It is just not logical. Something can be art to one person, and not art to another. Neither definition is wrong just because the other exists.

    It feels to me like this blog is trying to say that art is only art if it makes money, and is neither mainstream nor what anyone could define as “kitschy”.

    Sorry to say it, but beauty and meaning lay in the eyes of the beholder. As such, either everything is art, or nothing is, no matter the genre or medium involved.

  5. “In a nutshell, my disagreement with the Fractal Art Manifesto (FAM) is that it over exaggerates the role of the “artist” and minimizes the role of the computer program in the creation of fractal art. Furthermore, it grossly generalizes what art is and subsequently blurs the boundary between simpler kinds of graphical work like design and ornamentation with that of the more complex, expressive works that engage the viewer on higher, more thought provoking levels. It’s just this kind of view of fractal art that leads so many fractal artists today to view fractals as just another artistic medium and themselves as just another kind of artist capable of producing work of similar status once they “master” their fractal art tools in the way other artists of the past whose own mastered their medium and tools to make their great art.”

    It’s true that when I wrote the FAM in 1999, I had experienced a fair amount of “anyone can do that,” and, “The computer does all the work” comments. But even then, I had worked with fractals over almost 15 years, so I suppose that I was a bit bitter and that probably comes through. Nonetheless, I still find it odd that anyone would deny the possibility of someone being a fractal artist, as if all one does is push the “create art” button and out pops a thing of beauty. I had no intention of minimizing the role of the computer executing the work, but, to my mind, the job of *creating* the work lies solely with the artist.

    From Merriam-Webster, definition 4a of art (and the first one that defines art in the aesthetic sense): “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced.” That is the sense in which I was using the term “art.” In the “little-a” sense (“art,” generically), not the “big-a” sense (“Art,” or great art). If one is willing to consider the wider meaning of the term (regardless of whether that use is justified is describing “real” art), then certainly fractal art is art. If a photograph or a painting can be art (not necessarily Art), then fractals can be art, too. I did not intend to ascribe any particular importance to fractal art, but I did feel (and continue to feel) that fractal art is a valid two-dimensional artistic genre. You seem to think that fractal artists (no quotes!), by virtue of working in fractals, are incapable of producing art (let alone, Art); it’s not clear to me that there’s any reason to think that.

    “ ‘Executed…at the direction of the artist…leave it alone…no art’ Well, that ‘direction’ the artist gives is what? Choosing a formula, a rendering method, zooming in or out; it’s more like ‘placing an order’, like choosing menu options than directing the actions of a digitized paintbrush. The balance is off; the computer does more of the work, much more, not less of it. The fractal program draws the entire image, we just choose the options and chose only from the options. ‘Direction’ is an overstatement. ‘Initiate’, ‘select” or ‘adjust’ is more appropriate.”

    It seems that you are intentionally blurring the distinction between creating a fractal image and creating fractal art (not that I want to say where that line is, and if that’s a copout, I plead guilty). The same criticism of “initiate, select, or adjust,” as opposed to “direct,” can be applied to any artistic endeavor that involves a significant amount of automation, e.g., photography or non-fractal digital art. Anyone can point a camera at an object, push the button, and have an image appear, just like anyone can load a formula, zoom in, and have a fractal image appear. No argument there. However, photographic artists go light years beyond “point and shoot” in creating their art. Likewise, I contend, fractal artists go far beyond “load and zoom” in creating their art. The facts that the process does not require extensive human interaction and that much work is done by the computer do not mean that fractals can’t be art. Further, I maintain that no fractal art can be created without human interaction. I like to think of art as self-expression; that requisite human interaction is what allows fractals to go through the door of the art world (but it is not sufficient for fractals to be accepted as art).

    “The fractal program is the major contributor while the operator’s role is trivial. Adjusting parameters is not a terribly difficult or demanding thing. The fact that the process can’t be automated and left for the computer to do on its own doesn’t mean it’s a difficult one. Parking lots have attendants and supermarket checkouts have cashiers to scan bar codes and take payments. Both of these functions need human supervision, but neither of them are hard to perform. Adjusting fractal parameters is actually a fun thing to do and all one has to do is pay attention to what works and save the results. I’m not sure such ‘work’ qualifies one for the label (and role) of ‘artist’. The role of the fractal artist is minimal because the work the fractal artist does is minimal.”

