A Fractal Made Me Smile!

If you’ve been following my recent revolutionary thoughts about fractal art you may have noticed a few comments posted by readers here and in other venues relating to emotional experiences and feelings triggered by fractal images.  Such things are important from my revolutionary perspective because they appear to refute my theory that fractal art is mentally empty.

One the the main tenets of my artistic uprising is that fractals alone, “raw fractals” computed from parameter settings, are such a rigid graphical medium that they don’t allow the artist enough involvement and direction in the creative process to produce works that express feelings and ideas in the way that painters and even photographers can.  The fractal medium frustrates human expression so to speak, rather than facilitate it.  Fractals are a completely different kind of imagery, completely artificial and best appreciated for its weirdness and supreme alien character.

In fact what I’m saying is that the fractal medium is for all intents and purposes dead to such things as human expression and commentary.  Things which have been the main themes in (finer) art up to this point in time.  Attempts to use fractals to convey human feelings, thoughts, ideas and just about anything else that originates in the experience of being alive is a waste of time and the source of innumerable pieces of bad art.  And so I say… it isn’t going to work, give it up!

But in the interests of fomenting creative insurrection in the fractal art world, or at least more enlightened thinking about fractal art, I think I ought to respond to these suggestions that fractals have already been doing the sort of emotional expression that I (boldly) said they will never be able to do.

I will start by disqualifying most of what my critics are claiming to be works of “emotional expression” by saying that sentimentality is not the sort of higher art material that I was talking about in the first place.  Sentimental feelings, although nice and pleasant and definitely a type of emotional expression, are not substantial or important enough to be the subject of “fine” art (the good stuff).

Dictionary time…


bleeding heart A person of excessive and emotive compassion; one of undue sentimentality, whose heart strings quiver at the slightest provocation. This figurative phrase is of relatively recent origin:

You want to think straight, Victor. You want to control this bleeding-heart trouble of yours. (J. Bingham, Murder Plan Six, 1958)

hearts and flowers An expression or display of cloying sentimentality intended to elicit sympathy; sob stuff, excessive sentimentalism or mushiness; maudlinism. This American slang phrase was originally the title of a mawkishly sad, popular song of 1910.

sob story A very gloomy story; a sad tale designed to elicit the compassion and sympathy of the listener; a tear-jerker. This common, self-explanatory expression often applies to an alibi or excuse. It also frequently describes the narrative recounting of the trials, frustrations, and disappointments of one’s life.

How anyone could heed such a sob story is beyond me. (Los Angeles Times, June, 1949)

~from thefreedictionary.com

Fractals that give you that “Christmas Tree” kind of feeling, or ones that remind you of a cat sleeping in front of a fireplace are just sentimental.  A well stocked cupboard or a reupholstered couch can do the same thing.  Joy amidst defeat; dark victory; the futility of everything; irony; heart of darkness… –these are the kinds of emotions I’m thinking of when I speak of fine art vs. decorative art.

Sentimentality I would say, following my decorative vs. fine art dichotomy, is “decorative” emotion as opposed to the “fine art” emotions that I just listed.  How does one express dark victory, a sense of great loss amidst the reality of success with fractals?  In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see… nothing that you’d expect to find in Ultra Fractal!

~Click on images to view full size on original site~

A plate from the Disasters of War series by Francisco Goya (c1810) Tr. "What more can one do?"

Not even the most carefully crafted bifurcation fractal can come close to expressing what Goya has done here.  These are the powerful, complex emotions of fine art works.  (It’s also part of a larger series of works.) Here’s an example by an equally talented skilful painter that evokes and expresses plenty of emotion, except it’s all sentimentality (maybe even cheap sentimentality?).

“Cinderella Wishes Upon a Dream" by Thomas Kinkade

If Thomas Kinkade is the “Painter of Light”, then Goya is the Painter of Darkness.  (To be honest, I’d rather have the kitschy Cinderella picture hanging in my dining room, but there’s a very enlightening lesson in Goya’s grim ink sketch reminding us that war gives opportunity to evil things.)  Goya’s work is fine art while Kinkade’s is sentimentality at it’s “best”: emotion as decoration.  Fine art is sometimes ugly to look at while decorative art, as its name suggests, is always pleasing and beaut-i-fying.

