Art is an optical illusion that not everyone can see

From a distance the top image looks like Marilyn Monroe, but close-up it looks more like Einstein


Duck looking left; Rabbit looking right


3D image with hollowed-out center (cross-eyed 3D)


Isn’t it freaky?  It’s not an animated image although it appears to be rotating.  It’s all in the mind.


Young woman with short hair or old woman with kerchief


Nice da Vinci portrait or mysterious, enigmatic smile?  Subtle nuance or mass autosuggestion?


Blossoming cherry tree in spring sun, or just some more bad abstract art?


Unseen digital visions of glorious gold, or artistic charlatanism?
 Maurizio Bolognini, Programmed Machines, Nice, France, 1992-97: hundreds of computers are programmed to generate an inexhaustible flux of random images which nobody would see. [Ed. note: nobody but me!]

One of the Unseen Digital Visions of Glorious Golds from above?, or Mandelbox Meanderings M61 by mclarekin 2015?  (I see a snow speeder from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back entering the rebel hangar on Hoth)  Click to see the full size version at the rebel’s base.


The apex of the trajectory of art? or the crater?


The strange genius of Dali talks to me? or  Don’t talk to strangers? (Soft-Construction-with-Boiled-Beans 1936 Salvador Dali)


What can the city give you that is greater than this? or, Kitchen calendar art? (Les coquelicots a Agenteuil by Claude Monet 1895)


Art is whatever you can get away with (or sell)? or Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis by JWM Turner, 1843


The landscapes and mythology of our time? or Just a video game screenshot?


The landscapes and mythology of El Greco’s time? or Hand painted postcard?


Digital cubism? or More artistic charlatanism?


Real cubism? or, Real artistic charlatanism?


Better than Pollock? or Worse than Pollock?


The knife-edge of town? or Quaint, old, picturesque drawing?


A more subtle Mona Lisa? or, The delusion of computer art?

The Idea Behind This

…was to get you to see the optical illusion quality that characterizes the phenomenon of art.

What is an optical illusion other than something you know you can see (because you’re looking at it) and yet may not be evident to everyone?  They’re not blind, they just don’t see what you’re seeing.

There are tricks to getting someone to see them, like looking for the young woman inside the face of the old one.  Or telling people the ears of the rabbit is the bill of the duck and they’re looking in two different directions.  But won’t there always be some people who just don’t see what you’re seeing?

And with the Mona Lisa, the biggest optical illusion of all time, you tell people to look for a smile that is about to break.  That’s the art in the Mona Lisa that makes it more than just a portrait: the enigmatic expression that smiles while you look at it.  But isn’t it just auto-suggestion?  And aren’t there even better optical illusions than the great Mona Lisa?  Did Leonardo see it?  He painted it, didn’t he?

I’ve been ruminating deeply on things like the meaning of art and the way in which algorithmic art overlaps and doesn’t overlap the art domain.  I had a whole bunch of things to say but after thinking the whole matter through “to its logical conclusion” I realized, simply, that “Art is an optical illusion that not everyone can see.” It sums up all my thoughts perfectly and really needs no explanation other than a field trip to a gallery to give examples.  That’s what art is, and that’s all art is: the illusions we see and the one’s we don’t.  Call them nuances.

Part three is where the rubber meets the road:  “How to judge art and not feel stupid.”  Plenty of pictures and even more fun than this one.

Fractal Art is all about nuance

I read an interesting article by Rhiannon Cosslett in the The Guardian entitled, Art is all about nuance. Let’s not lose it in the alarmist censorship debate (Feb 8, 2018).  In attempting to explain the real source of the controversy behind the removal of a Victorian era painting from display in the Manchester Art Gallery, she appeals to a premise about art that I think not only succeeds in resolving that particular controversy but also resolving just about every other controversy there has ever been about the nature of art.  And furthermore, what she says about art is even more relevant in the context of fractal and algorithmic art because of its abstract character.

The Article’s Main Points

The article is quite short and very well written, so I won’t bother summarizing it here.  However, for discussion purposes, here are the main points:

  • Art is not about one thing or the other, art is all about nuance.
  • Your interpretation of a work of art is profoundly influenced by who you are. Famous art with sexual overtones demonstrates this.
  • There is no such thing as a correct interpretation of art.

Nuance is the key to understanding art

On the surface the article is just saying:  It’s all about nuance and there’s lots of those so don’t get hung up on any one interpretation of anything.  But underneath, there is the implication that art is not something that can be objectively studied, discussed or even evaluated because people’s impressions of it are not comparable; being formed primarily not by what they see, but how they see it.

But the conceptual implications of nuance go even further than that.  They suggest that any image of anything at all is really just a collection of visual elements whose order, significance and meaning are products of the eccentricities of the viewer’s mind rather than fixed properties of the image or the intentions of the artist.

Art is undefinable and not only that, it’s uncontrollable and unpredictable.  Small changes in the mind of the viewer will have enormous consequences for the interpretation of art.  Some little thing or aspect of an image can have an effect on your overall impression similar to how, in Chaos Theory, a butterfly beating its wings in one place can cause a hurricane somewhere else.  Those little things or aspects are called “nuance”.  Whether nuance springs from the mind of the viewer, or the art, makes no difference because ultimately the substance, medium and domain of all art is the human mind and thus the only thing you can hope to be objective about in art is your own opinions.

“Nuance is…the site in which most art resides” writes Cosslett.  The easiest way to show this is by reexamining the controversy that Cosslett’s article deals with: sexual themes in art. These themes make the role of nuance appear not so nuanced.

Cosslett’s impressions on this painting by Degas is a good example of art being all about nuance.

Dancers on a Bench, 1898 by Edgar Degas

“Filthy old pervert Degas and his pre-teen ballerinas” is how Cosslett captions this image.  Why?  Why would Cosslett say that?  I asked that question too until I sensed the nuance that she was alluding to.  Do you see it, too?

You probably don’t see anything “wrong” with Degas’ painting because you haven’t paid much attention to the ages of the “women” in the painting.  They’re all young girls and here we have a voyeuristic “look down the top” view of three of them tightening their point shoes.

But have you changed your view of the painting now?  Or has nothing changed except that now you want to vigorously defend your own interpretation against her “revisionist” one?  If you don’t see this painting as the artistic expression of  a “filthy old pervert” that’s okay.  Your perspective may not take seriously the nuances of “filth” or “pre-teen ballerinas” or you may not even see any of that at all, but yours is still a reasonable interpretation and the most common one, too, I’d say.  But now, I think you can also see how your reasonable interpretation isn’t the only one.  That is really all I think Cosslett is trying to say on this matter of censorship and alarmist reactions to art: there’s always more than one interpretation because… art is all about nuance.

There are undoubtedly many possible nuances in the painting depending on how you see these sorts of scenes and subjects, and your reaction to them (or lack of reaction) is really just a matter of who you are and how you see things, your taste in art, etc…  Can you change who you are and how you see things? There’s more to Degas than his questionable interest in the scene depicted above, and who’s to say one interpretation is right and the other wrong?  If art is all about nuance, then art is not an objective thing.  Can it ever be?

Art is all about nuance means artistic interpretation revolves around suggestion and perceived implication: fuzzy stuff.

Fractal Art or Fecal Art?

The Prize by Leonard ( 2013 Calendar in print


Screenshot from the Orbit Trap review of the calendar and its images

So what gave me such a different impression of this cover image than that of the awesome, fractal lovin’ folks over at Fractalforums?  Well, who’s to say where our impressions of art come from, or for that matter, our gut feelings about anything?  However, the dark, crumbling heap with straw-like things in it and the background of finely rendered, yellowy-brown volumetric fog reminded me -quite vividly- of a horse stable manure pile on an overcast afternoon in late winter.  Is that crazy?  And even if it was, can I help it?  I visited one every day (with a wheelbarrow) for a few years when I was a teenager.

Years have passed since I posted my review but I still see exactly that sort of thing when I look at the image.  It leads me to the conclusion that I was objective in my assessment of my opinion about the image.  Was I objective about the image?

The folks at Fractalforums generally loved the image and I believe it was mostly because the nuances I described didn’t seem to be relevant to them even after I mentioned them.  The operator of the site even started a thread to post a link to my review of the calendar.  He obviously didn’t see the review in the negative light that the other people responding to the thread did.  Another perspective on a perspective.

I consider my impression of the image to be a minority one, but I’m sure it caused others to reconsider their own, even if it didn’t change those opinions much.  The main point is that, as you can see, there is no correct interpretation of that cover image.  It’s as nuanced as Degas’ “pre-teen ballerinas”.

I wanted to post another fractal image I saw years ago (somewhere) of a giant, shiny 3D fractal shape situated in a river with water flowing past it.  The water was of a thick yellow consistency and the shine on the 3D fractal shape resembled porcelain…  It was disgusting, but none of the comments on the image posting page suggested anything like the impression I had.

Art has a mind of its own: the viewer’s mind.

It’s not over…

Part two… The Nuances of Nuance.  For the true enthusiast.

Why is HalTenny’s stuff better?

Alternate title: Creativity in Fractal Art part 5 ½

Rip van Winkle

I’ve been trying to catch up on 6 months of not visiting DeviantArt.  While browsing through an enormous amount of artwork I started to think that the 3D fractal revolution (mandelbulb) was losing steam because no one seemed to be making anything of interest for the last 6 months.  I did spot a number of new usernames but not much of their work stood out as noteworthy.  In one last act of desperation I clicked on something by HalTenny and jumped over to his gallery to see if this creative drought was raging there too.  What a surprise.  What a difference.

I could call it “The Haltenny Effect”.  I was browsing through his latest gallery uploads and repeatedly asking myself, “Why is Haltenny’s work so much better than everybody else’s?”

This is a massive theoretical issue and not just, yet another, idle comment about “how bad everything looks on DeviantArt lately.” Haltenny’s work shouldn’t be that much different than anyone else’s if the medium of 3D fractals is entirely algorithmic expression and not personal expression or style.  This was a serious scientific moment.  What is he doing that (apparently) no one else is doing?  Or at least, very few are doing?  Is he just better at making parameter guesses?

If one person can produce fractal work that other users can’t then there must be some personal component to fractal art and it’s not entirely a matter of combinations and permutations decorated with a few personal “touches”.  This is the essence of the question, “Is there personal style in fractal art?” I’ve come to conclude that what makes HalTenny’s work stand out is more than just some quaint photo includes and lucky parameter finds. There is a clear artistry and personal creativity element in his 3D fractal art.  And that’s what’s missing in so many of the others.  This personal creativity element in 3D fractals wasn’t so noticeable to me until I did the Rip van Winkel thing and woke up 6 months later, stumbling and disoriented.

Mutationism?  Mechanical Creativity?

Over the summer (2017) I’d written a series of postings on the mechanical (automatism) aspect of fractal art and concluded that even when artists make alterations to the imagery by hand it doesn’t alter significantly what they’ve already made with the machine, that is, the parameter settings they’ve chosen for the program’s formulas and rendering options.  And so, fractal art and even 3D fractal art is essentially just a matter of rendering the vast number of parameter combinations and permutations that already exist in potential in the limited (but extensive) range of possible parameter combinations.  Anyone can do it and anyone who does do it is only discovering or uncovering what was already there, in potential.  The creativity in the imagery is all from one’s lucky parameter finds; there is no personal creativity even possible.  This is a concept in computer art that’s been around since its earliest days in the mid 20th century.

But it’s clearly not that simple.  At least it’s not that simple in the 3D fractal area that HalTenny primarily works in.  If everyone else can stumble across HalTenny’s secrets just by playing with the program then why haven’t they?  They can all see what he’s doing just by looking at his work and yet his work is largely beyond imitation (in an art form that is characterized by imitation and imitators).  There is still a mechanical aspect to all this, that is, permutations and combinations of parameter values; but there is also a personal, hand-directed artistry part of the equation, too.  And that personal artistry component is a major one, not merely a minor one as I had concluded before.  If it were minor it wouldn’t have given HalTenny such a huge advantage over other 3D artists.  I mean, how lucky can a guy get?

The hand is the printer of the mind

In keeping with the terminology and concepts of the summer series, these discretionary effects that HalTenny has been employing, like lighting, photo includes and composition, are handmade rather than mechanical and therefore enable the artist’s mind to literally enter the picture.  They are an expression of the artist’s mind and imagination and not the program’s graphical algorithmic engine.  The artist is going beyond discovering or uncovering preexisting parameter combinations existing in potential; the artist is moving or adjusting lighting effects and inclusions with their hand or at their discretion.  The artist is in direct control of these things and not merely pulling the arm on a graphical slot machine.  Such direct control expresses personal intentions rather than mechanical permutations: it contributes something original that is independent of the machine’s contribution and adds to it.

The hand connection is the mind’s connection because the hand is the printer of the mind.  Your computer display is the printer of the computer and when disconnected from it, the computer’s “thoughts and intentions” are entirely unknown and unknowable: invisible.  In the same way when the artist’s hand is disconnected from the imagery through the lack of mouse movement inputs and intentional alterations to the actual image (not just parameter fields), the artist’s mind is disconnected and unable to express its ideas and intentions due to the input constraints of the program’s design (ie. adjust the parameters but don’t touch the image).

I have grouped HalTenny’s creative efforts into three categories:  Lighting;  Photo Includes; Creative Effect; and Composition.  The first and last involve the use of the program’s own features (Mandelbulb 3D, I think) while Photo Includes and Creative Effect is much more independent and wholly at the whims of the artist and therefore more likely to distinguish their efforts from others.


You wouldn’t think this was such a big deal but really, in photography, lighting is often the very element that creates something great out of something common. The awesome photograph by Ansel Adams entitled, “Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico“, is, in the author’s own words, entirely a product of the effect of the approaching sunset’s unique effect on a location that he’d already passed by earlier in the day without looking particularly interesting. The way the tombstones in the graveyard caught the disappearing daylight and of course the effect on the sky has all changed by the time dusk begins. The entire mood of the scene was transformed.

Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams (1941)

I’m not really familiar with the 3D fractal programs like I am with the older, 2D ones, but it’s plain to see that lighting is not a formula parameter but rather a discretionary choice by the artist controlled entirely by their whims and contains a number of options which literally cast the fractal imagery in a different light. This makes a big difference to the artistry although it doesn’t change the structures produced by the program’s fractal parameter settings. Two different artists can come up with the same scenery in a 3D fractal program (eventually) but the final result, artistically, can be as different as the two San Hernandez’s which Adams saw in the morning and the evening.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

Fungal Habitat by HalTenny

See what I mean by the lighting?  The fractal imagery is interesting, of course, but the bright sunshine and shadows makes the “interesting” imagery become real and vivid.  When imagery like this takes on the feel of a National Geographic magazine photo, the effect is categorically different.  It’s believable, vivid and compelling, not just “interesting.”

Curvaceous Architecture by HalTenny

This one’s a bit more complex.  The lighting gives an outdoor feel and also accentuates the unique pen and ink style of rendering.  This image looks like a watercolor and not a photograph.  I’ve never seen anything quite like this, although Vidom, another talented 3D artist has some works that resemble this style somewhat.  A note on the gallery page: “I’m suffering a little eye strain from allergies the past few days, I hope I’m not posting bad renders~ :)

Inviting Dark Tunnel by HalTenny

This one is just a masterwork of lighting.  It sets the mood, it creates the “inviting” sensation to the otherwise dark tunnel.  Notice the fine detailed touch the lighting adds to the “railing” on the left side.  You can see how lighting style can add depth by modifying the qualities of the shadow.  The trees fit right in and build on the warmth and hospitality of the scene.  This is not a subway entrance, it’s a ritzy hotel, restaurant or lavish home.  The parameter work alone would have left us with a London tube station or worse, a sewer main from Star Wars.  HalTenny’s lighting elevates the whole thing to a higher plane.

Temple of Fractology by HalTenny

There’s quite a few images by other artists on DeviantArt featuring scenes like this.  HalTenny’s makes a better impression on me I think because the stark, natural lighting and misty background elements instantly convert these 3D fractal shapes into a large, outdoor building and it’s that context that makes the stain glass church window photographic inclusions effective in expressing the “temple” theme.  In fact, the more I look at this one, especially at the large tower in the right upper half, I start to think more and more of the image is photographic overlay because it just looks so natural and well done.

The Big Empty by HalTenny

I’ve explored quite a few abandoned houses in my time and this “place” has such a wonderful “Big Empty” feel to it.  Note the lighting way back in the distance and on the “pillar” on the left.  Also, note that the imagery, although very similar in shape to the previous, “Temple” image, does not look outdoor and building like but rather indoor, wooden and at a human room scale.  It’s not the parameter work that does that, it’s the lighting and rendering that Haltenny has chosen to give that intentional effect.  This image I find is a little surreal and spooky.  This was the place of some weird and powerful activities; alien and not human.

Not Much of a View by HalTenny

Quite a lot of artistic renovation in this one.  He’s added a whole wall in there.  I find this one even more surreal and disturbing as is often the case with abandoned building interiors.  There’s a strange complicated sensation of death here, like a concentration camp photo.  The decay of architecture is perhaps symbolic of the decay of civilization.  Who says fractal art is always about sunshine, bright colors and eye-candy?

Compare with this classic example of surrealist art by Kurt Schwitters:

Kurt Schwitters Merzbau Photo: Wilhelm Redemann, 1933

3D fractals have some interesting connections with established art forms.  The 3-dimensional aspect creates the enormous potential to depict the theme of “place” as well as sculpture and also the combination of both.  It makes for a much more profitable medium from a creative perspective.  As a side note: note how drab and uncomplimentary the lighting is in this photo.  It’s okay, but I think it could have given better contrast and definition to the shapes if it was more effectively done.  The artist didn’t make the photograph.

This Old House by HalTenny

What makes it a ruined house?  First off, there’s no roof.  That alone will do it.  But what makes you think there’s no “roof”?  Because you can see the sky and treetops in the background above the structure?  And what makes it a house?  Is it the doorways, windows and balcony?  But those things were created by HalTenny and not the program’s algorithms.  The doorway was invented when the artist put a door in it.  Same with the windows and the balcony.  They came into existence when the artist changed the context of the original fractal shape by filling a square hole with window shutters or putting a railing on a ledge to make it a balcony.  The sunlight shining in highlights the relief of the “walls” as well as the holes in the “walls” which are now instinctively assumed to be walls even though, if you look carefully, the “walls” have no additional photo imagery to them and the “wall effect” is a by-product of the transformed context that the other elements produced.  I think this may be the best example of the creative artistry that 3D fractal imagery makes possible above and beyond what the fractal imagery has produced.  This is weirder than that old house on the hill in Hitchcock’s classic movie, Psycho.


The Big Tower by HalTenny

I can’t spot a single photo inclusion here.  The choice of fractal imagery is so good that it needs nothing else to make it interesting.  The architectural details are quite amazing.  The patterns and structures are both industrial as well as decorative; a kind of Star Wars Art Deco theme.  Lighting and surface texture give the impression of size, substance and allows for good contrast of structural design details.  I think this was the first one that caught my eye on HalTenny’s gallery.  My tour went from garbage to grandeur with one thumbnail click.

3D fractals have some unique properties

It’s like a photographer’s studio, a 3D fractal program.  The photographer doesn’t create the face in the portrait or it’s expression, they capture it.  In the same way the 3D fractal artist doesn’t create the imagery drawn by the parameter settings, they merely capture that too.  However, the lighting, focus, depth of field, composition, background and other props are entirely at the discretion and control of the photographer and it’s these things that make for a great photographic portrait instead of a passport picture.

3D fractal programs contain elements, like lighting effects, that have no equivalent in the 2D fractal variety.  As a result, an artist like HalTenny has the potential to exert some degree of creative control over their fractal artwork that 2D practitioners don’t.  3D fractals work a little differently as a medium; they allow for hand-directed involvement which in turn makes personal creative expression possible in a way that doesn’t exist in 2D programs or especially genetic art programs like Kandid which are one-click wonders.

Creative Effect

Generally, fractal artists are like Mr. Bean when it comes to touching up or adjusting a work of art: a series of small, ever-increasing disasters. They generally degrade fractal art instead of complimenting it.  I’d  love to show some of the colossal artistic disasters other fractal artists have committed over the years by layering in photographic imagery of their pets, friends and flowers.  Suffice it say that having it turn out well artistically is a lot harder than it looks.  In the 3D realm it’s probably even more difficult.

Alien Tree Incubators by HalTenny

A fine example of the less is more rule of thumb.  There’s plenty of room here for more foliage, birds, wolves, water and majestic cloud filled skies but HalTenny wisely resisted.  Furthermore, the fractal shapes, although somewhat interesting in their uniqueness, are transformed into functioning technology with the mere addition of a small tree.  The fractal imagery is now doing something and suddenly has a purpose.  The lighting further suggests the outdoors and makes the smooth pillars look like some natural southwest U.S. eroded sandstone feature.  So much from so little and it’s all from HalTenny’s inspired imagination.  No one hijacking his computer and clicking away on buttons  would have produced this scene in a million years.  Have you ever seen it done better than this?

Most of the ones I showed in the lighting category are examples of photo inclusion creativity, but I put this one in a separate section because, although the lighting is also important, the photo includes are the major creative effect and they’ve been done so tastefully and effectively.  If the scene was overgrown with foliage and animals it wouldn’t make the same sense that it does with just three trees in just three incubators.  The fractals are growing the trees rather than the trees sprouting on their own in three fractal pots.  This image has a lot of thought in it.  And machines don’t think.  It must have been the artist.


Sphere in Hiding by HalTenny

I think HalTenny just liked the way the reflective ball fit into the picture and wasn’t aware of the profound irony taking place here.  The ball is the center of the tunnel composition and we look into it.  But remember, the ball is reflective, it’s a mirror.  Shouldn’t we see ourselves looking at it or someone pointing a camera at it to take the picture?  We are looking backwards in the center of the image, not forwards as the composition suggests by the rounded “roots” which form a tunnel or passageway.  The distant horizon in the ball and the warm, golden glow are not ahead, they’re behind us. This is an image that M.C. Escher fans would appreciate.  I’m not sure HalTenny intended this, but then I’m also not sure Leonardo intended the Mona Lisa’s “smile” to be the main feature of her portrait.

Eye for Composition

HalTenny’s images have a familiar composition to them which works well.  It’s generally what in portraiture is called a three-quarter view, the head turned 45 degrees away from the viewer.  This one below has similarities but is much more than just such a simple view.  As far as I can tell, there are no photographic additions here and image is just an interesting 3d fractal structure enhanced by the artist’s careful lighting.

Underground Railroad by HalTenny

The “roadway” or “railway” and it’s accompanying “walkway” or “windowed enclosure”, all in the right foreground, falls forward towards us showing it’s rich details and “private” view.  It then flows off like a snake and blends into the distance showing us it’s faraway, distant, blurred, view.  It’s like one of those alway interesting photos of a road disappearing off into the distance but starting off in the foreground in crisp focus like we could step out onto it with our own feet.  The contrast between the two perspectives is an effective artistic theme.  HalTenny’s has the added dimension of a more interesting curving composition that following good design principles moves us to the outer third of the image and then back following the flowing road up into the top third.  A combination of vertical and horizontal thirds.  What it comes down to is it looks good and gives a balanced, full use of the image space.

This is just as hard to do with photography because in fractal art you have to search out and find such compositions, you can’t make them.  Photographers capture great landscape scenery, they can’t arrange hills and trees like props in a studio.  In the same way, a fractal artist like HalTenny has to do a lot of legwork to find a scene like this.  He also has to recognize it in the rough when browsing around in the program.  I think that’s why most artists miss things like this, they pass them by.

Painting with Light

An interesting note on the the “extended creativity” of the lighting: note the big structure in the left fore and mid-ground.  It’s the train tracks and windows with the brightly lit floor area behind it.  In particular, notice the pattern of the shadows and how it creates the impression of a floor space and internal “office” or “public building” area.  The fractal structures created by the parameters of the algorithms drew the windows (and everything else) but the shadows, which have such a transforming effect, were drawn by the lighting.  And the lighting was “drawn” or directed and placed by the artist and not the fractal algorithms.  Here we have an instance where the fractal artist, algorithmic artist, is actually able to draw or create a pattern in the image through their own direct control.  The shadows could be moved by the artist by moving the location of the light source and it’s characteristics (ie. sharp or dull light).

If it seems like a trivial point, then you haven’t grasped the significance of fractal art’s mechanical, automatic origins.  I suspect very few do.  HalTenny “painted” that shadow which forms the central focus of the this image.  3D fractal programs like the Mandelbulb 3D have this unique capacity to allow the fractal artist to actually interact with the image in a meaningful way which is not possible in 2D fractal imagery where “lighting” is not a part of the medium.

Look at how lighting changes the appearance and mood of a common architectural scene:

Giovanni Battista Piranesi interior of the church of our lady of the angels called the charterhouse which was once the… (mid 1700s)


Giovanni Battista Piranesi interior view of the basilica of st peter in the vatican (mid 1700s)

Someone switched off the lights and let the natural light take over.  It has a strange, post-apocalyptic feel to it.  I guess, back in the 1700s, these sorts of large buildings didn’t have interior lighting when they were merely open for the tourists and had nothing important going on in them.  On the other hand, why would an artist sketch the interior of such an impressive building as if it were a ruin?  I guess he just liked the effect of the big, indoor cave which natural lighting gives.  We’ve all seen photos, paintings and drawings of great cathedrals, but have you ever seen one like this?  Piranesi didn’t make the architecture but he did capture the unique lighting effect which makes this otherwise commonplace engraving exciting.  That’s the artistry, the creative effect.  In the same way, the 3D fractal artist doesn’t draw the fractal structures but they do place the lighting sources and adjust their characteristics which in turn can make a commonplace set of parameters –exciting.

Back to the topic of composition: The glass ball image mentioned previously has a nice composition to it as well but is not as complex and subtle as the Underground Railroad.  There’s some blurring, it appears, in the Sphere in Hiding around the sides to focus the viewer’s mind on the parts that are not blurred and to prevent them from being distracted by irrelevant details on the periphery.  I think that’s another hand-made touch that he’s added but I think bright lighting and the hazy, volumetric fog can also produce that without extra editing.  As all fractal artists know, composition, or, “framing up” can be done well or poorly but the doing is entirely the work of the artist’s ability and not something generated by the program.  I’ve often found that my own “random zooms” can produce more interesting compositions that I can myself when deliberately trying to do so.  It’s one of the big challenges and creative edges photographers can have in their medium.

What else to say?

Well.  Looks like I learned something about fractal art.  When it comes to art you should always listen to your gut.  I had this gut feeling while browsing HalTenny’s gallery that there was an extra factor in the fractal art equation working here that I hadn’t been aware of before.  “What’s he doing differently?  And why can’t the rest copy it like they have everything else he’s done?” (Sorry, but didn’t HalTenny introduce us all to the big copper pipe, brewery, onion-shaped structures that went viral in fractal land a few years ago?)

It’s only in the 3D variety of fractal art that this level of personal involvement is possible, but who cares about any other kind of fractal art nowadays?

Kandid beats Apophysis, Chaotica and JWildfire with millions of colors tied behind its back!!!

The purpose of this posting is to show you that an old, point and click program operating in grayscale can be more creative and artistically profitable to use than a cutting-edge fractal flame renderer like Chaotica or JWildfire.  Should you happen to agree with that conclusion, the question then arises: “Why is there so much more interest in a program like Chaotica and JWildfire among fractal artists than there is in one like Kandid?”

Hands up everyone who’s ever used Kandid

Nobody’s even heard of Kandid except for me.  Kandid is a java-based genetic art program from 2002 that features several kinds of algorithms including an Iterated Function System Affine Transformation; Voronoi Diagram; Cellular Automata and a bunch of other things.  By far my favorite is the IFS Affine Transformation in Grayscale mode.  It can operate in color modes but the results are always awful.  Kandid’s Sourceforge site.

Most fractal artists work with “advanced” programs that require them to make most of the creative decisions and which leads to a creative process that revolves around their guidance and direction and therefore produces work that is largely an expression of them.  This is micro-managing the algorithms and really interferes with mechanical creativity.  The more you’re involved in the decision making process the more you’re to blame for the results of it.

Why do they do it?

Only deliberate, “intelligent” control can make fractal algorithms produce consistently themed imagery.  I think the tastes of fractal artists have become so stylized over the years that only conventional themes interest them anymore because only those things attract the attention of their peers.  I would characterize the fractal art world as a craft community where technique and refinement rather than the iconoclastic attitude of an art community is the driving force behind new works.  Fractal art is now oriented around fractal artists rather than fractals.  It’s a social scene.  But I think most art groups eventually evolve into that, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The Art Gallery of Doctor Moreau

Kandid is a genetic art program and makes new things in an entirely different way.  There is no artist needed or even any way for one to get involved.  It’s a purely mechanical process with the exception of selecting pairs of images to “breed”.  Can you call yourself an artist when all you do is check off two pictures and then watch them “breed”?  I don’t really see these things as my artwork or identify with them personally because they’re entirely the result of Kandid’s automatic gene shuffling and random mutation.  In a farming context, my role would be described as that of a breeder.  Any personal resemblance between me and my horses would be absurd.

~ Click on images to view the larger size version ~

More fractal than the coastline of Britain or a Sierpinski corn-flake!

Look closely at each image and you will see that every sub-unit is actually a copy of each large scale image.  Sometimes the smaller particles are flipped or rotated, but they are all self-similar on every scale.  I never noticed it at first until I stumbled across some really obvious examples.  The image just above is a good depiction of self-similarity.  Note the shape of the cloud in the background of the main image and then note how each of the small floating “puffs” are identical but scaled down to the point that they’ve become mini-thumbnails.  Some are flipped left to right, but each small one contains all the elements of the large one that forms the entire picture.  Recursive as well as self-similar, these images are about as fractal as fractal art can get.  And 100% mechanically made!  No “artist” required.  The program will entertain you.

Screenshot of all there is to Kandid: a bunch of breeding cells. Note the top right and bottom left cells marked with green triangles are the parents hand chosen by the user for breeding and the rest are the children.  You click the top-left button on the toolbar and the children cells change.  Change your parental pair selection or click again.  That’s all there is to it.


The only parameter settings that there are. I don’t know what they mean, but adjusting them does change the results somewhat.  I think the limit for mutation is 1.00.  I tried 9.99 but it stopped me.


Kandid conveniently makes available every image you’ve saved for re-breeding later. It displays the corresponding image file for each  accompanying chromosome file containing the genetic parameters that define the image’s graphical characteristics.  You don’t actually breed the images, you breed the parameters.  This is generally how most genetic programming works, I would guess.


Main opening screen for Kandid. The options are IFS (top row) Cellular Automata (next row down), then Voronoi Diagrams and then a bunch that I’ve never found very useful like L-systems and something that allows for POV ray export and things like that.  Ironically, there’s a Flame Fractal function but it’s very primitive although maybe it wasn’t back in 2002 (second row from bottom).

The Question…

“Why is there so much more interest in a program like Chaotica and JWildfire among fractal artists than there is in one like Kandid?”

I think what makes the average fractal artist tick is an interest in fractal software development.  They like artwork that epitomizes and demonstrates cutting edge rendering.  This is not really an art thing, it’s more of a medium thing.  Imagine a photography category that focuses and revolves around the latest equipment and specialized techniques.  Their photo galleries would be full of very similar subject matter that highlighted differences in the equipment and techniques used.  It would be labeled a photography tweaking group.  Would they have eccentric subject matter and themes? or much “retro” black and white photography?  No, they would use standardized themes because that would make for easier comparison with current artwork and techniques.

In the fractal art world over the last two decades we’ve improved the rendering but we haven’t improved the subject matter and there’s no point in improving the rendering unless it’s got a subject worth rendering.  The 3D fractal innovation of the last few years was the sole exception.  The 3D fractal revolution brought both an improvement in rendering as well as an improvement in subject matter.  It was “3D imagery” (voxels) but it was also interesting 3D imagery.  All of a sudden you had a quantum leap in creativity in the themes of fractal places and fractal landscapes.  It was much more than a tweak.  Artists I’d never been very interested in before suddenly started adding exciting stuff to their online galleries.  Something happened to them? or something happened to their software?

Is JWildfire any better than Chaotica?

Chaotica has added some nifty new rendering techniques to the world of flame fractals, but with the exception of a few interesting works, there is little to take note of.  JWildfire is another new flame renderer; perhaps the Great Leap Forward in flame fractals that I’ve been expecting is going to occur with that program’s user group?  Just like Chaotica, however, it’s produced a handful of cool looking artworks but real creative innovation in the area of flame fractals hasn’t been affected much by its advances in rendering.  The genre of flame fractals remains a place of ever increasing rendering refinement but stagnant artistic expression.

Man, that sounds grim.  Here, let’s take a look at some of the better, new and improved flame fractals from JWildfire and forget about all that other stuff.  These works are truly exceptional.

~Click on images to view full-size on the original site~

Flame ett808 by blenqui (DeviantArt)

Blenqui is no stranger to making artwork that is the exception to the rule.  This here is an example of the “clockworks” style of flame fractals that consists of circular excitement.  Note the highly irregular and unmechanical arrangement of elements.  Once, again, as I pointed out in my last posting, one of the core strengths of flame fractals is their unpatterned patterns.  Fractals can be frustratingly regular but flame fractals usually are not.  A lot of people make clockwork images like this but the depth of the imagery and “painterly-ness” to it sets it apart from the typical ones.  (Incidently, compare with Jared Tarbell’s Bubble Chamber applet.)

Fracrobats by kofferwortgraphics (DeviantArt)

You ought to read the statement on this guy’s DeviantArt page that explains why he abandoned the place.  It’s interesting that his work also stands out as some of the better stuff.  The fractal art world is infected with the usual social dysfunctionalisms that plague every interactive venue in the online world.  Once again, the rich rendering ability of the program is used well to enhance the subject of the image rather than prop up the subject of the image.  The classic mandelbrot patterns become a theme within a larger them of “circles in straight lines.”  I think I like this one because of it’s strong design qualities; geometric but not repetitive.

Endless Nightmare by thargor6 (DeviantArt)

Thargor, if I’ve got this right, is the author of JWildfire as well as one of it’s most prolific and creative users.  This image features one of its new “hard” flame rendering methods that introduces a solid look to what was hitherto wispy and translucent.  Furthermore, it expresses a dark, disturbing sensation, as the title, Endless Nightmare, suggests, of something unpleasant that you can’t escape from.  It’s interesting that the author of the program, undoubtedly a highly skilled, technical person, also has such a feel for artistic expression.  But maybe that’s what inspires and motivates him to keep developing the program; he’s trying to produce a more creative program.  I always felt that when using programs like Sterling and Tierazon, an awful lot of the artistic style in the appearance of their images was a direct product of the author, Stephen Ferguson’s own artistic imagination which went into designing the rendering methods.

They don’t have DeviantArt group?