    By this thinking, the role of the male in propagating the species is trivial. Yes, by any metric relevant to computer execution (e.g., MFLOPS), the computer does most of the work. But, it’s not necessarily true that the computer spends more time on the image than does the artist. And it’s certainly not true that the computer cares more or is more invested in the image than the artist. You seem to be suggesting that a sculptor who uses a block-and-tackle to lift a huge piece of granite cannot possibly be an artist because she didn’t lift the block by herself.

    But, let’s assume that the role of the human is substantially less than that of the computer, in any objective sense (e.g., time). That doesn’t mean that the resulting image a) can’t be art, and b) wasn’t created by the artist. It’s a long-established fact that movies and complex photo shoots have directors who are artists. They *direct* the production and are considered the creators of the work. In that regard, fractal art is no different—the artist directs the production and is the creator of the work. Or do you not consider Ansel Adams to be an artist because he did not create the moon and Half Dome? Maybe Hasselblad was the artist because they made the camera? Or Kodak because they made the chemicals?

    Your discussion of the ease of adjusting parameters is irrelevant. That it is easy to choose formulas and adjust parameters is a good thing and a testament to the quality of one’s chosen program. How difficult is it to splash paint on a canvas? Was Jackson Pollock not an artist because it’s easy to drip paint and let gravity do all the work? The difficulty in creating art is not in executing the mechanics (typically), it’s in bringing those fairly simple elements (light and film, paint and canvas, formulas and parameters) together into a substantive work. Again, I’m not saying that all fractals are art, but that fractal art is a valid class of art.

    “In keeping with the theme of The Artist, rather than the more humble computer term, ‘user’, the FAM goes on to speak of Mastery, that great and glorious status in the fractal art world that says, ‘You’ve Arrived’. It’s a common theme (and myth) in today’s fractal art world to talk about ‘prestigious’ fractal artists. The concept was found in the FAM too.”

    I can almost hear the protests of, “How dare you?” Art or not, creating fractal images is a skill. Skills have levels, including novice and master. People who are interested in such things often ascribe prestige to the masters of that field. It’s really not some outrageous pronouncement.

    “ ‘Sub-class of two dimensional art…’ Meaning what? It’s flat and you can look at it. There’s some very subtle reasoning going on here, Mitchell is trying to connect fractals to all of visual art. The categories are described in very general terms so that they will be broad enough to qualify fractals for membership. But what exactly do fractals and photographs have in common? Better still, what does fractal art and photographic art have in common?

    Yes! Although I didn’t think I was being subtle, you seem to have understood. I *am* connecting fractals to all of visual art. More specifically, I have and will continue to connect fractals to photography (more in line with how I see my work) and with painting (more in line with how I see some other’s work). Is that really such a stretch or such a bold suggestion? Is there some magic line that I should not dare to cross because I work with fractals?

    I connect fractals with photography because (to my mind) the artist is capturing a scene, not creating it (cf. “Ansel Adams and Moon over Half Dome”). I did not create the Mandelbrot set or the Hilbert curve, but I am free to create imagery (and art) with them as subjects. If no one did, they would still exist. I often think of myself as presenting visual representations of mathematical objects, and yes, art.

    Fractals, like other digital objects, can also be used as tools of creation, as opposed to objects of creation. I think Janet Parke does this extraordinarily well. To my mind, she’s more of a painter, painting *with* fractals.

    And, since fractals quite often are manifested as prints, the fractal artist may have much in common with the printmaker. Issues of substrate, pixel resolution, color resolution, and presentation are not lost on those of us who take seriously our fractal art prints.

    I stand by these connections and reject the assertion that I’m taking things too far.

    “This the core issue in understanding fractal art’s position in the larger art world. Fractals are a medium and that medium has limitations that mediums like photography don’t have. Yes, fractals are like photography in the sense that we ‘capture’ imagery rather than create it by hand, but a camera is not much like a fractal program window. Photography deals with realistic imagery; people, objects, human drama; while fractal programs are limited to geometric constructions. Only in a broad, academic sense do fractals and photography have any connection. And fractal artists are only brought ‘into the company’ of painters and printmakers because they all make prints if they happen to use the same printing store on the same day. I guess that would also bring them ‘into the company’ of people getting passport photos and picking up baby and wedding photo enlargements too. ‘Mom! Dad! I stood in line with Da Vinci today!’ ”

