Art, Craft and Fractals: Part 2

I got a couple of comments to my previous post, Art, Craft and Fractals, which raised an issue which I think needs to be clarified.  The term, Craft, is used in many ways and most of them are probably derogatory in the context of art.  But it’s not my intention to bad-mouth craft, only to show it for what it is and what it is not.

Craft is not immature art or the product of an art form in its early stages of evolutionary development: Craft is imagery that’s fun to look at.  Craft is not imagery that’s thought provoking or which expresses ideas or feelings.  Fractal Craft is simply fractals for the sake of fractals.  It’s people who love fractal imagery cooking up and mixing together new recipes of fractals that scratch our itchy eyeballs –itching for cool, new, exotic fractals.

This sort of thing doesn’t lead to art or create the foundation for a bold new skyscraper of art to be built upon.  It creates delicious taste sensations set out for our consumption and gobbled up before they have time to cool off.  It’s visual hedonism: pleasing, pleasant and pacifying.  Craft doesn’t upset people because it’s silent and anonymous like a decoration or ornamental table leg.  Craft doesn’t express opinions or even suggest opinions or anything complicated like that.  Craft is simply what it looks like: ornamental.

Fractal art might be young as an art form (although I don’t think it is) but that’s different than being juvenile.  Fractal art is the domain of craft because that’s what its practitioners pursue and set out to create.  It’s the intent of fractal artists to produce slick, multi-layered, eye-popping work.  I really have no problem with that because I see craft as a normal pursuit and a perfectly healthy one.  I have a problem with people trying to pawn off their craft as art, but that’s just my own critical disposition.  I like craft, but I like art more.  I’d like to see more art made, but if there’s more craft made as well, who cares?  Who cares? is the long term response to craft anyhow.  It has a fleeting glory and only briefly holds its audience’s attention.  Craft doesn’t enter our long term memory, but exists and is replaced by another shiny icon.

My definition of art and by consequence, craft, is functional.  Craft performs a singular function: ornamentation.  Specifically, in the context of fractals, craft is work that performs that function.  It’s not a matter of what people say it is, it’s a matter of what the experience the viewer has.  If you, the viewer, find some of the works in the BMFAC to be thought provoking or expressive in mood, emotion, idea, whatever, then it’s just as valid for you to defend them as art as it is for me to classify them as craft, according to my functional definition.

I don’t know, is this functional approach new and different?  The obvious corollary is that art is subjective since it may function differently for different people.

Another thing, craft isn’t junk.  I used an illustration of rather “domestic” hand made Christmas ornaments as a somewhat flavorful example of craft, but probably every winning entry in the BMFAC was rather skillfully made and represents artists at the top of the fractal art world.  Perhaps people assume that craft is junk is because in an art context, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, craft is used as a label for amateur, cheesy, folksy, primitive, cliche kind of work.  But for me craft is used purely to denote a type of function the work performs and particularly in the fractal art world, craft is often professional, tasteful, complex and utilizing the latest, cutting-edge techniques.  That’s why artists consider it to be a real feather in their cap when they win something like the BMFAC or the (now defunct) Fractal Universe Calendar contest.  Their peers are saying they make good stuff –like their peers do.

I would prefer to make art instead though.  I don’t get as big a Wow! out of just looking at fractals as I did when I first discovered them.  I’m looking for something that’s different and appeals a wider area of my brain than simply that sugar cubed sized lump that neuro-scientists refer to as the fractal sugar center.  Why any of you professional craftspeople care what I think is odd, really.  Am I not a loser in your opinion?  I make junk, I like junk, and I write junk.  I don’t see what we have in common.

The whole art and craft “dichotomy” just explains what it’s all about perfectly.  Two different types of people whose different intentions lead to artwork that performs different functions.  One doesn’t grow or mature into the other; fractal craft has already grown up, blossomed and gone to seed.  Fractals, the medium, is what we have in common.  Not art.

5 thoughts on “Art, Craft and Fractals: Part 2

  1. I would like to raise some more questions which may be of interest (or not).
    Which type of person sits down to learn a program like let’s say UF with quite a steep learning curve?
    I doubt that you will find many ‘born artists’ there who see the mandelbrot set and say, wow, that’s a great way to express myself.
    Actually I think the typical beginner will be a rather intellectual being who is fascinated by fractals, especially by their natural beauty and/or by their mathematical background. A lot of time will be spent around this while learning the program, and by the time the medium is more or less mastered one may be slightly bored by the typical fractal and the question comes up, what now?
    How big is the chance that an artist is born at this point? Many will just leave (as it is happening) or go on moving in their comfort zone which is all legitimate, of course.
    I remember very well that I thought for a while it would be impossible to express oneself with a fractal program. I was so conditioned by what I had seen and produced until then that freedom seemed to be no option.
    In Janet’s Artistry Course for the first time the attempt was made to systematically follow topics of expression, I remember very vividly how clumsy I felt.
    Today I know that I would no longer sit on my fractal program if not for the purpose of expression, which, of course, sometimes still may be the expression of beauty!
    But does the FACT that I AM expressing myself turn me into an artist? Who decides that and do I care?

    This brings me clearly to the point Esin made, the subjectivity. How could I ever know wether what I am expressing is communicated? Did I express myself in the right way? Where does the onlooker stand? Is what I am expressing worth to be expressed at all?