I found it a little harder to locate the better grade, higher-shelf JWildfire fractals than I did with Chaotica.  Chaotica seems to have a more organized (as well as more mobilized) user base on Deviant Art.  Below are two screenshots of Deviant Art searches on the string:  “JWildfire flame fractal”.  We all know that there’s a lot of uploads on Deviant Art and you can’t judge a software category by what is found in the general recent upload feeds, but it does show you what the average user typically makes and the influence the program itself has on them.  Or is it just the influence the average user has on the program results?  directing the highly talented software in cliche directions instead of experimenting with the full range of capability that the programmer has given it?  I should point out also that JWildfire does a lot of other things than render flame fractals so, unlike Chaotica, a unified user group for JWildfire would contain a wider range of fractal imagery types than just flames.  JWildfire users don’t all specialize in flame fractals.  But for those who do, this is what you typically see:

DeviantArt search results for “JWildfire flame fractal”


DeviantArt search results for “JWildfire flame fractal”

But then I found these…

Blue invasion by luisbc (DeviantArt)

I thought Chaotica users were into Cloudscapes but it seems to be a common theme among all “Flamers”.  Although I think the cloudscape theme is a little limited artistically this one is much more energetic than most and quite captivating in detail as well as flow and movement.  It’s not the usual swirling toilet bowl class so often seen, but is more like the sky from one of the great landscape painters.  There’s a lot of landscape paintings that feature a huge, panoramic sky so I guess it’s natural for flamers to pursue such a theme as this.  This could easily be an underwater scene as much as a sky but works well I suppose either way.  The rendering almost produces a hybrid, thick-air, thin-water medium.

Space lava by ElenaLight (DeviantArt)

One difference I noticed between JWildfire works and ones by Chaotica, was a greater talent for astronomy themes.  Or perhaps ElenaLight is just more talented at getting the program to create this sort of space imagery?  If you click on this one and view the full-size, it’s even more impressive as the star patterns made by the little points of light look extremely realistic and give this “synthetic” work a profoundly natural quality.  This is the sort of “higher development” in flame fractals I’ve been hoping for.  This image stands alone as something worth looking at and not merely “a good example” of JWildfire.

Borealis by luisbc

Flames in space?  I was really shocked when I found this one because it was so subtle and yet intense.  The colors are beautiful but they’re also just part of the team of elements that all work together to make this simple flame a real hit.  Luis’ gallery has a lot of these kinds of images and just like ChaosFissure with Chaotica, he gets a little obsessed with the theme but maybe that’s what you have to do if you want to make a few really good ones.  I’d like to say a whole bunch of great things about this image but apart from checking out the starry details in the fullsize version, words seem rather inappropriate when talking about artwork like this which speaks so well for itself.  Why is it so much better than all the other wispy “flames in space” out there?  Good art is a lot harder to explain than good rendering.

Texture by luisbc

This thing’s been up for a year and a half and yet only one comment on DeviantArt:

SkyPotatoFire Jul 9, 2016

The title of the work is longer than the comment… but that’s DeviantArt for you.

You will recognize immediately a Frank Frazetta style to this one, just as many Chaotica fractals have a Rembrandt style to them.  Frank Frazetta painted fantasy themes and gave them a blotchy style instead of a brushy style.  It was a departure from what most fantasy painters tried to do, which was make their works look more like traditional paintings.  Frazetta tried to make them look better.

So what is this image? Sky? Space? Underwater?  I think Luis just called it a texture because it has that elusive quality that is best described by not attempting to describe it.  Or did Luis not appreciate his own work as much as I do?  I think it’s a nighttime vision or dreamscape.  That’s the bubble-ish quality and the dark pinnacle in the lower middle is a small but steep rocky place where contemplation occurs and visionary light springs forth.  Or how about “Genie from the bottle”?

Compare it with this famous painting by Turner:

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis by JWM Turner, 1843

Turner really goes overboard with his title, doesn’t he?  There’s enough words there for three paintings and a haiku poem to follow.  A commenter here once criticized “suggestive titles” as tools to prop up meaningless art.  Maybe he’d never heard of Turner? (or anything else).  Flame fractals, like much of algorithmic art carries on the long established category of abstract expressionism of which not all of it is so abstract, as is the case here with Turner’s visionary smudge.  It’s interesting how old art themes can reappear decades or even centuries later.

So, is JWildfire any better than Chaotica, or what?

Overall, I’d say the two programs are tools of equal creative power for flame fractal users (flamers).  But just as I concluded in my Chaotica posting, the genre of flame fractals is still a lean place for visual creativity even if it is becoming a richer place for rendering options.  Noteworthy artwork can still be made with programs like this, as is the case with the examples I’ve reviewed here.  And more examples will be made in the future, I’m sure, but for the average user, flame fractal algorithms are still just something to play with and not the algorithmic world to explore and make discoveries in like other fractal algorithms, such as the 3D variety, are.

In my next posting I will show you what a really creative program can do for you without all the fancy, “cutting-edge” rendering toys.  If you want me to show you something better and not just complain about what everyone else is doing (or can’t do), my next posting I believe will do that.

Is that all there is to Chaotica?

Not too long ago, before the advent of the Mandelbox and Mandelbulb 3D fractals, there were basically two types of fractals and two types of fractal artists: plain fractals and flame fractals. Flame fractals were a very interesting new development because they had a whole new look. They were light, gaseous and wispy while the traditional fractals were solid, lumpy and rigidly geometric. Although light and refreshing to look at, flame fractals suffered from something.  They had an achille’s heel of sorts: they lacked variety. Flame fractal imagery tended to be little more than variations on a narrow theme. That theme being “flamy-looking things”.

Apophysis, the main flame fractal program, received some improvements that spiced things up a bit and soon bubbles, clock gears and a rather promising “oil painting” look emerged.  But for me the arrival of Chaotica seemed to be the quantum leap for flame fractals that I was expecting.  And the things that were being made with it initially confirmed that a new era in flame fractal creativity was beginning.

Flame fractals seemed to be less rigidly ordered than the traditional fractals and that lead to imagery that was less rigidly geometric and mechanical.  If only they could somehow be empowered to draw something more substantial and visually fertile than just flames and glowing gas.  I had hoped Chaotica would do just that and add the visual brain that flame fractals seemed to be missing and which regular fractals always seemed to possess.

But after all these years the waiting is up and it’s time to ask the question: Is that all there is to Chaotica?

First off, not everything made with Chaotica is bad or even mediocre.  In my last post I reviewed a Chaotica artwork that I liked, by Platinus, and it was an exception to the rule.  There is some good work made with Chaotica but there just isn’t very much and it hasn’t really changed the flame fractal category very much in the way I hoped it would.  If anything, Chaotica has just moved flame fractals into a new set of wheel ruts; something new users probably don’t realize because the initial “wow-factor” which flame fractals have always possessed detaches them somewhat from reality for a while.  The potential of flame fractals looks endless, at first.

I’m going to review what I think are the best examples of Chaotica I can find.  I could easily review bad or mediocre examples but what interests me, and has always interested me, is the potential of Chaotica, how far it can reach, not what the average user does with it.  I think that’s probably the perspective of most readers, too.  Chaotica’s arm has turned out to be a lot shorter than I expected.

On that note…

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

The first stop is the Chaoticafractals group on Deviant Art:

Chaoticafractals group description on Deviant Art

The description says, “This group was created to showcase high quality still renders and animation created or rendered in Chaotica”.  Sounds like the best place to get an idea of what Chaotica can do and what its best users are making.  “Join us in pushing the limits of fractal art!

I went through the whole “Featured” section of their gallery and chose what I thought were good examples of “the reach” of Chaotica’s “arm”.  As a side note, it’s interesting that the Chaotica image I reviewed in my last posting is not found in this featured section.

Lightspeed by katdesignstudio

As with most Chaotica images, one really needs to click on the image to view it full-size on the original site because of the rich detail they almost all contain.  The forte of Chaotica, like most flame fractals, is in the details of the exquisite graphical rendering.  Details in Chaotica are what brushstrokes are in oil painting.  A splotch, smudge, smear or even a thin line when viewed in a thumbnail, like in the the one here above, often is discovered to be a work of art in its own right when viewed close up.

Even still, how about this image?  Nice color.  Intriguing astrophotography like subject and yet rendered in oil paints in the style of Rembrandt.  You see what I mean about the proverbial “wow-factor” with flame fractals?  Chaotica must have added some of Rembrandt’s own genetic code to their program.  It’s a powerful thing.

Lightspeed by katdesignstudio (detail)

It reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  It captures the various lights of nighttime and records their movements at the same time.  You see, I’m not saying Chaotica fractals are bad.  I’m just saying that they excel at a very narrow range of things and this one is probably the best example of that excellence.  I like this image.  I’m not being sarcastic.

I scroll down a few more page lengths in Chaoticafractals’ Featured gallery, past more than just a few “smudg-isms” and this catches my eye:

In The End by LukasFractalizator (DeviantArt)

Nothing gets more panoramic than that!  I can feel the wind and the majestic awesomeness of that churning sky of energy.  I like the coloring because its so subdued and yet the effect of windswept panorama and thunderous sky-kingdom is heightened rather than weakened.  Just goes to show what can be done with well chosen palette.  By the way, I think the ground is actually a frozen lake blown bare by the wind.  Probably that storm we see moving off in the distance with a chilling cold front.  This reminds me of a few scenes in the movie, Gone with the Wind.

Lukas seems to focus on landscapes which I personally think is smart because fractal imagery lends itself that way.  And like Kat above, his work here is extremely Chaotica-ish and distinctive of the style of work the program produces.

Back to scrollin’ down the road…

Ring of Red by ChaosFissure

You know, after looking at this one you might seriously question my question, Is that all there is to Chaotica?  Pretty freaky eh?  To be honest, this is the sort of quantum leap in flame fractal graphics I’ve been hoping for.  Does this look anything like a “flame fractal”?  Check out the full-size, too, the details of the details are paintings in paintings.  The coloring is really pretty good, too.  In fact, a different palette might make this image much less interesting.  It’s got that avant-garde science fiction feel to it.  Nice strong composition as well.  Most Chaotica images are like that because I think the program offers a lot more variation in image shapes and arrangements than standard fractal imagery does, which, as I mentioned above, is much more rigid and less free flowing than flame fractal imagery usually is.

Portrait of the Artist with Sunflowers by tatasz (DeviantArt)

Truly this is a “flameless” flame fractal.  Beautiful color.  And not the usual eye-candy kind of beautiful color, either.  Very subtle and sophisticated.  Note in particular that no two dots are the same.  That’s what I like about the flame algorithms, they don’t have to have that “spirograph” rigidity although they are capable of doing that as well if the artist wants that sort of symmetrical, patterned effect.  Images like this make it hard to say anything bad about Chaotica.

This next one doesn’t make it any easier…

Runic Neutralization by ChaosFissure (DeviantArt)

The imagery here is composed of some hybrid substance.  It’s flame-like but something more than that.  The blue, watery “sword” on the right has the appearance of gushing liquid and yet the form of something more rigid and coherent like electricity or a magnetic force.  I don’t think such an image could be made in any other program.  I like the choice of title, too, because the imagery suggests something Norse or Germanic and Wagnerian.  I tried to get a wide range of artists for this but I had to let my eyes be the judge and so there’s another one by Chaosfissure.

And another…

Running the River by ChaosFissure

I chose this one because of the incredible “painterly” style it has.  Honestly, can you really believe this wasn’t painted by hand instead of being rendered on a computer?  It has a rough, abraided look to the canvas that can be achieved with something like a rough rag but you’ve got to be careful not to merely smudge the paint.  There’s none of the mechanical look of fractal art here and if you bought a print of this and hung it in your living room, visitors would never suspect it was computer art.  You might even forget after a while.

Here’s a link to ChaosFissure’s DeviantArt gallery if you haven’t gone there already.

Cherry Cola Falls by FarDareisMai

Once again a flameless flame fractal.  Another great title, too.  I find most titles for fractal art are rather uninspiring and ill fitting, but this one effervesces with the imagery.  As always, click on it to see the rich details.  Here’s an example of rich detail; my favorite from the lower left corner:

Cherry Cola Falls by FarDareisMai -detail

This reminds me of the pattern-piling type of imagery that Samuel Monnier did in Ultra Fractal.  One difference here though, and a good example of the difference between regular and flame fractals, and that’s the natural disorderliness and lack of rigidity to the imagery.  This image, like ChaosFissure’s above, have the appearance of human rather than mechanical origin.  I’m sure that’s one of the main features that draws artists to flame fractals and Chaotica.  They probably feel they are making a whole new category of fractal art, and even digital art for that matter.

And they are.  Flame fractals are still a separate and unique category because the imagery they make is sufficiently distinct to make such a separation relevant and practical.

Ironically, the great examples I’ve reviewed and commented on here show both the strength as well as the weakness of Chaotica.  The strength is easy to see: amazing “painterly” rendering with rich, stunning detail.  It’s a hallmark of Chaotica, such unmechanical computer art.

The weakness is simply the limitation of such rich rendering and it’s been the perennial problem in flame fractals from the the start.  Every awesome image in Chaotica is the last of its kind because it’s perfect and there’s nothing else to be done.  The rest all all just variations on that theme.  Once it’s been done well a single time, there’s not much room for innovation.  Take a look at these zoomed out screenshots of the Chaoticafractals Featured gallery.  It will give you a broader perspective on the category than you will get from just looking at the best examples.

Chaoticafractals Featured Gallery on Deviant Art

Chaoticafractals Featured Gallery on Deviant Art

I think you can see how similar most of the images are.  And this group is not a general “recent uploads” feed that is often crammed full of a lot of mediocre work.  This is the better stuff made with Chaotica.  The artistry primarily revolves around the rendering effects and rarely do any of the new works contain subject matter that is unique or expressive.

And the subject matter or theme of the imagery that you’ll mostly see is that of “melodrama”.  Big explosive scenes and rumbling storm clouds.  Or weird splashing paint effects.  I find myself experiencing the same few handful of emotions when viewing these images.

They’re awesome but…

The examples I’ve reviewed here are good and they compliment the genre of fractal art.  I wouldn’t have chosen them if they weren’t worth looking at and paying attention to.  But if you browse around the personal galleries of many of these artists you’ll mainly see a lot of variations on the same themes.  This isn’t because the artists are unimaginative or uncreative; it’s just that there’s still a limit to what anyone can do with flame fractals even when they’re hooked up to such a powerful rendering machine as Chaotica.  How many creative things can you do with this rich but still narrow medium?  It’s a big challenge artistically to work with flame fractals and come up with something fresh and novel.  The examples I’ve shown here are proof that it can be done, but that’s about all there is.  These artists are proof of how hard flame fractals are as a category of fractal art to work in.  I had hoped Chaotica would change that but it hasn’t.

Is there anything new in fractal art today?

I want to show you two fractal images I made years ago in Sterling v17.  I think they fit in well with the dominant themes in Chaotica artwork of: rich color; highly detailed, textured imagery; and wild, irregular, liquid flowing shapes and structures.

Sterling is a one-layer fractal program from 1999 but I think it’s still more creative overall than Chaotica is today.  But fractal art today revolves around rendering and not creativity because that’s what seems to make most fractal artists tick; that’s the itch they like to scratch, so to speak.  Great works of rendering will never be important or admired for very long because rendering technology keeps getting better and making the older stuff look weak.  Chaotica is a great rendering machine but it’s going to need some other creative engine than flame fractals if it’s ever going to produce artwork has any lasting merit.  But I’m sure anyone can still have a lot of fun with it.

Carved wood “flame fractal” by Roger Cook, 2006  at

The sudden coincidence of art and fractals: a review of recent artworks

~ Click on images to view full-size on original site ~

boxFoldp2V3 eee2 by mclarekin (Fractalforums)

I’d given up blogging about fractal art and the sight of this image reinspired me.  It was the art, not the fractals.  It’s all geometry and nothing but geometry and yet there’s nothing square about it.  I don’t think mclarekin was trying to make anything great or revive my jaded sensibilities, so here is a fine example of what I love about fractal art: we often don’t know what we’ve captured.  We’re just as capable of underestimating its value as overestimating it.  “Making” fractal art is the first step in discovering it.  That’s how it works.  There are no artists.  Artists are the first members of the audience.

Everything in this image is working and active.  The whole thing’s alive.  It’s a symphony of color, shape and pattern.  There is nothing real and yet there is nothing abstract either.  Fractals are the twilight zone of art.

This next one is a little harder to explain…

(MB3D) ABox M-set Image Thread 4 by Anon (Fractalforums)

You’ve heard of Magic Realism in literature?  This is magic archeology.  The top one is a rare gold crown from the Incas which magically reassembles itself in a way which science has been unable to explain.  Note the teeth in the little faces which represent the gods that were believed to consume the sacrificial victims.  The bottom image looks like a tomb containing gold objects but is really a natural metallic crystalline growth that is hundreds of millions of years old and discovered in a silver mine.   Like I said, in fractal art not even the artist realizes what they’ve found.  It has to be taken to an expert who can properly assess its value and identify its origin.

We now leave Kansas and arrive in Oz…

Dmap Rr558 by blenqui (DeviantArt)

If I told you that this was a computer generated visualization of the standing wave structure of a hybridized Uranium 238 atom, would you be more interested or less?  This is what blenqui has created, although, like the others above, the artist is not fully aware of that yet.  Blenqui is one of the very few original artists in the fractal world.  If you don’t like his work, or at least find his work interesting, then you don’t really like fractal art, you only like fractals.

There a regions, states, phases and cross-sections to this image.  One travels and studies it; climbs and accesses it.  To speak of “appreciation” and “viewing” is to have seen it only in a postcard.  It’s an experience and you should have the expression and heart rate of someone who’s just gotten off a roller coaster when you speak of it, if you were really there yourself.

Here’s another…

Dmap nu216 by blenqui (DeviantArt)

Hmmn… it actually resembles one of those stand-up spinning rides that press you  against the outside wall with centrifugal force in which you can lift up your legs and not fall down.  The creativity in fractal art is self-propagating.

Note the fancy monochome world on the “tread of the tire” and compare it with the cellular cross-section style  of imagery on the “sidewalls”.  The color is retro and I believe the original upload image was a png (this is a jpeg) and it’s quite appropriate for the display of such high contrast imagery.  Of course, the two sets of imagery are created by the same, single structure which is merely displayed in two different planes (horizontal, vertical) and yet one plane gives birth to a nighttime scene of a desolate lake surrounded by glowing white trees while the other resembles a biology diagram of a hollow stemmed plant with large xylem tubes surrounded by smaller, phloem tubes.  How could anyone fully realize what this was when it was first picked up off the virtual ground?

Of Yonder by Platinus (DeviantArt)

You really need to click on this one and view it full-size.  It’s surreal.  The empty horizons and the convoluted worm hole stairwells in the “hills”.  The Underworlds are everywhere.  Not a single curved line that I can see and yet it’s a natural landscape.  Could even be Kansas on a surreal day.  Simple geometry but complex effect.  Sounds very fractal.

MyRohypnol by Wajakaa (DeviantArt)

I’m guessing this was made with Fractal Explorer or some other program of similar vintage.  One of the biggest mistakes in computer art is equating technological progress and development with better art.  More advanced fractal software simply makes more advance fractal graphics not necessarily more advanced art.  The wild comic book imagery of Wajakaa’s image here is a good example of that.

The lower regions by the memory by Wajakaa (DeviantArt)

Another visual amusement park ride.  The interplay between the overlapping patterns in these one-layer programs is often more sophisticated and more tasteful than the deliberate layering in multi-layered programs.  Fractal artists shouldn’t have too much say over what the image looks like.  Imagine how dull and predictable most natural landscapes would look if designed by a nature photographer.  In programs like Sterling or Tierazon, one can get lost for hours in these gritty and intense regions or crash scenes.

Thurfis by OttoMagusDigitalArt

How do we know this is “fractal”?  Or how about this question: How do we know this is “art”?  It’s easier to answer the art question.  Why is that?  Is it because “fractal” is actually a meaningless term?  Art on the other hand is a quality or attribute of the image and independent of the technical origins or pedigree of the imagery that forms it.

The colors are exquisite and the shapes multiply the effect.  Note the shadowing and how it accentuates the colored forms.  Made with Ultrafractal and possibly a rebuttal to my comment that multi-layering is usually second-rate to the mechanical single-layer processes.

Hexenfruit Stew by OttoMagusDigitalArt (DeviantArt)

This one really  needs to be viewed full-size to get the subtle texture effect.  I want to retitle this one: Thoughts Found in Ice.  Very creative use of realistic as well as abstract rendering effects.  Layering can easily produce that sort of hybridized style.  In fact, layering is almost a whole new creative process in which fractal formula renderings are just the raw material.  Does this image fit with anyone’s idea of fractal art?  It’s great to see something new and different and this is also good as well.

Here’s something much older:

The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art, Part 5: Artist or Symbiont?

Executive summary

The user does what the machine can’t do and the machine does what the user can’t do and together they make something.

Automatism explains how fractal imagery works and mutation explains how a fractal user works but only symbiosis explains how fractal “art” works. Automatism works at the local scale while mutationism works at the global. The two agents, the automaton and the mutator have complimentary but exclusive roles.

I am the Jacques Cousteau of Fractal Art

Introductory summary

This could be the conclusion: the nature of creativity in fractal art is a symbiosis between the artistic machine and the greedy, lazy, good-for-nothing, talent agent that rides on its back and steers it one way then another, grabs the art and signs its own name to it while it tells the senseless, bolt-brained machine to keep working, telling it again and again, “Remember, you’re nothing without me!

Automatons can be designed to allow for manual configuration by exposing their variable settings so that a user can interact with them.  This in turn gives rise to the role of the mutator; an intelligent guesser who takes the place of an automated, random guesser. The user uses the machine. But not to draw –with, but rather to draw -from. The user initiates the image-making process but doesn’t know what the outcome will be. This does not describe a conscious, deliberate act of creativity unless you’re willing to include guessing as a careful and deliberate thing. The user rides the machine and the machine carries the user wherever the machine can go. The machine can’t go everywhere. Its reach is limited to the sweep of its parameters. And so the nature of creativity in fractal art becomes clearer: not human; not conscious; not unlimited.

It’s all about explaining the nature of creativity in fractal art. Human expression does not explain it but automatism does. Fractal artwork doesn’t have the personal styles and the originality that we associate with artists and their artwork in the plastic arts because the automaton, and not the user, is the artist. Its multitude of users, unless they do some truly transformative editing by hand, merely reflect that singular creative power found in the autonomous graphical mechanism, the creative soul of the art form. The name of a fractal artist is anecdotal because fractal art is largely anonymous, ubiquitous and a shared domain.

If you haven’t read the first four parts, you don’t need to now.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Just as I described the actions of a fractal program user as mutation, I now use another biological term to describe the relationship between the user and the fractal program: Symbiosis. Like mutation, symbiosis works so well as a description that I almost believe it is the computational equivalent of the original biological concept. The working relationship between user and automaton is thoroughly symbiotic. In fact, the symbiosis is even stronger than that found anywhere in the natural world. Here is a dictionary definition:

symbiosis (noun)

  1. Biology: the intimate living together of two kinds of organisms, esp. if such association is of mutual advantage
  2. a similar relationship of mutual interdependence

Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The user does what the machine can’t do and the machine does what the user can’t do and together they make something.

But separated from each other… the user can’t draw or even imagine such creative scenes, and even if he could he’d get tired easily. Creative work is very intensive and exhausting even when it’s fun. Similarly, separated from the user, the program’s vast repertoire of imagery and graphical styles would remain in an eternal state of unlocked potential; undiscovered and unseen. Unlike the clown fish and the sea anemone who can still function on their own, the fractalist could not create art without the program and the program could be nothing more than a wandering, automated screensaver, fractalating senselessly to a strange, warped and very sparse audience.

Of the two, the fractalist needs the program more than the program needs him. But since fractal programs are designed to be dependent on fractalists to be initialized and activated, the impression most fractalists get is that the program can do nothing without them and waits for their directions and divine help to give it the breath of life and its daily bread. While it is in fact true that a fractal program can do nothing without user input, this is entirely because a fractal program is …programmed to do nothing without user input. The truth is, the automated graphical mechanisms that provide the creative power for computer automatism can be implemented in various ways of which the most common, but not the only method for fractal algorithms, is user controlled.

Mutual interdependence for what?

Perhaps my analogy of symbiosis is just a little too abstract and conceptual. Living organisms need to live: to eat; reproduce; and protect themselves from dangers; but a fractal program doesn’t need anything: it’s a machine, a lifeless, non-living thing. For what does it need a user?

An automated fractal machine doesn’t need a user to create imagery. But it might need the user to make “art”. Discerning the difference between any old kind of visible imagery and art kind is a matter of artistic sensibility –a complex mental impression. This is something a machine doesn’t have and never will have (although there is an interesting study into this). It’s up to the user to provide this “art-filtering” function if the goal is to produce art and to not just fill space. And that is the goal: to produce art. That’s the “what for” of my “for what?” question.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that an automated fractal program, which would essentially be a screensaver or “generative art” program; is not capable of producing “art” for the simple reason that recognizing such a category of imagery, and much more –programming that kind of recognition into a fractal program– is near impossible as it would require some revolutionary implementation of artificial intelligence to substitute for the human intelligence normally required for such artistic sensibility. Automatism creates imagery and lots of it, but harnessing that graphical talent for artistic purposes requires human judgment and intelligent selection. Automaton’s don’t even have eyes to see what they’re doing, so how can they recognize artistic merit even if they did happen produce something that had it?

Symbiosis, symbiotic, symbiont

In case you haven’t already deduced what the term symbiont means, a symbiont is a member of a symbiotic relationship; a relationship that exhibits symbiosis, or mutual interdependence. Sometimes symbiont refers to the weaker or more dependent partner in the relationship, so it works well for fractal art. Although, since both partners have exclusive roles, one can treat each of them as equally important since a successful outcome (ie. art) is wholly dependent on the contributions of both members. I won’t refer to fractal artists as parasites anymore in this posting. Or even as intestinal bacteria like the kind that allows cows to digest wood in their stomachs. Equal, but different; it’s that kind of thing.

The Tale of the Idiot Savant and the Clever Art Dealer

Once more, the chorus: The user does what the machine can’t do and the machine does what the user can’t do and together they make something.

A fractal program, or any autonomous graphical mechanism, is like an “idiot savant.” An idiot savant is someone who is super skilled and talented at just one thing and an idiot at everything else. For instance, an idiot savant might be someone regarded as mentally retarded and yet be able to solve complex arithmetic problems in fractions of a second. They’re a savant when it comes to complex arithmetic calculations but unable to feed themselves or function beyond the level of a very young child. An idiot savant exhibits an extreme imbalance and specialization of skills.

And so does a fractal program exhibit an extreme imbalance and specialization of skills: able to create vast panoramas of richly detailed imagery in fractions of a second and yet blind to what it looks like and totally unable to judge whether it’s an algorithmic masterpiece or an empty rendering window. All a fractal program needs to become a self-sufficient artist is a pair of eyes and a basic awareness of what looks good and what doesn’t.

Enter the fractalist who provides the missing eyes and the simple artistic sensibility that even the average person is capable of. Now the output of a fractal program can be scanned for art-bearing areas and mined with intelligent precision. And when it comes to parameter settings, the intelligent control of the user, which replaces the senseless dice-rolling of a random algorithm, responds to what it sees the current parameter settings are producing and adjusts them, moving, by the process of mutation, towards more viable results. The user provides a visual and intelligent feedback mechanism; a sort of “art sensor.”

This radically changes the creative process, but not by changing the source of the creativity, but by changing the order in which permutations of the variables are generated.  Rather than mutating the image randomly, the user does it intuitively, so that the next mutation is not completely out of left field, as a random one would be, but something different.  What do I mean by “intuitively”?  It’s guessing, really.  It’s a process of making smaller and smaller guesses as the user “feels” their way along looking for a configuration that might become something.  No one can reasonably claim to know what any parameter change is going to look like.  But smaller guess have a smaller range of possibilities.

Instead of going through millions of unappealing random permutations to get one decent looking piece of art, the fractalist can make propositions and guesses with an intelligence the machine is incapable of. The machine is incapable of such intelligent control and direction because, as I mentioned, it’s blind and has no conception of art; it has neither perception nor conception of art.

Global vs Local Scale

Nothing so powerfully clarifies the mutual interdependence and exclusivity in the roles of user and machine so well as the concept of global and local scales. The two artistic agents are perfectly separated in what they do and therefore wholly dependent on each other to complete the actions of the other. This is why I am so bold as to say that fractal “artists” are not the source of the creativity in fractal art: they can’t even touch the canvas, much less create anything in it. On the other hand, the program can’t adjust or configure itself: all changes to the image parameters are at the sole discretion of the user. There, in a nutshell, are the two scales and the two exclusive domains of the user and the machine; you probably missed them.  Alteration of the parameters (global effects) can’t be the work of the program; and creative expression in the imagery (local effects) can’t be the work of the user.

Picture World and Parameter World: The two domains of Global and Local [From]

To put it in even simpler terms: the user controls everything outside the frame and the autonomous graphical mechanism controls everything inside the frame. It makes the question of the user’s artistic expression pretty absurd and almost a non-starter. Whatever they can contribute artistically from the function of cropping an image is about all they can say they’ve “expressed” of themselves. It’s still something, I’ll admit, but just not very much when one compares it to what they’re cropping out: which is the great imagery the machine made inside of the crop marks. It’s not a skill that seems to easily distinguish users from each other and in that respect reinforces what I said when I previously referred to fractal art as a “shared domain”.

When users edit the imagery by hand, then they invade the local domain of the fractal algorithm and start to operate in the area of locally selective effects in addition to their regular, standard role at the global level with global effects. That’s why I said image editing holds enormous potential, as it introduces user-based creativity to the default fractal-based creativity, even if so far it is rarely a contribution of equal importance and significance, in terms of artistic merit, to that of the machine’s. Working inside the frame, the user mixes the mediums in fractal art: automatism with manualism (plastic arts).

So the automaton draws the pictures and the user alters their variables. The automaton operates exclusively inside the image and the user operates exclusively outside of it. The user makes global changes to the image. The global level of scale refers to actions that affect the entire image as a whole, as opposed to acting on individual parts of the image selectively. A global alteration affects all parts of the image equally; it alters the global conditions, not local ones.

The automaton on the other hand makes local changes to the image, which is merely to say the automaton constructs the image or paints it. This is just like how an artist, holding a paintbrush, selects a color from their palette and selectively applies it to a specific part of the image in a series of calculated actions. An example of a global alteration to the artist’s local domain would be to substitute paper for the cloth canvas or to limit the palette to a different set of colors, or give him a paint roller to paint with instead of paintbrush. Global changes affect the overall operation of the painter for which he has no control and do not effect what the painter chooses to paint in any specific part of the canvas.

“For which he has no control”. Although everything revolves around the automaton (our mechanical “painter”) the automaton is just as much a slave to the user as the user is to the automaton. The program can’t ignore configuration changes and do something else, just as the painter in my example can’t chose to paint on canvas when all he is given is paper. When you start to work with a fractal program you will soon get the feeling that you are in control and not being controlled. Only later on when you are fine tuning the machine and get frustrated with its inability to do something just slightly differently, like make something curved and circular instead of straight and square, or make something random instead of always regular; only then will you get the feeling of being controlled, restricted, frustrated, limited, etc…  stuck in the inescapable wheel ruts of parameter sweeps instead of roaming about freely.

Executive Conclusion

The user does what the machine can’t do and the machine does what the user can’t do and together they make something.

Another Conclusion

Well, that brings this 5-part series to an end.  That’s my view of the nature of creativity in fractal art.  I wish I had some great statement to make about the future of fractal art or some electrifying slogan that would usher in a great renaissance in the art form.

It’s all just conceptual.  But I think conceptualization is what makes art what it is: art is conceptual.  What we think changes what we see.

The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art, Part 4: A Separate Artistry

Cover art from: A Separate Reality, by Carlos Castaneda, 1971

Desert lightning bolt summaries:
Pt. 1: Fractal art is automatism
Pt. 2: Fractal art works by mutation
Pt. 3: Editing usually just supplements the automatic creativity of fractal art
Pt. 4: Fractal art is automatic artistry not human artistry

Nevada Testing Range summary:
Pts 1-4: Fractal imagery has a mind of its own

Artistry, the engine of art

There’s something different about fractal art. Something that sets it apart from the art of artists working with their hands to form paintings out of paint and sculptures out of clay. Artists working with their hands do a lot of things you don’t see in fractal art. Even photographers selecting and “saving” images of the world around them produce work that is much different than fractal art.

I’ve been reading a great book on the history of computer art, When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art (Grant D. Taylor, 2014, Bloomsbury Academic). I often found myself sympathizing with the critics of computer art because I thought I understood what they’re primary objection was: Computer art, and especially the automatic kind, doesn’t seem to have an artist. How can one speak of “artistry” when there’s no artist? It’s a non-starter for them.

But while I sympathized with the frowning critics of computer art, I also felt I understood what their problem was: they’re only interested in human expression. To them the essence of art is human expression. Mechanical expression is not only lacking those essential qualities, it’s actually the exact opposite of what they look for in art. Mechanical things are lifeless. They like abstract expressionism when someone like Jackson Pollock is behind it, but not when no one is behind it. I would describe their perspective this way: “art as human expression”. Art as “any sort of expression” is what my view of art is. But we shouldn’t look down on people who define art exclusively in terms of human creativity, we should just see the human arts (plastic arts) as a separate artistry even if they see it as the only artistry.

The lack of this human factor I think explains why fractal art and computer art in general is not accepted, appreciated or, more to the point: not taken seriously by many people in the world of art. It’s missing something. Cut off from something. Something they think is important to art: the human mind.

This makes sense because the earliest attempts to use automatism in art were by the surrealists (eg. Max Ernst) and they were intent on creating an art form whose creativity was entirely separated from the human mind. Their goal was not exactly mechanical expression, it was non-conscious expression but mechanical methods (ie. automatic) achieved this goal as well as they presented imagery that sparked what they thought was the subconscious mind when viewing it, even if the subconscious mind wasn’t involved in the actual creating of it. Automatic methods produced surreal imagery that provoked reactions and interpretations that seemed categorically different from those that conscious, or hand-painted, imagery provoked. It was “art as Rorschact test”. From it’s earliest days, automatism was valued for this separate artistry by the founders and pioneers of what became one of the greatest artistic movements of the 20th century. Even the great Salvador Dali experimented with automatic techniques which included decalcomania (squished paint). Automatism is not artistically weak. Nor does it only attract artistically weak artists.

Ghost Planet

Artificial Imagination

Well, if you accept my position that fractal art, even when edited (touched-up and photomontaged) is still primarily the product of automatic processes (autonomous graphical mechanisms), then what it clearly “is not” is an expression of the human mind. Is it then the expression of a mechanical mind?

Can machines have “minds”? How do we compare and relate what a machine does to what artists do? Brothers and sisters, I want to shine upon you a revelation I had during my sojourn in the desert… algorithms have imaginations!

I don’t think there’s any such thing as artificial intelligence. I don’t think intelligence is something that can be replicated mechanically. But what about some of the more limited aspects of intelligence? Instead of complicated things like “self-awareness” how about creativity or imagination? Can something mechanical, that is, non-living, non-biological, have the capacity or ability to produce new things or conceive of new things? It’s not as intelligent as you may think. Some extremely talented human artists are not so intelligent either. Creativity and imagination in a visual art context can be very simple. With music and writing it’s a different matter. But can a fractal formula be said to be imaginative? I don’t mean the formula writer, I mean the actual formula.