    Yes, fractal art is a medium with limitations. All media have limitations. Some people say that creativity is borne of limitations, but perhaps you don’t share that view. However, your statement that “Photography deals with realistic imagery; people, objects, human drama” is an overgeneralization at best. Photography *can* deal with these, certainly, but that is not a defining characteristic of the genre. Photographs can just as easily be abstract, of inanimate objects, and devoid of emotion. They’re still photographs and can still be art. Perhaps this is another limitation to your thinking—I don’t see art as needing to be explicitly about human drama. For me, the fact that it was created by a human is all the human drama I need. And the limitation of fractal programs to geometric constructions—that’s okay. Cameras are limited to light. Poets are limited to words. Every genre has its limitations and every artist knows how to work within them.

    “The last paragraph, ‘Requiring of input…’, makes the act of creating fractal art out to be a process that is as much under the control of the artist as it is with a painter in his medium. If that were actually the case then fractal art would contain much more variety and personal style that it does because each artist would be literally sculpting the image remotely through the program’s controls with almost unlimited outcomes.”

    I truly believe that the fractal art process *is* as much under the control of the artist is it is with a painter in his/her medium. Really, really, really. Your next statement, though, does not follow—That you haven’t seen sufficient variety and personal style can be a reflection of your experiences, your interpretations of those experiences, and the proficiency of those fractal artists. I believe that those limited experiences do not qualify you to generalize to the whole of fractal art (cf. the black swan—just because people didn’t see them did not mean that they didn’t exist, for they did). I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a wide variety of fractal art and a diversity of fractal artists’ personal styles; this exposure has led me to my conclusion.

    That we don’t see more variety and personal style widely exhibited could be a reflection of many things—the relative newness of the genre (how much photographic variety was there after even 100 years?), the ease of creating Julia spirals, and the universal notion that 90% of everything is crap. I’m sure you’ve wandered over to Flickr or other such sites—how many photos are truly different? Of course I realize that most people don’t claim to post art to Flickr, but my point is that most genres seem to be inhabited by lacks of variety and personal styles until both the genre and the artist mature.

    “By ‘every element’ I would assume Mitchell is referring to the list of items that goes into the ‘assembly’ of the image in the previous sentence. But such elements are merely the parameters of a fractal image that we’re all familiar with and they don’t give anyone anything like what I would describe as the ‘freedom to manipulate’. What the artist can control in fractal art is limited and this is why so much of fractal art has the same style and appearance. In fact it is easier to spot the program a piece of fractal art was made with than it is to guess who made it. It’s the ‘style’ of the program that characterizes fractal art, not the style of the artist. This is in huge contrast to what the FAM portrays as fractal artists working with in their medium like high tech painters. Whatever ‘thoughts’ the artist might have in all this are largely irrelevant because there’s little opportunity to work them into the equation like there is when a painter imagines something and then takes up a brush to paint.

    Perhaps these limitations are in your mind, not in the programs.

    I don’t argue that there’s a lot of similarity in images created with the same program, but I do argue with the idea of that being inherent in the process. The application of paint to canvas is an inherently limited process, but yet, artists have found ways to communication thought and emotion through their paintings. Communication requires a receiver, so perhaps, over the hundreds of years that folks have been painting, viewers have learned how to become effective receivers of the messages that the painters were sending. Maybe people haven’t yet had that time with fractal art. Maybe they never will. But, not understanding a message does not imply that the message was never sent.

    “But I don’t think that fully explains Mitchell’s extreme reverential view of the fractal art medium and fractal art. I think that’s really the way he sees it. The extreme view of the mocking art critics is matched and countered by his own extreme view that seeks to defend fractals as being everything the sneering critics say it isn’t. My own view is something in between. I would describe fractal programs as more than tools and the users of them as something less than artists. The resulting medium is something categorically new, consisting of powerful tools for creating decorative patterns and designs but having a ‘creative ceiling’ that can only be overcome if one enlarges their toolset and thereby multiplies the graphical options. Such advanced processing would then result in the sort of freedom to manipulate and tweak every element that Mitchell associates with traditional visual art.”

    I don’t see my view as extreme or particularly reverential. I like fractal art and I think that it’s a valid means of self-expression. Is that so extreme? I also believe that anyone who creates what they consider to be art has the right to call themselves an artist. Is that so bad? I don’t understand the difficulty you have with people referring to their work as fractal art or themselves as fractal artists. Who are you (both the specific and the generic “you”) to say otherwise? What gives your words/thoughts any credibility?

