Subtext by EssG
This is the conclusion of a series that began with a review of an article on deviantART entitled “People who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!!!” The series focuses on responding to criticisms raised by some of the DA fractal art “masters” to my initial review and hones in on some poor rhetorical strategies of specific rebuttals. For background, please refer to my original review, “Fractals That Suck,” as well on the two follow-up posts in the series, “Fractals That Suck Redux — Part One” that addressed the issue of the “fair use” clause in copyright law and its understanding that copyrighted images can be used in the context of a review or critique, and “Fractals That Suck Redux — Part Two” that covered the various ad hominem reactions from some DA “masters” — reactions that failed to address nearly all the points I’d originally made.
Part Three: Text vs. Subtext
I’ve pretty much said what I have to say on this whole DA “masters” and their suck/rock fractals, especially on the many emotional responses kicked about, but there are a few loose ends to tie up before this topic is discarded like a worn out sneaker.
One aspect of this whole business that left me shaking my head was the extreme literalness of the commentary from some “masters” at DA, especially from Fiery-Fire (Iwona Fido) who authored the DA article I initially reviewed. Ms. Fire, in a comment longer than my OT post, first went out of her way to explain the intent of her article and notes that
you [meaning me, “Mr. Animal”] misplaced the meaning of the News and also you lack of the inside knowledge of events preceding it’s publication.
and later, on DA, went on to inform me that
You also “trashed” the article, which was meant for the internal community on DA – and you assumed things from it, which are so far away from truth and it’s intention.
when, in fact, I fully understood the article’s design. On the surface, it showed the contrast in the level of skill between the early fractal work and more recent fractal work of 50+ DA members Ms. Fire labeled as “fractal art masters and wizards.” That was the text. But I saw more. Under the surface, there was a subtext to the DA article — one that embodied many of the fractal art community’s ills, as well as the prevailing mindset of Fractalbook itself. I outlined this subtext in a post on the Fractal Forum:
What I objected to in my article is a prevailing aesthetic in our community that equates being technically proficient with fractal software to making exciting acts of creative self-expression. Such cart-before-the-horse thinking is why so much of the work at art communities like deviantART all looks the same. Everyone is copying off the same master palette, as it were, and then turning around and congratulating themselves for being artistic “masters.” But all they have mastered is a certain level of technical accomplishment with their software, and, ironically, their earlier images often seem to make better use of artistic principles and design elements. In short, their later work may be better crafted but could be becoming less engaging as art.
Why? Because they’ve all embraced a cookie-cutter rubric of what constitutes good fractal art. You see it everywhere — the BMFAC winners, the late Fractal Universe calendar, and in the latter-day images of DA’s self-proclaimed “masters.” It’s an UF/Apo-based slick and baroque look that is busy in the extreme and highly ornamental but little else. It’s my view that nearly all of these works may be regarded as adequately crafted eyecandy but very few engage viewers as compelling art.
The problem is that as long as this type of imagery is widely regarded as the “best fractal art possible” — the art rewarded with prizes in contests and touted as the style any good “master” should strive to make — you will continue to see what I see at places like DA: depressing conformity. Replicating en masse buffed-to-a-sheen decorative craft over individualistic, engaging art seems backwards to me. But, then again, I don’t make art to rack up back-slapping comment threads or to socialize with countless virtual friends who consider themselves “masters” of fractal art because they’ve been tinkering with fractal toys for a few years.
What’s the crux here? I could see both the text and an additional subtext in Ms. Fire’s article. But I wonder if she and other DA “masters” could see my text at all.
Ms. Fire then went on to give me a lesson in Fractal Rendering 101
In Apophysis Fractal Flame Generator (this is the accurate name for the program), when you open the application – the software loads a selected number of random flames, which contain completely random and accidental combinations of functions (called variations) chosen by the code. Most of the works which are in “before” section come from that batch, unfortunately this diminishes the artistic input from the author – as exciting or experimental as they may seem, they lack the intentional design, have poor quality output and even the coloring gradient is selected automatically at random.
even through I’ve helped beta-test ten different fractal programs. Again, I understood the content of her article, but did she and others understand that I felt the article was an unflattering mirror that encapsulated what’s wrong with Fractalbook’s environment and crystallized the prevailing haughty attitudes of much of the fractal art scene?
I do know how both Apophysis and Ultra Fractal work. What probably mystifies the many DA “masters” who overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, use these two programs is that I’ve deliberately made a choice not to use them. And that brings me to…
Bonus: “Who Really Uses Shoddy Tools?”