First, we really need to nail down exactly what “imagination” and “creativity” is. Words are often surprising when you go look them up in dictionary. I used the term, “per se” incorrectly for 30 years.

Imagination (noun)

  1. the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.
  2. the action or process of forming such images or concepts.
  3. the faculty of producing ideal creations consistent with reality, as in literature, as distinct from the power of creating illustrative or decorative imagery. Compare fancy.
  4. the product of imagining; a conception or mental creation, often a baseless or fanciful one.
  5. ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness: a job that requires imagination.
  6. Psychology. the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images (reproductive imagination) or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images directed at a specific goal or aiding in the solution of problems (creative imagination)


Remember, we’re talking about imagination in the context of a machine: a mechanical process; a construction; a computer program. How could the concept of imagination exist in a mechanical medium?

Imagination (noun)

-the ability to form pictures in the mind:
-something that you think exists or is true, although in fact it is not real or true:
-the ability to think of new ideas

(From Cambridge Dictionary)

It’s pretty clear from those two sets of definitions that “imagination” implies a “mind” which immediately suggests a human being or, if you include “imaginative” animals, at least an advanced living organism. It’s common to think of imagination solely in the context of the human mind and so it’s equally common to think of art solely in the context of human activity, expression.

But, getting back to my desert illumination, what if something could produce the results of imagination without having a mind? (Yeah, real nuts, eh?) Couldn’t we then say that that “thing” was “imaginative”? Forget, for the moment about how the imagining happens and where it all comes from. A machine that produces images “of what is not actually present to the senses” is an imaginative thing, isn’t it? When you change the settings for parameters in a fractal program and the results surprise you, is not the fractal program more imaginative than you? It’s a creative act, isn’t it? This is the kind of creativity that all fractal program users are very familiar with. Isn’t it that kind of creativity that draws us and keeps us exploring fractal imagery? It’s not what we imagine, it’s what the program imagines. But it has no “mind”.

“Imagination: 2. the action or process of forming such images or concepts.” Could the process of fractal rendering fulfill that second definition of “imagination”? It’s implied that “imagination” takes place in the medium of the human mind and so it’s assumed that imagination is a uniquely human activity, but if you’ve ever “created” fractal imagery that looks better than a lot of hand-made, human artwork then surely you must have considered that you’re working with “something” that is imaginative. Nobody ever says they “drew the fractal themselves”. So… where is that “talent” coming from? And the “artist” and the “artistry”?

“Imagination: 4. the product of imagining; a conception or mental creation, often a baseless or fanciful one.” There it is! (according to Baseless? Fanciful for sure. Almost everything in a fractal program is fanciful. I’m treating definitions like they were something very precise and serious like a formula or equation. Fractal imagery is the most extreme form of determinism and order. It has a very solid and immovable base. But when a human draws something “fractal” by hand, then we call it imaginative because there’s no base for something like that. Nobody ever said Pollock’s drip paintings weren’t imaginative; but people often question whether they’re art because they don’t look “thoughtful” or appear to have intention. An artist is imaginative but not thoughtful? You see the Twilight Zone we’ve stumbled into? Artists appearing to imitate machines.

What a gold mine dictionary definitions can be when it comes to thinking “creatively”. Whatever that means. From Cambridge Dictionary’s third definition for imagination: -the ability to think of new ideas. Isn’t that what creative means? the ability to produce new things? This is where fractal artists get the idea that they’re creative: they produce new things. But who produces fractal imagery? Or rather, “what” produces fractal imagery. It all comes back to “The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art”. Which is why I chose that title for the series. I hope by now you’re at least seeing why I think fractal artists aren’t the creative agents in fractal art but that it’s the machines, the algorithms and computer programming. You may not agree with it, but by now you ought to at least see the possibility of such a view.

In the off chance that someone might actually agree with me, consider Cambridge Dictionary’s first definition: the ability to form pictures in the mind. This describes the aspect of fractal algorithms that is their most “imaginative”: conceived but not yet rendered imagery. Here’s why the process of creating art in a fractal program is best described as exploratory or discoverative (is that a word?). Every possible combination and permutation of all the parameters already exist conceptually in the program and forms the full rendering potential of the program. All possible images are but permutations of the parameters and preexist in principle and conceptually. Cambridge Dictionary lists this aspect of imagination as it’s first or most common sense of the word. But, of course we can’t speak of a fractal program as having a mind even though it seems to have the ability to conceive of more possibilities than most fractal artists can imagine. Does a fractal program have something greater than “a mind”?

Mount of Transfiguration

The missing ingredient, the great divide

What could be “greater” with respect to creativity, talent and imagination than the human mind? I guess that would be something that is perfect in creativity, talent and imagination. And what could be a more perfect expression of imagination than the ability to express all possible combinations and permutations of say, ten parameters? But wait. That wouldn’t be imagination, or creativity, that would only be a talent for calculation, a mere mechanical act! You could say that fractal programs are actually completely unimaginative because “they can only” render permutations of parameters –highly deterministic and highly ordered images– and are actually incapable of doing anything else with them such as something… new! But I would say that its the users who are “completely unimaginative because “they can only” render permutations of parameters –highly deterministic and highly ordered images– and are actually incapable of doing anything else with them such as something… new!”

Which brings us to the second aspect of creativity in fractal art: some artsy folks say it isn’t creative or artistic at all. It isn’t art because art is all about the mind: ideas; social commentary; reflection; portraits -of people, of life around us; real things or at least the expression of real things in abstract form (modern art, abstraction). Art is all about these things which only human expression can produce because only a human mind can conceive of them, imagine them.

It’s not so stupid when you start to think about it. Look at how many fractal artworks are posted with titles and commentary that make allusions to things that are essentially meaningless and unknowable or inexpressible by a machine: love; fear; turmoil; anger; mystery; etc… (go check Deviant Art’s recent upload page). But here’s where the Great Conundrum arises: if fractal art is so mechanical, cold, lifeless and inhuman, then why does it suggest so many human emotions and themes? I mean, at least to fractal artists.

The other kind of art, the other kind of artisty is that of human expression. And as I said, that’s the one thing we know fractal art isn’t. Human artistry, the plastic arts, hand-made, hand-formed art objects; takes a very human perspective and is conceived in the human mind, not in the perfection of algorithmic machinery. Human artistry is primarily social in its content. It doesn’t just speak, it speaks-to. Human artistry is conscious of its audience and actually attempts to communicate with it. Human artistry has intention. Automatic artistry has no intention. It’s all an accident.

Machines don’t understand (or even pretend to understand) the important social issues of our time

It makes sense that we should only expect to see real art where an artist has intentionally created it, but it is clear from observation that imagery that has the quality or characteristics of art can be found where there has been no intentionality, the product of processes that are not human or conscious. If it were not for the existence of such imagery then neither I nor anyone else would suggest such a wild thing as accidental art.

The Mona Lisa’s smile; you don’t find that kind of artistry, artistic theme, expression, commentary on human life in fractal art. Occasionally one might spot a face-like thing but that is nothing quite like a human portrait. Furthermore, imagery that comments on real world issues or life in general depicts its message in a group of interrelated elements like a smile on a face on a head on a neck on a set of shoulders (and don’t forget the coincidental presence of eyes, ears and hair –at the top of the head–). Picasso’s Guernica is a composition of graphical elements and not just a “sublime smudge” or vast organic vista of infinite details like most automatic works are. Artwork that portrays a message about human existence or contemporary issues is almost like a visual essay and just like such literary works is almost impossible to attempt using mechanical algorithms or even random assemblages. This is not the sort of thing that automatism does well and audiences that look for such artwork will be disappointed with it.

Art without human expression works by accidentally forming something that interests us. The art forms it compares to are abstract expressionism and landscape (ie. 3d fractals). Fractals make poor portraits or commentary on social issues, imagery that depends on the human form and a message formed and expressed by realistic or symbolic imagery in complex composition which is unlikely to happen accidentally or through geometric permutation and experimentation.

Pollock’s drip paintings is where the machine and the man got together. Imaginative results without thoughtful direction. Fractal art is also where the machine and the man get together. Imagination with intelligent control, a sort of symbiosis. This is something of a common area for automatism and “plasticism” (the plastic arts). Abstract expressionism conveys a message that is less deliberate and precise and so the mechanical imagination with it’s total lack of academic understanding is not handicapped here.

Fractal art is not about personal expression it’s about exploring and depicting fractal based creative programming. If the agent creating the artwork isn’t you then how can it convey your thoughts? How does the program know what they are? You’re the handmaid to the program and not the other way around. Furthermore, if there is no personal expression, then there’s really only one artist in fractal art and that’s the automaton. We’re all working in the same account, so to speak, under the same username: default. Fractal art is not a personal domain but a shared domain.

As a result, fractal art isn’t social because it isn’t personal. It’s alien, mechanical and feels cold and lifeless when a viewer is expecting something warm and communicative. Since fractal art isn’t an expression of the user, it rarely does what the user wants it to do except when it suddenly makes something the user can relate to and finds artistic.

Both automatism and plasticism produce an art object but they both produce art objects of very different kinds. It’s like comparing plants and animals; they’re both living things and have a few things in common, but they are clearly separate forms of life. Fractals and the Plastic Arts are separate in much the same way. In fact, the analogy is quite close as we’re really dealing with two things that could be described and compared as “Plant art” and “Animal art”. They are each derived from, and an expression of, a different form of consciousness. Isn’t that what “amazes” people when they look at fractal art? It’s the discovery of a new form of creativity. A “Close Encounter” of the Artistic kind; as corny as that might sound.

Artistic Symbiosis: Art the fractal way

Mechanical processes can be imaginative but they are blind and ignorant of the concept of art. They’re graphical idiot savants that can create a vast panorama of detailed and very interesting imagery but they can’t see it and they have no conception of what art is. Fractal art is a symbiotic relationship between automatism and intelligent control. The program creates the artwork and the user contributes artistic direction and selection. They work the machine and that in itself can be a real skill (ever seen any bad fractal art?) but the user cannot express themself the way a painter or sculptor can with their hands forming the artwork directly. The user is merely the eyes and the “artistic sensibility” for the machine.

The result is a different kind of artistry; the expression of a different kind of talent, fractal talent. That talent is entirely mechanical (algorithmic) and can’t be produced any other way. But with the user to work the program and operate it in an intelligent way; steering it in more profitable directions and spotting the art when it happens and saving it, I think fractal based automatism arrives at its current creative state, a special kind of uneven but complementary partnership: an artistic symbiosis.

The next part, Part 5, will explore that hybrid artistic relationship, a sort of cybernetic thing, to its logical conclusion.

The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art, Part 3: Editing and Personal Style

This third part is all about personal style through image editing.  Fractal art is often composed of two mediums: Automatism, which works by mutation and is purely mechanical, anonymous and impersonal; and a second medium I call, in general, Image Editing which is the inclusion of other kinds of imagery via layering as well as anything else a user can do to any digital image in a graphics program.  I call it “editing” because it changes, and intervenes in the automatic process of fractal image generation in a deliberate and purposeful way and is influenced directly by the fractal artist’s hand movements (ie. positioned and placed).  In Part 1: Automatism, I said this about the mechanical nature of fractal art:

  • The only way to create something personal and unique is to somehow involve one’s hands in the formation of the image, that is, draw on the image or alter it manually and selectively at the micro-scale.
  • The hands connect one’s conscious mind and imagination to the image because that is the only way our thoughts can be visually expressed and thereby introduces the medium of manualism to the medium of automatism…

By “hands” I don’t mean keyboard inputs, I mean mouse movements and the deliberate positioning of elements within an image.  Layering, which just introduces a texture to the entire image is more like a coloring or rendering method which is an embellishment of the entire image rather than a deliberate editing of just part of it.  Editing is characterized in this case by “selectivity at the micro-scale”.

From Part 2: Mutationism

Does layering, masking, image importing and other hand-directed interventions make the fractal art created with it substantially different, and more like the traditional plastic arts (hand formed) or are those additions just trivial or at best secondary embellishments to what is still primarily an art form that revolves around mechanical creativity?

Two Fundamental Issues Here for Creativity:

  • To what degree does fractal artwork benefit when the user is able to edit it? (does it make a difference?)
  • Has any fractal artist ever demonstrated a unique personal advantage when it comes to making good fractal art? Meaning, has any example of their artwork something to it beyond just novel parameter permutation (mutationism), something that could be described as their own artistic style and originality?

I style, therefore I am

Surely personal style must be the critical indicator for true user-based creativity because unless there is something original and connected only with them, their contribution is just more of the program’s own creative imagery (or another program’s)? In other words, if your own artwork doesn’t have “that something special”, then you’re just another mutationist like the rest of us. The proof that users are “creative eunuchs” is that they are incapable of contributing anything of significance to the graphical gene pool: the process that forms the imagery. Similarly, the proof that they’re not creative eunuchs is that they can add something of artistic merit that the program can’t take credit for.

If a user’s own creativity is part of the process then fractal art ought to reflect the person who makes it and not only the program it’s made with (which is often the only consistently recognizable feature of fractal art). If fractal art lacks this personal ingredient, then it’s primarily (or entirely) a product of the automatic, self-operating and independent process. The “artist” is better described as a skilled operator rather than a creative agent; skilled at the discovery of new things rather than the personal creation of them.

This definitive question of style was raised by Terry back in 2011 in his series, On Style.  I sensed he was on to something back then but didn’t fully realize just how profound the whole question of personal style in fractal art really is:

There’s the chicken-or-egg question that needs to be addressed right off.  Who or what is responsible for the production of style in fractal and digital art: the program(mer) or the artist?  I feel a migraine coming on just wandering into this hall of mirrors.

But that is the Ur-question [earliest, original] of style in our discipline (and all of digital art).  Work produced in one fractal program definitely has a distinct and recognizable look than work produced in another.  So, does the software, or perhaps its author(s), determine fractal art style, and do Phase One fractal artists, limited by the boundaries of a program’s capabilities, merely pump out variations on a pre-determined look.  In other words, does the tool itself have panache — or is stylistic elegance sourced in how individual artists use a given tool?

-from On Style 1, Terry Wright,, 2011


The Ultimate Question:
Can editing significantly alter the artistic impression of fractal imagery?

If it can, the user’s contribution can be important and therefore fractal art as an art form has the potential to express the creativity of the artist’s mind as well as the creativity of the fractal mechanism. We all know anyone can alter fractal imagery by hand. The real question is whether it’s significant or not.  It should be something we can notice and recognize and (most of us) agree on.  If the user can add something significant, then surely there must be personal style because these additions are not automatic and algorithmic, they’re guided and directed by the user and not discretionary: they’re individual, unique and original.  Like all impressions of art, there will be a range of opinions.

Incidentally, I had a much harder time writing this part of the series than the previous two.  I’ve struggled with this posting because it’s all about mixed-media and conceptually that makes it much more complicated than automatism which is practically a mathematical or philosophical concept.  Not necessarily easy to grasp but much easier to express.  Automatism and mutationism are about absolutes while Image Editing (mixed-media) is all about degrees and impression.  The more the artist is involved in the art, the more complicated it gets.  Think about that.

Mostly Photomontage

As I said above, this third part is all about everything to do with fractal art that isn’t automatic and machine generated. This is where the medium of fractal based automatism gets mixed with user inspired and guided modification; it becomes mixed-media. These modifications for the most part take the form of photographic backgrounds and overlays rather than actual digital painting or drawing and therefore almost entirely fall into the subcategory of photomontage. They can have a surprising transformational effect by merely shifting the context in which the fractal imagery is perceived, moving from the abstract to the realistic or sometimes, the sur-realistic.

Let’s look at some examples and try to answer that Ultimate Question: Can editing significantly alter the artistic impression of fractal imagery?


~ Click on images to view full-size on original site ~

A river runs through it, by Haltenny 2017, Deviant Art

Time spent browsing Haltenny’s Deviant Art gallery is never wasted.  This one is very recent and a perfect example of the symbiotic potential of image editing and fractals.  Although Haltenny’s gallery has more sophisticated examples of his photomontage creations, I like this one the best because it’s much more simple and yet much more effective in transforming the fractal imagery.  Doesn’t this look just like a modern, university campus in early spring?  Or some other modern, institutional setting?

I keep thinking this is the university I went to back in the 80’s (1980’s) which was relatively new and had a distinct preference for formed concrete construction.  They had drainage problems in the early spring and so you’d often have half-melted snow and ice around buildings.  Furthermore, the trees were mostly deciduous and bare of leaves in the early spring.  One other prime feature of the campus’ design were the numerous, stylish light posts that made the outdoor spaces feel like a gigantic trendy restaurant at night.  The machine didn’t do this, Haltenny did.  Haltenny added something to the 3d fractal imagery that changed the context and significantly altered  the artistic impression.  Even the lighting of the original 3d fractal imagery fits with the dim, early spring daylight and the early approach of evening.  In half an hour those lights will come on and the night schools students will start to arrive.

Fantasy Tree Cottage by Haltenny 2017, Deviant Art

Another fine fusion of the photographic and the fractal.  Don’t those doors, and particularly the circular vent on the wall between them, look like they were part of the 3d fractal imagery?  I don’t think it’s easy to fit imagery together like this so seamlessly.  It reminds me of paintings I saw in a book called, Mythopoeikon by Patrick Woodroffe years ago.  I think this is why Haltenny was asked to provide conceptual artwork for the recent Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol II: he has a real knack for showing how fractal imagery easily blends into natural surroundings and creates a seemingly endless other world.  I imagine that’s what inspired the movie folks when they looked at his work: they saw immediately what they could be done with it.

Cherry Blossoms by brutaltoad (on

This is a few years old, but what transformative effect just a background image can have.  Makes you want to stay indoors and board up the windows.  I think brutaltoad adjusted the coloring a bit too, to make the scary mandelbulb thing look comfy with the rosy trees in the background.  No maple syrup harvesting this season!

Just like with Haltenny’s work, it’s hard to see the “seams” between the fractal imagery and the photographic.  It looks natural and creates something neither of the two mediums were capable of producing on their own.  And for that the artist (user) gets the credit, not the machine (or forest).  This is genuinely creative work and not just the logical uncovering of parameter permutations.

Les écluses de Saiph by Vidom (Deviant Art) 2014

These notes by Vidom on the image:

Made with Mandelbulb3D.
The whole structure is a single fractal shape, not really symmetric. But while making it I decided to use the lower part as a fake reflection of the upper one.
In post production I just blurred the bottom area, added a green algae patch underwater and some clouds in the sky, to make it less boring

Another fine example of the transformational effect of context.  I think the fractal image inspired the user’s additions which of course were carried out manually and beyond the automatic mechanisms of the fractal program.  You could say this is an elevated context, higher than the automatic one and the artist has completed it.  Vidom has many of these panoramic and particularly architectural type 3d fractal images in his gallery.

Arboretum Control Center by Vidom (Deviant Art) 2014

Vidom notes: “The sky above has been replaced by a personal photo. That doesn’t alter the fractal in any way.”  The most simple of all manual fractal additions: photo background; just like brutaltoad’s Day of the Triffids: The Cherry Orchard Stories.  But again, if I may use the word transformative once more, it changes the context, and the overall effect or impression of the fractal imagery is more than it was before the user manually added the photo which was suggested by their own imagination.  When you add the user’s hand to the image formation (even photomontage) you connect their mind.  Subsequently, when you remove the hand from the equation, you remove the user’s imagination from the image process.

Architectural Presentation by Ameller, Dubois et Associes


Gotland hotel by Sergio Mereces, 2015

Artist’s Concept Category

With respect to the Ultimate Question, “Can editing significantly alter the artistic impression of fractal imagery?” I’d say these examples of mixed-media fractal art have shown that it can be done.  But I’m not sure I can say they exhibit personal style or the expression of  the artist’s mind to a meaningful degree.  What I mean by that is that in all these images, the fractal imagery has been elevated to a higher level of artistic impression but the technique they’ve used is generic.  This introduces a sort of twilight-zone category I wasn’t anticipating.

I like the artwork of each of these artists as do many of the folks on Deviant art but when I take a very technical and theoretical approach to what their work says about the medium and art form of fractal art I see they’ve all transformed the automatic artistry of the machine with their photographic additions but I don’t see it moving beyond  that of a simple presentation technique that adds a nice finishing touch but which is also an anonymous one.

But in defense of the artists, I don’t think they really ever intended their modifications to do much more than that anyhow.  Their goal, I suspect, was to present the fractal imagery in a more imaginative context just as an architect presents their building plans as a real building in a real environment so a potential client can immediately evaluate it in a context that is more familiar to them than a blueprint.  It’s all about conceptualizing and that’s why I think Haltenny’s artwork caught the eye of the movie makers from Marvel and made them reach out to him for work as a concept artist.  Furthermore, the examples I’ve shown of Haltenny and Vidom are all fractals that exhibit a strong architectural theme and so the technique of “Artist’s Concept” in it’s contextual embellishment is a natural route to take as it fits well with the imagery.  We could say the fractal imagery inspires or suggests such illustrative additions.

What this all means for creativity in fractal art is:  One embellishes and enhances, builds upon the automatic imagery which forms the foundation of the art form. This is important because the algorithmic, mechanical creativity of the program is the primary interest in the final image and what the art form revolves around and is oriented around.

In this Artist’s Concept category (as I call it) the fractal imagery is still the leading creative element of the artwork but it’s been presented in a more engaging and imaginative context through a collage-like technique called photomontage.  The use of photography makes the resulting work much less personalized and therefore less supportive of a personal style even if it is a personally creative act and not something the fractal program can take credit for.  I wasn’t expecting that.

A Surrealist Example

The Entire City by Max Ernst, 1936

The lump of rough stratified stuff in the mid-ground was created using an automatic technique called “grattage” which is French for scraping.  Ernst placed the canvas over some rough boards and other surfaces and then scraped paint across them just as one would rub a pencil over a sheet of paper placed on a surface to create a pencil rubbing.  Grattage is paint rubbing, you could say.

Because Ernst worked in a non-digital medium, he couldn’t overlay photographic imagery so he painted by hand the vegetation in the foreground (he was a very good painter as well) and the simple gradient for the sky in the background.  The automatic imagery is architectural and “structural” in its appearance and no doubt that is what suggested and inspired Ernst’s contextualization of it as the concept of “The Entire City” (La Ville entière).  The title is an “artistically active” element as well, but that’s another matter.

Compare it with the fractal examples above; are they not all the same kind of contextual transposition of automatic imagery (scene shifting)?  When the same artistic situations and challenges arise, whether in the 1930’s or 2010’s it’s not surprising that the same solutions occur in the minds of artists who otherwise would have no connection to each other.  It’s the medium that connects them.

Ernst’s work is considered a fine example of automatism and not oil painting.  The manually painted elements are supportive and embellishments that serve the function of presenting the work in a completed and more easily interpreted way.  Architectural fractal works I think function the same way.  Just a different form of automatism.

The Entire City by Max Ernst, (1935-6)

Ernst made a series of grattage paintings called The Entire City over a number of years.  It’s interesting to compare how he “edited” the automatic imagery and embellished it in different examples.  The central focus on the automatically created, “scraped” imagery is common to all of them while the manual touches vary slightly.  The scraped imagery here is different.  But then there is no such thing as cut and paste in oil painting.

Is there more than simple photomontage?

So the examples of Haltenny, brutaltoad and Vidom have clearly shown that fractal art’s creativity can be more than just that of automatism when edited by a capable artist.  Their examples were simple but effective in presenting fractals in a more imaginative context.  But embellishing architectural fractal imagery with architectural presentation elements doesn’t change the effect of the actual fractal image, it just enhances it by changing, literally, the scenery.  Some editing can change what the fractal imagery means and what it’s artistic effect is.  This is a much more subtle form of editing and probably elicits a wider range of reactions (appreciation) from viewers.  Architectural works are simpler to interpret and easier to understand.


Spiny Newton Julia Disc by Erisian

This caught my eye on in 2011 when I wrote the posting, Art of the Strange Place.  The fractal component is just the round object in the mid-ground (from Tierazon) and the “background” imagery was made in Bryce, a 3d graphics rendering program.  It’s something of an oddity but now, 6 years later,  it’s rather fascinating from a theoretical perspective because it a good example of user creativity particularly because of it’s unusual program combinations.  I didn’t know someone could 3d-ify something from Tierazon, a single layer, 2d fractal program.  It reminds me of Ernst’s The Entire City because the automatic imagery here (fractal) takes on a whole new feel and meaning than it would have in the fractal program or presented alone.  It also has a slightly surreal feel to it because it’s something of a mystery what it is and represents but yet it suggests …something strange.

Image 06-B by Paul N Lee, 2001, made in QuaSZ

Man, 2001, isn’t that just ancient? I picked this image out for the posting on Paul Lee’s memorial and every time I look at it I think he must have intended it to be a self-portrait.  Surely a self-portrait must be the ultimate form of personalization?  But with a fractal program?  Or, in this case, a quaternion program?  Look at the QuaSZ (a program by Terry Gintz) image (dark, complex shape).  What kind of person could see themself in a “quaternion, hypercomplex, cubic Mandelbrot, complexified quaternion and octonion renderings of the Mandelbrot set and Julia sets”?

That’s him walking along briskly with his hands on his hips and his right foot extended out and wearing a self-made medieval leather boot.  As for the background, it could easily be anywhere in west Texas, although I think Paul was from the greener east Texas.  Hey, when get’s going he really travels!  Notice how dark, complex and convoluted the shape is.  The bright sun just makes the shadows darker.  I think he has a guitar over his shoulder.

Is it more than just an example of the 3d Bryce rendering possibilities for QuaSZ?  I think Paul’s editing (it was made in QuaSZ and imported and rendered in Bryce, a 3d program) qualifies as significantly altering “the artistic impression of fractal imagery.”

In both Erisian’s and Paul’s images, the automatic imagery has taken on a dual transformation: both the context as well as the meaning and function of the imagery itself has changed from its original state in the program that made it.

Joe’s Piano

BX3000 Steam Punk Organ by JoeFRAQ

JoeFRAQ has created a series of images incorporating the somewhat geometric element of a piano keyboard into the fractal imagery.  This is the best one in my opinion because like many of the examples in this posting, the non-fractal imagery is minimal and yet radically transforms and re imagines the fractal.  Without the keyboard the 3d fractal imagery has a clear mechanical appearance but with the keyboard inserted below it, there’s a sudden coherence to that previously ambiguous mechanical assortment of things.  Furthermore, the simple geometric pattern of the piano keys fits in visually with the fractal imagery and it’s new role as the machinery of an exposed upright piano (or organ).


A pretty ordinary sky, a pretty ordinary, shiny 3d floor, a typical burro or deer or something, and a nondescript figure doing something (but what?) and something else with …a balloon?  But what an extraordinary result!  Many 3d fractals are panoramic but this one seems to extend beyond space and time.  It’s impossible architecture and yet it stands solidly and majestically: the impossible made certain.  It has a Dali-esque eternal time feel to it.  Everything moves towards the horizon and yet it is frozen in that “moving” state.  The futility or stability of change?

I guess asking if Mandelwerk’s image here answers our Ultimate Question is unnecessary.  I can’t see the effect of just the fractal imagery alone doing what this image does.  There’s a mood and a mysterious  tone to the architecture now.  Obviously the fractal imagery has a lot to do with it, but the artist’s editing has created a symbiotic relationship between the two sources of creativity.  I can’t really say which one is the stronger one because they work so well together and seem to do so much more than they would have alone.

Desert Diner by mclarekin

All he did was add an arid sky to the background and do some typography and suddenly it’s one of those scenes that catches your eye while driving down the interstate on a family vacation.  But with no cars parked outside it’s probably not open any more.  Still, it’s worth stopping just to take a photo and look for ghosts.  I know this was not a serious attempt at mixed media art, but for that reason it’s even more noteworthy.  With respect to personal style… who does “color” like Mclarekin does?

Fractal by Alizadeh100

Cheap effect, eh?  Masking and layering and not too much of that, either.  But imagine a gigantic, old-school style fractal in a big art gallery with tourists admiring it like it was the work of an Old Master… What if everyone’s introduction to fractal art was in such an environment?  What if people compared it to the Picassos and Renoirs beside it?  What if people asked not “is it art?” but rather, “what kind of art is this?”  What if fractal art was innocent until proven guilty?  (What if everything we looked at was “art” until proven guilty?)  Maybe this one is the best example of editing significantly altering the artistic impression of the fractal imagery?  Look at how high that one-layer, retro fractal has risen at the hands of its human editor.  It’s as if Cinderella’s Godmother composed this epic transformation.  Who can say it still looks like a pumpkin?

Spyralis by DorianoArt (Deviant Art) 2013

I don’t know how popular these sorts of images by DorianoArt are with others in the fractal world but there’s something about them that I just think is great.  Maybe it takes me back to the days of sci-fi paperback covers when this sort of artwork was both futuristic as well as artistically innovative.  Space is big, colorful, well designed like a ritzy hotel and stylish.  With respect to personal style, Doriano is one of the very few who I sense has actually achieved a look which one could call individual and personal.  I can’t think right away of anyone else who makes images like this and when I see new ones as thumbnails in the Deviant Art recent uploads page, I recognize them right away as his and I’ve never been wrong.  That ought to be a good indicator of personal style: you’re instantly recognized in a police line-up.  Your artwork is identifiable; the opposite of anonymous.  Or is he just the only one to settle on this theme?

This bit from his bio statement on Deviant Art:

I have been Videogame Software Manager of Atari Corp, and worked in advertising for a Musical Int. Distribution.  Now I do Art and Music privately and study Western and Oriental Astrology.

Kyonos by DorianoArt (Deviant Art) 2015

70’s ish or early 80’s ish?  The spectral, prismatic color turns ordinary “silver” into technicolor tundra.  The only thing that bothers me about this one is I get the song, “Dancing Queen” by Abba running through my head when I look at it.  The green cloud moon sky and silhouettes of a Lombardy poplars (graveyards) is an ominous and unusual addition to such a glittery scene.  Could be the cover to a sci-fi murder mystery.  Whether you’re a big fan of these images by Doriano or not, you’ve got to agree the guy has a style like no one else.   That’s a big thing in fractal art.

Palace of Information by Brummbaer

This one isn’t really mixed media; or it’s got so many mediums in it I don’t know what to say.  I believe Brummbaer painted this entirely after creating a digital version with the use of several programs and a rather involved series of steps.  But that sounds like a lot of work for something that is so excessively detailed and easily copied electronically.  Or maybe he touches up the prints by hand like engravers used to color their black and white prints by hand.  He says this on the site:

H O W   T H E   P A I N T I N G S   A R E   C R E A T E D :

The paintings are based on fractal designs, calculated on a computer using commercial and some offbeat programs. After the creation by the fractal generators, the design is either moved into a 3D program like 3D Max and further treated, or taken into photoshop, where you tweak the color and composites. After several testprints, a high resolution version is painted in the computer with the help of a Wacom-tablet. Finally the image is professionally printed on canvas or paper guarantied to last a hundred years. Once the canvas is stretched, it is ready to be painted on. Layers of oil, acrylics and varnish give me the ability to create a vibrant painting, using some techniques of the old masters. This goes on until the painting  is finished. Every painting is a single, unique piece — nevertheless, once a painting is finalized, it is possible to do prints in any size on any permissible material.

2010 Brummbaer

Missy and the Earth Lander by Brummbaer, 2010

The images are very transformative in context, for sure, but I’m not sure the fractal imagery is radically different in its intended interpretation from what it was in the program: it’s still itself, so to speak.  They’re presented as eccentric architecture and machines which is not far from what they are natively.  However, Brummbaer has certainly created a very original style in the images overall.  I think one would recognize a new image by him by its style unless he attempted something radically different.

The Circus at the End of Time by Brummbaer, 2013

Here’s an example of a “new one” not from his Tralfamadore series that fits in a bit more with the  kind of editing work that many other fractal artists do and is a possible example of recognizable style.  Does it jump out as “Brummbaer” if one ignores the distinctive signature logo in the bottom left?  He’s made good use of the golden cloud-like background that seems to actually be part of the 3d fractal structure.  Perhaps he lightened it in Photoshop to give it a distance effect.  The image has a neat coherence to it that his other images also have on his Tralfamadore site.

What about the great Ultra Fractalists?

Pilgrimage by Janet Parke 2009

Janet Parke was a very big name in fractal art and perhaps still is in some circles.  One of the things she was known for was the intense layering and masking and generally speaking, user-based tweaking of images.  She was well known for her online courses that taught both the techniques of using Ultra Fractal as well as the artistic thinking and style behind the application of those technical skills.  Suffice it to say that this image here has been edited or altered in a special user-inspired way and not just a “mutation” that crawled onto the land.

The name is good; and inspired by the imagery too, I think.  I see dreamy furrows of a plowed field and the birds who have gathered to eat seeds and insects associated with that sort of human activity have become the pilgrims who drift off towards the horizon (glowing with hope) in the top right corner.  Note the little spiral and how the imagery merges into a page-like form suggesting  (to me, at least) a story and a map.  I don’t think Janet’s mutational guesses accomplished all this!  If it comes from her tweaking and layering then it was well done and artistically creative.  Click on the image to view full-size and you’ll see the little spiral dances off into the image of a crescent moon.  (I won’t comment on that little “touch”.)

As for personal style, I can honestly say, as I think anyone who looks over similar Ultra Fractal type images of that time, that some artists can be better at this sort of style than others but that none of them have ever been, or will likely ever be unique or distinguished at it.  It is, in my opinion, a form of embellishment, but that may have been the artist’s intentions even if they never saw it that way themselves or described it like that.  If you can believe it, Ultra Fractal’s layering and the techniques of “post-processing” used to be a controversial subject in the fractal art world.  But that has all changed in a decade (or two).  Time is something of a pilgrimage too, I suppose.

Looking for something categorically different….

That’s what I’m trying to do here with personal style.  It doesn’t have to be a whole bunch of images that consistently portray a novel form of artistry or creative fingerprint like the works of van Gogh or Dali.  It can be just one image that does something with the imagery created by a fractal program that comes from the user’s own thoughts and mind and betrays the author’s identity: a fresh, original look for fractal art.  A tell-tale sign somewhere that gives a clue as to the artist’s identity.

What passes for personal style in fractal art in the few cases I’ve found it, or found a hint of it, is mostly doing something that no one else has discovered can be done or doing something that no one else has bothered to do.  In short, doing what no one else is doing but could (perhaps) do.  It’s not the exclusivity of a personal domain but rather the exclusivity of a remote domain that’s hard to find or just eccentric; this is what “personal” style is in fractal art.


The primary reason for a lack of personalization in fractal art, which is what personal style really comes down to, is the medium: it’s all about algorithms and other forms of graphical effects and machinery.  This is not a medium that really allows for much personalization because it’s largely mechanical and the artist merely supplies the variation in the variation on a theme -theme.  The artist’s thoughts, imagination and in general, their mind, is not part of the equation so how can the results of the equation come out differently for any particular artist if they’re all essentially running the same machine, more or less?  Fractal art, even when edited, is still primarily automatism.  (Read the first and second parts of this series for clarification.)

Don’t get me wrong: There is such a thing as good fractal art and there is such a thing as a good fractal artist.  But the goodness is in the machine skills and creative embellishments.  There is nothing that overshadows or takes the focus off of the machine’s artistry although it’s not impossible for it happen.  Perhaps a few of the examples I’ve shown have come close to that depending on how you see them yourself.

