Understanding Fractal Art: The Guild

In order to understand the current fractal art world you need only to learn a bit about the concept called a guild.  I believe the majority of fractal artists are members of a rather pervasive fractal art guild.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that almost all of the angst expressed by members of the fractal art community towards the criticisms Orbit Trap has made regarding the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests and the Fractal Universe Calendar can be simply explained as two very different groups misunderstanding each other.  (Not all the angst, just most of it.)

But first, let’s look at what a guild is.  “A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade” according to the Wikipedia page.  It’s people who have some activity in common coming together.  And guilds (according to the Wikipedia article) existed almost wherever you had skilled tradespeople; not just medieval Europe but on every continent and civilization.  It seems to me that craftsmen forming associations was an almost innate, natural and universal characteristic of skilled people throughout history.

But in human history these “craftsmen associations” had some other more specific characteristics in common:

  • Well defined hierarchy of membership in which leaders arise gradually from promotion within the guild
  • Extensive apprenticeship training period in which younger members acquired skills and proved their loyalty to the guild
  • Secrets of the trade restricted to guild members only and therefore the exclusive property of the guild itself
  • Leaders govern by virtue of their status and not by adherence to a constitution or written laws

A couple relevant quotes from the Wikipedia page (incidentally, from a section without references or sources…)

The guild was made up by experienced and confirmed experts in their field of handicraft. They were called master craftsmen. Before a new employee could rise to the level of mastery, he had to go through a schooling period during which he was first called an apprentice. After this period he could rise to the level of journeyman. Apprentices would typically not learn more than the most basic techniques until they were trusted by their peers to keep the guild’s or company’s secrets.


After this journey and several years of experience, a journeyman could be received as master craftsman, though in some guilds this step could be made straight from apprentice. This would typically require the approval of all masters of a guild, a donation of money and other goods (often omitted for sons of existing members), and the production of a so-called masterpiece, which would illustrate the abilities of the aspiring master craftsman; this was often retained by the guild.

I think you get the idea.  The fractal art guild isn’t exactly like this, but generally speaking, there are a number of characteristics of the current fractal art scene which suggest it operates just like a traditional guild did.  There is no formal, Fractal Art Guild, but that’s because such formality has never been necessary.  In today’s online communities, there is enough communication and interaction for fractal artists to easily learn the rules of the game and to see these unwritten rules in action.  In fact, the contests, the BMFAC and the Calendar, are clear examples of the Guild in action.

And when I say “the Guild”, I’m not just talking about the leadership, I’m also talking about the lesser membership.  Traditionally, apprentices were not considered members of the guild, per se, but I include them as such because they are part –a very important part– of the whole guild structure.  The guild-like behavior of the contests’ leadership is further expanded upon and confirmed by the guild-like behavior of the apprentices.  In fact, it wasn’t until I began to ruminate on the behavior of the rank and file membership of the Guild that I actually began to realize that there was a guild at all.  A privileged elite does not constitute a guild.  It’s only when a large, underprivileged class desperately wants to join and serve that elite that a Guild is born.  Ironically, 21st century digital art guilds are grassroots movements; bottom-up movements.  One or two sharp individuals who are shrewd enough to know which way the crowd is heading get out and run in front of them until the herd comes to see them as leading and they subsequently are seen as leaders.

That pretty much describes how the Fractal Art Guild was born.

Part 2: The Guild in action — “The contest is not a community event!”

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