Talking Tall: Final Chapter

“I had to stand up for myself alone, and you saw what they did to me…
Until all men can stand up for what they believe in, THE SAME DAMN THING CAN HAPPEN TO ANY ONE OF YOU!”

– Sheriff Buford Pusser, 1977, Walking Tall: Final Chapter

Okay, I think I’ve got it all figured out now, how the whole fractal art scene/community/world works.  Let me just put down my cudgel for a second because it’s hard to type with.  For mental navigational purposes, let me say this: I will start with listing what I personally consider to be the main characteristics of the online fractal world, some of which have puzzled me for years, and then go on to explain what I think the source of those features and mysteries are –why the fractal world is the way it is. Keep your shoes on, there’s broken a lot of broken glass around.

A few enduring (stubborn?) aspects to the online fractal art world:

  • Conservative tastes in art
  • Little interest in avant garde, radical ideas
  • Little reference and connection to the larger art world
  • Concentration on a single program and style of work
  • Lots of people actively engaged and producing artwork
  • Very stable and established community and leadership
  • Skill-based, not artwork based status (eg. Rocket Scientists)
  • Seniority based authority is generally accepted

And here’s what I think explains all that:

The interest that most people have in fractal art is the pursuit of rich, ornamental imagery... These people have been drawn to the program Ultra Fractal, because that’s the most effective tool for making that type of artwork. The internet enables these people to network with each other and they’ve gradually established, over the years, a large but informal organization revolving around their mutual interest in UF. I’ll call it the UF Guild; UFG. The higher skill level and greater experience of the older users along with their continued leadership in the development of UF resources justifies their higher status and authority in the eyes of newer members, who also value those things and want to pursue them like the older members have. People who lack such similar interests gain little from their association with the UFG and having little attachment to it, drift away. Over the years, the UFG has increased in size and in the support of its members to the point where it’s now able to convincingly present itself and its art to people outside the fractal art world as the contemporary standard in fractal art.  It would not be a great exaggeration to say that the UFG has become the fractal art world.

Are the contests public or private? Universal or Specialized?
Their annual contests, administered by senior members have become annual awards ceremonies establishing the reputation and talents of newer members while perpetuating those of the older ones. The defence that such contests are private events and shouldn’t be compared with contests that are public where contestants commonly expect judging to follow the customs of fairplay and impartiality is paradoxicly both a reasonable one and not. It’s reasonable in the sense that the UFG is an exclusive, but voluntary, association of artists with a demonstrated preferences and bias for the rich, ornamental artwork that is almost exclusively made with UF.  And yet the UFG has also come to incorporate the majority of what would be considered the fractal art world, or fractal “public”, and in such a “public” setting, the status that so many senior members have as judges and the personal connections they have with each other would be seen as unprofessional because in a public setting such conflicts of interest in judging generally lead to suspicions of abuse even when abuse does not actually occur. But, among the members of the UFG, there is no weakening of their confidence in the judging because they already know these people and trust them to behave in a way which benefits the UFG as they’ve already done for years. There is artistic bias among the judges and in the restrictions placed on submissions, but this “bias” is shared by almost all of the fractal art community, whom, as I’ve mentioned, pretty well make up the UFG itself these days.

If the contest wants to represent all of fractal art, then it needs to become more inclusive and adopt policies that will give every contestant a reasonable degree of confidence in the judging. If however, the contest wants to focus on UF style artwork and artists, then there is little reason to change anything as this is the way the UFG has smoothly operated for years and only UFG members will want to enter anyway.  With the exception of Orbit Trap’s two editors and maybe a few other individuals, there are no serious objections from the fractal art community in how the contest is designed, run, or the final selections it makes.  And this is the conundrum: The UFG has grown to include the majority of fractal artists and has redefined what fractal art is –for most people.  And that is artwork which can be described as rich and ornamental, made in the multi-layered and multi-talented program, Ultra Fractal.  When one speaks of the “fractal art community” they’re really talking about the UFG, whether they’re aware of it or not.  I said similar things two and a half years ago here.

Orbit Trap and the Clash of Fractal Civilizations
This is where Orbit Trap entered the scene. I think you can see better (I can) where the huge differences in perspective on the contests came from. Damien Jones, the organizer of the BMFAC has argued that the contest is not a community event, by which I believe he’s trying to say, it’s a really a special event with “special” rules and practices. He also repeatedly used the defence that the contest’s rules and selection panel were clear and obvious to anyone entering the contest and since no one has to pay an entrance fee or has any reason to enter the contest other than having their work judged by the selection panel there’s really nothing anyone has to complain about. His efforts made the contest a reality and yes his friends make up almost all of the judges and there is definitely a bias toward UF and that kind of artwork, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s a bias shared by most members of the fractal art world, so he could say it’s a very popular “bias” or just business as usual in the UFG.  If the organizer himself was to be replaced with a randomly selected member of the fractal art world with adequate ability, I believe the contest would remain pretty much the same as it is because a blind hand reaching into the fractal art world would probably pick up another UFG member, who has the same perspective.