To quote from this long posting, I said above: What this all means for creativity in fractal art is:  One embellishes and enhances, builds upon the automatic imagery which forms the foundation of the art form. This is important because the algorithmic, mechanical creativity of the program is the primary interest in the final image and what the art form revolves around and is oriented around.

But this is exactly the same sort of strategy that Max Ernst, the great surrealist painter and pioneer of automatism adopted when working with “the fractal art of his time”.  So it’s not a failure of artists to be unable to personalize automatic imagery, it’s the nature of automatic imagery that it resists personalization, and in its sovereignty and independence (self-operation) allows users to assist and embellish and recontextualize it, but not to influence it directly.  The nature of creativity in fractal art is that it’s primarily mechanical and like all automatism, that is what drives the artistry, inspires the editorial revisions and additions, and generally speaking, is the star of the whole show.  Fractal art works differently than painting, drawing, sculpture or any of the other plastic (hand formed) arts.  It’s a different kind of artistry and it’s name is automatism.

Obviously, the whole personal style issue reflects the heart of what fractal art is and what defines it.  Maybe Part 4 will be about that.  Possibly: Part 4: A Separate Artistry…

The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art, Part 2: Mutationism

In the first posting I made the argument that fractal art is a variety of automatism. Automatism being imagery that is created by an automatic, self-operating device. One doesn’t draw fractals, the fractal program draws them. The fractal program is the self-operating device or automaton (ie. automatic thing).

Being an automatic thing, a fractal program is a machine. A machine is merely something that does something that isn’t a human being. So the distinction here is really between mechanical things and human things. Human things are conscious, have “life” and they think, are intelligent and imagine things. Machines are just assemblies of parts that work together – a system of active parts.

The active parts of a fractal “machine” are the parameter settings and the rest of the program that can’t be adjusted. We only need to look at the adjustable parts because that’s all we have to work with and it’s what we work with –the medium– that involves our creativity. This whole posting series is about creativity in fractal art. (In the next part I deal with the non-mechanical, “manualist vs. automatist” extended, non-core features that some fractal programs offer.)

To the user, a fractal program is parameter settings; variables that can be variously set. A fractal image is literally defined by its parameter settings. Reproduce the parameter settings and you reproduce, right down to the exact location and zoom level, the same image. So if you think about it, what can you, as a fractal artist, do but change the variable settings?

Since a fractal image is defined by the values that go with it’s variables (parameters), a new fractal image is nothing more than a new combination and permutation of those preexisting variables. In fact, it is impossible to create anything with the fractal program that is not a permutation of the parameter values. Of course, there’s an awful lot of permutations possible with even a simple fractal program that has only ten or so parameter settings, so it’s not really a limitation from an artistic perspective. You can produce a lot of variety of imagery with even just a simple fractal program using just one formula and rendering option. This is of course what attracts artists like ourselves to fractal programs: they’re very creative.

So you have a set of variables which together form the image we see. Altering any one of the variables can have unpredictable results on the appearance of the image although small changes to just a single variable tend to have progressive, and proportional effects that we can anticipate to some degree. Nevertheless, you can never be absolutely sure what a parameter change will do until you see the image that results.

Parameter produces picture…

This is analogous to a biological organism’s appearance. An organism’s appearance, form, is determined by it’s genetic code.  Variations between organisms of the same species are solely the result of alterations to the information contained in one or more genes. There are a distinct number of genes and each one has a value, so to speak, and so they’re just like the parameters of a fractal image. We could call the genes of an organism it’s parameters and the resulting “image” the appearance (state) of the organism.

So when a fractal artist works with a fractal program, the altering of parameter settings is exactly analogous to the altering of genetic information in a biological organism. I said “exactly” analogous because it is exactly equivalent: both actions are performing the function of mutation. They are both “mutational” actions and activities.  If I was Archimedes, I would jump up out of my bathtub and shout, “Eureka!”  Mutation is the central function and core skill of what we all do.  It’s the unifying thing.

Anyhow.  We say an organism has mutated, or been mutated, when a change occurs in it’s appearance (or physiological function) that is genetic. Biological researchers can actually make alterations to the genetic code for some genes for some organisms deliberately. They then develop the organism (render it) to see if it does anything worthwhile (or dies). In the same way fractalists change the setting for a single parameter in a fractal program and render the image to see what it does. Some parameter changes result in no image at all. The image “died” so to speak. So you can have non-viable mutations in biological organisms and in fractal images, as well.

The essence of “mutation” as opposed to “creation” is in what you start with. Creation starts with nothing at all or with just common raw materials while mutation always (always, always) starts with a preexisting “creature” (something created). Biological researchers don’t spend their time creating new organisms and hoping that they live and do something useful; they alter a preexisting one to improve it’s appearance or function. Fractal artists also don’t create new fractal images, they alter a preexisting one in hopes of improving it’s function; it’s function being it’s aesthetic appearance.  We ought to wear lab coats when using a fractal program.

When have you ever made a fractal image from nothing? Even if you wrote your own formula, that is merely the mutation of the “formula gene”.  Ultra Fractal is probably the most complex fractal program so it’s the best example to use to cover all the possibilities; one always has to load a formula as well as a rendering method, although the start up screen will load a basic one by default. But the automaton is not the formula, it’s the whole program and the formula is just another parameter to be set to initiate the automaton. You have to see that even with UF, the user just works with a long list of variables and alters their settings. Like I said, that’s all that’s in the parameter file and the parameter file is literally the DNA of the fractal image.

I’m not the first person to make this observation or even this sort of analysis; maybe with fractals but not with automatic imagery. A number of computer artists arrived at the realization that their “creative” work was merely generating permutations of their programs of which all existed ahead of time as “potential images”. But what got me really excited about this mutationist concept for fractal art was that it linked another form of automatism to it by the same principle of mutation, or medium of mutation. Mutation is ultimately the medium.

Photoshop filter “creations” also start with a preexisting image, a bitmap (jpg, photo) and through a series of transformations (gauntlet of visual virtual beatings) arrive at something viable or dead. The only difference with “filtering” (as I call it) is that the artist seems to have a great deal of discretion with regards to what effect to apply next as well as what settings to give it and whether to repeat it again or try something else. In short, it doesn’t look like an algorithm or a machine even, in the way that a fractal program with it’s nice neat set of menus and options does. However, I have often found myself arranging “syndromes” of filters to get a single effect in the same way a fractal program arranges “syndromes” of parameters to arrive at a single type of fractal imagery. Photoshop filter combinations are just modular algorithms and actually repeatable just like a fractal parameter file will “repeat” a previously produced image precisely.

So a series of photoshop filter combinations is not conceptually any different than a series of fractal parameter combinations and both become an organism with a discrete genetic makeup which can then be mutated in a series of permutations of the “genetic information” to produce a variety of new images. Both kinds of artists, the filterist and the fractalist, work by mutating a preexisting image and not by creating anything substantially new. The function of the mutationist is characterized by trial and error alterations which can’t be predicted ahead of time but whose steps can be retraced afterwards to arrive at the exact same result. This retracing shows that the creativity is in the mechanism, the automaton and not in the artist’s personal style or method of using the machine. The artist “discovers” new things, and doesn’t create them. The program creates them.

Place is a parameter

It’s like Columbus discovering the New World. We don’t credit Columbus with making the New World, just with discovering it. Thinking in terms of parameters, the surface of the Earth is a combination and permutation of spherical coordinates: latitude and longitude; East/West value and North/South value. I guess you could say that exploring the Earth is a binomial function. If anyone else sailed to the coordinates of the Bahamas (the first landfall) they too would have “discovered” it. All any explorer can do is summed up in all the permutations of latitude and longitude. Geometrically, all an explorer can do is visit a coordinate on the sphere of the Earth. Once all the coordinates have been visited then there’s nothing left to discover.

Bear with me; Columbus was a mutationist. What he did was to speculate at the possibility of venturing to a new coordinate setting and then “rendered” it.  Furthermore, Columbus was dissatisfied with the “rendered” results because it wasn’t India.  However, he came to accept the arbitrariness of the “program” and worked with the Americas in  a plan B sort of way to achieve his original goals of fame and fortune.  But was Columbus creative? Is discovery a creative act?

Is it creative to make “new” fractal images? that is, to render permutations of the parameters that haven’t been rendered yet? This is what this series of postings is all about. My answer is that it is creative, but that the creativity is entirely from the automaton, the fractal program. Discovery is a different kind of creative act just as in the sciences we speak of great discoveries and not great inventions. Dr. Mandelbrot discovered fractal geometry, he didn’t create it or invent it. That discovery was an awesome thing even though as we now know all about it, many people can retrace Mandelbrot’s steps just as many retraced Columbus’ steps and explored the rest of the New World.

I don’t know if it helps fractal artists to see themselves as mutationists rather than artists. That is, artists in the sense of being imaginative and manually skillful like a painter or sculptor is. Those kind of artists create artwork and don’t perform the function of a mutationist. Frankly, I find the mutationist works of most fractal artists to be more interesting than the creative works of most painters and sculptors.  (That’s why I spend my time doing things like this.) Fractal art doesn’t need to prop itself up with myths about creative artists using “drawing tools”. The world of mechanical creativity, automatism, is a very creative one and also one that is conceptually just as interesting.

The next part, Part 3, deals with the issue of image editing and the mixing of manual creativity with automatic. Does layering, masking, image importing and other hand-directed interventions make the fractal art created with it substantially different, and more like the traditional plastic arts (hand formed) or are those additions just trivial or at best secondary embellishments to what is still primarily an art form that revolves around mechanical creativity?  Is personal style relevant?  Is it even possible?  Style is the critical thing.

The Nature of Creativity in Fractal Art, Part 1: Automatism

Six months ago… I decided to summarize… and bring to completion… all my thoughts…

…about whatever it is my computer hobby is all about.

I didn’t even have a good label for it.

But nothing helps you think deeper and deeper than trying to write more and more precisely about something. It wasn’t about fractals really, it was about (what I came to call) “Picture Machines”. Anyhow, every rewrite spawned another rewrite, a better rewrite than the rewrite before. With the passing of each month I changed the date at the end of my preface chapter and changed what my preface was prefacing.  Here I am, facing another preface.

Eventually I came to the bottom of it all: fractals; cellular automata; IFS things; other programs that make neat pictures but are hard to label. I finally stumbled on what I casually call my Unified Field Theory of …whatever it is my computer hobby is all about. But now I have a name for it: automatism.

But that’s not the really big thing. While plumbing the deep concepts of automatism my mind wandered and I got hung up on authorship and creativity in fractal art. You see, automatism, the computerized type, is mostly fractal art. Fractals are the most developed and the most sophisticated species of automatism. That’s not the big thing. The real big thing is that I came to understand the nature of creativity in fractal art and that it brings together and explains as a single art form all the little weird programs I’ve used including that seemingly unrelated, and quite eclectic category of them called photoshop filters: automatism à la carte.

Four-part series

I need to explain what “automatism” is. Then I’ll explain “mutationism”. And then I’ll talk about image editing and after that I think there’ll be another part that takes all those things and then puts it all together and zaps it with lightning in a thunderstorm and screams, “It’s alive!”.  I’m expecting it to be a four part series of postings, but I’ve come to expect the unexpected.

If you don’t know automatism, you don’t know fractal art

It’s all about automatism. Fractals, and the fractal art form that comes from them, is automatic, all the time. Automatism is imagery that is created by a self-operating device. Automatic, in this context, means “self-operating” or “self-moving”. Obviously, this describes a machine, and since it’s self-this and self-that and implies a high degree of independence it doesn’t have the same category of function as that of a mere “tool”. In automatism, or we could say, in automatic art, the machine does everything because it doesn’t leave anything else for anyone to do; it works selfishly and in a self-contained way; the machine monopolizes everything and like a temperamental painter, won’t let you look until it’s finished. Such a machine, since it’s automatic, is called an automaton. The plural is automata, although one can say “automatons” if they prefer. Automatism is the art form, or the medium, or the method of automatic image creation.

Calling a fractal program an automaton and saying it “does everything” ought to sound extreme and possibly even mean and insulting in the context of fractal art. I know, I’ve been here a while, too. But that’s okay, I wouldn’t be writing such extreme things if I didn’t think they were true and that I could explain them and counter all objections. I don’t say these things lightly; I’ve been countering all my own objections to these ideas over the last six months. It’s all been proven, but let me show you the proof, the argument.

“Follow the creativity…”

Remember my comments about my mind wandering off following the idea of authorship? I know this issue has been dealt with years ago, but it was dealt with wrongly. Where does the creativity come from in fractal art? I read something on the Wikipedia on a page dealing with Algorithmic Art or some automatic art category like that, and it stated that the user is the creative agent because although the program draws everything, it merely carries out the directions and instructions that the “artist” gives it. The artist directs the machine.

You should find that to be a reasonable statement if you’re a healthy and well adjusted member of the fractal art world, that is: the fractal artist is the creative agent because they actually direct the automaton and configure it. The artist tells the machine what to do. The artist leads the creation of algorithmic art and is therefore, obviously, the author of it. Have you ever seen a fractal program make art all on it’s own? That is, have you ever seen a fractal program set it’s own parameters? Can a fractal program operate without a user?  Totally autonomously?

Well of course it can. In fact, the program is the leader and the “artist” is always the follower. The artist is not even in the position to direct the creation of imagery that they can’t even imagine beforehand. Fractal artists work by guessing at new parameters and reacting by trial and error at what the program draws from those guesses. Fractal artist always start with a preexisting image and mutate the parameter settings, guessing and then refining their guessing.  First big guesses and then smaller and smaller ones.  Self-similar guessing at multiple scales. They guess because they have absolutely no idea what any parameter change will look like ahead of time. Does that sound like the user giving the machine direction or the machine giving the user direction?

I’m not saying fractal artist don’t own the copyrights to “their images” or that we should all stop putting our names on “our own work” or treating it as “original” or “personal expression”. But you know, there has always been an equally valid argument for the machine being the originator of all fractal art. In fact, if the machine were a person, copyright would be a real problem in fractal art. They have this problem with operas: who’s more important, the composer of the music or the composer of the lyrics? So who should have the copyrights to fractals? The composer of the image or the composer of the title?

A little clarification of automatism

  • Automatism is a principle: self-operation (there’s nothing else to it)
  • Operation refers to the actual formation (drawing) of the imagery and not the peripheral actions of a user (or random number generator) making parameter settings that merely “initialize” the drawing process
  • Self-operation means mechanical operation instead of manual operation (they’re the only two options)
  • No manual operation means no personal involvement because, simply put, you’re not personally involved in the formation (drawing) of the imagery; it’s independent of, and doesn’t reflect the thoughts, ideas, imagination or intentions of the user
  • The concept of personal style is a mistake and is actually impossible.  When it occurs, it’s merely an association that is made with the first person to render that particular combination and permutation of settings with the program.  One “adopts” a style from the automaton rather than “fathering” their own.
  • One’s contribution to the whole image making process consists entirely of adjusting the variables of the automaton, in this case, the parameters in the fractal program, something that can be automated as well (eg. random batches). There is nothing else a user can do than “variate” the variables.
  • Creatively, one browses along a linear series of permutations, hopping or stepping from value to value, all of which were possible before they were actually rendered by individual users because they are just the permutations and combinations of the program’s variables; each image is a “condition” of the program and can be “activated” by anyone using it, even another machine like a random parameter generator.
  • The only way to create something personal and unique is to somehow involve one’s hands in the formation of the image, that is, draw on the image or alter it manually and selectively at the micro-scale.
  • The hands connect one’s conscious mind and imagination to the image because that is the only way our thoughts can be visually expressed and thereby introduces the medium of manualism to the medium of automatism (this will be dealt with in a later posting)
  • All these points are characteristics shared by all forms of automatism, not just fractal programs. Fractal programs are just “fractal-based” automata and as automatic as cellular automata, kaleidoscopes, transformation filters, and all the other varieties of genetic art programming. They’re all “picture machines” drawing a different style of picture, automatically.

What does a fractalist do?

Let’s take a closer look at how a user works with a fractal program. If you’re a fractal artist you know all this but you’ve probably forgotten what is really happening because everybody looks at a fractal program these days as a tool used by a fractal artist when in fact the fractal artist is a tool used by a fractal program.

Let’s take the most creative of all fractal artists:

  • He makes his own formulas!
  • He makes his own rendering methods!
  • He even invents his own gradients!

The program, Ultra Fractal, is the automaton. A mere shell of a thing, it is ultra programmable and not only waiting for UF Man’s directions, it’s waiting for a formula, and a rendering method, and a coloring thing… Can you imagine such a minimal automaton and such a maximal user as this? If anyone can be called The Stallion of Fractal Art, it’s such a user as this.

But even this user is a eunuch, a creative eunuch. Eunuchs are interesting legal entities because they can never be accused of fathering an heir to the throne or other stuff. Google defines it like this: “a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.” So you see, a eunuch is never the author because a eunuch can’t be an author. In fractal art women can be eunuchs, too.

To understand how all fractal program users are followers instead of leaders, and guessers instead of directors, you need to look just a little more closely as what the fractal artist does and when. It’s like a court case, “What did you know and when did you know it?” Firstly, even the author of a fractal formula has no idea what it’s going to look like until it’s rendered. As for the rendering method, it’s just a set of instructions until the program combines it with the formula. The coloring gradient is the same. They’re all configuration settings even in UF where they can be written separately and aren’t just a menu item to be clicked on. But one loads a formula the same way they input any other configuration setting like iteration number or whatever. Writing a formula is just a longer and more elaborate configuration input.  More complex, but not categorically different.

In other programs, Tierazon, for instance; they have simple formula parsers which allow for trigonometric functions (sin, tan, cos…) as well as bracketed sections and the usual numbers and variables like “x”, “c”, etc… The formula parser is just another menu option or input field for variables that the algorithm permits. And no one knows what they’re going to look like until the program displays it. The big point though, is that the program always starts the creative process and not the user. The user then reacts to what the program produces. Like upping the iterations or lowering them, or zooming-in to a deeper location or whatever. It’s the machine making an image and the user fine-tuning it -afterwards. That’s the nature of (the user’s) creativity in fractal art: mutation.

Mutation is the name of the game

Mutation is the rearrangement or alteration of a preexisting system. Just as in Biology, a mutation is the changing of a gene’s function. A gene is like a variable of which the organism is the expression and the form that derives from all the genes in it. A parameter setting in a fractal program is like a gene and the altered value that goes with it is like a mutation to that gene. The image is the result of all the parameter settings’ expression, which would be the equivalent of the reproduced organism. What is there in the rendering of a fractal image that is not a variable? And what variables are there that do not have some sort of option as to what they can be set? Even a formula in UF is just a very elaborate parameter setting which forms part of the machine, the fractal program. The entire fractal program is the automaton, not just the fractal algorithm itself. Fractalists don’t draw the fractal images, they configure them. This is why a fractal image can be stored in a very small text file called a parameter file because it’s not the image, it’s the configuration settings for the automaton.

Artists don’t work by editing parameter files because they wouldn’t know what they were making until it was rendered. It might not even produce anything when edited as a text file in text editor. The user saves the parameter file after the user knows what their parameter changes look like. The user needs the program to guide it in changing parameter settings. The parameter settings are the DNA of the image and the user works by changing them one at a time, one gene at a time, on a preexisting image. They make art by mutation and not creation and certainly not with their imagination.

Mandelbrot said it first

Nothing I’ve said here changes how fractal art works or what it’s value is; it’s just a clarification of what’s been going on ever since Dr Mandelbrot made the first fractals on a computer. Even he said it changed the rules in art back in 1989 in his article, Fractals and an Art for the Sake of Science, in the computer art journal, Leonardo.

A new form of art redefines the boundary between ‘invention’ and ‘discovery’ as understood in the sciences and ‘creativity’ as understood in the plastic arts.

And how about this humdinger…

They [fractals] lend themselves to ‘painting by numbers’ that is surprisingly effective, even in the hands of the rank amateur.

Fractals and an Art for the Sake of Science, Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Leonardo. Supplemental Issue, Vol. 2, Computer Art in Context: SIGGRAPH ’89 Art Show Catalog (1989), pp. 21-24

Has anyone in the fractal art world read Mandelbrot’s article from way back in 1989? It doesn’t seem to have had any influence on them if they have. But I don’t fault anyone for not grasping the brilliant analysis Mandelbrot made back then about fractals and art. The article is very concise and unless you’re familiar with the terminology that accompanies the study of automatism, you would not immediately notice the careful nuances and implications of the words he uses. Mandelbrot understood automatism and for that reason he understood creativity in fractal art very well. I think most fractal artists understand better what Mandelbrot said about geometry than they do what he said about art.  More about that later, as well.

Coming soon, Part 2, which will be all about mutation; our favorite pastime.

Postscript: get an education, visit the new Fractovia

In particular, check out the “READ” section.  I found the article by Dr. Mandelbrot I quoted in Juan Luis Martinez’ most recent blog posting: “Defining fractal art: A “history” (kind of)“.  Juan Luis has been doing a lot of reading and a lot of thinking, too.  From my experience, it’s  the thinking that takes the most time and effort but that’s what yields the most progress.  I’m sure Dr. Mandelbrot spent most of his life thinking.  I was surprised to read how much he thought about art.  I don’t think anyone has contributed as much to both the science of fractals, as well as the art of fractals, as he has.

Galleries of the Gods

Aztec double-headed serpent, British Museum

Aztec double-headed serpent, British Museum

As I said in my last post, there’s something captivating about the Buddhist artworks in the Mogao caves in northwestern China and, strangely enough, I find it to be reminiscent of things I’ve seen in fractal programs.  I’ve come up with a term for this electrifying visual genre: “Divine Diagrams.”  “Divine” because they’re mostly, but not exclusively, religious artworks, and “Diagrams” because they have a highly ordered composition to them that makes them function like elaborate and very ornate diagrams; one almost feels like they should “read” them.  Furthermore, the term is generic because I’ve found that the kind of images in the Mogao caves are universal, occurring in almost every religion and culture and not exclusively Buddhist or Chinese.  Although the actual subject matter and purpose of Divine Diagrams differs depending on the religion or culture they’re from, the basic visual characteristics are the same and form a single, universal style spanning the entire world and even extending into the realm of fractals.

Geometry unites and defines the Divine Diagram genre and gives them also what I think is their artistic appeal.  Otherwise imagery made in such a mechanical medium as a fractal program would be irrelevant and completely unrelated.  But the reason fractal programs are able to produce similar types of imagery is because the medium fractal artists work with, the computer rendering of complex geometry, produces imagery with the same highly ordered visual characteristics.  Different mediums but pursuing the same goal of geometric composition.  In fact, it’s the hand-made artists of the non-computerized media who are attempting to imitate and follow geometric rules while fractal programs are merely doing what is natural to them and for this reason actually have an edge over their manual colleagues.

Geometry is the primary “visual ingredient” that flavours them all –hand-made or computerized.  Geometry is the connection and since geometry is also the source of their artistic appeal, as I personally suggested, fractal programs are not a second-rate source of these Divine Diagrams but simply a fresh variation on this very old artistic theme.

Fractal programs differ in only one substantial way and that’s with respect to the hand-made or hand-painted elements.  But although the faces, hands, trees and other realistic imagery found in the hand-made artworks do not exist in the fractal medium, fractal programs more than make up for this abstract-only limitation with their exhaustive output of complex and intense imagery.  As a result, fractals and other computerized algorithms ought to have a lot of potential for making “Divine Diagrams” if their own specialized abstract medium consisting of color, shape and pattern can fill the obvious aesthetic gaps left by a lack of hand-made artistic content.  Is fractal imagery too plain for such things?

Divine Diagrams

What characterizes this genre of imagery is what it attempts to depict or express:

  • power
  • hierarchy and status
  • divine order
  • revelatory declaration
  • iconic abstraction; simplified, purified essence

The visual characteristics of the genre are:

  • symmetry
  • geometric composition and elements (unifying patterns and simple shapes)
  • symbolic abstraction to the point of being stylish
  • multi-functional imagery (beautiful diagram, ideological map, useful ornament)

Heraldry is an example of the Divine Diagram

Most religious or sacred artwork is a variation of what is best exemplified by a coat of arms.  Heraldic imagery contains all the essential aspects of a Divine Diagram:  they’re symmetrical; symbolic; abstracted; and perform the function of illustrating ideologies or cosmologies (world views) as well as being artistically attractive (ornate, decorative).  Just as form follows function in architecture, the visual characteristics of Divine Diagrams take the form of abstract geometric shapes and patterns which symbolize order, hierarchy, and corporate identity (generic vs. personal).  “Geometric” practically describes the fractal medium so it’s no wonder fractal artists have been stumbling across images that look like coats of arms: it’s a natural product of the fractal medium.

Typical heraldic imagery (from Wikipedia)

Typical, generic heraldic imagery (from Wikipedia)

Notice the symmetry first of all.  And foremost too.  Symmetry is the strongest visual attribute of Divine Diagrams.  But also note the stylized lions on each side.  They could be dragons they look so abstracted and stylized.  The shield in the center is a simple geometric element, as are the little scrolls at the top and bottom (also centered).

For years fractal artists have been posting images with titles like “fractal coat of arms”.  Here’s the first page from a Google search on fractal coat of arms:

Click to go to search page results on Google

Click to reproduce search results on Google


I’m sure there’s been a lot of anthropological studies done on the symbols and styles of the various religious art forms because the similar look, on the surface, and dissimilar ideologies, underneath, make for a startling contrast.  I think the common link uniting all these religious artworks is the human mind and how it intuitively attempts to portray power, authority, order, supreme truth, as well as something a little more vague which I would call “cosmic wonders;” the supernatural has nothing to do with it.  The ideologies associated with the artworks conflict with each other but the pictures, ironically, all fit nicely into one unending cosmic exhibition. Fractals however, lacking any ideological association offer a treasure trove of divine templates for any religion or ideological movement that currently finds itself a little short on visual inspiration.

Divine Diagrams from across the world

Aztec double-headed serpent, British Museum

Aztec double-headed serpent, British Museum

It’s not a huge painting like the ones in the Mogao caves; in fact it’s a sculpture.  This thing is so abstracted and stylized as to be a company logo.  Maybe it will be one day, the interest in this sort of iconic imagery is timeless.  The loops in the center are so seriously geometric that it’s hard to see how its construction wasn’t planned out in a formulaic way with center points, angles and curves.  Although it was carved from wood and covered with turquoise and pine resin (adhesive) it has a very modern, mechanical look to it because of geometric accuracy with which it was made.  It hardly seems necessary to point out the mirror image symmetry.

Virgin of Guadalupe, 1531, Mexico

Virgin of Guadalupe, 1531, Mexico

Still in Mexico but jumping to a different religious world, the famous Virgin of Guadalupe, the New World’s version of the Shroud of Turin.  It displays the traditional Christian Madonna icon geometric layout: semi-symmetrical, encircling rays of a halo.  The human form is naturally symmetrical so it’s presence immediately adds that quality without the artists intention.  The round or oval encircling halo is common to most venerated religious figures.  The use of gold to decorate it is also a universal characteristic of religious art.

Here’s a reinterpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Notice how it’s been made more symmetrical and more orderly –more official and authoritative:


The prize for madonna images goes to the shrine in Walsingham, England, if you can believe that.  It’s actually 20th century, which explains the heavy art noveau look to it.  Originally I thought it was medieval but it’s just too artistically wild for that.  Note, again, the same geometric composition: symmetry; abstraction; simple formulaic shapes, etc…

Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine, England, 1938

Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine, England, 1938

How could British protestants produce such a fine example of iconic artwork?  I would have guessed this was Russian or even something more eastern.  But the answer to the question is simple: when you follow the simple style guidelines of all Divine Diagrams the resemblance to others is automatic.

Here’s a larger image of the shrine:

Holy House, Walsingham England

Holy House, Walsingham England

Compare it, visually, not ideologically, with this Buddhist shrine:

Buddhist Shrine

Buddhist Shrine

The visual style is universal; it’s only the ideologies behind them –behind the imagery– that is contrasting.

Gold Pectoral Plaque of a Shaman Wearing a Saurian Costume 8th - 12th century AD, Central America

Gold Pectoral Plaque of a Shaman Wearing a Saurian Costume 8th – 12th century AD, Central America

Pay attention to the head and the stylized body in general and compare it with this fractal image from Sterling:

Fractal image from Sterling

Fractal image from Sterling

Of course it’s not a perfect match or anything like that, but what I want to suggest here is that the stylized human form is similar and that fractals so easily make these similar kinds of images because the imagery is more geometric than realistic and therefore fractals naturally lend themselves to this genre of geometric abstraction.

Here’s two other pre-columbian Mayan or Incan figurines to consider.  Note the heavy non-human, geometric alterations to the basic human form.

mayan gold figurine 250ad

Apart from the eye/nose/mouth combination of elements, what is human to this figurine? Isn't it mostly geometic?

Apart from the eye/nose/mouth combination of elements, what is human to this figurine? Isn’t it mostly geometric?  The Sterling fractal “man” is just an eye/mouth/ear variation –just like this.

Ultimately the connection is the entire category of Applied Arts since most of this religious stuff falls just as easily into the category of jewelry, a class of artwork that is clearly an applied art rather fine art and has a different function and performs a different function than works of the fine arts.

This one below makes the jewelry connection case well, but there’s thousands of other examples of fractal-like jewelry —  or jewelry-like fractals?  They seem to both come from the same place.

Item from the Waddeston Bequest, British Museum, from Wikipedia

Item from the Waddeston Bequest, British Museum, from Wikipedia

The above item is practically the Mandelbrot set although, again, not an exact match.  The resemblance suggests that many of the shapes formed by fractal programs have already been envisaged by artists and artisans over the centuries as they’ve tried to come up with variations on the theme of geometric ornamentation.

Mandelbrot man variation made in Xaos

Mandelbrot man variation made in Xaos


Navaho sand painting, modern origin from traditional design

Navaho sand painting, modern origin from traditional design

Another geometric design; almost with a digital, pixelated look.  Color, shape and pattern with the added hand-made touch of realistic, representational imagery (people).  This divine diagram really is intended to be read and contains a whole bunch of symbolic statements.  Compare it with this one:

Photoshop filter painting

Photoshop filter “digital sand painting”

This isn’t a fractal, but it’s still algorithmic in origin.  I like it better than the authentic Navajo works and I’d like to see how well it sells at the souvenir stands in New Mexico compared to prints of the genuine sand paintings.  I made it with a variety of chopping effects and finally a symmetry effect that mirror images anything you let it get its hands on.  The style of divine diagrams is simple and geometric and so it’s easy to imitate with simple geometric algorithms.  I can make up a colorful legend to go on the back of the postcard, too.  Tourists love that sort of thing.

Double red-ship palepai ceremonial textile, Paminggir peoples, Kalianda peninsula, Lampung, south Sumatra, Indonesia, radiocarbon-dated to the period 1652–1806. Click to go to larger version at

Double red-ship palepai ceremonial textile, Paminggir peoples, Kalianda peninsula, Lampung, south Sumatra, Indonesia, radiocarbon-dated to the period 1652–1806. Click to go to larger version at

So we’re now in Indonesia and yet the same geometric type imagery is present.  I don’t know if this one is strictly speaking “religious” or not, but “ceremonial” still has the same power and authority theme as its function.  This has a real computer art look with it’s squarey-ness.  The margin on the right side almost looks like an old dot matrix printer report border.  They had some sort of chevron pattern to them if I remember correctly.  Is there some kind of ancient computing connection with the cultures of the world?  Adds a whole new dimension to Erich Von Daniken’s, Chariots of the Gods theories:  Computer Graphics of the Gods.

Here’s something but I’m not sure what it is.  I found it on the Wikipedia on the Waddeston Bequest page:

Jupiter, flanked by reading clerics with asses ears, rear of WB.30

Jupiter, flanked by reading clerics with asses ears, rear of WB.30

Remember, the content is irrelevant, we’re just looking at the pictures:

The Third International - Miniature on a round lacquered plate

The Third International – Miniature on a round lacquered plate.  Click to view larger version.

Different geometric shapes and patterns but the same ideological/religious type of message and therefore the same geometric style to the artwork.  This one, incidentally, was located under the heading of “propaganda” on the Wikipedia page for the Comintern (“Communist International”, also known as the Third International).  I like how both contain the same gesturing, pointing hands and arms.

The leafy border of the Jupiter one with the stylized, coat of arms like composition in the center compares nicely with this soviet era coat of arms for the Ukraine:

Ukraine SSR Coat Of Arms 1949-1992 Soviet Union

Ukraine SSR Coat Of Arms 1949-1992 Soviet Union

Note the common scrolled background/frame element in both the coat of arms and the Jupiter thing.  Their common form follows their common function.  The abstracted wheat that forms the border of the coat of arms is a good example of abstracted imagery; it’s become a pattern and the kind of pattern which fractal programs often spontaneously generate:

Fractal from Sterling

Fractal from Sterling

I could go on with more examples but I think by now you’re either connecting the dots in the same way I am or you never will.  I admit there is something of a “gestalt” here that one needs to “perceive” before they “see it.”  A lot of stuff in art is like that and that’s why I think tastes can vary so much: we don’t understand what others are thinking when they look at “that.”

There’s much more I hope to write about with respect to the “divine diagram” genre because it’s one that I’ve personally made a lot of examples of while experimenting with photoshop filters and other algorithms besides fractals.  It’s really an algorithmic thing and not exclusively fractal.  Fractals just make the most elegant examples, but as you can see now how important the element of symmetry is, almost any image takes on a divine diagram look when it’s mirror imaged or kaleidescoped.  It’s a very easy thing to do digitally but requires much more effort and skill for a hand made artist to imitate.  Algorithmic artists have the edge here, surprisingly and the hand made artists have to struggle to imitate us.

Ultimately my hope is to show that the scope and artistic “reach” of fractals is a function of their medium and not the artists who work with it.  Fractals easily make coats of arms and “divine diagrams” because the geometric essence of those two applied arts genres is geometry.  Add in jewelry and you’ve got just about everything that fractals are capable of making.  They’re in their natural element when they produce works of the applied arts and out of it when the artist tries to fit them into the fine arts category.  That requires a change in the medium because it’s the medium that restricts them to the applied arts.  Changing the medium means adding other software (post-processing) or adding other kinds of imagery like photographs or hand made enhancements (mixed media).  Fractals are simple but fun.

Fractals are the Mogao Caves of our times

One of the many illustrated caves

One of the many illustrated Mogao Caves in northwestern China

Alright, maybe it’s just me but the image above and just about everything else in the Mogao Caves bears a strong visual resemblance to what I see in fractal programs.

What I see in fractal programs:  That might be a new way of defining the term but I believe it’s the most relevant in the context of visual art. This is because fractal formulas when rendered exhibit a discernible style to them just like the work of a painter like Van Gogh or Gustav Klimt or an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright does.  Think of all fractal images as the work of just one artist: would you not suspect he was possibly inspired by the type of artworks we see in the Mogao Caves?

Fractal made in Sterlingware 1.7

So, what are the visual similarities?  What’s the family resemblance between the Buddhist cave and the fractal image?