    The medium is categorically new and does have many powerful tools. But the “creative ceiling” lies not in the tools but in the user. Breaking through that ceiling is how a user becomes an artist.

    Louis Markoya says:

    “I have not read both the documents referred to in this article, but from the quotes listed, both seem like a self serving, steaming pile of dung. While one may ‘master’ a fractal program, it does not make them an artist, nor does it restrick any newbie from pressing a few buttons and coming up with a similar end result. There are a few people (will not even use the term artist here)that have made money from their designs and programs. These are the chosen ones who have actually won contests, exhibited their work and in some way cashed in. So, they have had some recognition, what is the probem? The problem simply is that classic pictorial art (using your own example of the Mona Lisa again) not only requires skills (maybe perspective, color and draftsmanship can relate to mastering parameters in fractals..but I doubt it)but it requires genius.”

    I invite you to actually read the documents in question. You may still feel that they are both self-serving, steaming piles of dung, but at least you’ll be informed about their dung-ness.

    Clearly, mastering a program does not make on an artist, not that I suggested otherwise. And yes, a few people have found financial success with their fractal art (but I question the conspiracy theory of the “chosen ones”). Being an artist is not about mastering a program, making money, or being a genius. While technical expertise is helpful, few artists actually make money and most would say it’s more about showing up and doing the work than it is about being a genius.

    “So again I will say the way to make fractal art a success, is to utilize the strength in fractal design to better illustrate subjects that a viewer is familiar with and can relate to. To give a hint of what is truly in the artists mind and soul.
    A Manifesto is sort of a sour grapes move to begin with, it will not fix the percieved problem”

    Using fractal designs to illustrate familiar subjects is certainly one approach and may lead to one type of success. I think that each artist has to define success for him/herself, and I think that, for many, success will be the ability to express what they want to express. That’s certainly the case with me, and I’ve been very successful. As for my manifesto, what you call “sour grapes” I call a desire to self-identify. It has apparently struck a resonant chord with many people, as seen by how often it has been reposted over the years.

  6. What happened to “art/beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” I make fractal images. My ‘talent,’ at least as I see it, is in recognizing elements on my computer screen that are appealing. I like color and form, and when color and form intimate something from the real world, I run with it. I love making my fractal flowers, and in that sense, I have mastered that form within the realm of fractals.

    I don’t write formulas. I only have a vague notion of what is meant by an orbit, at least as orbit applies to fractal math. Hilbert curve? I actually looked that one up a while back, but I couldn’t tell you what makes a curve Hilbert if my life depended on it.

    However you want to look at the images created with fractal software, there is no doubt that there are images well worth a second look. I have had the pleasure of seeing some of these come through the Ultra Fractal mailing list. The one image that always comes to mind, is a wide rectangular abstract that I would love to see rendered large enough to hang in the lobby of a modern skyscraper with a really high ceiling. It is a thought provoking and utterly engaging on that higher level of which you speak.

  7. I am a total newbie when it comes to fractals! But what drew me to them is looking at the WORKS OF ART that several fractal artists have online. There is no way I could begin using any fractal software today and create the beautiful eye catching work that I have viewed! It does take all the knowledge a painter brings to his canvas as Kerry suggested: color, line, composition, design, etc. to create these works especially if one begins to employ layers and direct coloring. Yes, the computer does the rendering but the artist has to input so much to really make it an outstanding piece.

  8. hello…

    it seems to me your ability to “listen” is severely limited by your inflated opinion of yourself, ie your knowledge of and openness to the evolution of, in this case, art… are you an “artist”? if so, may I see some of your “works” of art? I hope you don’t mean to pass this fractal bashing blog thingy as art… but if you do, so be it…

