BMFAC Slogs On

A BMFAC sponsor?

Hi there. I’m sponsoring BMFAC. Send appropriate entries accordingly.

[Image seen here.]

I guess the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) slogs on. Here’s the latest scoops on what’s buzzworthy, overhyped, leaked out, historically revised, and outright laughable on the BMFAC front.

Contest Sponsors

As of this writing, and with less than a month until the contest deadline, BMFAC has still not announced its sponsors. No big whoop, you say. I guess that depends on how much bearing these so far faceless sponsors have on the outcome of the competition. Dave Makin, BMFAC judge and (un)official spokesperson, suggested that sponsors could indeed help shape the winner’s circle in a recent OT comment:

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 [emphasis Makin’s].

Makin is suggesting that additional panel members could still be added — presumably from the ranks of as-of-yet unannounced BMFAC sponsors and/or exhibition space bigwigs. It is exactly this kind of overt influence that directly results from funding art contests by sponsorship(s) rather than by collecting entry fees. It’s worth remembering that BMFAC’s sponsors have allegedly flexed their muscles before. In 2006, BMFAC director Damien Jones claimed that the competition’s sponsors insisted work by the judging panel also be exhibited beside the winning entries "as a hedge against insufficient quality" — a stupefying claim that managed to insult everyone who entered. Even if you assume the statement was merely an excuse for something Jones planned to do all along (as I did), the drawbacks of using sponsors for fine arts competitions should be self-evident. Such seemingly philanthropic benefactors can too easily mutate from benevolent sugar daddies to either get-our-money’s-worth "meddling kids" or convenient fall guys.

Still, some historical revisionists have a different, more halcyon view of BMFAC’s misty mountain morning founding. Cliff Tolputt, whose OT comments are starting to surpass Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in scope (and when your comments start to surpass blog posts in length, isn’t it really time to start your own blog?), presents this rosy scenario for your consideration:

Frankly, I consider Damien (if it was only Damien) was extremely careful to preserve the reputation of sponsors when the best known artists/selectors were specifically invited to include pictures of their own to form a substantial part of the first exhibitions. Quality was thus best assured in the face of uncertainty.

That bias has now been naturally discontinued as the general quality of the entries is recognised as of sufficient standard.

Well, that’s one take on the situation. The BMFAC director was selfless and egoless, shielding his noble sponsors from the scourge of presenting substandard art, even to the point of risking loss of potential sainthood by reluctantly agreeing to be used as "a hedge." But, off the top of my head, here’s another take. Compensating art competition screener/judges with one-half of the exhibition space for their own work and hanging it beside that of the contest winners (twice!) is universally seen as an unimpeachably unethical and unprofessional practice. Such an amateurish action strongly suggests the contest was instituted as a publicity stunt designed principally to enhance the director’s/judges’ careers and reputations. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that BMFAC would have continued to exhibit its own administrators had not a certain blog-that-shall-not-be-named put considerable public pressure on BMFAC to abandon the practice.

Oh, but I forgot that

BMFAC Is Not a Fine Art Contest

because, according to Dave Makin in another OT comment, it’s something else entirely:

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.

Conversely, I’d argue that BMFAC not being run like nearly every other art contest is very relevant. BMFAC’s director has deliberately chosen not to follow standard protocols — guidelines established to ensure fairness and avoid conflicts of interest — so he can get away with doing things like this:

–displaying his and other judges’ work in the exhibition in 2006 and 2007
–having fractal software authors serve as judges thus creating conflicts of interest and allowing potential financial or personal gain
–not having stated policies in place to prevent teacher-judges from recommending past or present students
–stacking the judging panel with users who write for or advocate or professionally use a specific software
–rigging the entry requirement to favor that same software at the expense of excluding other programs and approaches

You see, if BMFAC was actually run like other competitions, its director would never be able to pull off such overt shenanigans. The very reason art contest guidelines have become so predominately standardized is to ensure that chicanery like the above mischief-makings do not occur in the first place.

So, BMFAC should be more like a fine art contest and could take the first step by having

An Entry Fee

but I know this suggestion will not be popular in our community. And I understand and sympathize with Paul N. Lee‘s impassioned plea in a recent OT comment that establishing an entry fee would "eliminate some really fine examples of fractal graphics created by those with a limited income." I believe Lee’s heart is in the right place. And, to be clear, I don’t advocate such a fee in hopes of weeding out supposedly less serious contestants or to keep BMFAC from being clogged with more decorative kitsch than your typical giggly deviantART Fractalbook socializing space (although, yes, that would be nice). But an entry fee would have a ripple effect that would help take crucial steps to professionalize BMFAC.

Believe me. I don’t like paying such fees. Nobody does — especially given the current world economy. And I’m sorry that art contest fees are among the most expensive in the fine arts — usually ranging three times the amount of, say, literary contest fees. But such fees are a shrug-it-off fact-of-life for working professional artists. And this is an art contest, right? And you’re an artist, correct? Not a hobbyist or a dilettante or an amateur? Then, if you’re a pro engaged in a professional profession, you’d do well to begin accepting that profession’s trappings.

I’m talking to you, too, BMFAC. Move up professionally. Swap out those cranky, unpredictable sponsors for a set entry fee.

Here’s what you’ll gain immediately:

–Your screeners/judges should not have to volunteer their time and deserve to be paid for their expertise. And not by being hung in the expo with those they’ve judged but with monetary compensation. Entry fees provide fair recompense for services rendered.

–You’ll have autonomy over your own contest — and that’s important. No longer will the sponsors or the exhibit hall curators or the printmakers or the International Congress of Mathematicians or the ghost of Benoit Mandelbrot be able to exert undue influence over the results of your competition. Entry fees will cover the expenses, and never again will any outside party insist on having a say about what kind of art you want to show.