It ain’t just the fractal art world that’s like this…
It’s these things about the fractal art world that my theory of the Ultra Fractal Guild is an attempt to explain. How well my theory fits the facts as other people see them is another matter. The online world can have a lot of blanks and explaining what goes on there and especially why it goes on, can require a lot of filling in because finding out isn’t often possible. Members of this “alleged” UFG have access to information that I don’t and I’m sure my theory will be greeted with suspicion by most of them (assuming they’re reading it) because I think I’m regarded as a “hostile witness”, as they say on TV. It’s not my intention or desire to pass judgment on the UFG as to whether it’s a good thing or whatever, but just to describe it for those who might be interested in how the fractal art world is composed and how it functions. I find it all rather interesting because I think the UFG exists in similar forms in other online digital art venues because the context I’m sure must be pretty much the same. I think the growth and development of the UFG is a natural one, given the type of interests it revolves around and the type of people attracted to those sorts of things. That’s why I compare it to a guild; an ancient and universal social group, because people tend to cluster and form these sorts of organizations out of mutual benefit in many social contexts in an almost spontaneous way.

Next Part: Continental Drift in the Fractal World: Art and Craft don’t eat together.
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5 thoughts on “Talking Tall: Final Chapter

  1. Your comments about fractal art are very interesting and Orbit Trap actually is the only place for reading about fractals as an art form.
    My experience is mostly based on Flickr. Well, as far as I can see, actually there are “conservative tastes in art” (in fractal art, but also in photography and in other digitally mediated forms of art) and there is “little interest in avant garde, radical ideas” (again, not only in fractal art). These are general (popular, I would like to say) trends as appearing from the huge quantity of images posted in Flickr, in deviantArt, etc. But, how correct is to consider these trends and tastes as a clear image of the current status of fractal art? Judging from the many photos of flowers, HDR landscapes, and nice pets seen on Flickr, one could say that these are the main subjects and tastes of modern photography… Among many boring spirals, many shining fractal objects, many anonymous flames, I see new ways of fractal art expression and, I must say, no concentration on a single program. Glorious programs such as Tierazon, Sterling and Xaos are actively used, and even home-made programs! Sure, “the interest that most people have in fractal art is the pursuit of rich, ornamental imagery”, but it is also true for photography and other forms of potentially artistic tools. This is not the main problem.
    The problem is that fractal art is only known by a very small community. The problem is that fractal art seems to have a virtual life only. It lives in the web, within folders into our pc, as pictures or parameter files. For the layman, fractal art could be an obscure, bizarre form of modern art. The exhibitions of fractal art are very rare, and I have seen no art dealer exposing fractal art pieces in his gallery (at least here, in Italy). Probably, no art museum exposes fractal art pieces. In the waiting rooms of doctors and lawyers, there are cheap (often ugly) prints on the wall, but never beautiful, relaxing, appealing fractal images. There is a very limited commercial usage of fractal images too, for example as book or cd cover images, or as posters and calendars! (Except for books on fractals, I only know a single book with a fractal image in the cover, the Italian edition of “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments” by G. Johnson. It’s a picture from the classic book “The Beauty of Fractals”). Why? It is too early and fractal art is near its primordial stage? (I don’t think so). Fractal images doesn’t reflect the general, public interest? (I don’t think so). Evidently, thousands of online galleries of fractal images (art or craft, this in another problem…) are not enough for bringing this form of visual art out from the virtual world!

    Rafael
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/talfrac/

  2. If it helps to even the playing field, I am perfectly willing to sponsor a contest at MysticFractal.com for images created strictly from Mystic Fractal programs, (with or without post-processing by other accessory programs.)

    Note: There is no intention here of claiming to be “all-inclusive.”

    I think there are enough MF users worldwide to make the contest interesting. Any size image would be permissible, although many of the programs can produce a 14400 pixel-wide image. Larger images would tend to get more critical observation, due to increased detail, etc.

    To be fair, though not necessarily unbiased, the judging would have to be done by actual users of the software, so that would preclude said judges from entering the contest, but I’d allow a link on my site to any judge’s home page URL for as long as they like. (Everyone wants their artwork to be seen, though criticism not necessarily heard.) Prizes could include the Everything Package, or some other donation, not necessarily by Mystic Fractal.