Several DA “masters” responded to my initial post by attacking my art rather than by addressing my argument. Mikahil Borodin, for example, observes my work is heavily processed in Photoshop and remarks that
It’s actually quite sad that some fractalists can’t tell the difference between fractals and photoshop.
and I think I understand why. Much of what currently passes for fractal art is extensively graphically processed — especially if it’s made using either Ultra Fractal or Apophysis, the software twins of choice for nearly all the DA “masters.”
I don’t want to rehash the whole post-processing argument (again) — seeing that I’ve already given my opinion on this topic and previously addressed the very bias Borodin exhibits when I explained that
Apparently, if you believe the poobahs, using your fractal generator, no matter how extensive its built-in manipulation functions, is cool. You are still and always will be a legit fractal artist. But export your fractal to another graphics program and begin flailing away, well, you’ve somehow cheated. Or, worse, you’re ignorant. You failed to read the rule book and follow the universally understood (even if arbitrary) limitations.
And how convenient is it that the most expensive fractal software also has the most post-processing capabilities? No wonder I used to see something like this tagged to posted images at on-line fractal communities: Made with UF. 100 layers. No post-processing. Who are you kidding? You bludgeoned that thing within an inch of its pixels! But you’ve manipulated nothing because you’ve miraculously remained within the (self-imposed) limitations and kept your extensive collaging activities strictly inside UF?
Terry is completely on the mark that all fractal images are “post-processed” in some fashion. We color them, or we layer them. Even if we choose “not” to color them, we are in fact making a choice (for black and white) because those reflect a property of the mathematics. Everything we do in creating fractal imagery is interpretation, a visualization of massive amounts of numbers, distilled into a form that we can make sense of quickly. So to say some algorithms for doing this are acceptable while others are not is rather pointless. To even suggest that some software can be used while other software cannot is also pointless; I can code almost anything in Ultra Fractal, so the choice not to use Photoshop is really just a personal preference and not one dictated by the art.
so here’s the deal. If you’re doing layering and masking work in UF, or working with hacks and plugs in Apo, you’re engaging in unquestionable graphics processing not unlike that done in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Painter, PhotoPaint, and so on. So, please, spare me your holding-your-nose disdain about filters. Since Photoshop filters also work using algorithms, there’s no discernible difference between using them and using Popcorn or other similar derivative formulas in UF. And are you using UF5 to import photographs (bitmaps) or other static media into your “fractals”? If so, you’re now working in mixed media — not fractal art.
Of course, nearly all fractal art today isn’t fractal art as folks like the Stone Soup Group understood it. “Fractal art” is pretty much all graphics processing now — especially once you start pancaking multiple layers. So when Chris “milleniumsentry” Oldfield chides me in a comment that
When you do start pushing that envelope, you will realize that some fractal software packages are indeed ‘toys’ and afford you very little artistic control beyond cropping and basic palette control.
You will never create a masterpiece with shoddy supplies, and broken tools. Anyone who takes art seriously can confirm this.
I sense he assumes I treat art as frivolity because his equipment is somehow superior to mine. But, really, who is using the more limited tools? If it’s all just graphics processing anyway, I’d rather have a Photoshop fully-stocked arsenal at my disposal rather than, say, UF’s watered-down Photoshop-lite bows and arrows.
And maybe that’s why I’ve complained that our community seems to consistently emphasize software over individual creative expression. It’s back to the old tag line I still sometimes see on Fractalbook: “Made in UF. 100 (200/300/400/500+) layers. No post-processing.” Translation: Look what I made UF make.
In such cases, the tools are clearly front-loaded at the expense of the artistic act. Maybe that’s why so many entrants to the last BMFAC seemed unconcerned that both the UF and Apo authors actually served as two of the contest’s judges — in spite of having open-and-shut conflicts of interest. Given the lopsided ratio of winners who just coincidentally used either UF or Apo, one might legitimately ask whether the competition was inherently set up all along to be more about software than about art.
So, I ask again, who’s really using shoddy tools? Me? When I finish a new work, I never say: Look what I made QuaSZ-Xenodream-Photoshop-Alien Skin-Flaming Pear-Power Retouche-Painter-PhotoPaint-PhotoImpact-Paint Shop Pro-GIMP-Bryce-etc. make. I just think to myself: Look what I made.
Tags: fractal, fractals, fractal art, fractal blog, fractalbook, fractals that suck, fractals that suck redux, fiery-fire, milleniumsentry, who really uses shoddy tools, look what i made uf make, cruelanimal, orbit trap