Visual similarities

  • Symmetry (left/right mirror image)
  • Hierarchical structure (the details support the “macro-tails”)
  • Geometric (circles, squares, parabolas, shapes that are formulaic)
  • Abstracted/Symbolic (simplified and stylized but retaining a resemblance to real things, mainly natural: hills, sky, clouds, flowers,)

It’s not just the visual style resemblance; illustrated caves seems to work like fractal programs too.

Viewing environment similarities (caves and fractal programs, in general)

  • Immersive (walk into a cave; zoom into a fractal)
  • No frame (the whole image is uncontained and unconfined)
  • Interactive (your head’s the frame; turn the head, change the composition; focus on a detail in a corner or the main structure in the center, or something you never noticed before)
  • Variations on a theme (we see repeating shapes and structures; visual deja vu)
  • No distractions (related to immersive; one can easily lose track of time, and space, in fractals because there is no real beginning or end; same for an illustrated cave)

Notice the little, tiny buddha-circles on the side walls in the photo and the little red, dot-balls in the central area of the fractal, one the “walls” of the fractal?  Obviously there’s no close fractal equivalent to the human form so all we can compare the statue of the Buddha in the center of the cave with is the prominent central shape that occurs very often in fractal images (especially in Sterling).  In this fractal it appears to be breaking out of a clearing in the clouds which frame it’s “head” like a garland of flowers or crown of brilliant clouds.

Another of the Mogao Caves

Another of the Mogao Caves


Another of the Sterlingware Caves

Another of the Sterling Caves

The similarity comes from more than just the three niche elements; although you will notice that the fractal niches are all proportional and complimentary to each other like they are in the cave example.  This is what I mean when I’ve said in previous postings that certain kinds of imagery are natural for fractal formulas to make.  Symmetry, hierarchical order, and profuse detail and ornamentation come naturally to fractal images.  The Buddhist art in the Mogao Caves (and elsewhere) exemplifies these same visual aspects for religious reasons to convey and express religious ideology.  The are, in a sense, what I would call “Divine Diagrams” and it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with fractals that fractal images often bear the same elements but, naturally, in a generic way.  Fractal images could easily be used for symbolic purposes in a number of religious contexts.

One interesting bit: notice in the fractal, below each of the niches, there are similar “stains” just as one sees below the niches in the cave photo.  Perhaps it’s from burning candles or food offerings or some sort of weathering?  In the fractal, of course, it’s just part of the formula rendering.

A couple other similarities to point out:

  • there is a vertical line structure/feature extending up above the central niche in both the photo and the fractal
  • all three niches have a framing element to them including a large, expanded framing element overtop of them in both images
  • extending up from the two minor niches in the fractal are two obvious lines which meet a horizontal line just above them.  This corresponds, to some extent, to the wall corners and the border of the edge of the ceiling in the cave image.  It’s just a fluke that the fractal should look like it’s got walls and a ceiling but it’s expected that one should find such geometric elements in a fractal; in the cave they’re just ornamentation of the room’s structure which in this cave is square, rather than round.
  • Notice what could pass as doorways on either side of the fractal on the edge of the image in line with the niches and real doorways in the photo.
  • The geometrical, architectural element of the ledge in front of the cave’s niches is also found below the fractal’s niches.  Again, geometric shapes occur naturally and frequently in fractals which cause them to easily support an architectural analogy because architecture is almost always geometrical.


Mogao Cave painting

Mogao Cave painting


Fractal Cave painting

Fractal Cave painting


Visvarupa Lokeshvara; not from the Mogao Caves but still Buddhist (or Hindu?)

Visvarupa Lokeshvara; not from the Mogao Caves but still Buddhist or Hindu or both.

Some of the same similarities occur here with respect to shapes, frames, borders, hierarchy; I think you get the idea now.  I added the last one, a statue from somewhere, because it really emphasizes the design similarities between fractal imagery and these Buddhist paintings and statues.  The last one looks so much like the fractal image that it’s hard to believe it came first.  But this is my big point: the type of imagery that fractal programs produce has existed for centuries in the form of Buddhist religious imagery.  And, if you’re familiar with religious art in general, many forms of religious art and symbolism have this fractal program resemblance .  In fact, it has no particular correlation with any one religion, I just happened to notice it for the first time while browsing the Mogao Caves on the Wikipedia.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this fractal art / religious art connection.  In my next post I expand the comparison of fractal imagery with the whole spectrum of religious art showing that the elements and style of religious art are in fact inherently fractal and therefore the sort of visual art that fractals produce easily, prolifically and to perfection.

Everything you need to know about Fractals and Art in one blog post


Fractals are many things to many people but as an art form they’re really very simple:  Fractals are a visual medium.

Do not be fooled by such simple language and such a simple statement,  “medium” is the thin edge of the wedge that splits fractal art apart and reveals all it’s inner workings!  If you’ve ever wanted to get to the bottom of what fractal art is, this is it.

First, let’s define things more precisely: An art medium is the material an artist works with and creates their art from.  More importantly, the medium is what an artist “works in.”  Think of it as a workshop that contains all their tools and all the raw materials they have to construct with and also contains, within its walls, all the ways they can interact or work with those tools and materials.  Whatever can be done in that workshop is what constitutes and defines “the medium.”  To understand a medium is to know how it works: what’s possible and what isn’t.

Fractals are perhaps one of the simplest of all art mediums and therefore ought to be one of the easiest to understand.  Let’s ask the question, “What can be done with fractals?”  The answer to this question ought to be a definition or description of the medium.  This will in turn define the scope of fractal art and explain why certain artistic goals are not possible with fractals as well as explain why others are so very, very easy.

Although there’s no limit to the formulas that can be discovered and the rendering techniques that can be written for a fractal program, this apparent “unlimitedness” is actually quite limited: fractal artists can only work with formulas and rendering methods.

How is this “limited?” especially considering the endless array of options that populate most fractal programs?  You have to understand that I’m trying to relate fractal art to the rest of what is called “art.”  You need to step back and look at the whole world of art and all the many other mediums that there are.  You need to consider the “workshops” of other artists and compare those to that of a fractal artist.  This is why I say fractals are a very simple medium –compared to all the others.

Fractals are artificial, mechanical imagery that lacks both the real world imagery of photography and the imaginary imagery that artists create when working directly on the canvas with their hands.  Fractal artists work by remote control adjusting whatever parameters the formulas and rendering methods allow while the program fulfills the traditional role of the artist by drawing the actual imagery.

Photographers can capture anything they can see and painters can depict anything their imagination can conceive but fractal artists can’t do either of these two things and so their “workshop” lacks the two most common sources of artistic imagery: the real world and the human mind.

How far would Salvador Dali have gotten with a fractal program?  I think he would have found it rather limiting although somewhat interesting in its own limited way.  Yousuf Karsh, the great portrait photographer: how can fractals do what he does?  Which brings us to the real essence of what an artistic medium means: The medium isn’t the message; the medium is the vocabulary of the message.

The fractal medium is the vocabulary that fractal artists work with: it creates and therefore limits what artists can speak with and depict in their art work.  It’s a vocabulary of color, shape and pattern.  That’s the workshop of the fractal artist.  It’s abstract, organic and geometric.  But there’s one other important element to the fractal workshop: it’s computational.  The same thing that creates the artificial and mechanical nature to fractal imagery also gives it a prolific level of output, intensity of detail, and rendering perfection that no other medium can match.

The fractal medium has weaknesses but it also has some strengths.  As an artist, whether you find it engaging or frustrating really depends on what kind of artistry you’re pursuing.  If we can divide the art world into the two categories of Fine Arts and Applied Arts, then fractals clearly fall into the Applied Arts variety.  This is a direct result of the simple color, shape and pattern vocabulary of fractals: they don’t convey complex themes and subtle commentary that photographic or hand-made artworks do.  On the other hand, fractals naturally portray complex graphical designs with unwavering perfection in every single detail.  What graphic designer will ever create imagery that matches even the humble Mandelbrot Set in terms of detail and complexity?  This is what fractals do best.  Actually, it’s the only thing they do:  Abstract, organic imagery that is variations on the three basic visual elements of color, shape and pattern.

There will be no fractal da Vincis (or Dalis), but there will be fractal coats of arms and other works of computational heraldry.  You won’t find fractals in the fine arts category but you will find them rivaling the best works in the decorative arts and even redefining and extending what can be conceived in that genre.  Fractal artists regularly look at the impossible in their fractal programs and I think have grown a little complacent to the sort of visionary imagery that would be a masterpiece on the wall of almost any religious temple.

In fact, that’s how I came to write this blog post and why it took me so long.  While viewing photos of the Buddhist Mogao Caves on the Wikipedia I found myself nagged by this persistent question: “Why does this look fractal?”  Here’s an outline of my odyssey that took me, backwards, to what fractals are as an art form:

-mogao caves: what is fractal about this? – religious art, icons
-religious art: what is fractal? symmetry, geometric, abstracted, symbolic, hierarchical –heraldry
-heraldry: coats of arms, noticed for a long time by fractal artists, natural for fractals, –part of applied arts
-applied arts: what is fractal? the medium, not fine arts, small vocabulary of color, shape, pattern,
-medium: fractals are an applied art medium, they make that kind of imagery because they are limited to color, shape and pattern –separated from photography because realistic imagery isn’t part of the medium

This blog post is just the conclusion of that odyssey.  I will cover the other parts in future posts because this all happened backwards and they’re practically already written.  I’m sure it will be even more convincing because nothing describes art better than the art itself.  You can judge for yourself then if my conclusions seem correct.  The Bermuda Triangle may never get solved but I believe I’ve finally “solved” fractal art.


The Art Dimension: turning fractals into art

In my previous series of postings (first, second) on how to separate the art from the fractals, I basically say that the only way to do more with fractals than simply create computer crafts is to focus on producing works of abstract expressionism or landscape/place.  These are the only two existing art genres where fractals seem to gain any traction.  This is where the artistic talent of fractal algorithms really start to shine.  Everywhere else fractal programs function as nothing more than The Kaleidoscope of the Computer Age, a magical toy that makes everyone feel they’ve captured the genie in Aladdin’s lamp and become rich.

On a side note, I was recently contacted by Paul Griffitts, a fractal artist whose work fits in well with the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibitions that occurred several years ago in Spain..  Paul’s vision of fractal art is dramatically different than mine as can be easily seen by the work he produces.  But Paul’s work, despite being made in the 3D fractal program, Mandelbulb3d, doesn’t exploit the landscape or “depiction of place” potential that this new fractal programming presents and for that reason is a good teaching example of why fractals so often fall short of becoming more than just colorful imagery.  However, another of Paul’s images that I will present is something that shows real potential in a way that startled even me.  Fractal art is full of surprises.

~ Click on images to view full size on original site ~

A Festive 3D Encounter by Crike49 on

A Festive 3D Encounter by Crike49 on

Folks, don’t be fooled by the homey Christmas theme here, I cried out, “Son of Dali!” when I saw this one just a few weeks ago.  It’s full of the “window-worlds” of micro imagery that often pour forth and drain back into the limitless panoramas of Salvador Dali’s fragmented surrealist symphonies.

The ornate spiderweb fractal thing is not terribly important; it’s the three dimensional landscape and places to be discovered in the web holes and and room dividers of the image.  The simple blue palette is almost “anti-fractal” in its muted appearance but the strong reflective light on the snow (ice?) in the left foreground pours a strange kind of life into the image’s deserted panorama.  It’s “full” of emptiness.  As well as additional rendering in Twisted Brush, if I’m reading the gallery page notes correctly.

This is the kind of mental dimension that I’ve been saying marks the difference between artistic imagery and the purely “nice to look at” imagery that is craft or decoration or ornament.  They function differently and as such the two types of imagery get different receptions.  Not everyone will get the same sort of mental thrill out of this image by Crike49 that I do, but I have enough confidence in my perception of art to say that it’s not just all in my own head.  People argue all the time about the relative merits of artworks.  Click on it and view it full size on Fractalforums to get a heaping eye-full.

Untitled (June 18, 2016) by Holocene (Paul Griffitts)

Untitled (June 18, 2016) by Holocene (Paul Griffitts)

Believe it or not, this was made with a 3d fractal program and not Ultra Fractal.  I find it intriguing how Paul would pursue a type of traditional fractal imagery, ornamentalism, with a program that has been blowing the doors off business as usual in the fractal art world.  This is what I mean when I said Paul has a different vision for fractal art: he’s not afraid of sticking with the conventional 2d style of fractal art that could almost be labeled retro (note the spirals).  The 3d capabilities of the Mandelbulb3d are utilized in a muted way here just to provide a bas-relief or embossed effect rather than the deep panoramic landscapes that Crike49 presents.

Paul’s work is oriented around a very different aesthetic and naturally that’s his prerogative as a creative artist; what I’m arguing is that the elegant design approach to fractal art is actually rather limited because it speaks a much simpler language than landscape and place does and for that reason all one can say is “beautiful” over and over again as variations on a theme.  It’s a niche, and not a very deep one despite it’s prevalence in the fractal art scene for decades.  There was a time when that’s we all had to work with.  It’s ironic that the new software is being used to make the old art.

And now for something completely different

Untitled May 18 2016 by Holocene (Paul Griffitts)

Untitled May 18 2016 by Holocene (Paul Griffitts)

If you remember what I wrote about fractals and portraits you will know that I basically said that fractals can’t make portraits because the human form and especially human facial expressions just don’t happen with fractal algorithms in the same way that landscapes and wild abstract expressionism does.  So the guy I just labeled as “retro,” and using the same program as before, created this “impossible” fractal portrait: he broke the fractal portrait sound barrier.

If you don’t see the portrait that’s okay.  I don’t think Paul saw it either, but that’s what art criticism is here for: to sharpen your perception.

A picture says a thousand words and this one should do it:

The Son of Man by Rene Magritte, 1946

The Son of Man by Rene Magritte, 1946

Son of Magritte!  Notice how well Magritte avoids the human face in his portrait.  It’s almost become a sub-genre in surrealist art, putting an apple or anything else in front of a human face to obscure the expression in a startlingly expressive way.  I think the most widely accepted interpretation of Magritte’s floating apple in front of the face is that people hide behind things and so a more accurate portrayal of people is actually what obscures them rather than the “real” person behind the apple.  If the existentialist quote is true: “man invents himself” then this portrait by Magritte would say: “man becomes his deception”: we are what he hide behind: our choice of masks betrays our identity.  Ironic, iconoclastic and well worth the effort it takes to produce a painting; not to mention the numerous art discussions it has spawned.  Perhaps Magritte just like painting stuff that was startling and it was his audience that invented the “man hides his true face” explanation.  The paint never dries on a surrealist artwork.

Back to Paul’s image: surely you must see the portrait now: there’s a suit jacket, a shirt collar, a tie; and the clothing pattern reiterates itself into the face which appears, like Magritte’s in basic shape only, a sort of “your face here” portrait template that could fit as the (male) avatar for our age.  Paul made a piece of “art”.  Compare how it functions with this extremely famous one:

Figure with Meat by Francis Bacon, 1954

Figure with Meat by Francis Bacon, 1954

Nobody worth his gallery coffee shop latte argues that this isn’t “art”  And what does it mean?  What is it saying?  Many artists are silent on what they’re work “means” or “says” and I think one reason is that they themselves aren’t completely sure about what it’s saying or meaning and they don’t want to appear ignorant.  Art is not always deliberate or intentional and just as I said the paint never dries on surrealist art, it’s pretty slow to dry on many other kinds, too.

One of the things the study of psychology brings to art is the understanding that we don’t always know why we do things and therefore an artist may not fully understand what it is that creates the impression they get from their own work.  How much less the impression their audience gets.  Or doesn’t get?  Furthermore, in different cultural contexts and even different generation contexts I’m sure “the” message of almost any artwork can change.  I’ll bet no one looks at Paul’s, Untitled May 18 2016 the same way anymore, now that I’ve reinterpreted it.  That doesn’t mean I’ve made them like it or not like it, art is too complicated for such crude words; a useful interpretation is one that helps people decode their own impression of an artwork.  At its best, a useful interpretation allows the viewer to see greatness in an artwork that they’d previously passed over.  It’s the same with movies, books and music, too.  Art isn’t always obvious but beauty is.

Where art grows on trees

fractal-7792 by Jock Cooper

fractal-7792 by Jock Cooper

Looks pretty “fractal” doesn’t it?  Not in the usual way but in the sense that it’s very geometric and detailed.  What transforms this image from just an example of freaky fractal feedback into art is the expression of an idea: art factory.  The little mondrian frames are each quite unique and the medium sized one in the right bottom edge ground (bottom second column from the right) with it’s yellow color scheme has an almost deliberate artistic touch. Move up two frames to the little louvered thing and the impression of sunlight and the outdoors is a sharp contrast to the factory, although it might represent the final installation of a factory made ventilator outlet.  Could this be the raw artwork for a sales brochure?

But the strongest of all themes and ideas represented here is the recursion of the frames in several places that clearly suggests mass production all over the place.  So much everywhere and leading back into an endless supply of more.  It’s almost a comment on fractals: cheap and perfect.  I doubt Jock was thinking of that, but I’m sure the theme of recursion is what caught his eye when he made this one and picked it out from his explorations.

This one is an example of both place as well as abstract expressionism.  Notice how in the top right corner of the largest recursion example, in the top mid-ground, the pattern becomes just squares on a black background in an Escher-esque dissolving into simple shapes way: substance becomes symbol.

Then there’s the simple blue frame triplet in the top right corner.  It looks like the view out of a window overlooking the sea, and again in contrast to the darkened factory imagery this outdoor and minimalist view suggests the intervention of human artistry, but I’m guessing it’s just one of those fractal accidents that one has to keep their eyes peeled for when browsing raw fractal imagery.

Fractals are a different kind of medium and I guess in the end that’s what makes fractal art so hard to explain, as well as so hard to make.  We think we’re the artists but we’re really the audience.  Our role is different and it’s more about looking and sensing than it is about making and doing.

Place: Where Art and Fractals Overlap

As I concluded in my previous posting, there are only two art genres which fractals are capable of contributing to: Abstract Expressionism and Landscape/Place. Everything else created with the fractal medium is what I would call snapshots: interesting, even fascinating imagery but lacking in expressiveness or the portrayal of a tangible “place”. If it doesn’t go with Pollock or look like a place you could step into then it goes into the photo album. Most fractal imagery is of the photo album variety because most fractal “artists” are really craft and decoration makers and so they pursue pretty things rather than artistic things. That’s who they are and so that’s what they do. Art has a deeper dimension to it, a mental resonance, and fractal art can have a deeper dimension to it also but it only seems to achieve this when it creates works that fit into the categories of Abstract Expressionism and Place. That’s where the fractal medium has it’s artistic application; that’s where art and fractals overlap.

Mandelbrot is the founder of fractal science, but Pollock is the founder of fractal art

Mandelbrot is the founder of fractal science, but Pollock is the founder of fractal art

I guess you’re thinking along the lines of the old argument that it all depends on how you choose to define what “art” is? Let me propose this simple, practical definition: we recognize art because it’s the stuff that’s harder to forget. Art makes a stronger impression on us and that’s what separates the “art from the toys”, if you will forgive me for making such an attempt at humour. I agree with the opinion that art is subjective, but I would also add that art is collective, and not because it rhymes. Purely personal, exclusive tastes in art are simply the eccentricities of one’s personality; art is a social thing because it’s communication/expression/conversation and that requires something in common, a interaction between people, a sharing of experience/ideas/revelation/perception. If no one else sees what you see then it’s all in your head.

One of the things that has always distinguished fractals as an art form is how hard it is to define in terms of artistry because it’s made in such a different way and bends and breaks all the normal definitions of “artist” and “medium”. Fractal imagery is incredibly easy to make and but it often has more detail and “workmanship” in it than almost any great painting. And yet, after more than several decades of existence there isn’t a single great “standard” or influential masterpiece of fractal artwork to point to that has any sort of widespread acceptance in the art world or even within the fractal art world itself. There have been many prizes awarded over the years in the fractal art world but there has been very little artwork that deserved them.  The “great” fractal art of the past seems to have been easily forgotten: the hallmark of “not-art” because it hasn’t left a lasting impression on the minds of its audience.  Fractals are dramatic but art is traumatic.  Memory is a like a mental dent.

A word about art sales

I think the easiest form of art to sell is not really art at all but rather something I would more precisely label as “craft”. Craft differs from art in that it’s something pretty and visually soothing to look at rather than mentally provocative. Craft is like visual air freshener or decoration or a comfy graphical couch to rest our eyes on. Craft is something that most people always like to look at, while art is something you have to be in the right frame of mind for. As a result people will more likely buy a big piece of craft to decorate their living room than they will buy an art print.

Living room, dining room or front hall?

Living room, dining room or front hall?

While art is something we will often stare at we don’t really like it staring at us –all the time. And so we like to have art, like Picasso’s Guernica, or just about anything made by Salvador Dali, –in a book on a shelf– so we can take it out and put it away when we’ve had enough of those ideas and things. Art satisfies a mental appetite rather than a purely visual one and so the hunger for art is much more unpredictable and has a wider range of intensities. Art is often not beautiful in the common sense but possesses a mental beauty which at times is unappropriate. Craft is fun and much more marketable. Art is highly respected and honored by generations to come but Craft makes more money and drives a nice car right now.

Most fractal artists confuse craft with art because craft is what they like and the only kind of imagery that achieves consensus in online social groups, the primary venue for presenting fractal art (ie. “Fractalbook“).

Back to art…

What’s been separating fractals from art for so long is the inability of artists to capitalize on the few artistic themes that the fractal medium is capable of reproducing. Instead of looking for fresh examples of abstract expressionism, fractal artists have been collecting wispy pinwheels, or, as I said a few years ago in another post, Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold. Eyecatching but shallow stuff that makes the question, Is it art? not worth asking. I came to the conclusion years ago that artists just don’t find the fractal medium to be very exciting and for that reason there are very few of them getting involved with it.

However, the 3d fractal revolution has changed that. Art has become an easy thing for 3d fractal artists to pursue because the 3d fractal medium makes it easy to capitalize on another artistic theme, other than abstract expressionism, that fractals are capable of: the theme of “place”. Place is a room, building, landscape; any location or spatial situation you can find yourself in. Place is any “place” you can be; It’s the physical context of “being”. Place is where you “are” or where you could be. It’s a rich fertile artistic theme and one which 3d fractal algorithms have a natural talent for. Abstract expressionism benefited greatly from the use of post-processing methods like photoshop filters which meant 2d fractal artists had to expand their skill set and incorporate non-fractal tools, not to mention a more traditional artistic sensibility, in order to make innovative work; something which rubbed most members of the fractal art “herd” the wrong way. But place is the natural domain of 3d fractal programming and the herd is taking to it quite well.

Place: the portrait without a face

Portrait (from Wikipedia)
A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.

The portrait is the most potent form of realistic art. Nothing is more expressive and conveys more information, subtle and nuanced, than a human face. People can easily relate to other people because we know them like we know ourselves. Art is colossally human-centric and facial imagery and the human form attract the majority of artistic activity and attention. Here’s where fractals (but not photography) get cut off, alienated and exiled from the world of art. Without the ability to create facial imagery or the human form, fractal artists are practically castrated when it comes to creating art.

Next to the portrait in artistic powers is the landscape. One could even call a landscape painting a landscape portrait. Once again, we can easily relate to landscape imagery because we live in landscapes ourselves. Landscape is the environment we live in and portraits are the people. Between those two themes is most of what is called realistic art –realism. One is either looking at a person’s face or the environment they live in. Art is about ideas: thought, ruminations, commentary, criticism, speculation, analysis, life, enjoyment, beauty. It’s not surprising then that most artwork literally reflects the people who make it and the things that surround them because the human mind is what art comes from and revolves around. This is a problem for mechanically made imagery like fractals because it lacks relevance and connection to the ongoing human soap opera called life. Art is cognitive, not simply what is visual. Art is about thinking, not merely seeing. The mind is the audience, not the eyes and so it’s the impression of art that counts, not really the imagery, particularly the quality of the imagery that creates the impression.

Godzilla vs The Mona Lisa


This doesn’t need a caption

Whenever I feel in a balloon-popping, iconoclastic mood about art, I like to belittle the Mona Lisa. This usually provokes people into becoming more interesting as they attempt to either fight back and defend that great masterpiece or join in with the attack on it which then quickly spreads to everything that has ever gained any respect in the art world. Often, later on, while reflecting on my Mona Listic insults in private, I sometimes felt I had actually stumbled onto something intelligent and not merely a conversational toy: pry off the face of the Mona Lisa and something genuinely intriguing is revealed.

That intriguing thing is the landscape in the background; that mysterious road through the bare, desolate mountains that looks both pristine and ancient; that wispy world of “both shadow and substance”.  It’s my favorite part of the painting (here I go again), perhaps not even painted by da Vinci himself who probably delegated such peripheral elements to his students while concentrating his own artistic efforts on the serious part of the painting, that of Mona’s face. Fractals are more likely to come up with a better “landscape in the background” than they are a “face in the foreground”.

We can see as much emotion and feeling in a place as we do a face although place is more subtle and not as direct. We can convey a mood with an environment as well as a human face. It’s not as powerful as an actual portrait of a person. When it comes to artistic expression, you can’t beat the human face! Look how ridiculously famous the Mona Lisa is. And for what? Is she really about to smile, or to grimace at having to sit still for so long?  And for that matter, isn’t that famous “smile” thing just an example of mental suggestion? Now no one can look at the painting objectively.

All the feeling of a portrait without a human representation

Place represents the subtle smile or the much more subtle facial expressions, or even the so subtle it’s not possible to portray them as facial phenomenon expressions that are faceless yet deep and moving. Like the feeling associated with the imagery from a dream, that has no logical connection with that feeling, and is as if it has been merely painted with it, like an ordinary rock bearing the fragrance of a strange perfume. One of the most easily recognizable surrealist painters is Giorgio de Chirico.  In his simple and minimalistic paintings, de Chirico has, like most surrealist painters, captured the “fragrance” of a dream –feeling or sensation.  The effect often comes as much from the place and the non-human elements in the painting than it does from the secondary roles played by the human forms or faces.

The Anguish of Departure, Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

The Anguish of Departure, Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

Place is more than landscape: place is location and is any spatial situation one can find themself in. In short, anywhere you can be. Place is context. Place is as primordial as the human face. Somewhere in my first year Psychology course it was mentioned that all human beings can relate to the simple imagery of trees with grass around them because that’s the primordial nursery our race was born into: the African Savannah.

Fractal imagery can’t compete in the portrait category because faces are an unlikely outcome for geometric or organic algorithms. Faces are too unique, specialized and complicated. But fractals, especially 3d fractals, are quite good at creating environments, landscapes and places. 3d fractals lend themselves to architectural imagery and often surpass the creativity of the hand made arts in this respect. Place is becoming the most successful niche of fractal art thanks to the development of 3d fractals. You could go so far as to say it’s the only thing they do consistently well.

I think it’s because architecture as well as landscape is much more geometric and textural than portraits are. A smile is a complicated thing and composed more of impression than design. It’s extremely nuanced and involves all of the other facial elements like the eyes, cheeks, complexion and so on. Fractal algorithms have been used for a long time in computer generated landscape creation because it uses their natural abilities. Landscapes are very fractal while faces are not. In fact, landscapes are fractal. 3d fractals have brought fractal art back full circle to where the concept of fractals originated: describing natural phenomena like coastlines, clouds and frosty window panes. That’s where Benoit Mandelbrot got his ideas from.

In the next posting, Part 3, I’ll focus on some examples of fractal art that lay in that shared artistic space where art and fractals overlap.  Finally, some examples of real fractal art –after all these years!

Why can’t fractals do what art does?

Over the years I’ve come to see this as the perennial problem in fractal art. Naturally there are many other perspectives regarding the “art-worthiness” of fractals, among which the most common seems to be that they’re essentially no different than any other medium that artists work with. But this doesn’t explain why the enormous creative powers of fractal formulas hasn’t resulted in enormous amounts of creative art. Fractals ought to be artistic powerhouses but instead they’re merely fractal powerhouses.


There’s a killer on the road…

There seems to be something deceptively enticing about fractals with respect to their artistic potential: they look like they can do almost anything and yet after a couple of decades what has resulted is almost nothing except for works of mere technological interest. There are no great works of fractal art, only a great number of little fascinating things.

The fractal medium is deceptive. Part of the deception of fractals is that the creative thrill of using a fractal program and zooming through the incredible fractal vistas that it magically generates is lost when we stop the “fractal experience” and try to capture it as a still image. It’s like looking at vacation photos or, for your audience, looking at someone else’s vacation photos; they’re just not anything like the real thing, the vacation is missing from the vacation photos. But then a picture taken on a roller coaster isn’t anything like riding that roller coaster and fractals are a graphical roller coaster. To use yet another analogy: fractal art pulled out of its interactive fractal environment is like a fish out of water. We don’t understand the art form and so we don’t understand why it dies when we move it to the art gallery.


The other deceptive thing about fractals I’ve come to recognize is that they speak a completely different visual language than most everything else in the art world. Fractals are not just abstract, they’re an almost empty kind of abstraction; full of fractal style and “infinite detail” but lacking anything that the average person can connect with, relate to.  Monet’s water lillies are full of feeling although being, just like most examples of impressionism are, semi-abstracted. Fractal programs can create all sorts of freaky things but they just can’t do what simple water lillies do. It sounds ridiculous to say that but that’s what is deceptive about fractals: they contain all the ingredients for an explosion of art but seem to be missing that ridiculous little spark.

And that would be an artist, right?  What about the artist? How about adding the creative talents and direction of a feeling, human mind to the mix? A fractal program is just a tool. An artist will use that software tool to make art just like a photographer uses a camera to make their art.

Yeah, how come that doesn’t work either?

One of the biggest surprises of the Ultrafractal phenomenon where the artist was placed right in the middle of the rendering process where they could layer, mask, import, add, substract, multiply, etc… with full artistic control, was that it didn’t make for fractal art that was any better than the old single layer fractal programs. It just allowed everyone to boast about how hard they’d worked to make it. In fact, I came to the conclusion that the more an “artist” was allowed to get their hands on the imagery and alter the simple processing of a fractal program, the more likely they were to degrade the image rather than improve it. Becoming an “Ultrafractalist” allowed everyone to say they were artists and not simple button pushers but the lack of good artwork just emphasized how incredibly defeating the medium was because those “artists” were no better than button pushers when it came to making fractal art. Just look at all the award winning stuff the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests exhibited: who remembers any of them now that the social effervescence that attracted their audience is gone? Fractals programs were more interesting when they were soulless mechanical things than when they received a human heart from their well intentioned Wizard of Oz artist who was now directing them by hand: manual and mechanical methods don’t mix.


There are only two strategies for making art with fractals. What I mean is there are only two areas of fractal graphics that overlap with areas in the world of art. Maybe there are more, but I’ve noticed only two after my brief fifteen years with the medium. There are only two artistic genres that fractals have any natural talent to function in and that’s Abstract Expressionism and Landscape. Outside of those two themes fractal programs are just an amusement park to stroll around in.

And I’ll tell you, I love to go on those fractal roller coasters more than anyone. I just don’t expect any art to come from them anymore, just vacation photos: warm memories of the past that no one understands but me.

Stay tuned.  Part II won’t be quite as grumpy.

Only …the Awesome!

There are many ways to judge fractal artworks; you could look for beauty, whatever that is, or you could look for expression, or artistic merit, or something else too profound for words.  I look for “Awesome!”.  Call it the Awesome School of Fractal Art Criticism, or Awesome-ism for short.  The exclamation mark is optional.

~ Click on images to view full-size on original site ~

The Congregation by Madman

The Congregation by Madman

Isn’t that awesome!  It’s even better full-size;  the “painterly” quality is more evident.  The composition and variety in this one really shows the potential for 3D fractals: play with the parameters enough and look around long enough and you’ll find readymade paintings like this one.  The lighting looks natural and with the repeated pattern of attending pillars there appear to be surreal sub-congregations tucked in beside uber-members who tower with architectural prominence.  If a painter set out to paint a scene like this the hard way, would it turn out better than this?

Landscape by alexl

Landscape by alexl

This one is just too real.  It looks like the perfect photograph of an imaginary place.  I think that’s a mausoleum in the background and though that might not sound too exciting, the whole place is begging to be explored.  Fractals are virtual places and we explore them in computer programs but I think they’re more real than the photos of real world places we’ve never been and never will visit.  A good 3d fractal image leaves you with the feeling that you’ve been somewhere.  And an imported sky backdrop helps too.  But notice the shadows in the image: the sun is behind us, somewhat high in the sky, like about 9 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon.  The weather looks good so we can take our time wandering around until sunset.  The photographer was careful to maneuver their own shadow out of the frame of the photograph.

Chamber by 3dickulus

Chamber by 3dickulus

In the words of the master himself: “I simply can’t get enough of this object… fascinating endless variety”  Once again this is an excellent example of vividity.  That’s the awesome version of vivid.  I feel this is underwater and although we’re in a dim, cool place, the shaft of sunlight pouring down suggests it’s a bright, hot day on the surface.  I might have labeled this “Neptune’s Throne” because it has a majestic quality to it.  3dickulus has more like these on (the throne of fractal art).  They all have this interesting liquid style to them with lots of endless variety as he says.  The coloring fits in nicely with it to give them a “painted sculpture” appearance.

A Quiet Spot by fraxialmadness3

A Quiet Spot by fraxialmadness3

Yes, that’s lake effect at the bottom.  But it actually adds to the awesomimity instead of what it usually does.  I think it adds some sort of rhythm that enhances the soothing and dreamlike visionary effect of the image.  It ought to be a haunting image with those dark forest shadows in the background, but I have a feeling that whatever disturbing thing comes out from there will be transformed once it steps into the light of the glowing spiral tree galaxies.  This is a bit old school now and goes back about 6 years but fraxialmadness3 “nailed it” as they say on hip television these days.  A simple but powerful scene which is even more incredible since, as you may not have noticed yet, it’s entirely monochrome.  How many monochrome fractals do you see that look great like this?  If there was a textbook for fractal art techniques, this one would be in it.

Uf1992 by 0Encrypted0

Uf1992 by 0Encrypted0

Encrypted has a lot of awesome stuff on his Deviant Art gallery.  I just looked through it while trying to find the title for the image above and thought I could do an entire posting just on a few of the things he’s got posted there.  Encrypted is one of the few fractal artists who works well in both 2d as well as 3d fractals and his recent Ultra Fractal postings really show this.  Some people just have a good eye for design and composition and that seems to be 80% of good fractal art.  In addition to that, he’s got a sort of da Vinci style to his 3d images that is unique; and personal style is a hard thing to accomplish in algorithmic art where we all seem to be fishing in the same pond most of the time.  The 2d image above has a nice balance between action and intense detail versus quiet and plain textured areas.  It’s a good example of what I call the image within the image genre which is easy to find in fractals but not so easy to select and crop.  It just takes a sort of instinctive ability that one also sees in photography:  some people just frame stuff up better than the rest of us.

MB3D_0810_hd by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0810_hd by 0Encrypted0

I remember seeing another (awesome!) image like this I think I also reviewed.  I often save images I see while browsing the internet but only give them an ID number that refers to a URL in a text file.  The result is I often forget who the artist is until I decide to include them in a posting which can sometimes be years later.  I would never have connected this image and the one just before it with the same artist but fractal art is always full of surprises.  This one has that renaissance feel to it I was suggesting before with the da Vinci thing.  But it’s also a rather unique 3d fractal in that it seems to be made entirely of gold foil or, perhaps, wisps of toffee.  Just like alexl’s image earlier, this one begs us to step over the picture frame and walk around.  It reminds me also of old fence lines around fields in the country that often formed a wall of scraggly, thorny trees with the occasional break between them that cattle would occasionally squeeze through and make into a gateway.