    being able to fine tune a fractal, be it with the fractal generator itself, or with other graphic editing apps, is the heart of the art, the soul of the artist… a fractal artist may or may not fully grasp the math or the programming of the app and yet, that same artist can create evocative, powerful compositions, enhanced by their own choices – of balance or imbalance, which, in fact, the computer will not always “fix”, of light and dark, highlighting and shadow, again as defined by the artist’s intent and hand to effect mood or emotion, of color palettes that mesh, clash or even collide with visual cacophony, if that is the choice of the artist – in any of the fractal generators that truly allow the user to exercise artistic manipulation, over and above what the fractal generator app “suggests”… these programs are not the boss, just as MS Word or Corel WordPerfect are the not boss of any writer who chooses to produce a masterpiece novel to a lovely haiku to a personally opinionated blog… perhaps you should try something other than “Flame Painter”, or the built in fractalizer effects of many popular graphic editing applications to expand your horizons… (I hesitate to name even these simple tools, as they too, can be the inspiring beginning from which a true fractal artist evolves, or no)t… there are simple fractal “makers” and there are complex ones… the more complex, the more control the artist has in the creative process… as in any art form, the tool does not make the art, the heart, soul, eye, ear, drive of the artist using the tool creates the art…

    and just so you know, art is as much a journey of exploration, artists seeking to understand the tools at their disposal, as it is a controlled use of the subtleties of the tools they discover and use to express their artistic energy…

    and now I hear you say that a “fractal” is not real, like a tree or a person, or perhaps a coastline… have you ever viewed a satellite view of a coastline, eg, that is a fractal in its “real” state/nature, the math, the iterations of self similar shapes, some of which a photographer might seek to “capture” in his art…

    I wonder about the implication of your statement that it easier to tell what program, rather than what artist made a particular piece… well, that may be so to an eye untrained in the art of fractals… I admit, it can be so, but what a delight it is to recognize the artist, thinking the piece was made in one program, when in fact it was made in another… being able to recognize the medium is not an insult or in any way make the creator less of an artist… I can tell when a piece is a photograph more often than I can tell who the photographer is…

    in closing, may I just say that whether or not you (what is your name again?) consider me (a fractal/graphic/visual artist) an artist, is of no consequence to me, as I will continue to create and share what I feel to be stimulating or evocative or even boring to someone else who may view my art… certainly, not everyone is going to like my art, or even think of it as art… much of what I view I may not like, but I do not insist it is not art, just because I don’t like or “get” it… same with much of what I read, or hear, et al…

    art is not based on how much money you make with it, how well known you are for it or how well known your art is… art is the creative outlet we (humans) have come to name some of our compulsions, obsessions, desires, wants, needs, et al to express/communicate with those outside of ourselves… and every viewer/”receiver”, as Kerry says, has as much of a freedom to like or not, view or not, and criticize or not… but no one has the right to tell me I am wrong to describe/define what I consider to be art, art…

    artists have feelings too…

  9. “It’s just this kind of view of fractal art that leads so many fractal artists today to view fractals as just another artistic medium and themselves as just another kind of artist capable of producing work of similar status”

    I work in both traditional mediums and fractals and in my experience fractals ARE just another artistic medium. There’s no doubt my fractal art is of ‘similar status’ to that in traditional mediums even though I’ve only worked with fractals off and on over a few years. I would guess you haven’t studied traditional art and haven’t mastered any traditional mediums so you have only speculation to base your opinions on rather than experience.

    “In a nutshell, my disagreement with the Fractal Art Manifesto (FAM) is that it over exaggerates the role of the “artist” and minimizes the role of the computer program in the creation of fractal art.”

    “I want something that sprouts artwork after a couple of clicks. Ultra Fractal? It’s just too much work. Too many layers. Too many moving parts. Too many moving parts that I have to move.” (Tim, from ‘Why I don’t use Ultra Fractal’

    It seems from your earlier quote that since you don’t want to put EFFORT into creating fractal art that you feel compelled to denigrate those who do.

    “The fractal program is the major contributor while the operator’s role is trivial. Adjusting parameters is not a terribly difficult or demanding thing.”

    It can take days of effort to produce the finished piece after discovering the initial shapes. I search for shapes with a greyscale gradient, it’s analagous to making value sketches when painting. Then comes the hard work applying the artist’s tools of shape, value, space, edges, colour temperature, texture, line, and colour intensity. All the while using design principles of dominance, movement, variety and unit to guide the use of your tools to organize one’s aesthetic ideas. While the physical effort to adjust a parameter might be trivial, the thought process, the analysis, the judgement, the artistic vision is not. It’s the same artistic effort whether I’m entering a number or determining what colour to apply with my paint brush.