Les Coquelicots a Agenteuil by Claude Monet (1895)

How about Claude Monet?  The water lillies guy.  I actually bought a print of this painting here and hung it up in my residence room in university (years ago).  Have you every seen a fractal image that expressed such a peaceful, soothing and joyful feeling as this?  Maybe you think you have.  But can I call this “fine” art, or finer art, or is it just simply my own personal preference in sentimentality and decoration?  Was Monet simply the Thomas Kinkade of the last century?

Sentimentality is superficial emotion.  It’s shallow, trivial experience.  So I guess fractal art that expresses emotion can’t be considered fine art if those emotions are shallow and trivial.  “Cute” is shallow and so is anything that elicits a mild response.  Fine art deals with emotions of substance and complexity.  The Mona Lisa, for example, almost qualifies as sentimentality except for the fact that the famous smile is complicated and nuanced.  If she had a typical smile (or no shirt on) it would be a great work of sentimentality not art.

If it’s any comfort to those of you who feel hurt that I’ve dismissed all of fractal art as decorative art/design then you may be delighted to hear that Monet’s Coquelicots (Poppys) has just been tossed into the same category as you.  I don’t put all of Monet’s work there, and I should add that I really like his Poppys painting (I bought a print, remember?) but it’s nothing more than just a really beautiful image of nature.

If someone was holding both Monet’s and Goya’s images over a fire and asked me to chose which image was was more worthy of being spared destruction I’d say Goya’s because it’s a rare and powerful artwork of great moral merit rebuking our illusions of what war is.  What Monet has captured in his painting can be recaptured on any nice summer day by going for a walk in the country.  (As for the Kinkade one, I’d say “Hey, don’t forget this one!”)

Fractal artists work with formulas and their parameters and so you can’t expect such imagery to depict the same sorts of themes as painters do because painters form all of the image themselves and make the image do and be whatever they imagine (and have the talent to render).  We can’t expect fractals to portray the products of the human imagination, or even the the complex human emotions we ourselves experience everyday.

Some fractal images do, however, portray emotion it’s the shallow kind of emotion which I call sentimentality.  I suppose I really ought to show a few examples of this fractal sentimentality to complete things, but I’ve insulted enough people for one posting already.  On the other hand, if you really want to see “good” examples of this type of lower-class emotional expression, in the spirit of Thomas Kinkade, I can’t think of anyone better than this Prestigious Fractal Artist.

2 thoughts on “A Fractal Made Me Smile!

  1. Tim, I must say that your writing is excellent, making an analysis of such narrow limits of fractal art. In 2007 or 2008, when I participated in the group of Susan Chambless, I wrote this short text focusing on the problems that you now so well explore and expand.
    I wan to put some questions, supposing that we consider fractal an art with a specific poesis that is – a capability to determinate a proper language. In such terms, a vision of the world should be constructed from its “perfect” nature.  At the same time, we assume as well our own fragility, due that the “perfection” is not anymore a challenge for the development of the art in general, since the beginnings of the last century, and at doors of the new era we are living. Never mind, we brink it later by easy stages, if the debate succeed.
    When we stay looking to a fractal, we assume that its shape is pretty intriguing, made out of a combination of forms that are at the same time chaotic and orderly – booth staged in the SAME LEVEL! Why suddenly I´m so impetuous? Because at my point of view, these are the main qualities and at the same time, the worst sins of a fractal composition. This balance establishes a kind of field of absolute perfection. This is the dominant character of the mathematic formula. Could not be different. Perfection is a declared ambition of the mathematicians. In many senses, artists have the same target, only slight moved from the center. I think that nobody will blame me for such affirmation.
    Let´s try to have a quick view on the field of ”perfect beauty”, considering that i´m trying to give the initial step for a debate that might be very long and exciting. I ask for your understanding for the brevity of my notes, considering the space of an e-mail. This is not an article! Just a base for a debate, if you agree with. If not, just drop it.
    There is no doubt that a fractal composition “must be beautiful”.Nobody – probably I´m the only exception – want to find poesy at the “not beautiful shapes!” The beauty is a quality expected for a fractal work, like a domain where the ugly or the not well composed shapes are forbidden. If we compare any fractal with Picasso´s Les Demoiselles d´Avignon, probably the painting of Picasso will be considered “not so beautiful”, as we could suppose if Pablo would have done it with a math. formula.