In the heart of Trantor by Bib

In the heart of Trantor by Bib

The lighting, coloring, detailing, shadowing, and just about everything-ing is simply awesome in this one.  This is actually one of my all time favorite 3d fractal images.  Remember the Death Star in Star Wars?  Do you know how much time and money they spent designing and building it?  And all the people involved?  This fractal image just makes them all look like fools.  Look at that gleaming cliff face up in the middle of the top section; just awesome.  And the whole place has the feel of an abandoned ruin, too; the feel of an Egyptian tomb.  Or a dusty shelf in a huge warehouse.  There’s a surreal, modern/ancient, crowded/desolate, theme to the image as well.  The mixing of moods that doesn’t naturally occur.

The Fractal Stage by arteandreas

The Fractal Stage by arteandreas

As the gallery comments from the Deviant Art page say, there’s a surreal feel to this one.  I think it’s because the image is both realistic as well as abstracted; it treats the simplified, abstracted imagery as if they were real by giving them texture and especially, that shadow cast across the blue “lake” in the middle.  I sensed a connection with backbones in the curving, semi-porous “cliff face” in the bottom section: subconscious association, another surrealist overtone.  It also suggests the reservoir of a hydro-electric dam in the mountains.  The image is richly symbolic and diagrammatic while at the same time composed of unique, individualized elements with elaborate detail.  The symmetry magnifies the interest by making everything in the image appear to have a symbolic form like a crest or coat of arms.

Space Kundalini 7 by Dorianoart

Space Kundalini 7 by Dorianoart

Here’s another (awesome!) example of pattern and artistry.  And color; Dorianoart always manages to do rich color in a tasteful way: saturated but not over-saturated.  As always, I like the old style digital elements like the blocky bits and glassy claws.  Notice, by “zooming out” a bit, that the left half is blurry and blue while the right half is clear and bright.  That’s the aerial perspective technique I learned about in high school art class: bluish haze naturally conveys an impression of distance and gives a landscape depth.  This being a digital landscape, and sideways, too.

MidspaceTraces II by JoeFRAQ

MidspaceTraces II by JoeFRAQ

This one is awesome for something that may not be apparent at first:  it is an extremely real and function scene.  People don’t draw fractals, they alter the parameters that draw the fractals.  Of course one can stick in all sorts of other imagery but this one is astonishingly convincing all on it’s own.  We see hallways; not surprising in any 3d fractal image but they also have overhead and ground level tracks like you’d find in a underground train tunnel or in a warehouse or manufacturing setting: the basic elements make functional sense.  The doorways are framed which is a natural element in any passageway that passes through a wall (door frame, window frame).  The green roundish thing above could easily be a light fixture, ventilation duct or camera fixture, while the similar element on the floor could be a drain suggesting that the bluish haze over the floor area represents water and the floor is in fact flooded.  This could easily be some sort of spent nuclear fuel storage pool or a surreal Turkish bath complex.  The pastel color scheme fits with either one but I think suggests more the illumination in a  nuclear fuel storage pool.  Let this be the first official record of realism synchronicity (new term).

Desert Diner by mclarekin

Desert Diner by mclarekin

I think this was posted to as a humorous offering, but upon looking closely at it, the way all the elements in this image work together to convincingly portrays a “Desert Diner” is awesome.  Notice the little green windows where windows are supposed to be;  I don’t know where the door is but I’d try for the window area that doesn’t have the middle white bit; it’s probably a double doorway (busy diner).  If you’ve ever been to New Mexico, down in the US southwest, you’d know that there really are rock formations like this and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone built a diner right into one as a gimmick to lure tourists off the interstate highway.  I find these sorts of 3d fractal images that so easily lend themselves to real world comparisons make the concept of virtual space much more compelling and multiply the possibilities as well as the intrigue for fractals.

Edifice by Dermis

Edifice by Dermis

As the title suggests, this image bares a notable resemblance to a monumental building.  I’ve never seen any 3d fractal that combined both the geometric qualities of a functional building shape along with the organic qualities of carved wood or marble.  This is something new to me.  Once again 3d fractals make better movie sets than Hollywood does.  Roman ruins would be much more impressive if they had the creative touch these virtual ruins have.  Or are they geometric tree trunks?  You see what I mean by the hybrid look of architecture and organism:  Man-made and natural growth.

MB3D_0774_hd by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0774_hd by 0Encrypted0

My goodness, that’s three awesomes for Encrypted.  There’s an old song off the radio that has the ridiculous line in it: “We built this city; we built this city on Rock ‘n Roll. We built this city; we built this city on Rock ‘n Roll!”  To which I would add (30 years later), if ever there was a city built on the cosmetics industry… it would look just like this image here.  In fact, like the old song, this image has a shiny, elegant 80s look to it.  In fact, some of those lipstick tubes are the size of a football, just like the big, mammoth, eye-catching display versions you see on the counters and display shelves in the cosmetics department of a store.  Same for the square, golden face powder boxes the size of washing machines.   But, you’ve got to admit that there is no better example of an awesome cosmetics department fractal than this.  Note that there’s no price tags: nothing’s on sale in this place.

Map of the Mandelbrot Set by billtavis

Map of the Mandelbrot Set by billtavis

I’m sure someone has made something like this before, but this is different, this is awesome!   Being a Geography major back in my university days, I had a natural affinity for maps, especially old style ones.  This image combines both the genuine facts of the “places” of the Mandelbrot set along with the romantic allure of an old map.  If this doesn’t bring out the virtual Sindbad in you, then nothing will.  I’m sure everyone who’s ever explored the Mandelbrot set has some sort of map-like concept in their mind which this map here captures and enhances.  This ought to make a fine commercial venture since it has real appeal to both the science crowd as well as the fractal art fans.  It’s also explanatory and as such makes a great gift for people who know nothing about fractals or how much you might have paid for this unique print.  Of course, once you see the printed version you probably won’t want to give it away.

ABoxvaryshape1 by Ellenm1

ABoxvaryshape1 by Ellenm1

Another (awesome) hybrid.  This time it’s the colorful, cartoonish drawing style of 2d fractals merged with the monumental architectural style of 3d fractals.  Nicely rendered too, which can take some time with 3d fractals, I’ve heard.  I don’t know who Ellenm1 is.  Sometimes I discover that two different screen names on two different sites are actually the same artist, but from the content on her main Flickr page, I’d say she’s not one of the usual fractal art crowd.  But why should she be?  She’s awesome!  Outsiders have that brief opportunity, before they become insiders, to approach and think about fractals in innovative ways.  For the rest of us it takes years to shake off what we’ve “learned from others” and get back on that less traveled way.  Follow the eye: the eye will lead you to the Land of Awesome!  The eye can’t lie: it’s too simple minded.

In the words of Niel Young:

It was then I knew I’d had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement
turns to sand
With a one-way ticket
to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends
I still don’t understand.


Remembering Paul N. Lee

Image 06-B by Paul N Lee, 2001, made in QuaSZ

Image 06-B by Paul N Lee, 2001, made in QuaSZ and Bryce

I should begin by mentioning I never actually met Paul –offline, that is. But I suspect that describes most of the people he knew, since he was so active in the online world. In fact, I was invited to his wake solely on the basis of being in his email contacts list. Paul led a virtual life and perhaps it’s us virtual folks who knew him best.

My first encounter with Paul was, I suspect, like that of most people:  as someone interested in fractals and surfing the net I discovered his Fractal Database.  That is where the memories start.

My first impression was that Paul was just eccentric.  Later on I thought he was hostile.  That was because of all the “personal” information he was posting in such an easily accessible way on the internet.  Back then, like a lot of people, I saw the internet as a mysterious and threatening place where special precautions had to be taken.

But I grew up and with that so did my impression of Paul’s fractal phone book as well as my impression of Paul:  he was obsessed, but only with fixing some of the structural problems with the online fractal world.  Fractal artists are a very touchy group and naturally they felt profoundly violated by having all their important names and email addresses hung out a window so any passerby could look at them.  The Lilliputians didn’t see the bigger thing that Paul was working to build, only their little unpermitted piece of it.  For those of you still suffering, don’t despair; it won’t be online much longer without Paul around to look after it.  Only Paul had the determination or boldness to attempt or maintain such a project.

Which brings me to a major reflection: over the years I noticed that Paul’s online adversaries tended to become mine also.  But then, like Paul to a lesser degree, I was obsessed with fixing the fractal world too.  But I’m over that now.

To me Paul was two things:  technically savvy in the technically oriented world of fractal art; and also, someone with a real understanding of art and some professional training to go with it.  As a result, Paul often did know what he was talking about when it came to fractal art’s dual aspects of technology and art.

But Paul’s main interest was always in meeting and introducing newcomers to the world of fractal art to the art form’s tools and technicians.  In addition to his fractal directory, he also ran one of the few active e-groups for fractal art.  I checked it out once and noted that is was almost entirely Paul giving links and recommendations to the new and the curious who happened to find it.  Paul was pretty much alone in this sort of thing but his independent attitude made that easy for him to do.  For many years Paul was a sort of unofficial ambassador for fractal art.

I think that’s what attracted Paul so much to later on: it really embodied the sort of open-air venue where the new and curious could find out about fractal art, ask questions and grow.  I think Paul was well known there for always making a point of answering first time posters and welcoming them.  Some people might say Paul was a hostile fanatic but interestingly he never seemed to have any real problems with the folks on Fractalforums.  And like I said about me and Paul having similar adversaries, we both seem to have been big fans of Fractalforums.  I think we both valued the non-partisan mood that generally prevails there.

So what about Paul’s art?  Was Paul a fractal artist?  Was he any good?

Well, Paul has a lot of stuff online that I just don’t understand.  But I was never part of the Fractint phase of fractal art.  However, his alter ego, “O” had some interesting works that made me think that me and Paul had some similar interests in fractal art, with respect to the highly synthetic, design-oriented type of imagery.  I wrote a post on them a while back when the true identity of “O” was just a rumour.  Not very many people in the fractal world have a lasting interest in fractal artwork that no longer represents the cutting edge in graphical rendering.  What made Paul different was that his interest in fractal art was rooted in artistic merit and not the trend of the day.  But I know that still doesn’t explain his own online gallery

It may interest the readers of Orbit Trap to know that after the initial group phase of the blog failed, me and Terry considered asking Paul to join us as one of the three editor/contributors.  Maybe this really sums up just what Paul was to the fractal art world and why we considered him for such a challenging job;  Paul was: original; intelligent; vocal; literary; independent; vocal; independent again; and vocal, but worth reading; maybe too independent?;  no trouble at all speaking his mind; and perhaps unpredictable? but certainly worth reading…

Paul N. Lee was one of a kind and now he’s gone.  For those of you who never really liked him, you’re the ones who ought to be feeling a sense of loss.  You’ll never know the man we knew.

Let’s face it: Fractal Art really is a Computer Science Club


Fractal art got the boot a long time ago…

Let me start with an interesting quote from the (archived) Wikipedia talk page:

This article should probably be merged with fractal.—Eloquence 17:12, Dec 23, 2003 (UTC)

It’s the very first comment on Fractal Art’s Wikipedia page.  I love the irony of the username, “Eloquence” because he’s arrived at –back in 2003– the exact same conclusion I have, here in 2014.

But is this person really qualified to have much of an opinion on where the topic, Fractal Art, belongs in the Wikipedia?  From the profile page for “Eloquence” we find this:

My name is Erik Möller. I am the current Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, but also a regular Wikipedia editor.

There’s some more on his “meta” profile page:

I joined Wikipedia in 2001 and have since been involved in the project in pretty much all different areas. I spend most of my available time these days in my professional role, but you’ll still see me occasionally doing some semi-useful volunteer work, I hope. :)

I’m not making this up.  You see, it’s not just me and Terry, there’s others.  Fractal Art belongs back on the plain old fractal page of the Wikipedia because it remains a computer science topic.

And what’s WRONG with that????

Yes, why do so many fractal “artists” dislike being described as a computer science club?  I remember back a few years ago when I referred to as a fractal art venue, the owner (and moderator, contributor, TV host, etc…) Christian Kleinhuis corrected me by saying that it was a fractal site, not a fractal art site.  And if you follow the postings at Fractalforums you’ll see just how much the “technical” discussions vastly outnumber the art ones.  (Especially if you’ve been following it this summer.)

I am puzzled why “fractalists” (a better term than fractal artist) would object to the removal of their “art” status from their beloved hobby.  What is it in the terms, “art” and “artist” that they seem to want so much?  Is there some hidden ideological quest like that of, say, proving the possibility of “technologists as artists”, similar to the old, and ongoing challenge of demonstrating the existence of artificial intelligence?


I think it’s because they see “art” as a special, higher status to something that would otherwise be described as “graphics” or “graphical applications of fractal formulas”.  But really, many great artists are despicable people with all sorts of emotional and sexual problems and whose work is just as easily defined as infamous as it is famous.  Or clinical.  Some artists can be diagnosed by their work.  They’re not taking the rorschach tests, they’re making them.

The jury is no longer out

If someone was to say that Fractal Art is a new art form and it’s too early to say what it’s going to become, I think most people would agree. I’ve been hearing that for the dozen years I’ve spent in the fractal art world now and I’ve always accepted it. It’s become something of a habit, nodding to statements like, “…but fractal art is still so new”. But how long can something be new before it’s –not new– anymore?

I’m taking the stand that the future of fractal art –that visionary tomorrow– has already arrived and that fractal art’s debut status on the world stage is over.  I base that on the fact that fractal software has been widely available to whoever wants it for a good 20 years now.  I’m not even counting the previous two decades where fractal graphics were more primitive and less accessible (but more significant); that would extend the time span to almost 40 years.

But some will still insist on the label of newness, not on the basis of young age but from the notion that fractal art is as yet undiscovered by the majority of people, and in that sense it’s a new thing to the rest of the world.  But this too makes little sense considering we are living in the age of the internet, where nothing can stay hidden or obscure for long (even if it wants to).  Have most people with internet access never seen a fractal?

Description -not Definition

Let me describe “Fractal Art” instead of offering, yet another, clever definition of it.  Definitions tend to be abstractions and fractal art is no longer some sort of artistic infant whose future we can only speculate about.  Fractal art is what it is.

Here’s my description of what it —is:

1. Just Fractals

Fractal art is just fractals.

Fractal art is a technical pursuit rather than an art form. The term, “art” is used deceptively to separate from the fractal sciences a sub-category that is merely the graphical applications of fractal geometry. Although this sounds like something with artistic motivations and intentions, (it’s got that “art” word) praise and attention in the fractal art world come from technical innovations like rendering technique, formula enhancement and software development rather than the creative use of existing tools.

Old artwork is of little interest in the fractal art world and new works accordingly loose their appeal as the technology that made them becomes more widely used and is no longer fresh, like last year’s photos from a space probe.  This has unfortunately lead to the general condition of fractal art where the “art” functions merely as a reflection of the technology and the technology has become (and likely always was) the real subject of fractal “art”.

2. Both your mother and father must be a fractal

Artwork that incorporates other technology (post-processing) is irrelevant because it can’t reflect fractal technology for the obvious reason that it doesn’t use it; a criteria which simply establishes fractal art as both “anything you can make with a fractal program” and “only what you can make with a fractal program”.  Ironically, fractal art has come to be constrained by fractals because it’s defined by fractals.  Fractals have become the limits to fractal art instead of its beginnings.  The beginnings of a more loosely defined digital art form whose creative options would have been exponentially greater and one in which fractals would probably have been a prominent feature.  Fractals are the best source of digitally generated imagery for processing.

Fractal “artists” defend such a “fractal” restriction on the logical grounds that only “fractal” formulas produce “fractal” art, and in doing so reveal an exclusively technical attitude.  Only a scientist is more interested in creating “artwork” whose classification system is more impressive than it’s appearance.  This rigid definition of fractal “art” (and anyone who adheres to it) shows better than anything else that fractal art is a club for computer scientists.

Such attitudes are the norm in the fractal art world and as a result, fractal art as a category contains nothing much that would distinguish it from the illustrations for a mathematics lecture. The label, “fractal graphics” would be a much more appropriate name for the category.

3. Fractals don’t interest artists

With a few trivial exceptions, fractal artists are really just fractal “lovers” (fractalists?). The group doesn’t attract people with an art interest because, from a purely graphical perspective, fractal programs are just a type of shape and pattern generator, and one which produces imagery that has a tendency to become monotonous and pattern-forming. Fractal artists want their little hobby to be an exciting art form rather than just a cabinet of science curiosities (eg. BMFACs).  But they think the problem is with their audience and not themselves and so they’re constantly trying to change the impression the world has of them, rather than changing the thing that creates the impression the world has of them (ie. the art).

Some really artistic fractal artwork would go a long way to redefining fractals as an art form rather than a computer science club.  But, as I hope by now you’ve come to realize, that big leap forward is only going to happen when the medium expands and the creative options become broader.  And that’s something that would destroy fractal art in the minds of most of its “artists”.

It’s all hopeless but read the conclusion anyhow

Fractals need help; they’re pretty well limited to cool looking designs and largely ornamental or neat pictures that have a sudden wow factor as well as a sudden shallow artistic appeal.  Nobody really tries to do anything visually creative with fractals.  In fact, fractal images, despite their variety on technical grounds, are rather predictable, which is the opposite of creative.  “Creative” in the fractal art world means new formulas, new rendering methods, –new technology.  That’s a computer science club’s idea of a good time and an “exciting new development”.  And furthermore, as I mentioned in a previous posting, fractal-looking imagery is not even the exclusive domain of fractals.  Fractal programs are just more sophisticated when it comes to generating weird shapes.

As the history of the fractal art Wikipedia page shows, outsiders have never seen any difference between fractals and what is called “fractal art”; it has never distinguished itself from its parent page.  It’s ironic that it’s the people who “know nothing about fractal art” that seem to know it better than those who do.  Or, as I so eloquently put it in the title of yet another previous posting, “Fractal Artists are Deluded Narcissists”.

Why doesn’t Fractal Art have a half-decent Wikipedia page?

It’s useless, and although there have been efforts to build something substantial there, ultimately the page keeps reverting back to a few shallow paragraphs that fail to even offer a basic definition.  I’ve been going there for several years and have always wondered why it never seems to develop into anything, but now I think I’ve figured out what the problem is and it goes to the very heart of  what “fractal art” is all about.


Wikipedia’s Fractal Art page

Unlike most websites, the Wikipedia documents almost every edit made to its pages and even has a separate page for discussing what should be done to improve the pages or any other “concerns” about it there might be.  Each Wikipedia page has its own corresponding talk and history page and for Fractal Art it supplies something that is quite rare: serious criticism.  It’s quite refreshing to see someone besides Orbit Trap actually express some sober second thoughts about Fractal Art.  Unfortunately, the way the Wikipedia works, it’s unable to take that next step and give a coherent, single-minded expression to what  it thinks.  Unless, of course, that mostly empty page on Fractal Art sums up what “the Wikipedia” thinks about Fractal Art; that is, not much at all.

I’ve chosen a couple of salient incidents from the Wikipedia Fractal Art page documentation to answer the question I posed in the title, “Why doesn’t Fractal Art have a half-decent Wikipedia page?”

The Rise and Fall of the Fractal Art Manifesto

If you want to read the whole story, or at least follow the history of edits to the Fractal Art page, all you have to do on that or any Wikipedia page is go to the “view history” tab at the top right of the page.  Click on any “cur” link in the list and then click on “previous edit” near the top of the left column.  This is what I did and it allows you to then read the editing history “Next edit” by “Next edit”.  This link is to the very first entry, the initial creation of the Fractal Art Wikipedia page.  Click on the “Next edit” link on the right to start your journey.

This is where I discovered the fate of  the venerable Fractal Art Manifesto (FAM) by Kerry Mitchell and its treatment by the Wikipedia editors.  I wrote a blog posting about the FAM back in 2011 and part of the motivation for that was it’s (at the time) high status on the Fractal Art page where it had advanced from not just an “External link” but was enshrined in its own separate section as you would expect any historic milestone for a subject to be.

But four years previous to that, in 2007, its presence in the External Links section of the Fractal Art Wikipedia page met this fate by “TheRingess”, that powerful queen of Wikipedia’s Fractal Art page:

Thou art banished!

Not Wiki-worthy!

As much as I’d like to do the same thing to the FAM, I thought, “What’s wrong with a personal essay?”  I mean, gee, it’s still worth a link.  And then I thought, “Doesn’t the word, ‘personal’ describe more or less everything in the whole fractal art world?”  Aren’t all my own (great) blog postings just “personal essays”?

Anyhow, the FAM was resurrected a few years later and even given its own separate section on the page, as I mentioned.  To anyone in the fractal art world this might seem reasonable, since the FAM reads like it has authority and also because there is nothing quite like it in all the fractal art world.  Like any other art manifesto it seems to define the art form and be, in itself, of historical importance.  How it got chopped from the Wikipedia page is as enlightening as it is somewhat humorous.  Enlightening because it says something about why fractal art is a difficult subject for things like the Wikipedia, and humorous because, well, just read this item from the Fractal Art “talk page” for yourself:

Wikipedia's verdict on the FAM (and everything else to do with fractal art)

Wikipedia’s verdict on the FAM (click to read original text on Wikipedia talk page)

Pretty rough, eh?  But what the Wikipedia editor is getting at here is not a personal attack on Kerry, but rather a professional  attack on Kerry.  He tosses Kerry’s FAM out the window because he doesn’t see any authority behind it.  That’s why he dismissed the Lulu books: they represent one’s own efforts and not the decisions of an editor and publisher.  Like Ringess, he just sees a “personal essay”.

Reliable Sources…

What I’ve come to realize is that the Wikipedia looks to build articles out of what Senor Service referred to in his verdict on the FAM as “reliable sources”.  And in the fractal art world there aren’t any.  Everything I’ve ever written would get tossed out the window by the Wikipedia as a “personal essay”.  The best of us might get our names Googled, but only to discover that we’re all “non-notable”.  There are no authorities or resources that aren’t merely the product of one person or at best, a group of friends.  Fractal art has no professional presence or institutions.  And remember, Senor Service’s Googling was done in 2013, after, not before, the esteemed Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests and Exhibits of which Kerry was a judge all three times.  They think that’s “non-notable”?

That’s the big problem with fractal art as far as the Wikipedia is concerned: there isn’t anyone reputable enough to be quoted.  But that’s not the only problem…

{{No more links}}

Over the years a number of people have showed up and added their own artwork (personal!).  Some of them were quite relevant, but, alas, charged and convicted with link spamming.  I often admired their persistence in reposting their links in the External Link section.  So did “the Editor” who responded, finally, with this warning comment on the editing page:

==External links==
{{Prone to spam|date=September 2012}}
{{Z148}}<!– {{No more links}}

Please be cautious adding more external links.

Wikipedia is not a collection of links and should not be used for advertising.

Excessive or inappropriate links will be removed.

See [[Wikipedia:External links]] and [[Wikipedia:Spam]] for details.

If there are already suitable links, propose additions or replacements on
the article’s talk page, or submit your link to the relevant category at
the Open Directory Project ( and link there using {{Dmoz}}.

But there’s a good Wikipedia explanation for this:  the Wikipedia is trying to create encyclopedia articles.  If  there’s something really good in those links then put it in the article and publish it right here on the Wikipedia.  That’s why they’re so link-averse (and why the page is so empty…).

Are we all losers?

My own opinions about fractal art would be Wikipedia-worthy if I had some fractal art qualifications; degree, office, professional designation, published in a fractal art journal.  As it is no one has anything like this –except– on the technical side, which, as I mentioned, is a completely different section of the Wikipedia:


Fractal page from Wikipedia. Not to be confused with the “Fractal Art” page.

Funny eh?  The Fractal Art page is nothing more than a few simple pictures and a couple of banal paragraphs while the main “Fractal” page is up in the intellectual stratosphere, too high, apparently “for most readers to understand.”  And they’ve got real, serious external links.  There isn’t even a gigantic warning message about “{{No more links}}” on the main Fractal page.  Of course, that’s because in the area of fractal science, there’s plenty of qualified (i.e. PhD) sources and professional materials (TV documentaries, books, professional journals).  It’s makes the Fractal Art page look like some Nobel Prize winner’s retarded brother.

Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today…

Alright, what to do about this?  How do we clean up fractal art and get it into the same sort of shape as the fractal sciences?

Well, I think the Wikipedia just isn’t the right venue for information on a topic like Fractal Art.  Like I said, there’s nothing official, it’s all just us amateurs and hobbyists.  The big Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibits were just fractal art’s link-spamming in its highest form; it’s most muscular example of “self-promotion” as the Wikipedia often calls it.  If you though the BMFAC was going to launch your career in fractal art, I’m sorry but you never actually left the ground.  Even the judges are “non-notable” as far as the Wikipedia is concerned.

Orbit Trap is the only thing closest to being a real authority in the fractal art world:

Yes, but how long will it last?

The only Fractal Art link Wikipedia readers really need

YouTubers Mock Fractal Art

I logged out of one of my YouTube accounts and before I could log into the other, I found myself on the main YouTube page with links to the dumbest junk I’ve ever seen.  I knew there was a lot of senseless stuff on YouTube but I never paid any attention to it until this:


It’s tabloid newspaper trash meets YouTube.  If you’ve ever wondered what the end of the world might look like, or at least the end of intelligent life, this is it.

I can’t imagine Fractal Art would be this big a draw to the JunkTube crowd, but there’s more:


Why would they care so much about what people, or “YouTubers” think about flame fractals?  Does this sort of empty-headed abuse serve any purpose?

Not content to trash fractals among a purely adult audience, they’ve also attempted to poison children’s attitudes to an art form that can have a lot of beneficial educational spinoffs.  But all they care about is cheap laughs:


Out here in the fractal art world we’re used to having to explain to outsiders that our art form isn’t just pushing buttons or harvesting batch Apophysis renders and that one needs to look at the better examples of fractal art before deciding whether they really like it or not; but this sort of mockery just short-circuits the whole fractal art experience and turns off people who will probably never look any further than these “YouTubers” reactions.

If you really want to check them out, this is the link.

Fresh Winds from San Sebastian

It was called the “International Fractal Art Symposium” and was held in San Sebastian, Spain (that’s in Europe) from June 25th to 27th, 2014.  I first heard about it back in December 2013 in a thread on, but reined in my instant desire to comment about it because something made me think it was more like a private party than an International Symposium and so I thought to myself, “let the poor folks have their privacy”.

But watching the growing list on the “Attendees” page on became a daily, maybe hourly, obsession with me and I soon began wondering if this private party might actually end up being something like a symposium after all.  If you could check the web logs you’d probably find me in there as the most frequent visitor to the “symposium” site.

If you’re going, to San Francisco San Sebastian… Be sure to wear, some flowers in your hair…

Don’t these “International Symposium” things immediately excite everyone?  Think of the enthusiasm that was whipped up in past years by the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibitions (07, 09, 11).  We’re all hopelessly optimistic or something.  Or maybe we see fractal art as held back by something, or held up by something and this year, maybe, fractal art is finally going to break out.

Break out of where it is now.  Where it’s been since the 90s:  A hotbed of enthusiastic (and talented) practioners, albeit small in number (at this point in time) refining and advancing a real art form (if only others understood it (like we do)) waiting for that critical mass of numbers, and the attention of just one Hollywood scout to alert the whole world to this great breakthrough in art.

 The Future of Fractal Art

Program details

Program details

One hour for a group discussion (starting) with the future of fractal art, and then two hours for lunch.

Fractal “Sharing”; “Show-n-Tell”?  They are a parody of themselves.

I am often struck by the wisdom of saying nothing and I have almost knocked myself out this time when I realize how wise I was not to have said anything about Javier’s Barbecue back in December when I first found out about it.

But why criticize or make fun of something like this? (you may be asking?)  Isn’t it just mean?  And, and… why don’t I try organizing something –constructive– like this and see how hard it is?  Or, and this is the perennial thought in fractal art: “Isn’t it too early to say what’s going to come of this?”

The Wreckage of the BMFACs

What if this is all there is to the world’s reaction to fractals?  What if the audience for fractal art is primarily just the people who make it?  Fractal art is so easy to “do” and is so much fun to play with that anyone who has any interest in the art form is only one free download away from joining the ranks of the “artists”.  As a result, what separates the artists from the audience is often nothing at all.  In fact, is there really an audience at all for fractal art?  Who out there is an avid fan of fractal art and doesn’t have an online gallery somewhere?

The Future we Fear

What took place in San Sebastian is what I think fractal art is and will always be: 20-some people hanging out together:  sharing artwork; telling anectdotes; discussing new programs.  Like an endless fractal zoom where we feel like we’re moving but it never seems to end at anything.  How ironic that the future of fractal art should be a recursive loop.


Not with a bang, but a Print Swap

Fuh, fuh, fuh… Fractals!

I apologize in advance if this post seems like nothing more than a roundup of fractals recently posted to, that mega mecca of all things fractal, but that forum site just seems to have the right formula for their fractal flypaper that makes the job of roving scientists like myself so much easier.

Here’s a couple that give me the heebee-geebees…

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

Memnon by hebegebe

Memnon by hebegebe

The synthetic power of fractals is really seen in this one.  It’s simple and iconic and yet filled with little details and subtleties.  It looks a lot better in full-size which you can see by clicking on the image.  These sort of images remind me of coats-of-arms, the heraldic imagery of medieval kingdoms.  They have the cryptic combination of lines, circular elements and colors that look very deliberate and symbolic and yet… drawn by a fractal formula and not a king’s legal representative.

How to read the herald...

How to read the herald…

Fractals like Memnon suggest some kind of alien heraldry, or a world as strange and exotic as some kind of Tolkien trilogy set in the land of fractals.

FlyingShip_Red Mask by Hebegebe

FlyingShip_Red Mask by Hebegebe

The details are quite interesting in this one too.  Hebegebe has a good eye for color and combined with the fine rendering of the 3D fractal program, makes for some nice details, like this in the bottom middle:

FlyingShip Red Mask (detail)

FlyingShip Red Mask (detail)

How convenient to have a tool-tip in one’s screenshot that displays the image notes…  Well, you can see the notes Hebegebe has included.  I need to do a little tweaking with my screenshot program.  I like the color for the tool-tip though; it goes with the orange-red background.  The digital medium is a living thing.

Anyhow, this FlyingShip is not your usual 3D fractal and in fact, resembles more one of those gymnastic, contortionist quaternions.  I saw something somewhere once that reminds me of this…


Isn’t the internet a much better place for just about everything?  Although I forgot where I got this from… it’s (as you can easily see) an old, 20s or 30s illustration for a sci-fi story.  Do you see a startling, “family resemblance” between it and Hebegebe’s FlyingShip?  If you do, then you’ve developed that artistic 3rd eye, like myself, that I suspect may also be associated with the early stages of either a real understanding of art or some sort of mental illness.  Fractal art is the crazy spaceships of today.  Note even the rich texturing and also, consistent, almost mechanically produced shading that appears all over the images.  This actually looks like it was computer drawn.

I’ve always felt that there’s a common link with computer art and art from the pre-digital age, but it requires a little bit of a leap to make the connection.  Mental connection.  Psychological.

Supraterranean Pipelines V by JoeFRAQ

Supraterranean Pipelines V by JoeFRAQ

Have I become Joseph Presley’s biggest fan?  It gives me a chuckle how things can change in the fractal art world.  The medium is a slippery thing and one can go from making one kind of thing to something quite different.  The power of the medium allows artists to do things with their style that no other medium can.

Once again you need to look at the fullsize to share my excitement with this one.  JoeFRAQ is one of those rendering perfectionists and in the realm of 3D fractals the payoff for that kind of obsession is huge.  I always wonder what sort of rendering time it takes to make some of these images and what the specs on the computer hardware used is.

I should say something about the image:  Nice composition, but Joe’s always good at that; the colors are rich, complex and make the numerous details of the pipeworks much more exotic.  Up in the middle at the top there appears to be some lively bit floating by.  It almost seems to be moving.  And with the stars in the background, there’s a strong feeling to this scene.  Look how sophisticated the world of 3D fractals has become.  Wasn’t it just a year or two ago that the whole mandelbulb and mandelbox thing was invented?

Eternal repeating by abbaszargar

Eternal repeating by abbaszargar

It’s a Symphony in Sand.  Unfortunately the 500px version above has smoothed out all the sand.  That’s usually a good thing in fractal art –anti-aliasing– but in this case it erases the Valley of the Kings majesty to abbaszargar’s work here.  In fact, this one’s so gritty that most people would consider it a rough draft, no pun intended, but I think this is a great example of how less can be more, that is, less rendering can produce something more artistic.  Here’s a lossless jpg crop of the original in one of my favorite “gritty” parts of the image:

Eternal repeating (detail)

Eternal repeating (detail)

Here’s where we separate the art folks from the science fair enthusiasts.  The graininess of the imagery accentuates the eternal repeating –endlessness– of the image in a powerful way.  There are probably many images like this produced by other artists that being (too) well rendered don’t have this Valley of the Kings effect.  Maybe abbaszargar is not you average fractal artist?  Or did he intend this only to be a trial render?  Well, one way or another he made something remarkable and out of the ordinary.  The full-size really shows that much better; hint-hint.

I don’t watch a lot of fractal videos.  But I found this one posted to and something just drew me to click on it.  After watching the low-res version I soon jumped to the Vimeo page to see the hi-res one and it was certainly worth it.  Surprisingly, the author, Julius Horsthuis has managed to put the fractal imagery in a real narrative context of shipwrecked sailors wandering around in a state of semi-delirium.  It kept my attention as well as made me want to see it again in HD, and that’s a real accomplishment since I’m not the most friendly audience for fractal videos.

Navigation in Dreamtime from Julius Horsthuis on Vimeo.

I recently watched the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as well as the two parts of The Hobbit trilogy that have been released, and after all that I had some profound thoughts on the merits and pitfalls of richly expensive CGI rendering.  I’m not a Tolkien fan, but the movies often kept my interest through the exotic scenery.  Interestingly, one of the most captivating scenes was in the Lord of the Rings series (or was it the Hobbit?) where the idiot with the english accent (bad casting) and his hobbit buddies end up walking into a mountain and are then trapped in a room and attacked by the sickly looking orcs.  Anyhow, the interior of the mountain where they come to a city, of sorts, with lots of pillars, was so impressive I wanted to leave the tour group and wander down every corridor just looking around.  Then I realized it was reminding me of the mandelbox and it’s carefully carved, details all over every surface.  In short, 3D fractals are actually better than many multi-million dollar CGI extravaganzas.  (Unless of course it’s a real movie with a story, actors, dialog and plot you want to see.)  But if you just want to run away from the tour group and look around then 3D fractal land is the place to go.  And cheaper too.