    “And fractal artists are only brought “into the company” of painters and print makers because they all make prints if they happen to use the same printing store on the same day. ”

    I’m in the company of painters and print makers constantly because of the art groups I belong to. My fractal art is evaluated and discussed as is any other art work. And as I’ve mentioned in an earlier comment, my fractal art is exhibited along side traditional art and is judged in competitions against it. It’s just another form two-dimensional visual art.

    “The last paragraph, “Requiring of input…”, makes the act of creating fractal art out to be a process that is as much under the control of the artist as it is with a painter in his medium. If that were actually the case then fractal art would contain much more variety and personal style that it does because each artist would be literally sculpting the image remotely through the program’s controls with almost unlimited outcomes.”

    This statement made me chuckle as I recently commented on Rendo that my work is often all over the place. I may not have an obvious style other than a tendency towards flatness and away from the colour and texture-rich spiral-based work that is so prevalent.

    To illustrate here’s some recent work:

    http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/media/folder_223/display_2222517.jpg

    http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/media/folder_224/display_2230187.jpg

    http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/media/folder_224/display_2238636.png

    http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/media/folder_224/display_2238989.jpg

    Is that enough variety for you? Do you think the program used is obvious for all the images?

    “Whatever “thoughts” the artist might have in all this are largely irrelevant because there’s little opportunity to work them into the equation like there is when a painter imagines something and then takes up a brush to paint.”

    I wish someone had enlightened me years ago so I could’ve avoided spending endless hours trying to do the impossible! ;o) To think of all the time wasted trying to incorporate elements of my artistic vision into my fractals.

    The fractal medium has constraints as does any medium. However those constraints don’t prevent any creative artist who’s willing to make the effort from making an expression. Art is problem solving. As an artist one is always faced with constraints of the medium, design problems, and other elements which can make it difficult to achieve an artistic goal. The constraints may be unique but the artistic approach is the same.

    “I would describe … users of them (fractal programs) as something less than artists.”

    What a truly absurd statement. I’m not a great artist, but I can draw and paint with some skill.

    http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=556951&stc=1&d=1285974529

    http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/10-Mar-2005/25850-FemaleNude1.jpg

    I haven’t noticed how I suddenly become less of an artist when I put down my pencil or brush and use a keyboard and mouse.

    FWIW,

    db

  10. As a “traditional” artist who also makes fractal art (with a museum show of them under my belt, among other things), I don’t make my paints by digging the minerals from the earth, grinding them, weaving the cloth, priming it,or stretching my canvases anymore (easier to buy them stretched and primed-and I do weave, and then I can spend more time painting), or make my own brushes, although I have been known to paint with strange objects as well as my fingers. I use the same elements and principals of design in all my art, and frequently combine fractals in collages with photographs and other types of media. Art is in the eye of the beholder and there have been disagreements on what constitutes art for centuries. Fractals are art and ART and nature is made of fractals, we are fractals….Oh my, I have a really genius computer who types itself with no input from me. You are entitled to your opinion, however it’s good to expand and encompass new ways of seeing in the world and fractal art does that, one of the great purposes of art.

  11. Hi Terry,

    I’m not going to attempt anything better than already said by Kerry, Mad, Paula, Buddha Kat, Don, and Connie – they being the most recent responders, but I will rephrase something earlier contended by me,

    “The computer makes human intent easier to achieve.”

    Also Connie implies something to give pause for thought when she bows to the genius of her computer. How do you think each, letter, word, sentence, paragraph appears on your screen? You pressed a button on your keyboard, and the computer programme responded by deploying a sequence of zero’s and one’s which transcribed your wishes. To some extent, the letters which appeared on the monitor screen show how faithfully the computer has taken your wishes into a digital medium, and they continue to be so retained despite their visible appearance. Yep, the computer is a fantastic aid, but that subservience to command makes it servant to thought.

    Coral Painter and the associated tablet and pen incline to lead the traditional artist into the digital medium, Adobe Photoshop is biased as an aid to photographers, while the various fractal programmes work best at giving insight into the more difficult ways of seeing. UF and the like are more a beginning than an end and their successors should further enhance our capabilities. Optimism has always driven the human spirit and long may it do so.

    My apologies if I intrude again.

    Cliff.

  12. After reading this and your five-part series regarding the state of fractal art, I feel compelled to make a few comments.

