Why don’t I ever seem to get better, Dr. Jones?
[Image seen here.]
I feel strangely unmotivated to write about the 2011 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) "winners" this go-around. I’m tired of BMFAC as a topic — maybe because while the competition makes changes that should improve it, it never really improves. BMFAC will always be sick at its core as long as Damien Jones is in charge. Like the art form itself, as Tim recently so eloquently argued, the contest needs a complete reboot. Jones insists upon displaying only craft-based ornamentation, and his aesthetics strictly determine what kind of work gets submitted. In fact, his rules are consciously designed to crimp off anything other than stale decoration because fractalness, not art, is valued.
But it’s not an art contest if no art is exhibited.
I do believe a decent fractal art exhibition is possible — but not under Jones’ heavy-handed prognosis. It’s true that 3D works got through the door this time and are proportionally represented. One wonders if 3D fractals will do so well in the next iteration once the novelty has worn off. We’ll see. And how many of those 3D selections were chosen precisely because they seemed refreshing by comparison? And how savvy are BMFAC’s judges if they can’t tell the visionaries like Johan Andersson and Jérémie Brunet from the coattails posers like Iwona Fido and Louis Markoya?
And until BMFAC sheds the notion that fractal art must spring from a computer for self-expression rather than embracing a broader fine arts “Phase Two” model, the contest will remain constricted and narrow-minded.
What’s saddest of all to me is that the 3D artists who entered appear to have fully invested themselves in Jones’ pre-codified aesthetics. If 3D images attempt nothing greater than to comply with Jones’ fractal art template and seek only to replicate Janet Parke’s ornamental embellishments using new forms, then the revolution is over before it even begins.
I liked only one piece — “Worn Out” by Therese Aasrud. And not because I thought it was great art. But because it wasn’t just another take on (supposedly) lovely organized imagery. "Worn Out" wasn’t worn out — wasn’t “the fractal according to Damien Jones.” The rest neither moved me nor made me think. Ramon Pasternak’s piece is probably seen by many as innovative. I thought it was simplistic and retro. I saw more vivid tree-like, “river basin” imagery back in the late 90s while using Tiera-zon. Frankly, some the winning work is as embarrassingly smaltzy as the gunk imagery that formerly polluted the Fractal Universe Calender (FUC). And, candidly, once more propping up Janet Parke and her faux-Zen titled confections to a perfunctory, musty pedestal (throw in an Honorable Mention, too, why don’t you) borders on pathetic — a desperate maneuver to insure that Jones’ inner circle maintains its preeminence and relevance. One hopes that even the most hardcore Fractalbooker can see through such a transparent ploy.
It’s true that BMFAC has made some improvements over the years, and OT has charted and even acknowledged the progress. Anyone being fair will grant that such changes would never have been made without the pressure OT brought to bear on the contest. Ironically, even though our patient (fractal art) is receiving better treatment, the prognosis for recovery never truly improves. As long as Dr. Jones is the presiding physician, the patient will remain ill (if not comatose). Fractal art desperately needs a second opinion.
The problem, I think, is that OT has affected BMFAC about as much as we can. We helped clean up some of the jaw-dropping excesses — like overtly displaying judges beside contestants and the more obvious conflicts of interest — but, unfortunately, we can’t euthanize BMFAC like we did FUC. Jones is nothing if not driven, and he consistently cobbles together the time and resources (but still no sponsors?) to bring off BMFAC. Moreover, it seems the community remains blissfully content to let him get away with it — even to the point of presuming that placing in his “art contest” is somehow a meaningful achievement.
My point is that Orbit Trap has pointed out all there is to point out. We can continue to speak out if the contest regresses back into its previous bad habits, but we cannot wave a wand to magically mitigate Jones’ continuing stranglehold on our discipline. Now, it’s up to you — you, the fractal artist currently shackled with BMFAC’s craft guild approved eye candy handcuffs. You have to be fed up with such arbitrary restrictions and find the resolve not to buy into Jones’ limited vision as to what your art should and must be.
If the fractal art community continues to accept Jones’ rubric of fractals as being merely decorative designs, then, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, we will all get the contest we deserve. OT has already shown the community why such a road is a dead end — or, more accurately, is an unending stay in a hospice where one faces terminal illness without the option of either recovery or death.
But like the proverbial horse that is led to water…