    But at the same time, why we have a double feeling, of a not so comfortable vision before that “not well formed brown bodies”, which are, at the same moment, so attractive for our perceptions? Why they are asking to be viewed lots of times again? A quick answer: breaking the rules under the birth of a new aesthetics.
    Another point: why a painting like the Gericault´s ” The Raft of the ‘Medusa’ “, despite shows a tragedy at the ocean – and the decomposition of the human meat – is so fascinating to our sensibility, that we can stay watching it for hours? The answer: drama! The presence of the artist at the scene. The truth of the hand! Testify!
    Another example: what have a music piece like the well known Mozart´s Clarinet Concert in A major, which is enchanting on its extreme simplicity and repetition of the musical phrases, and remains in our mind as an heritage of human condition? The answer: the capacity to see divinity as a human condition. Simplicity!
    These are barely common examples of art pieces that everybody knows or have experienced. What they have in common, is its vitality that remain untouched after so many and repeated contacts with. They remain always new, offering to us unknown aspects and even changing our “affective sight” through the time.
    Now, we should go to fractals with the same questions: what does the experience of a fractal work, after to be viewed a number of times?
    I have to say that this is always my main concern when I´m going to draw a fractal. I ask myself “how long would this image work well?” Would this be an experience like the Monalisa smile (I cannot keep jokes away) – achieving a perfect balance of tensions, to create some ambiguities that can surprise the viewer every time for days and hundred of years after now?
    I have to admit that very seldom fractals have been a new surprise when I came back to a work I´ve seen or did before. Despite that everything on the shape is perfect, the colors, the enigma of the spirals, the brilliance of the contrast, nothing is missed but…, always I´ve the feeling that something is not well reached and remains in a kind of “limbo”. I even have to admit that sometimes they become a bit boring.
    And I remain with the feeling that a fractal is an art to be. We are at the beginnings of a unknown world and still discovering the new possibilities of the math. formulas. And here, I would go forward in suppose if it is not possible to ask for not so perfect math. formulas? Would that be possible, ask to a mathematician to make uncompleted formulas, that we could combine in different levels, to reach new experiences on the subjectivist?

    If the physicians brought the chaotic quality of dimension to mathematics, why not aspect for the quality of uncertainty at the vectors? I hope somebody is thinking about. Or, if it does already, how to apply it in our drawings?

    At this point, I´m afraid that my suppositions will be easily destroyed, because I´m not a math. – in fact, I´m a complete “zero” on it. No problem – I face the danger. May be in a day to came, science and dreams will go on together and in love.
    Going back to paintings, that supposition would work like the example of Seurat´s paintings, the well known post impressionist. He was hard student of optics and colors, and his paintings reach for a kind of realism pregnant of strict observation of nature´s laws.

    But if we look carefully to his works, we are surprised with many ”disturbed elements” he drooped on his canvass. I tell you one: at Le Gran Jatte, the wind that blows the sail of a boat to the left, at the very same time moves the smoke of a little ship to the right! How this could happens in nature?
    What I want to say is, that is the time to reach for a new reality at fractals, where the human drama should be brought to the composition. I ask you if we can break the determinism of the formulas, in favor of a component of subjectivist. In a simple word – we have to know before, what we´re going to reach at the image we want to do! To make great art works, with a proper and independent language, we have to find a way out, among tension and dissonance, illumination and disharmony. This unbalanced elements should be combined at the shape in favor of it´s diversity and surprise, it´s provoking beauty and ugliness keeped alive, no matter how many times we are going to see the fractal a while (or long years) after.

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