    I think you make several salient points about fractals-as-art. I downloaded Apophysis on a whim early in 2010 and I was astonished by how quickly I could create these utterly profound looking whisps and spirals, splash different colors on them and wow my Facebook friends with my artistic prowress. I felt like I’d tapped into the very crux of universe and had all of its creative power at my command. I’d crank out two, maybe three images every evening, upload them to Facebook and wait for the “Likes” to start piling up.

    After a while, I decided I was getting so good that it was time to find a website where I could upload my masterpieces so my friends and even the public at large could print them out and buy them, providing me with an additional income stream in the process. Hey, once I got famous, maybe I could quit the day job…(ok, a little tongue in cheek, but only a little). That’s when I found DeviantArt.com. It was a like a bucket of cold water to my face: There were there dozens, maybe even hundreds of people producing forgeries of MY art!

    Clearly, anyone could do what I was doing. But, there among all those forgeries were occasional gems that stood out like beautiful stained glass or fine filigree in a room full of crayon scribbles.

    Clearly, not everyone was capable of doing what *they* were doing. There were neophytes and there were masters, and it was painfully obvious I was just another neophyte. Crestfallen, sure. But more than that, I was inspired. I wanted to become a master.

    So, for the next few months, I really tried to wrap my head around Apophysis. Instead of cranking out a random flame and spending an hour tweaking it into something marginally interesting, I tried to develop a more methodical approach so I could understand how the transforms and parameters worked together to do their magic. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, but from an aesthetic perspective I never moved beyond square one. With a couple possible exceptions, my last five Apophysis images are no more impressive than my first five or the hundred and fifty in between.

    For me, working with Apophysis was like trying to do oil painting by holding a stick in my mouth instead of a brush in my hand. Throw more than two tranforms into the mix, and I was lost. Consequently, I decided to give Ultra Fractal a spin and have spent the last few months becoming familiar with it. Without a doubt I am still a neophyte, but I feel I’ve moved beyond square one. Furthermore, I’m certain it is within the realm of possibility for me to move beyond “anybody can do that.”

    Now this is NOT to say that I deem Ultra Fractal in some way ‘superior’ to Apophysis. Both are incredible pieces of software and in the right hands both are capable of producing incredible art (yes, art). Similarly, from a useability standpoint both applications have ample room for improvement. I am an admirer of both, but a ‘fanboy’ of neither, and my preference for one does nothing to negate my respect for the other.

    Here’s where our opinions begin to diverge: If it were truly the case that “the fractal program is the major contributor while the operator’s role is trivial” and “adjusting parameters is not a terribly difficult or demanding thing,” then it should be a no-brainer for me to mimic Janet Parke’s or Kim Baker’s work by now. I’ve only been at it a few months, but I know my way around Ultra Fractal well enough to have a broad idea of what formulas and merging techniques they’ve used to achieve a particular result. Even so, it’s a safe bet that neither Ms. Parke nor Ms. Baker will be accusing me of forgery any time soon.

    Similarly, I think any unbiased observer can discern an evolution–dare I say “progress”–between their earlier works and their most recent works. I know I can. Of course, part of that evolution can be explained by the corresponding evolution of the software and perhaps more importantly the exponentiation of available computing power, which makes it possible to render projects that would have been unfathomable only a few years ago. But even if I had exactly the same hardware setup as either Ms. Baker or Ms. Parke, based on your reasoning I should be able to emulate their work because it’s really nothing more than “adjusting parameters.” If the three of us agreed to post our next five works to a single Deviant Art page, I have no doubt that even the most casual observer would consider my offerings the work of a neophyte.

    If you think about it, the fundamental operations of any artistic persuit are tantamount to “adjusting parameters” and are not “terribly difficult.” It’s no more difficult to put paint on canvas than it is to put paint on a wall. It’s no harder to strike the keys on a piano than it is to strike the keys on a computer keyboard. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to drag a bow across catgut, nor is it terribly demanding to pluck a string on a guitar. I can do all of the above.

    As an artist, I can do none of the above.

  13. This is why I create what I create.(and if all I had was a burnt stick and a cave wall, I’d still be doing it)

    “I aspire to compose images that communicate from my spirit to yours: for that, I believe, is the essence of art.”

    It matters not to me how I created these images, only that they capture a human thought or feeling that I wanted to communicate and, quite wonderfully, a few other people have connected with them.

    http://kesuf.deviantart.com/art/Angelica-183162463

    http://kesuf.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d2ggdul

    Kevin

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