Except for us here at Orbit Trap.

That was a joke.

Not a good one, I gather, by your profound silence, dear reader.

And, really, on some level, I can’t believe I’m actually advocating this position — especially since I waver between considering Damien Jones to be as filled with beatitude as Mother Teresa or considering him to be a stonyhearted, self-promoting megalomaniac. Yeah. What a great idea. Let’s give Jones even more control and power, so he can turn his megalo up to maximum.

Still, in the end, it’s the right move. Because, my fractal art sisters and brothers, you should get what you pay for. Instead of getting what you’re getting now. Which is. What you’re not paying for.

Ultimately, I suppose my advocacy of a BMFAC entry fee is beside the point. BMFAC wants free admission and boatloads of entries, so it can then subsequently turn around and claim it’s both popular and significant. Just like every other Fractalbook site that lets everybody and their fractal dog in.

Have I left anything out of today’s slog? Uh-huh. Yes. I wanted to say something about

Those Mammoth Entry Fee Sizes

There was a fun exchange recently in the FractalForum thread on the 2011 BMFAC. Thomas Ludwig (lyc), safe to say no big OT admirer, expressed trepidation about submitting work to BMFAC because

I’m discouraged from entering because of the strong (statistical) bias towards UltraFractal entries…

Huh. I wonder where he got that idea?

Fortunately, BMFAC judge and UF enthusiast extraordinaire Kerry Mitchell quickly showed up and used his considerable reasoning prowess to set Ludwig straight:

If Ultra Fractal entries tend to do well, maybe that’s related to UF’s popularity among fractal artists. If this were a general digital art contest, one might expect there to be a great many entries in which Photoshop had been used, but that wouldn’t mean that there was a PS bias.

 So what contest are we not entering tonight, Brain?

Egad, Kerry. Brilliant! Oh, wait, no, no…

[Image seen here.]

With all due respect, I’d argue that in order for Mitchell’s analogy to be credible the following variables would have to be factored into it:

–the judging panel for that digital art contest has been and is still filled with Photoshop users
–the judging panel twice took up half of that digital art contest’s expo space with their own Photoshop art
–the primary author and marketer of Photoshop twice served as a judge for that digital art contest
–the director of that digital art contest helps author and openly advocates using Photoshop
–several judges of that digital art contest have taught online courses on how to use Photoshop
–some students who took those judges’ Photoshop courses have won exhibition slots in that digital art contest
–the entry requirements for that digital art contest are manipulated to favor Photoshop and exclude other graphics programs

but, other than these few minor discrepancies, Mitchell’s analogy is flawless.

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2 thoughts on “BMFAC Slogs On

  1. Hi Terry,

    I’ve no argument with anything said when you quote from my response to the last article in Tim’s latest series, but it might be helpful to say the thoughts are not new for they go back to when I happened upon the BMFAC some years ago and sought to make sense of the organisation. They remain valid and seemed worthy of airing even if within a stressed environment.

    As to the sponsorship, I seem to remember the names were also delayed last year and this may imply an enduring problem. Anyone can speculate.

    One strange thing, you are able to concentrate on the BMFAC simply because it is the only International Open Fractal arts exhibition seemingly available. Why is this? There is theoretical scope for other exhibitions to be organised on any kind of basis but there is nothing. Now there is the true worry for those seeking a wider acceptance of fractal art (and remember, I’m not a fractalist – if that is the expression). If people care, they could be organising competitions with a multitude of differing criteria, and the BMFAC would become one of many different outlets.

    As for the biases or preferences of selectors, this is inevitable for they cannot do other than rely on the sum of the experience they bring to the judging process. The key is in the quality of selection of the selectors if you know what I mean. One can hope the BMFAC sponsors will contribute in a manner which enhances the quality of the exhibition to the benefit of everyone – maybe it will happen- but who would you choose if given the opportunity? Who do you trust when it nowadays comes to aesthetic judgements? Experts become so through the acknowledgements of others or so I’ve often concluded. To misquote: “Perfection is next to Godliness,” but trust can be a dangerous offering if insufficient for the circumstances.

    Finally, a few words on this size thing which seems to exercise people. Are the pictures really large when compared with those normally seen in public exhibitions? I grant there would be more variation but there would likely be even larger works in the mix. The real problem in the digital world is with the programmes used and this is easily overcome by a little advance preparation. Even UF isn’t without its problems at the required scaling. I had immense trouble with one of my last year’s entries. The colours changed, the shapes simplified, and texture was immensely damaged when the image was rendered, and even the fail-safe option of “exporting,” brought little improvement. Corel Painter saved the day in that instance.

    A lack of familiarity means I’m unable to write on fractal programmes other than UF but its ability to zoom in to an infinite degree means it has the capacity to show detail which matches the largest size of print. From this perspective, the BMFAC requirements are quite modest but it does seem a shame to deny the public a glimmering of this potential. Maybe we need a modern day Pollock to show something of this. Well, I suppose combining multi-prints into a panorama would make this a reality if anyone so wished. Difficult? Well Gilbert & George made a time-limited offer of an image they had created. It came in 10-separate pieces via the Internet back in 2007. I still have them all but I also brought them together in Painter as a RIFF file (Painter’s native format). That completed work uses 221 MB, and has a size of 6963 x 8301 pixels – not too exceptional but it does suggest sectional printing is a possibility for those who think big means bigger and where prints are the proper outcome.

  2. Enough talk already! Please, please organize a fractal art contest where artists can be free of egregious wrong-doings of that other nefarious one.

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