    It’s the same problem as in every day communication. Very rarely you and the other are at exactly the same point at the same time.
    There are no final answers to all these questions therefore I rather go on doing what I want to do, as probably everyone else does.
    Of course, in these days I am extremely content about the great variety of tools within UF, I doubt that any other algorithmic program offers comparable versatility, but I use so many non fractal features within the program that for me it no longer makes any sense to be puristic.
    This puristic attitude may have been a problem in the UF scene for quite a while with a stifling effect. As I perceive it now -looking at quite a few of this year’s entries- this phase has come to its natural death.
    And maybe you, too, Tim, can relax a little bit now. Maybe you see what you thought to be a tiger is just a mouse. And maybe one day you are even able to admit that UF IS a great program which possibly only could develop to what it is now because MANY people put all their heart and energy into it and helped to improve it. I don’t think this would have happened without that concentrated enthousiasm within the scene in general. The less fortunate side effects of this have to be digested eventually.

  2. Esin, good points. You’re absolutely right about art being communication and the failure can be with either the sender or the receiver. And yes, what I label craft others may label art because what their perception of the image is may be different than mine. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Neither, of course, because, as you’ve said, art is subjective and comparing our perceptions of it is like comparing the proverbial “apples and oranges”.

    Check out the Fractal Universe Calendar, though. That’s probably a much better example of craft than the BMFAC. The calendar repeatedly showcased the most cliche garbage the fractal world has ever produced, and the editors thought it was wonderful and stuck their own trash in there with it! The BMFAC’s selections are definitely an improvement over the Fractal Universe calendar’s.

    But with respect to fractals being a new “visual language”… I don’t think they’re all that foreign or exotic for most new viewers. But your idea about “expectation” being an important factor is interesting. Expectation, of course, could also be called prejudice since expectations alter our perception of artwork. For instance, telling some people you’re artwork was made with a computer program may cause them to under-rate it’s value because they expect it to be mechanical and not hand-made (or over-rate it because it’s a novelty to them).

    My reference to “junk” was to the wider audience, not to you or the other recent commenters. People like you who stop by OT and engage in intelligent discussion like this are really quite an exception. I’m more used to the “pitchfork” mob who don’t like me criticizing the UFGuild and yet never address the substance of my criticisms. We’ve had some genuine trolls here at OT in the past. That’s why we moderate comments.

  3. Thanks for the response. I still see a few issues here though. First of all, you make valid and crucial points is why people care and respond to you, and I don’t see why you automatically assume that they think your work is junk when you haven’t yet had a single conversation with them about it (at least in my case).

    Another thing is, since art is subjective, and the labeling as art or craft is simply dependent on whether the artist is able to communicate an expression, emotion, a deeper meaning to the viewer basically outrules the artists themselves calling their work as art or craft. Of course the artists see a meaning in what they’ve done if they set out to create meaning to begin with, in which case they tend to assume that the message is conveyed to the other side, which might not always be the case. Now you’re saying over and over again that a) most of what you see out there doesn’t mean anything to you except for eye-candy (without any negative connotations) and therefore is craft and not art and b) what you do is art because you seek deeper meaning when you do fractal art. There’s a dangerous assumption in there that without actually knowing most of the people who you see do fractal art, you assume that they’re in it just for the beauty and not meaning just because their message doesn’t come across to you. This is either because they failed at communication or because you didn’t give the artwork enough time to form a communication with the other artist. In either case, you must accept that that will also happen to your works of art. People either won’t care enough to look deeper and understand what you’re saying or you simply failed at capturing their attention enough to communicate with them.

    This is where the importance of a common vocabulary comes in. Communication becomes incredibly harder when the two sides speak completely different languages. Fractals are a new visual language and isn’t exactly internationally recognized and understood. This limits, for a large part, communication with people outside of the fractal community. Art, to a large extent, is about the expectations of the viewer, whether the artist chooses to satisfy the visual expectations or to throw a curveball and raise eyebrows. Either way is valid for communication, but it simply doesn’t work when the viewer lacks any expectation whatsoever as they’re unfamiliar with what they’re looking at.

    That is, of course, concerning fractal art in a wider art context. The lack of communication within the fractal community regarding what’s art and what’s not can only be due to assumptions and prejudices (and the fact that art IS subjective, after all). I’m not saying that every work of “craft” out there is a failed attempt at communication. Sometimes the artists do set out to create beauty just for the sake of it. But that doesn’t mean that all do, and the assumption that they do may lead to false conclusions.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with craft. I admire people who have time and patience to make these gazillion-layered images. But these are definitely 2 different entities, and I really like the other one the most.

    As it was pointed out in other posts, the now innumerous things you can do with UF in the “tweaking” world has opened up a new field, that is to make these crafty images. Sometimes, for the non-fractal people more used to other kind of image manipulation softwares, to see some of these works done in UF can make them think “well I can do this with Photoshop faster and easier”. Sure you can, but the best part of the “crafty fractals” is that they force people to think a little more than usual, if not in a “fractal way”, to push the limits of the software to make different things.

  5. I totally agree with you :)

    For example..I make felt and handmade paper as well as fractals. They are a craft..they’re not deep or thought provoking, they are functional, pretty to look at and serve a purpose. That’s not to say they have no worth, they are just art in a different form. A craftsman is someone who shows great manual dexterity and artistic skill within their chosen field, and to be called a craftsman is something to be proud of.

    Arts and crafts will always be separate but with fluid boundaries. Art requires not only the craftsman’s skill and dexterity but also judgement and imagination. It’s the imagination and pushing of boundaries that can be lacking in the craft. Someone can be a master at his craft but lack the imagination to take it forward into being an art-form. Art gets you thinking, pulls you in and keeps you coming back for more.

    Being new to fractals, and not very well versed in the expectations of the craft, I do try to push the boundaries. I try to elicit emotions and thought…Im just working at it, and yes there are a lot of non-artistic bits I’ve done as there is always a learning curve where you have to learn to master your craft.

    I’m honestly bored with spirals and marbles, there are some wonderful pieces out there, but yes most do fall into the realm of craft and not pure art. Pretty and well executed but ten a penny.

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