    If anyone would like to see this contest to come into being this year or next, or whenever, let me know via the contact link at Mystic Fractal or MysticFractal@comcast.net

    Best Wishes for the Holidays and New Year!

  3. I think you’re overestimating the influence of what you call the UFG on fractal artists. True, there does exist a convention (I’ll just call it UFG as you did, for convenience). Any population you take, you will almost always find a majority, their organization, rules and conventions, and the minority who may or may not be happy about that fact. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, as you said, it’s just a mere fact. Now if you’re worried that the majority we’re talking about that is specific to the fractal world has become the sole population of it, I will say that you have a rather limited view of the fractal scene. I don’t know where you’re looking at to get that idea, but it’s clear that you’re either fixated on a unrepresentative section or that you’re just not looking enough. I’m more or less limited in my view to the deviantArt scene and even there alone exists enough sub-groups to perhaps even outnumber “the guild”. I know that dA is looked down upon by many, so you might not have paid enough attention to it to notice that Apophysis is more common in dA than is UF, that there are a significant amount of fractal artists that are not limited to a single program or even a single media, that the most recent community-wide contest was focused on mixed media with fractals, and an increasing amount of intellectual discussions on fractal art with no one feeling obliged to “guild up” to stay alive.

    Now I don’t know what’s the root of your obsession with the contest, but really, I don’t think it is that important an organization to the whole fractal world (or at least it shouldn’t be). If it doesn’t claim to be a community event, it isn’t. I’m aware that there are no as major contests to constitute alternatives, but you can’t really blame them for that, can you? There is no reason why there can’t be any other contest with different standards. I’m perfectly aware that the contest has a UF-bias (even though it’s been tuned down a little), but I can’t really see how you can get a perfectly unbiased judge panel, given that any single artist you can will have their personal preferences. Any contest that claims to be representative of a whole community would be lying, really. Even if you consciously try and employ positive discrimination in favor of a work body that constitutes a minority, it will either not be representative enough or will give similar concerns of injustice to the majority – which can’t be good if you claim to be all-inclusive.

    As a side note, art vs. craft is always a versatile discussion topic, I’m looking forward to the next article.

  4. I think you’re right in that the fractal community are very guild-like. But there are a great number of positives to this kind of “herding” mentality too. It does give new craftspeople the chance to hone their skills, they can learn through the skills of others, and there are a great number of fractalists out there who willingly help the newer “members”.

    Every community has leaders, it’s just a natural progression. If you dont like the direction of “the guild” you just leave, people and directions change. Along with what is popular.

    I agree with Nada in that there are a lot of beautiful pieces in this years contest. Just a shame that the fiel size is so large, I would have liked to see more Apophysis creations in there.

  5. So now you’ve got it! What you describe is a very common group behaviour and it has been studied by psychologists for decades. At its best it’s called solidarity and at its worst corruption. And sometimes one is part of it, then it may feel cozy, and sometimes one is not, then one may feel excluded. In this sense I would be surprised NOT to find the respective patterns in a let’s say UF Group.
    And you do not think the ‘non fractal’ ‘Art world’ is free of that, do you?
    And can you be sure that you are free of that? You are right now 2 in this group, as far as I can see, maybe you are gathering some more with a similar stand point and soon you are a group with unwritten laws of membership and leadership. Maybe you already are…
    I do see that all groups contain the seed of bias, this is a sad fact.
    Seeing this may turn a person into a loner though, and in some cases this may be the beginning of a great artist, scientist, philosopher etc. In other cases this may lead to cynicism or even mental aberrations.
    Coming to the Mandelbrot Contest I must say that I have seen many inspiring images this year, among the winners as well as among the entries. It seems that highly decorative images as you call them are less produced and less chosen. There seems to be a general ‘typical fractal’ fatigue which may also be the reason why the mailing list as well as the fractal department of the online galleries get less and less participation. You can also observe that many of the ‘seniors’ are disappearing from the scene.
    Many of this year’s winners’ and entries’ names I have never heard before, especially from those I feel a fresh wind blowing.
    I would love to see some inspiring images from your side, too. If it is not possible for you to produce a 12000 pixel image you cannot win according to the actual rules, but you can enter. All entries are published and you can have an impact this way.
    There is one artist who did not win but I just love two of his images. The artist is called Vinh Phat, have you found out anything about him? I would love to see more from him (or her). Maybe he was not chosen because he couldn’t produce a 12000 pixel image. I don’t know.

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