The tour starts here:;sa=listall;type=recent

Fresh Fractal Finds

Here’s a bunch of images that caught my eye while out prospecting with my virtual mule.  Let’s take a look while I try to psychoanalyze myself and add another chapter in the book, “Art as Rorschach Test”.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~



Stratographic detail/ Prince of Persia Sands of Time like awe-inspiring temple magnificence/ and another thing… it seems to be walking!  Can you imagine an elephant as a temple –walking?  Also, you could say it was one of those Star Wars big walking machines on Hoth.

I’d been waiting a while for Kraftwerk/Mandelwerk/Johan Andersson to add  a new creation to his collection of art-work-I-like and now it’s here.  Ironically, I find the little figures don’t add as much to the effect of the image as those sorts of additions usually do in 3D fractal art.  The sky does, and so does the shiny floor and shadows; but the impression of enormousness –and especially that strange, walking feeling– all come from the 3D fractal imagery.  I know it’s not because of sunstroke because I always wear a hat.

Chain Driven II by JOEFraq

Chain Driven II by JoeFRAQ

I’ve never been much of a fan of Joseph Presley’s art but lately he’s been moving in a new direction and it’s quite refreshing.  Black and white is a rarely used palette in fractal art but clearly Joe saw the artistic potential in it for this image and he did the right thing by abandoning colour altogether (unless you consider BW to be a colour all its own).  The steeliness is accentuated; the mechanical parts are emphasized and yet the image rather than becoming flat has clear depth to it.

Here’s one that shows Joe’s good eye for fractal forms and the ability to orchestrate it with real world imagery.  My goodness, two images by Joseph Presley; I’m becoming a real fan.

BX3000 Steam Punk Organ by JoeFRAQ

BX3000 Steam Punk Organ by JoeFRAQ

You really need to see the full-size version to appreciate the details.  I was just stunned when I saw this one on  It’s genuinely fractal and yet blends seamlessly with the real world keyboard at the bottom.  I wonder if Joe made the keyboard in Ultra Fractal too?  I also like the use of symmetry (the left and right sides are identical), it gives the machine a man made look despite it’s genuine algorithmic pedigree.  I wonder if this was made in Xenodream?  Joe has a large collection of “Musical Art” of which this one, oddly enough is not part of.  Perhaps the arrival of the 3D fractal wave has energized Joe’s creativity.  He wouldn’t be the only one.

While we’re on the topic of artists I usually dislike, let’s take a look at this one:

Steelcurtains by Jimmie

Steelcurtains by Jimmie

I’ve been noticing “Jimmie’s” work on for quite a while.  It’s usually the sort of highly polished ornate UF stuff that also turned me off Joseph Presley’s earlier works.  Then, all of a sudden, Jimmie posts this incredible, transcendental House of Doctor Zhivago vision.  Here is where mine and Jimmie’s tastes in fractal art meet.  I don’t expect it to happen again for quite some time, but who knows where anyone’s art is taking them?  Each fold in the curtain tells another fragment of the story of a majestic castle enthroned in perpetual winter.  A sort of Fall of the House of Usher meets Baba Yaga in the Gulag.  I don’t think Jimmie intended that, but that’s what I see.  Steelcurtains is a nice neutral, non-suggestive name, though.  My names are all crazy.

Well, I can see this post is taking on a life of it’s own and charting its own course.  Now here’s not one but two images by another artist I used to shrug off but now have come to appreciate.



Guagapunyaimel creates a lot of these types of image which I would loosely describe as “window worlds”.  Although I don’t know what program this was made in, Guagapunyaimel is one of the few Chaotica devotees creating flame fractal artworks with that special program.  I’m sure there’s plenty of fractal folks out there who don’t care for:

1) Black and White, monochrome anything

2) Images without a nice, rational central focal point that can be talked about

…then I think you’re someone who doesn’t really like the fractalness of fractal art.  Ironically, this one’s title suggests a new definition of fractal art and I think it fits quite well.  What would Che Guevara do?



Check out the full-size version to see the richness that the fractal detail adds to this one.  This one is very fractal both in word and deed.  Unlike the previous one which has no central shape or focus, this one has a very clear design structure to it which the smaller elements both emphasize, alter and embellish.  This one has a Chaotica look to it, but there’s no hint on the deviantART page as to the program used and I’ve learned not to guess about such things.

While we’re on the topic of Chaotica, any of you readers will have noticed the recent thread about Fractal Architect vs. Chaotica.  Among other things… it rapidly boiled down to which program produces the better art.  Only a technically obsessed software developer would ask such a square-headed question, but it does raise an issue which is worth considering: What makes a fractal program a good fractal program?

Well, I would say the output (success) of any fractal art program depends as much on its userbase (or lack of) as it does on the program itself and whatever special features it may have.   Chaotica clearly has an enormous lead in this respect compared with Fractal Architect as its larger user base has taken this program and really transformed the world of “flame” fractals into something much more interesting and much less “flamey”.  Chaotica still has the capability of producing the usual assortment of glass bubbles, neon flowers and glowing water sprinkles that have come to characterize the world of flame fractals, but it also renders things which are dramatically different than theses common gas bubble things.

I definitely agree that a fractal program is best judged by what people make with it (because that’s what fractal programs are for) but unfortunately for the software developers that depends more on how the users use it than on how the developers have developed it.  In short, the question is never definitively answered because what a program is capable of –especially a fractal program– is never fully and completely demonstrated.  It’s a bit like asking, “What can be done with a paintbrush?”

To answer the question, “What can be done with Chaotica?” or rather what can we begin to do with Chaotica, let’s look at this freshly posted image from deviantART:



Tatasz is a new name to me, which probably shows how little I’ve bothered to follow the progress of Chaotica’s userbase and its “artbase”.  I  found it rather quickly by browsing the Chaotica Fractals group Featured gallery and that’s probably the best place to start if you want to see the “artbase”.  At least you can be sure what program has been used.

Winds by tatasz is an interesting image regardless of the context one views it in: Chaotica Fractals; Flame Fractals; Algorithmic Art; etc..  The full-size is much more impressive because you can see the exquisite “painterly” style to the image.  I think tatasz has been doing some real, cutting edge experimentation with this sort of Chaotica imagery.  I read that somewhere.  Back to the image…  This is the bottom of a frozen lake? or, snow covered spruce trees in the wind?  Here’s something interesting to compare it with as we take a giant leap from the digital to the old-fashioned paintbrush world:

A Young Tree by Emily Carr (1931)

A Young Tree by Emily Carr (1931)

This one is a painting, of course, but I think you can see the potential Chaotica has in the hands of someone who has a feel for using algorithmic software (not all developers are as handy creating with their software as some of their users are).  The future of Fractal Architect, like all software art programs, is in the hands of its userbase.  Hopefully that will grow.

Fractal Architect is a Mac program and here’s something else of interest from the Apple world:



Made with the Frax app for iOS (iPhone, iPad…).  I’ve always considered the spiral to be not so much a fractal cliche as it is a sub-genre of fractal art.  Similar in this respect to what still life (paintings of fruit bowls) is to painting.  How cliche a spiral looks depends on what the fractalist does with it or to it.  Something one could say about the entire genre of fractal art.  There’s an interesting detail in the lower left corner:

Not so blue -detail- by Aqua-Loop on deviantART

Not so blue (detail) by Aqua-Loop on deviantART

These are the dreamy details that capture the viewers mind.  The shine of varnished oil paint, the colloidal creaminess of marble paper, northern lights in a winter night sky, sheet music shooting out of the Sun.  You see?  If you’re going to turn your back on the fractal spiral you might as well turn your back on all of fractal art.  You don’t really like it.  That’s what the Rorschach shapes are saying.

The Synthetic Aesthetic 5: Surrealist Pioneers

The work of some surrealist artists back in the early 20th century involved the use of creative methods that are almost analogous to many of our modern computerized algorithms and effects.  For people like myself that are currently exploring the creative potential of photoshop filters and other graphically creative computer things, the smoke drawings, photo choppings and experimental painting techniques of the surrealists are an instructive as well as encouraging gift from the past.  They are fellow “syntheticists” because even though they worked in a very different, non-digital medium, they merely worked with different machinery while pursuing the same graphical philosopher’s stone as the digital syntheticist does: creativity that isn’t trapped in the wheel-ruts of the human mind.

Yes, human thought and expression can be plagued with “wheel-ruts”.  Nothing shows this better than synthetic creativity.

Surrealist art was obsessed with the human mind and in particular the so-called subconscious mind that was the focus of psychological investigators like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  While some surrealists explored their minds and created works based on that sort of self-directed, introspective method, others took a contrasting path and tried to provoke their imaginations and those of their audience’s from the outside with automatically created graphical works (“automatism”).  (Check out Surrealist techniques on the Wikipedia.)

While psychiatry considers automatism reflexive and constricting, the Surrealists believed it was a higher form of behaviour. For them, automatism could express the creative force of what they believed was the unconscious in art. Automatism was the cornerstone of Surrealism. André Breton defined Surrealism in his Manifeste du surréalisme (1924) as ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’. This automatism was ‘dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern’.

Jennifer Gibson (From Grove Art Online) See MoMA Automatism

Surrealist art is a pretty broad subject and there’s a lot more to automatism than synthetic creativity so let’s just focus on what the Merriam Webster dictionary says about automatism:

suspension of the conscious mind to release subconscious images <automatism —the surrealist trend toward spontaneity and intuition — Elle>

This, from the Merriam Webster dictionary site is helpful too:

Method of painting or drawing in which conscious control over the movement of the hand is suppressed so that the subconscious mind may take over. For some Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, the automatic process encompassed the entire process of composition. The Surrealists, having once achieved an interesting image or form by automatic or chance means, exploited the technique with fully conscious purpose. See also Abstract Expressionism, action painting, Surrealism.

As you can see, the concept of automatism diverges into a number of applications depending on how much the interfering influence of human artistry is excluded; but surely the creation of imagery through solely mechanical means is the purest application as such a mindless process excludes any sort of intentionality.  The art (if any) is accidental.

If you think that sounds like a recipe for junk then you ought to remind yourself that much of what is called fractal art is made this way.  Many of the most confusing masses of graphical imagery found in the great (infamous?) works of  Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting involved much more human artistry and involvement that the most heavily layered fractal artworks.  We can all laugh at Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings but it’s the winners of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contests that are trying to get public recognition and acceptance in the art world, not Jackson Pollock, whose “junk” is now icons of 20th century art.

But getting back to the freaky surrealist art techniques…

I spoke about Decalcomania in the last part, Part 4; it’s not really algorithmic like fractals are, but it is mechanical.  One doesn’t draw with Decalcomania, they squish paint onto a canvas, or board with a glass plate and hope it provokes (after numerous attempts) something magnificent and deeply psychological.  Probing the mind and exploring psychological themes was a big part of surrealism and that’s where the experimental imagery came in:  Art as Rorschach test.

Here’s an article on surrealist art techiques.  It seems to have formed the basis for the Wikipedia page about the same topic.  I wonder which came first?


They all seem to be French words.  Here’s a quote:

Another surrealist technique was known as fumage (smoking). Pioneered by Wolfgang Paalen (1907-1959) during the late 1930s, it involved placing a candle under a sheet of paper to form patterns of soot. Moving the candle varied the patterns.

~Click on images to view on original site~

Ciel de Pieuvre (1938) by Wolfgang Paalen

Ciel de Pieuvre (1938) by Wolfgang Paalen

Here’s an image made in the program, Fyre (no pun intended) that utilizes the Peter de Jong map (algorithm).  Not exactly a great work of art like Paalen’s but I think it shows some similarity in the type of imagery formed by a smoky algorithm instead of a smoky candle.

An image made with Fyre

An image made with Fyre

Of course the best modern computerized analogue to the surrealist’s Fumage technique would be the gas fractals made with Apophysis.


Cubomania is a method of making collages in which a picture or image is cut into squares and the squares are then reassembled without regard for the image. The technique was first used by the Romanian surrealist Gherasim Luca.


cubomanie-24 by Gherasim Luca

cubomanie-24 by Gherasim Luca

Here’s the Mona Lisa run through the photoshop filter, Flip Chop, made by Mario Klingemann:

Mona meet Flip Chop

Mona meets Flip Chop

The idea the surrealists had with chopping up photographs was to create the suggestion of something else, something new.  The result was almost always an image that “worked” differently that the original.  Naturally it was fragmented but there was also a creative and often psychologically stimulating effect from the new mental as well as physical arrangement.  Flip chop does this with almost no influence from the “artist”.  I’m sure there are other filters that will allow for more variation, like a random seed or something like that.


grat·tage (gr?-tazh’) n. A surrealist technique in painting in which (usually dry) paint is scraped off the canvas. It was employed by Max Ernst and Joan Miró. [< Fr. “scraping”]

Grattage 1955 by Mario Deluigi

Grattage 1955 by Mario Deluigi

Yes, digital artists weren’t the first ones to go texture and gradient crazy.  Do we need to see a digital example of this?  Here’s something I made with a block wave filter that has the same effect, although not as elegant as Deluigi’s.

Cherryorchard, made with Showfoto's block wave filter

Cherryorchard, made with Showfoto’s block wave filter

Click on Deluigi’s image to view several more.  It’s a fascinating type of imagery and one that easily makes the move into the digital realm of synthetic imagery.

Now scraping paint off a canvas isn’t exactly a hands-off technique, but other examples, especially by Max Ernst, also involve placing the soft canvas over a rough surface or item and yielding some of the shape or texture of the object underneath in the scraped canvas result.  Ernst also used the technique to inspire himself and as the basis for other hand-painted final works.  These synthetic methods of the surrealists, owing to their non-digital mediums, were not as mechanized and automated as today’s computerized methods are.

The hallmark of synthetic art is the lack of intentionality.  It’s lacking because the processes are disconnected from the artist’s conscious control.  The artist works by remote control and through mechanical means.  It makes the artist more productive as well as, perhaps, less of an artist in some people’s eyes.  The artwork is what’s important, not how much we can boast about it.  Surrealists pursued this unintentionality as much as their non-computerized tools would allow them precisely because they wanted imagery that was not an expression of an artist’s conscious (scheming, defensive, lying…) mind.

What’s important to note is that they pursued such methods for their artistic value despite the fact that at first glance such methods seem to be the antithesis of art.  The surrealists showed there’s artistic potential in the graphical synthesis of things like smoke, chopped up images, and scratched up canvases.  Today’s photoshop filters and the persistent experimentation with cheap graphical effects continue the exploration of that vast, rut-less wilderness .

The Synthetic Aesthetic 4: The Creative Device


The Creative Device

Synthetic art has only one principle to it: the creative device.  As a result, the synthetic aesthetic is not bound to any particular medium but rather is a way of being creative within any medium.  The computerized medium holds the most potential for synthetic art because it allows for much easier creation of visually creative devices.

Another way to grasp the concept of synthetic art is through the “inverse selection” of this principle of creative device.  The opposite of the creative device is of course the manual, hand-made expressions of a person (i.e. artist).  “Hands-off art” would not be a bad definition of what the synthetic aesthetic pursues and presents.

A word about art definitions

One shouldn’t approach artistic categories the way one does mathematical or scientific ones; fractal geometry is much easier to define than fractal art, for instance.  A little bit of non-synthetic “embellishment” doesn’t constitute the sort of fatal contamination that would relegate an image to the proverbial “mixed media” category.  One needs to exercise a bit of judgement and decide what the “substance” of an artwork is comprised of rather than waving an artistic geiger counter over it to locate subtle contaminates.

You won’t find clean categories in art, but the synthetic principle is such a strong one and wields such enormous artistic influence that perhaps it is one of the few categories of art that is both meaningful as well as easy to define.  Start by looking for a creative device.

Decalcomania: Squishy da Vinci

As an example of an art device and also an example of how “unclean” art categories can be, consider some of the works of Max Ernst (1891-1976).  I posted about him earlier but without the crisp, well-focused context that this series of postings on the synthetic aesthetic gives to his work.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

Lone trees and other trees, Max Ernst

Lone Tree and United Trees, by Max Ernst 1940

The device used here is that of squishing paint between two surfaces such as paper and glass, or canvas and glass.  It’s a mechanical thing because the results are created entirely by the apparatus and only modified slightly by the operator/artist.  Obviously there was more to the making of this painting by Max Ernst than merely squishing paint.  Ernst would often add human figures but its the decalcomania imagery that creates the surrealistic impression here.  It’s hard to leave synthetic imagery alone since it often inspires and suggests.

You have to remember that synthetic processes are merely techniques that one pursues in the hope of making something that looks good.  They aren’t a treasure map to a place where one goes and digs up great artwork.  The use of synthetic machinery is a skill all its own.  Perhaps even something of a talent rather than something one can learn.  You have to see the potential in it to keep at it long enough to see results.

As an interesting comparison, consider this fractal collage (below) by Segami:



The synthetic aesthetic is there in the form of the detailed coral shapes.  The effect is “weakened” by the artist’s assemblage of the fractal elements into an easily identifiable natural form (coral reef), but he’s following in the steps of Max Ernst who, like Segami, was inspired by the images and modified them somewhat.  I say “weakened” because of course many viewers will consider the artist’s influence on the final work to be an improvement.  But I find truly synthetic artworks to have an alien spark to them that is worth seeking out in its natural form and preserving.

Mark Townsend, more well known for his fractal artwork, has made a number of decalcomania works.  Here’s an example:

20061015-decalcomania by Mark Townsend

20061015-decalcomania by Mark Townsend

I remember a conversation I had with Mark at the time in the comments section of Orbit Trap (or somewhere) where I described the technique as algorithmic and he disagreed.  He was right about that, but I think what I was trying to get at was that the technique was not handmade and was produced by a creative device.  “Algorithmic” indicates a process that works by applying rules or predetermined instructions, like a fractal formula.  In a sense though, squishing paint is a type of algorithm whose outcome is defined by the materials and not the user.  The difference however is that the initial conditions of paint placement and the subsequent squishing motions on the glass or paper are not so carefully programmed or choreographed to be considered “formulaic” or rule-based.  And yet, decalcomania images have a distinctive look that transcends the influences of their individual “artists” and gives the impression that they were all painted by a single pair of invisible hands.

Art that invents itself

“Hands-off art” is really a matter of not drawing and not painting; not using one’s hands to make something from one’s imagination.  Synthetic processes involve the use of one’s hands but only as operators of the machinery.  The human mind is disconnected from the artwork in the synthetic process while in the non-synthetic processes, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc… it is connected through the movements of the artist’s hand in the action of drawing or painting.

Synthetic artwork provokes the artist’s imagination; handmade artwork expresses the artist’s imagination.  It’s interesting how Max Ernst and other artists using similar synthetic techniques back in the early days of Dada and Surrealism emphasized the “mind-less” nature of the synthetic creative process rather than trying to hide it or trivialize it as most fractal artists do today as they try to make themselves appear more dignified and worthy of the title of Artist.  To people like Ernst the inhuman quality of synthetic imagery was exciting and probably the only reason they pursued it since they were all capable painters themselves and synthetic processes merely offered a way to disconnect from that and produce imagery that was impossible for them to make with their own imaginations.

Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation.  -Max Ernst

This is why I said the synthetic aesthetic was so powerful that one doesn’t need to so carefully define it using the sort of detailed and subtle characteristics that are normally used to draw boundaries in the art world.  The alien presence of mechanical artistry is easy to spot for its lack of intentionality and deliberateness.  To build on what Ernst has said, with creative devices there is no attempt at beauty (i.e. decorative amusement) or, reflection on reality, because the devices lack the capacity for both those sorts of activities –such activities which are the hallmarks of the human artist.

However, mechanical artistry’s lack of intentionality and deliberateness (i.e. brute stupidity) can sometimes produce, by virtue of its capacity for producing prolific quantities of imagery, works that possess a new kind of beauty and new kind of realistic expression.  The “artist” is simply the first member of the audience and before his eyes the art invents itself.

One simply has to pursue “invention, discovery, revelation” with as much effort and thoughtfulness as artists in the past pursued their handmade crafts of painting and drawing.  In the synthetic art form, one directs the creation of artwork rather than performing it themself, and then one selects from what is made with the caprice and pickiness of one who has at their disposal a buzzing hive of eager and indefatigable machinery.

In part 5… the pioneering efforts of the surrealists and how today’s cheap photoshop filters are carrying on what was started almost a century ago.

The Synthetic Aesthetic 3: Ultrashop and Photo Fractal

This is the third part of a series on The Synthetic Aesthetic: artwork which is mechanically made as opposed to handmade ( Part 1 / Part 2 ).  Fractal art borders on this synthetic realm because it is one of the most powerful tools for the computational generation of imagery.

Most people commonly think of fractal art as the visualization of math or of at least having a unique character because of its inner workings that draw on the principles of fractal geometry.  However, I think fractal programs have for years been used primarily to synthesize artwork of a much more general nature and the connection with fractal math is an exaggeration.  If someone can make the same kind of fractal art in Photoshop as one does in Ultra Fractal but without the use of fractal algorithms, then surely the fractal link in much of fractal art these days is truly weak.

This doesn’t mean fractal art is no good anymore.  All of the fractal artworks I’m going to review here and compare have been selected by others for their artistic merit.  My point is that fractal programs are capable of producing highly distinctive works exemplifying the graphical creativity of fractal geometry, but also of producing things that are much less distinctive and best regarded as just digital art made in a fractal program.

That “digital art made in a fractal program” is an example of the synthesizing capabilities of fractal programs.  Fractal artists these days chose to pursue the more wide-ranging, synthetic themes than the classical fractal shapes and structures of the past.  While doing so, however, they blurred the distinction between Ultra Fractal and Photoshop, which I think you will see in the images below.

fractal dimentia front page art by Mark Townsend

Fractal Dimentia front page art by Mark Townsend (fractal)

I have used fractal images that were chosen for the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibits (winners) since I wanted to used fractal art that was representative of a consensus of opinions and therefore exemplary of fractal art today.  I could have chosen eccentric examples from unknown artists but they could easily be shrugged off as not representative of anything except themselves.  Mark had an image similar to the one above included in one of the exhibits and this one here is from the front page of his online gallery site; clearly a favourite of his.

Below is an image by Randy Kochis.  He says this about it:

Here’s a new abstract piece that was done using a wacom tablet and some filters. You can’t really appreciate the detail with this size but you can tell it has a lot going on.

Whether one is better than the other is not what these comparisons are about.  The style of imagery is essentially the same and yet they were made in two very different programs.  One using fractal algorithms and the other a stylus and Photoshop.  Granted, Mark’s image doesn’t depict complex fractal structures that would be difficult to duplicate with non-fractal methods and so it’s not really an example of Ultra Fractal vs. Photoshop for making fractals.  But that’s the whole point that much of fractal art today isn’t reliant on the complex drawing powers of formulas but rather the creative possibilities of rich rendering methods and the careful selection of zoomed-in areas.

cartoon-show by Randy Kochis

cartoon-show by Randy Kochis (non-fractal)


Intrepid 1 by Yvonne Mous

Intrepid 1 by Yvonne Mous

Yvonnes’s image was a BMFAC winner.  The similarity between it and the image below by Deviant Artist, Irn Bru, is the fact that either one could have been made in either UF or PS.  Of the two, Yvonne’s image looks more processed because of the chopped up look but I suspect that’s just the result of a sophisticated rendering method in UF.  Irn Bru  says this about his (non-fractal) image below:

I created this in Photoshop as a texture for my ‘Abstract Ornamental’ piece.

In Cinema 4D, I created a new vray texture and selected the ‘Diffuse Layer 1’. Loaded the image as the texture map and set it to 100%. Then all I did was check ‘Specular Layer 5’ and left it at default.

Abstract_Ornamental___Texture_by_irn_bru (non-fractal)

Abstract_Ornamental___Texture_by_irn_bru (non-fractal)


Fusion by Sandra Reid (fractal)

Fusion by Sandra Reid (fractal)

Sandra’s image, another BMFAC winner, is perhaps too good of an example of the minimal role that fractals have in today’s fractal art scene.  Although the title fits the work nicely and perhaps is an allusion to the fusing of classic fractal imagery with the newer, general synthetic variety (i.e. detailed background), it could almost be considered a “token” element.  Take a look at Randy’s “non-fractal” spiralling mass, and ask which one would be easier to make with tablet in Photoshop.

Randy adds these notes about the image:

I had fun making this image with a Wacom tablet and a cool brush in Photoshop. Mostly playing around but I think it turned out pretty good. The original image is huge and the detail is amazing!

Note, once again, the allusion to amazing detail.  That’s the sort of thing one expects from fractal imagery because the formulas are so good at calculating such things, but it appears to be characteristic of many kinds of computer graphics.

Spirals1 by Randy Kochis

Spirals1 by Randy Kochis (non-fractal)


Imaginary Mine by Maulana Randa

Imaginary Mine by Maulana Randa

I hope Maulana will forgive me for this, but I’m not suggesting her his work is nothing more than a few splotches from a “brush” in PS.  This was made in a fractal flame program like maybe Apophysis (I’m guessing) but even flame fractals don’t look  like they used to.  Anyhow, my point (I hope it’s not too sharp) is that PS also makes such examples of rich jewelled and metallic looking wonders.  Clearly fractal art, even in the flames area, is just one way of rendering such artwork.

There are no notes for the image below; it’s simply the sample image from a PS tutorial.  By the way, check out the nicely textured background.  Importing backgrounds are a snap in UF.  I’m guessing they are because they’re used so often.

easy-abstract-photoshop-tutorial-2 by Rocka J

easy-abstract-photoshop-tutorial-2 by Rocka J


20061012-vor10 by Samuel Monnier

20061012-vor10 by Samuel Monnier

Alright.  Remember the point of this posting is that many fractal artworks have moved into less distinctive territory and because of this one often finds similar artworks that are not the result of fractal formula rendering.  Sam’s work above was part of a BMFAC exhibition in the judge’s category.  While it has detail that would be pretty hard to imitate in PS, it also has an aesthetic that is much less exclusive.  Geometric assemblages and patterns are an example of what I would call the fractal aesthetic,  a fractal style of imagery associated with fractal programs and not strictly fractal math itself.

This cellphone case wasn’t made in PS obviously but being made of sequins and metalic shapes, the star shape being most prominent, it does reflect the same style –but different source idea– that I’ve been talking about.  Sam’s image is of course a much more sophisticated and elegant work of art than the cellphone case below, but the two objects have an awful lot in common in a basic, visual sense although  they are not of the same quality of work, clearly.

dream star swarovski elements crystal Iphone cases cover by Swarovksiiphone

dream star swarovski elements crystal Iphone cases cover by Swarovksiiphone

I hope at the very least you’re seeing a glimmer of my idea that many highly esteemed fractal artworks aren’t really all that unique when compared with some of the things that can be made without any fractal formulas in Photoshop or even crafting class.  But we shouldn’t really expect such exclusivity when we consider how wide-ranging the rendering capabilities of a program like Ultra Fractal is, and has become, and especially when we take into account its non-fractal features like image importing and various layering abilities.  You can’t expect the same old stuff when you’re using software like that.

Fractal art by default has come to be defined by whatever you can make in a fractal program.  As a result, when fractal programs add rendering and processing features this literally redefines the genre.  The result is that fractal artists have greater latitude in what they can depict in their artwork and they’ve naturally drifted away from the cliche and common, classical style of fractal imagery towards fresh horizons.

But is that still “fractal enough” for those who look to fractal art for the depiction of more obvious mathematical themes?  I can’t help but wonder if the ICM, the original sponsors of the BMFAC have no fractal art exhibition listed on their 2014 website because they no longer see this fractal art stuff as having any serious mathematical connection?  Is it all too much of something else?

Synthetic is what I think that “something else” is and it’s been there ever since the computer rendering of fractals began.  Fractal artists have turned their eyes from capturing visualized math to beholding bold new graphical concoctions.  And in the next instalment, Part 4, I’ll have something more definite and clear to say about that.

The Synthetic Aesthetic 2: The Re-Introduction

In the first part of this series, I introduced a few new ideas which have a central part to play in my concept of the Synthetic Aesthetic.  I believe it might be of great benefit to pause and clarify those ideas before moving on to examples of actual artwork that illustrate these trends.

Here’s the idea:

Fractal art has become progressively ambiguous in terms of what it looks like and depicts (i.e. subject matter) to the point that now it is no longer unique and distinctive and could just as easily be given a generic label like “synthetic” rather than “fractal”.  Fractal art is no longer an art form exclusively dedicated to “math visualization” as fractal artists have abandoned that easily identifiable visual theme in the pursuit of a broader artistry defined only by whatever can be done with a “fractal” program.

While doing so, they have produced artwork with greater artistic appeal but at the same time with less mathematical relevance.   Although the inner workings of the software still remain fractal formula based  –the only thing that distinguishes fractal art as a distinct artistic category in the first place– the role of these fractal algorithms are now largely employed by artists in “anonymous roles”, unrecognizable and becoming mere anecdotes to the finished artwork rather than the essential element.

This is much the same way that Terragen’s computer generated and photo-realistic landscapes can be said to have a fractal connection because they were “made with fractals” — that is, deep in the inner recesses of their computer code; a trivial distinction which has never made anyone seriously consider them as “fractal” art.

Four nicely numbered points

So, two things have occurred:

1) Fractal art has become much broader in scope and now includes artwork which in appearance is quite similar to other computer “synthesized” art forms despite their widely differing software origins;

2) Fractal art has created a look or visual style that has come to be associated with its fractal algorithms but is really much more a product of its many rendering methods which apply computer graphical rendering techniques and effects, some of which can also be found in computer graphics programs and there used to produce artwork with the same “fractal aesthetic” as fractal art although no fractal algorithms are actually used, only similar graphical rendering methods directed by other, non-fractal methods.

This has lead to a third occurrence, the logical consequence of the two previous items:

3) While the term, fractal art might be confusing when applied to those “fractal-looking” artworks made in a graphics program, the term, fractal art is probably just as confusing when applied to those “synthetic-looking” artworks made in a fractal program.

Which leads us to a fourth item:

4) If one considers solely the visual style and creative method of artworks and forgets for a moment what they were made with, there will appear a rather logical grouping to a wide variety of artworks which previously had been separated by their apparently distinctive mediums or tools but actually fit together like scattered puzzle pieces when rallied under the simple label of “synthetic” art.

Fractal art has actually lead the way in all this and stands as the strongest tool for “synthesizing” art.

Un-defining fractal art

Anyhow, the fractal art world has changed.  The boundaries are different now.  Actually, the boundaries have disappeared.  It all happened when, deliberately or not, fractal artists came to define their art form as whatever can be made with a fractal program.  With the arrival of exotic rendering functions and graphical features like layering, these new tools redefined fractal art because they redefined the fractal program –the de facto specification for fractal art.

Perhaps the word is not so much “redefined” as “un-defined” since the results of expanding the toolset of fractal artists has been the creation of  artworks characterized by some very “un-fractal” features found in graphics programs like Photoshop.  The end result we see today is that the domain of fractal art partially overlaps the domain of what I would describe as synthetic art.  A domain distinguished by a style or aesthetic lacking the involvement of the human hand and instead expressing only that of the algorithmic, the accidental or the mechanical.

In the next part, Part 3, I will show some relevant examples of what I’ve been talking about which ought to make things a lot clearer  by making them less abstract and more concrete.

The Synthetic Aesthetic – Part 1

This is another one of those theoretical postings; you might want to skip it and go look at some fresh fractal art instead.  But if you’re still interested, in this posting I intend to examine what fractal art has come to be and show that this evolution of the art form has made fractal art much less relevant as “math art” and instead gradually transformed it into a less exclusive computer art genre of “synthetic art” uniting it with a wider array of software and methods, all of which do much the same thing and collectively exemplify what I call, “The Synthetic Aesthetic.”

By “aesthetic” I mean the basic style, appearance and themes that come to identify a genre of art –what the art form depicts and likes to express.  Impressionism, Photo Realism, Surrealism; these are all aesthetics.  Grunge is an aesthetic made of rough, worn, grungy things.  Oil painting is not an aesthetic, it’s just a much broader kind of thing called a medium.  The type of art one pursues and creates with oil paints can form an aesthetic, however.  Pointillism is an aesthetic characterized by points of color rather than connected brushstrokes.  Surrealism is an aesthetic defined more by a common theme than a common visual style or method.

An aesthetic is formed out of a complex collection of things and as such the term naturally involves some amount of generalization; some works in the same genre being strong examples while others may be weak ones.

If I showed you the UF parameter file, then would you believe me?

Could a “fractal” program produce this?

The Fractal Aesthetic

Firstly let’s consider the possibility of a “Fractal Aesthetic” –a distinct and recognizable graphical style associated with fractal art.

I have often sensed a disconnection between fractal math and fractal art but been at a loss to explain it since you obviously can’t have fractal imagery without a fractal formula and therefore the two can’t really be disconnected, can they?  But from the perspective of a viewer of fractal art, fractal art exhibits very little of the visible geometric and mathematical relevance that it did in its early days when artworks could also be the subjects of mathematical discussions and include intriguing image notes.  All those traditional scientific aspects to fractal art have drifted into a behind the scenes role while the increasingly dazzling graphical rendering techniques have taken center stage.

Few fractal artworks seem to contain the distinguishing characteristics of the formula used to create them.  This is because, knowingly or otherwise, fractal artists simply use fractal formulas to create a source of imagery –a pool of imagery– from which they fish around in and select from.  The fractal formula’s unique characteristics is rarely the actual subject of their work.  It could be if they wanted, but that isn’t what seems to excite fractal artists much or draw their interest.

This shifting of the spotlight from clear fractal formula structures and characteristics to fishing around for whatever looks “awesome” isn’t a product of the medium, it’s a preferential choice made by artists.  Perhaps straightforward, identifiable fractal images with spirals, mandelbrots, minibrots, and julias and so on are seen as cliche and dull by most fractal artists today?

It might be ugly, but is it also a fractal?

Would you recognize a fractal imposter?

I once argued that “un-fractal” imagery was the pursuit of most fractal artists nowadays.  If it is, then it’s a reasonable and expected sort of behaviour as even the most exotic fractal formulas like the buddhabrot, for instance yield more creative power from tweaking their rendering options and carefully selecting detailed areas of them than they do from tweaking their formula parameters.  Rendering is where the artistry takes place.  Also, artwork that focuses on the formula tends to have less of a “personalized” appearance and represent less of an artistic accomplishment.  Once again we’re back to the problem of creating work that avoids anything that is perceived as being cliche, something that formulas of any kind are apt to produce.

The fractal aesthetic is easy to describe and identify.  Basically, whatever looks like it was made in a fractal program is literally the fractal aesthetic.  That might sound rather simplistic and vague because fractal programs produce such a wide range of imagery and offer such a wide range of rendering options, but actually the fractal aesthetic is easy to spot by people who, ironically, are not fractal artists.  Try uploading a fractal image to the wrong category on Deviant Art and see how quickly someone “spots it”.  Fractal artists might think their genre is one of subtleties and arcane mathematics but to everyone else it’s pretty plain and obvious.

Oops.  I can't remember the formula I used, can you?

Guess the fractal program, win a prize…

Synthetic Shapes and Patterns

Fractal programs have created an aesthetic of artificially composed synthetic shapes and patterns.  For example: arrangements of twisted tubes; balloon like sausages; lightning bolts in crushed paper; vast fields of fractured glass; bubble vistas; gardens of glowing gas; anything with a spiral (that’s an obvious one); jungles of geometry; simple shapes with subtle changes in color and texture across every pixel; mettalic imagery that radiates with infinite detail;  etc…  These are the hallmarks of fractal art; occasionally the elegance of math, but always the wonders of exotic rendering options.

We have collectively created an art form which is quite distinct and quite distinctive.  It’s just that the thing that distinguishes fractal art is no long fractal geometry, its the synthetic rendering techniques; these have become the “face” of “fractal” art.

A Summary

Fractal programs “draw” just as people draw using a graphics program.  Fractal programs, however, draw with the stiffly deterministic but amazingly talented robotic arm of a fractal formula.  It’s the drawing styles of fractal programs (rendering methods) which have become the focus of fractal art rather than the fractal formula which is directing the program’s “pen” or “brush”.  The subject matter therefore of most fractal artworks is usually a zoomed-in fragment of a rendered formula which depicts some interesting effect created by the rendering technology –or exaggerated by it– rather than a unique and identifiable piece of the formula’s mathematical anatomy.  Artists could chose to focus more on mathematical and scientific “portraits”, but most chose not to and subsequently fractal art has come to be an art form of “renderisms” rather than famous formulas.

Terragen and Fractalgen

Again, I don’t see any of this shift to “renderisms” as a bad thing.  In fact, I find the whole thing rather exciting, now that I see what’s going on.  Fractal art is an artistic pursuit and fractal artists care a whole lot more about how artistically appealing an image is than how well it depicts fractal geometry (if at all).  In fact, and this is my main point here, fractal artists hardly ever attempt to display recognizable fractal characteristics in their images because that’s not what interests them.  Nobody is ever worried that their artwork will lose it’s “fractal status” as long as they stick to using fractal software.  The creative process is such that the formulas become the graphical engine of the fractal software while the rendering techniques for the most part determine what that artwork looks like.

This of course is what makes Terragen, a graphical landscape generator, although it utilizes fractal formulas, disqualified from creating fractal art: it just makes pretty landscape scenes with the help of fractal computer code.  Fractals are merely part of Terragen’s graphical processing.

Terragen is an extreme example of fractal algorithms creating un-fractal art, but many fractal artworks whose subject matter is some (magnificent) detail plundered from the deep recesses of a fractal image and rendered in an exotic way are just as cut-off from their fractal roots as any sun-splashed mountain scene from Terragen.  The only difference is that Terragen scenes are immediately recognized as something familiar and easily classified –as landscapes.  Everyone knows that Terragen images aren’t fractals because they can clearly see that they’re landscapes.  The hidden fractal characteristics are merely an interesting anecdote to go along with the image as well as any other trivial about “how they were made”.

Which brings me to the title of this posting, “The Synthetic Aesthetic”.  Fractal art settles quite logically and reasonably under the graphical label of “synthetic” rather than “fractal” just as “Terragen Art” fits intuitively into the category of “landscape” rather than “fractal”.  Fractal art is the use of fractal formulas to synthesize art.  But that synthetic art, although distinctly derived from the processing powers of fractal formulas, resembles in appearance many other kinds of computer synthesized artwork.

In fact, I think the distinction between fractal art and any other kind of computer synthesized imagery is entirely a matter of tradition, specifically a tradition that has assumed that fractal art was a special form of art because it was uniquely mathematical and therefore “different” because of that.  Fractal art is uniquely fractal in its method of creation but that feature no longer leads to the creation of artwork that is graphically unique in its appearance when placed in the context of other computer synthesized artworks.  In fact, ironically perhaps, the fractal aesthetic has actually come to be one of the best examples of the synthetic aesthetic.

I have more to say about this.  In Part 2 I will try to show how “synthesized art” is so close to fractal art aesthetically that separating the two groups from each other is creatively inhibiting as well as artistically retarded.  But I won’t use words like that.

Paint by Fractals

What shower of insults and rotten tomatoes are provoked up by such a play on the expression, “Paint by Numbers”?  And yet, to those who know what galactic boundaries are quickly traversed by just a few (million) iterations of the simplest of fractal formulas, the phrase “Paint by Fractals” is nothing short of rocket-powered creativity.  For those of you who aren’t sure of what I’m getting at just look at the pictures.

~Click on images to view full-size on original sites~

Double apparition of Louis XIV at the stairways of a Mini-minibulb in the Versailles of Mandelbulbs by Kraftwerk

Double apparition of Louis XIV at the stairways of a Mini-minibulb in the Versailles of Mandelbulbs by Kraftwerk

How does this one make me think of “painting”?  Although the elegant curves and ridges of the mandelbulb suggest a rich picture frame, what catches my eye and makes me say, “Son of da Vinci!” is the background imagery on the right-hand side, middle to top.  It’s the sort of painterly touch that one often sees in renaissance portraits like the Mona Lisa; misty, hazy panoramic landscape.

Dodgeball with Flash Gordon by Sitting Duck

Dodgeball with Flash Gordon by Sitting Duck

Maybe the “painterly” style is just the preference for subtle shading and the appearance of natural light.  I have no idea who Sitting Duck is.  I think he’s one of the many new names drawn into the orbit through their recent contest.  If so, then the contest has been a success.  This image reminds me of the many sci-fi fantasy paintings done by Frank Frazetta back when that sort of thing was popular, that is, before the advent of CGI when fantasy became reality.  I like the overexposed areas of bright light and of course the multiple shades of rusty brown that would have caused even Da Vinci to start using a bigger palette –the old-fashioned, non-indexed type.

For which of his paintings would Frank Frazetta have ever have written a description like this:

Mandelbulb 3d DEcombinate of: Amazing+Surf Quaternion+CommQuat+IdesFormula | Bulbox+_AmazingBoxSSE2
Same as “Shiny bug transfixed by entomological pin” but from another angle.

Truly, “Painting with Fractals” puts us in a completely different league.  And language group, too.

Eat your Veggies! by indavisual

Eat your Veggies! by indavisual

This one caught my eye for what is probably the most important aspect of the painterly style for fractal art: creativity.  The painterly style challenges the opposing style of precise, slick rendering.  The painterly style is a reminder that art is a matter of impression and not precise, diagrammatic or photographic depiction.  We applaud the skill of painters when they paint something that evokes great thoughts and feelings, but when a talented painter paints a great photograph and imitates a camera, then who cares?

This one really shows how the distorting effects of whatever this guy did to this mandelbulb image can create something new and different where sticking to just the parameter settings of the program would yield something much more commonplace.  The painterly style could be described as semi-destructive or even sloppy.  The impressionist painters were described that way not because they actually were sloppy but because that’s how their work appeared when placed in the more established context of the (overly) realistic style of painting that came before them.  Compared to a photograph, even the Mona Lisa would look “smudgy.”  On it’s own, almost anyone can begin to see the artistry to such works as this one by indavisual (nice, multi-expressive screen name).

And that’s what fractal art as opposed to fractal science is all about:  artistry.  Of course it’s not too easy to define what is artistry and what is merely tech-nistry, but it’s worth loosening the bolts on one’s mind once in a while and seeing what comes from a more expanded visual range.



Rembrant-ish, but more than that.  The radiating details that draw our eyes into the smudgy shadows are beyond the sort of hypnagogic visions that Rembrant’s own shadowlands ever depicted.  Hypnagogic means just before you fall asleep.  And Turner, too.  This has all the subtle light shades and murky shallows of a Turner seascape with clouds, dying twilight and those things that only the eyes understand.

Calligraphy mountain by wackwang

Calligraphy mountain by wackwang

From the gallery page:

Description: calligraphy of Chinese characters as single elements, expressed the relationship between global and local, which is the calligraphy and fractal embodied.And I make it feel like Traditional Chinese painting as a form of expression.

This is not really a painterly example, strictly speaking, but the cellphone signature chop mark combined with the fractal cloud/mountain/trees structure does evoke a strong resemblance to Chinese art as the artist intended it to do tying it in closely to more traditional, non-digital imagery.  I missed the 2d barcode (red mark) at first and only on closer examination realized it wasn’t a traditional Chinese signature stamp.

Hardwired Transcendence Engine by egress

Hardwired Transcendence Engine by egress

Smooth rendering and, once again, the smudgy-ness are the beginnings of painterly style.  Of course you still need an interesting image and composition and all those other serious art things.  The swirly cables/wires and steel parts forms a nice composition as well as something with a little bit of a realistic touch that allows us to begin to think we know what we’re looking at when in fact we’ve been drawn into something strange and other-worldly.  The cables in the bottom right are really fantastic.  They look quite hand drawn although I’m sure it’s just the careful rendering selection that makes them look that way.  This one looks like maybe it took some time to render.  Does an airbrush count as a painterly tool?

Orbit Mandelbrot No. 2 by element90

Orbit Mandelbrot No. 2 by element90

The Buddhabrot is always quite a painterly looking construction so one has to really do something special to produce an exceptionally painterly looking one and element90 has done that here.  It looks like parchment or skin or maybe thin aluminium.  But the reddish/burgundy shade which takes over in the smaller parts starts to suggest leather.  Or is it a recursive construction of old “pop-top” pop can tabs?  One can never be sure what the audience sees when looking at fractal art.  Just be glad someone is looking is all.



A detail from a painting by Escher?  Once again, subtle shading from various degrees of combinations and permutations of light –isn’t that 90% of what oil painting is? — light?  I like the combination of the sphere with the triangular shapes and squares.  One would almost think it was a deliberate attempt by the artist to suggest a round square or something alchemical like that when in fact it’s a deliberate output from the formula.  Of course the selection of this scene was the artist’s choice.  Selection is a big part of fractal art.

Cliffs of Antartica by Kali

Cliffs of Antartica by Kali

From the gallery page:

Description: Experimental Kaliset heightfield render.
Based on Knighty’s Mandelbrot heightfield implementation included in the latest Fragmentarium version.

This is exquisitely painterly.  Hard to believe it’s machine made, but then Kali has magical powers when it comes to working with machines like Fragmentarium.  If this was a painting it would be acrylic: bright, modern and powerful.  Colors da Vinci could only have dreamed of.  Although, I think one would detect some mixed-media accents in the form of sketched-in outlines and structural markings.  This could be pen and ink or pen and airbrush.  See what I mean about Kali’s sophisticated rendering methods?

MengerKoch23hrddh_4 by ellenm1

MengerKoch23hrddh_4 by ellenm1

Ellenm1 has a rather interesting collection of mandelbulb images on Flickr.  This one I find to be the most painterly of the lot, however there’s a few other that remind me of Bosch and other famous painters not because of the lighting alone, but also because of the creative composition and un-precise, warped fractal imagery.  To me, this is a face, the bottom being a monstrous mouth while the top morphs into a cut-away cranial dome.  There are almost brushstrokes in some of the lip-things at the bottom.  It’s refreshingly fluid and non-squarish.  Perhaps that’s another painterly principle.

tumblr_mjsuarRvm71rswrhdo1_1280 by jakeronomicon

tumblr_mjsuarRvm71rswrhdo1_1280 by jakeronomicon

To see a world in a grain of sand… or in this case, a world on a shelf.  If this was a drawer in a museum, it would be labelled “sunset”.  This is the kind of image that gets written off as a preliminary render but is in fact quite an advancement over the more complex, precisely rendered kind of thing.  Perhaps that’s because the artist, Jacob Bettany has only been working with fractals for less than a year and hasn’t picked up the bad habit of only making crisp scientific images with a fractal program.  To render this more would be to render it less.  To render this more carefully would be to render it more crudely.  To render this richly would be to render it worthless.

94bf751edf4f11e2af4522000a1f8f13_7 by Jacob Bettany

94bf751edf4f11e2af4522000a1f8f13_7 by Jacob Bettany

This one’s off Jacob Bettany’s Instagram site, a service I’ve got very little experience with but looks very art-friendly in its format.  Although clearly a mandelbulb derivative, this image does not seem to suggest zooming into it any more than one would step closer to a canvas hanging on a wall to take in the brushstrokes.  I like the color and the flatness to this one.  Flatness is something often neglected in 3d fractals.  This would be a watercolor if it were a real painting.

Well, there’s plenty more I could show here but I think you get the idea of what the “painterly” style is all about and how it works.  Hopefully more artists will take up the smudgy, over-exposed, flat and shadowy style a little more.  Sometimes it takes real genius to see just how simple, and how simply made, good art can be.  Especially in such a technology-laden, expert-heavy genre as fractal art where it’s much easier to make perfect photos than it is to make unique and stylish artwork.

Fractal Getaways: Your Electronic Vacation

Our brains need a vacation.  And what could be a better Brain Resort than the electronic paradises of the fractal realm.  Here’s a sampler of some of the most interesting fractal scenery and composite images I’ve stumbled upon over the last few months.

Although we’ve already arrived at our electronic destination, let’s do the old-fashioned pre-electronic drive to the airport.  We pass through some new construction downtown via the expressway:

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

Ship by Dominique_Peronino

Ship by Dominique_Peronino

Dominique chose to call this a ship for some reason, but I’ve been looking at it in my Viewmarks collection for more than a few months and I always see a new highrise in the making.  In fact, when driving down the downtown expressway now I’m reminded of this image when I see any highrise in its early construction phases.  Life is starting to imitate fractal art.

These sorts of 3D jackposts and concrete floor images are quite common now but this one is special because it looks like more than just the regular tube and slab stuff.  The sky background might have played a role in transforming it although it seems to be just a simple gradient.



Something strange and astronomical is going up at the airport it looks like.  Haltenny has always been something of a pioneer in the 3D fractal world.  I suppose this one isn’t all that pioneering in the technical sense but I’ve never seen such an interesting concrete ball structure as this.  It almost looks like a fossilized thing with those embedded circular structures.  Or is it more like a semi-constructed stone Death Star?




Looks like Haltenny got the contract to do the parking garage too.  It really pays to explore fractals, 3D or otherwise, because that’s how I’m sure people like Haltenny find these sorts of things while others seem to just find what’s already been found.  Images like this really renew one’s excitement with 3D fractals.  It seems like there’s always something new waiting around the corner.  That aspect to fractal art is still the same.

My Home Town by Frakkie

My Home Town by Frakkie

Uh oh.  I don’t think we’re in the parking garage anymore.  We’re in the Twilight Zone where reality and fractals meet.  It happens in the realms of electronica that airports are grown, not made.  This is proto-airport and the runways will be the lava beds once they’ve cooled.  There will be no need for planes because all the departures will be arrivals: your itinerary is written on a mobius strip.

It’s a neat image, not really a super technical feat or anything, but just for the artistic impression which is what counts in all this really whether you’re aware of that or not.  What I like is that the imagery really does suggest a sort of half-real, half drafting board state.  It hasn’t finished calculating yet but we’re here already.  The crisp contrasts are very digital and yet the lighting also gives the image a very vivid depth and realistic feel to it.



Yikes.  Ample parking means walking a few miles to the terminal.  I’m so glad this is all electronic and nothing is ever more than a mouse-click away.  And no baggage either.  In fact, I’m sitting in my basement with barefeet.  What’s so special about this one?  The simple depth and perspective is done well.  Also, it has the feel of the outside and yet it’s inside.  A sort of interior exterior.  It looks like snow has fallen on a shallow river bed but how can it snow inside a tunnel like this?  A nice example of how 3d fractals can conjure up some extraordinary scenes.  Like Escher’s work; impossible scenes that just look natural.

Plaza Organica 7 by Tom Wilcox

Plaza Organica 7 by Tom Wilcox

Similar in some respects but having a very different feel.  The full-size version really shows the smooth, almost abstracted style to this image.  Abstracted?  You see how hard it is to tell what reality is on these electronic vacations?  Isn’t it all abstract?  Also, as a side note, I found this one via Haltenny’s Deviant Art favorites list.  A good favorites list is the best way to browse Deviant Art.

Tom is well known for his very polished and refined style of fractals of which the image above is a good example.  This is from his deviantART page:


And now for our in-flight dream…



I declare the birth of a new fractal genre: Dorianoscape; in honour of Doriano Benaglia who is the unrivaled master and inventor of the art form.  Encore!  Encore!  …here it is:



Panoramic; timeless; digital surf crashing on the pixel-grained beach.  Note the subtle horizon touches like the hills on the left and the little star in the middle.  He doesn’t just slap these things together, he composes them.

The dream continues…



The images have this effortless quality to them and yet they are also uncommon and unique.  Artists make art and you can recognize the artist from the art, but in the fractal world I’m sorry to say that the technology is what really makes the art and we are more likely to recognize the software than the artist by looking at the art.  But not with Dorianoscapes.  500 years from now when someone finds an unknown Dorianoscape on a vintage 21st century usb stick unearthed during renovations of an old villa, it will be immediately recognized as the originator’s handiwork and not one of the thousands of imitators who I’m sure are bound to spring up in the years to come.

MB3D_0474 by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0474 by  0Encrypted0

This one is a real masterwork in the sense that it’s rich with all sorts of details as well as having a strong overall composition to it and multiple impressive themes like shadow lands; bubble worlds; majestic heights; and more if you study it longer.  It’s not a typical work for Encrypted who usually makes very intricate, jewelled 3D fractals.  This one is very painterly and full of smudgy suggestion and panoramic silence.  You know,  maybe fractal art really will become a rich art form.  All it needs is a few people with that special skill of working with its special machinery.  Encrypted’s got it.  Let’s hope more people will find it too.

Cendria by lxh

Cendria by lxh

This one looks old-fashioned to me.  I noted some similarity it had with an old photograph on Wikipedia that I stumbled on:


Boulevard_du_Temple_by_Daguerre (1838)

It’s the roof lines, chimneys and evestroughing of this photograph of Paris in 1838.  (Actually, a daguerreotype, an early form of photography.)  Interestingly, this photo is perhaps the oldest one showing a living person according to the Wikipedia author.  Only the man getting his shoes shined (left-foreground) showed up in this long exposure while all the other people and street traffic disappeared in a blur of (relatively ) fast movement.  Lxh’s image takes us up to the chimney tops (where troubles melt like lemon drops) and we exchange the rest of the Parisian cityscape for fields of clouds in the sunshine.

Fractal Rock by Axolotl

Fractal Rock by Axolotl

The Ayers Rock of fractaland.  More photoshop than fractal but the importance of the mandelbulb sitting off in the distance is great enough in this image to make it “fractal” (whatever that really means).  Nice use of lighting and all that serious art technique stuff.  Axolotl must know something about making artwork because this sort of thing doesn’t come naturally.  Do you feel like walking in the sun like the woman; or do you feel like sitting in the shade like the man?  Couldn’t he at least drive her over to the Fractal Rock?  And what’s with that steel umbrella that looks like a covered serving platter?  A nice early use of composite imagery (Mar. 2011) that has stood the test of time and still looks good despite how retro the mandelbulb now looks to all of us.



I think this is just a filtered and processed photo that resulted in something cool looking.  I throw it in because it fits with the electronic vacation and what exactly is the difference really between fractal art and all the other digital stuff, exactly?  Don’t know who Magritte is?  Those title allusions are just extras.  The image creates its own fantastic context. (“Better” than Magritte?)

Here’s something Magritt-ey:

Rain of Pain by CO99A5

Rain of Pain by CO99A5

Why pain?  I guess the dark sky and dark below-sky (not really land) suggest dark things.  Rene Magritte liked to include stark geometry into his nicely pained images.  Nowadays we like to include nicely painted images with our stark geometry.  If Magritte were alive today he’s be laughing!  And he’d be out of a job, too.  Buried alive by the style he created.  Hey, that’s painful.

What’s a vacation without a hotel?  And if electronic hotels have hand made paintings on the wall, then real hotels must have electronic paintings on their walls.  And who knows electified art better than Zone Patcher?  But first the art:

Reappearance of Ancient Luminous Connections by Zone Patcher

Reappearance of Ancient Luminous Connections by Zone Patcher

From Zone Patcher’s Flickr notes:

….SOLD….to The Park, New Delhi… Hotel company…everything inna da rooms will be white..everyting..except…my Fractal Collages…heee..

And here’s the hotel room ($140/night):

Room photo The Park Hotels, Goa, website

Room photo, from The Park Hotels, Goa, website

Of course our electronic itinerary includes a lot more artwork, but you’ll have to sleep on the floor (your own floor).  They weren’t kidding about everything in the room being white.  That big black box thing with the mail slot is a drop safe, I think.



Nice simple straight-forward image made in Fractal Explorer using a Sterlingware formula that would look nice in any high class hotel.  Fractals are the ultimate public art since they’re decorative and completely lacking any sort of real world connection that could lead to them becoming politically incorrect sometime in the future or even later this day.  Look hard at this one and try as much as you can to be offended by it.  It just can’t happen.  The title is a reference to the recent passing away of the beloved singer Maria Elena Walsh.

Since Goa is a short walk from downtown Europe in the fractal realm, let’s visit some of the cultural wonders amidst the electronic cafes (bring your own coffee).

MB3D_0563_hd by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0563_hd by 0Encrypted0

Another fresh view of the 3D mandel-things.  Note how it gets Escher-esque on the far right and how the structures vary from straight to curved and from golden to soot-covered.  Such a rich variety of things in this one.  Is it an electrical station or a steel making factory?  Or a clock tower?

MB3D_0554_hd by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0554_hd by 0Encrypted0

Like great symphonies, 0Encrypted0 (that’s how he writes it) gives them simple, unassuming numbers.  This one really is a symphony of imagery.  I really like the left side wall of shelf things and its lighting especially, and then the depth to which the top right moves off to.  This one is strangely panoramic although everything appears to be inside and enclosed.  It’s a city of cities within a city.

MB3D_0575_hd by 0Encrypted0

MB3D_0575_hd by 0Encrypted0

I rarely pay much attention to the names on images like this posted to  I just bookmark the ones that look great and so it’s by accident that I’ve reviewed three in a row here by the same artist.  This one is a fantastic example of rich design in a 3D fractal.  It must have really boggled the mind of 0Encrypted0 when he found it.  The square areas act like frames and similar to the photography theme of memory boxes, wooden boxes with all sort of inner partitions each one holding some different object or curio.  The description note says: “Amazing Surf CrossBiFold _RotatedFolding _FoldingTetra3d“.  And that’s a pretty good description, too.

ModularNexus II by MarkJayBee

ModularNexus II by MarkJayBee

I must have gotten off at the wrong subway stop because everyone speaks English here.  There are no signs in the electronic worlds because you’re always “here”.  This was just posted a few months ago and shows how Mark’s painterly style has not been a one time thing (like a mistaken keystroke).  I don’t know if they’re tearing this down or building it up.  But then, what does any of that mean in a place of virtual reality?  There’s a million shades of brown here; some suggesting rust and others polished granite.  There’s the big palace up top in the sunshine being built, but then there’s the grim, subterranean foundations holding it up.  Someday writers might actually write novels for specific pieces of cover art.  Do e-books really have covers?



These images go so well together I don’t know whether he added the photography to the fractal or vice versa.  Here’s what Vidom says:

Here I made a single layer fractal architecture, where my main goal was using fog settings to achieve a glassy-windows appearance on the right lower part.
Testing some of my photographs to choose a simple sky, I instead decided to set a natural lush ambiance, with a single photo of a pond I took in a Milan park.
The fractal itself isn’t changed but it’s quite hidden now, so it’s in manipulations category.

By the way, Vidom’s entire deviantART gallery is a vacation all its own with all sorts of panoramic and intense mechanical constructions combined.  He also posts very high resolution images so you can wander around the image the same way you can with large works of art in an art gallery.  He should charge for admission because it’s better than Disneyland.  Each image is almost a virtual day trip in itself.



This is perhaps the most detailed panoramic 3D fractal I’ve ever seen.  The original is 2300 x 1380 px and to me resembles a sports stadium the size of an entire planet.  Vidom says this: It suffered a lot with resizing, it went from 65MB to 2.2MB, but it’s still interesting even with less details.

It’s something worth noting that this image was made with the same software as every other Mandelbulb3D image.  The sky and the cloud-shadows on the “seating”  (left of center)  were added, I assume, but it really shows how operating the machinery is the key skill in fractal art.  If it weren’t a skill then why do some people come up with things like this repeatedly and others don’t?  The creative process is different in fractal art than it is in the traditional hand-made genres.  The paint brushes have a mind of their own.

Well, it’s time to leave.  Let’s head back to the hotel lobby to sneak check out:



Even the greatest hotels of reality-land can’t compare with the Vidom Hiltons of fractaland.  Consider this lobby-scape of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai ($1500/night):

Bird's eye view of the lobby of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

Bird’s eye view of the lobby of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

I don’t see anyone at the main desk so I guess they don’t care if I leave without paying my bill…

I get a window seat on the plane and take these photos on arrival back home.  Something’s happened since I left.

bbrot1 by William Brodie-Tyrell

bbrot1 by William Brodie-Tyrell


bbrot5 by William Brodie-Tyrell

bbrot3 by William Brodie-Tyrell

bbrot3 by William Brodie-Tyrell

I found these buddhabrot images via a posting on recently, but I think they may date from 2004 if they’re of the same vintage as most of the other stuff on the original site.

Reality can be edited in fractaland.  I quite like this one.  The effect is great even though the parts put together are quite ordinary.

Fractal by Alizadeh100

Fractal by Alizadeh100

Fractaland, it’s just a click away.

Psychoanalyzing Fractal Art: Fractalsport Psychosis

Yes, fellow patients, and particularly those in the line-up waiting for shock-treatment, we are sometimes gripped by that psychotic condition which I would label, “fractalsport”.

What is fractalsport?  You know what fractalsport is and are exhibiting its symptoms right now with your attempts to deny it.  For those of you whose brains are still effervescing from shock-treatment, fractalsport is the making and posting of fractal art for the purposes of competition and taking part in competition rather than the simple, straight-forward pursuit of fractal art for normal, healthy, well-adjusted  reasons.

Since I understand the mental state of those afflicted by this condition better than they do, let me avoid enraging you with medical terms and just show you a picture:

The precursor of all fractal art contests

The precursor of all fractal art contests

Note particularly the spiral decorated top spinning off the board and into our laps.  Spirals were made for fractalsport and epitomize it: fast, attractive and begging to be spun.

I hope this next image isn’t too much of a sudden shock to the system:

Yes, they even had usernames

Yes, they even had usernames back in the proto-fractalsport era

Any website or web-space can be quickly converted into such an arena-o-art with the sudden announcement of "contest" or, for those who are suffering deeply from this, the latest term, "compo"

Any website or web-space can be quickly converted into such an arena-o-art as this with the sudden announcement of “contest” or, for those who are in a profound state of fractalsport and more accustomed to degenerative street language,  “compo”

Now that we’ve come to acknowledge our diseased state of mind and the pathology of our art form, let’s look and see what the latest “compo” has inspired and forget about seeking medical treatment.  In the words of Dostoyevsky: My art is bad, well–let it get worse!   Hey, I’m feeling better already.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

Mariana Trench by Aqualoop

Mariana Trench by Aqualoop

I’ve never heard of the user, Aqualoop, so this is a double-prize: new art and a new artist.  If that’s the case then this latest outbreak of fractalsport is having some beneficial effects; just like a high fever killing off one’s malarial infection.  What do I like about this image?  I find it to be Dali-esque.  If Salvador Dali, the great surrealist painter was to take up fractals, I think this is the sort of thing he’d get excited about.  The melted, distorted look is almost a “Persistence of Fractals”.  The lonely, barren, sun scoured landscape in the top-left corner also suggests to me the mark of the master himself.  Then there’s the embyonic forms floating around and the overall fluid, flowing feeling connecting such small scale items with large scale things like a spiral galaxy in the mid-right.

This image is a good example of how subtle fractal art can be and how it can strongly appeal to one person, like myself, and possibly not appeal at all to many others.  I’m going to be quite disappointed if the Aqualoop battling-top gets bounced off the board by another.  But that’s the way of the compo.  It always happens that the real art gets trodden on by the imitations.

It Happened by arteandreas

It Happened by arteandreas

Philosophically speaking, I really ought to dislike these images made from combining realistic elements with fractal ones but something in my mind keeps overruling that other sense of propriety and good taste.  Perhaps it’s because this one has such a great narrative to suggest: a meeting of the digital and the real; the portal to the parameter worlds.

When you want to tell a story you don’t need much to illustrate it if it’s a good one.  A little nudge is all the reader/viewer needs to have.  I suspect these composite images are going to be much more common than they were in the old days before 3D rendering.  3D fractals seem to mix better with our inherently 3D realistic world imagery.

Friends: Fractolotl and Octofractalpus meet in the garden by Lambarie

Friends: Fractolotl and Octofractalpus meet in the garden by Lambarie

Yeah?  So what.  I like it.  Now let’s try to figure out why.  I’m not too excited about the yellow snail or the bright orange fern-thingies on the axolotl creature (it’s a long story, the axolotl thing –and category).  But the grainy gold, blurry-layered, spiral creature bits have some dreamy quality to it.  And the garbage UF style over-layered background normally makes me gag but this time, combined with the goldy swirls, transcends the usual reverse peristalsic outcome from such workings and becomes something that I’ve actually been staring at for some time now.  Maybe it’s because the smeary background resembles the background of a microscope slide and that sets a new context –discovery– for the golden creatures.  Have I failed another Rorschach test?

Mr. Crabs nebula by Knighty

Mr. Crabs nebula by Knighty

The buddhabrot is like a lobotomy: bold and simple, it never fails.  In fact, all the buddhabrot formula needs is some good coloring, which is what knighty has introduced here.  Or as he says: “Just experimenting with Metropolis Hastings method for rendering the buddhabrot and thought that one is good enough for participating in the compo. Hope you like it.”  The buddhabrot deserves an entry category all its own.  Knighty has always had a good sense of color.

Brahmabrot Ganeshi Nilgiri by Alef

Brahmabrot Ganeshi Nilgiri by Alef

Brahma-brot?  Hey, expect the unexpected from Alef.  I’ve always liked his simple renderings which allow the fractal formula to do the drawing.  He’s done something special here with the formula.  Since I don’t understand what it is, I’ll let him explain:

Description: Multi layer and part render of my buddhabrot version aka brahmabrot of  mandelbrot set with subtracted unit vector.
z=z – 0.375*z/|z|

Really this weren’t meant to be a winner, it’s meant to be good contest entry.

NOTICE: Now its OK.

Pervij n.

Although I think the buddhabrot is a 2D formula, it’s always had a sort of 3D appearance even when rendered in 2D.  I’m not surprised to see someone like Alef experimenting with variations as, like I said before, the buddhabrot deserves its own category because it produces such rich and intense imagery.

Waves by Phtolo

Waves by Phtolo

I’m impressed more with fractal art that looks raw and alien rather than with the stuff that’s touched up and skillfully presented.  Maybe that’s because it’s more fractal or because it’s less human and therefore more unexpected.  There’s a style that comes with such arbitrary imagery that is captured in the wild and never domesticated.   Maybe most fractal artists don’t really like fractals? Phtolo I’m guessing is another newcomer to the scene although one can never really know when it comes to usernames.  The sense of wilderness which a turbulent seascape exemplifies is certainly in this image but the fractalness of it adds a strange sense of order, deliberation and primordial thinking to the scene.  Each wave is doing its own thing and reaching out for something to pull back into itself.  Does that sound crazy?

The Circus at the End of Time by Brummbaer

The Circus at the End of Time by Brummbaer

Another fine example of how small realistic elements can act like a spark setting off a whole new impression in your mind.  But didn’t I say I was more impressed with the raw, untouched stuff?  But this is what makes the incorporation of realistic elements such an artistic challenge.  You have to find something that fits with the fractal and when combined creates synergy, something that works with and multiplies the effect of the other.  Also, incorporating other elements doesn’t have the same graphically distorting result that global effects do.  Brummbaer is pretty good at this delicate job of sparking the image.  Are those hills in the background really clouds?  Isn’t it winter?  Or some kind of fifth season?  I hear music.

Description: The Circus at the End of Time
When you get closer to the circus you will find a door that says:
The Magic Theatre, for madmen only – price of admission, your mind.   (Steppenwolf by Herrman Hesse)

Well, there you go.  According to the compo closes for entries at the end of May and then the “voting” (whatever that means) starts.  But in the world of fractal art the game never ends!  Competitions come and go and the losers always win.  Let’s hear it for the next bunch of winners.

Fractal Artists are Deluded Narcissists


First, let me explain.  I make such a bold statement not because I hate fractals (or fractal artists) but because I love fractals and include myself among the hopelessly deluded.

A quaint anecdote

I came to this realization in a rather unexpected way: through rediscovering the joy of fractal artistry.

For the last year or so all I’ve been doing as far as fractals are concerned was merely reviewing other people’s artwork as well as attempting to understand and explain fractal art from a theoretical, art criticism, point of view.  I hadn’t really been making any artwork myself for over a year.  Then just this past weekend I rediscovered the joy of fractal artistry.

Like most computers mine has a screensaver and like all screensavers they only display when you’ve stopped using the computer for some length of time.  Only then, when you’re not using them do they appear.  From time to time my computer would start drawing Lyapunov fractals in a screensaver called  XLyap by Ron Record (1997).   I had never thought Lyapunovs were very creative until I saw them rendered in the primitive, colored greyscale method of XLap.  I became re-enthused with Lyapunovs after seeing their  artistic potential demonstrated.

I was already somewhat familiar with Lyapunovs from using Sterlingware, that great fractal program by Stephen Ferguson.  I remembered the Lyapunov formula section in Sterlingware and thought it might be worth checking out one more time because if this screensaver, XLyap from 1997 could make interesting stuff out of Lyapunov fractals, then surely that powerful troika of: me, Sterlingware and a graphics program, could do even better.

The Fractal State of California c. 1825

The Fractal State of California 1865

While rediscovering the secret joys of fractal exploration with the many Lyapunov parameter options in Sterlingware (never underestimate a simple fractal program) I came to realize (that is, re-realize) just how much fun fractal art is to make and at the very same time (still over-analyzing everything) just how cut off from all this fun-factor the audience of fractal art must be.  This became rather obvious when I reflected on the excitement of exploring these wonderfully irregular and asymmetrical Lyapunov fractals.  It also became obvious when I saw that my mass of saved images was becoming a fractal “rock collection.”

How can fractals be so engrossing to make and yet look so awkward as art?

Awkward, because surely, to an outsider, that is, someone not initiated into the arcane world of fractal graphics, it’s all just technological weirdness (“Awesome! How did you make that?”).  I mean, they’re not something like a portrait painting or a misty morning photograph of “park bench and trees” that makes almost anyone stop and make an instant emotional connection with the intent of the artist who made it.  Fractals are more like Rorschach tests and the viewer’s reaction says more about their own insanity than that of the artist’s.

I see a crushed butterfly

I see a crushed butterfly, and my first grade teacher

So what does that suggest about fractal art as an art form?  (More analyzing)  It suggests something disturbing which I’ve sensed for some years now: the audience for fractal art is fractal artists.  And when some of those fractal artists get together and try to get the rest of the world to discover fractals and “see the light”  they unwittingly reveal the depth of their own narcissism and the subsequent flood of delusional thinking that causes them to believe that all people from every tribe and tongue will join them in worshipping fractals if only we can distract them for a moment and get them to look at some really great examples of fractal art.  The promotion of fractals as an art form requires religious zeal and a faith in fractals that transcends reality and is able to calmly walk across the coals of art criticism (and self-criticism).  Why else would anyone push this stuff?

The Metropolitan Museum of Mental Art

Back to reality.  Fractals are the Rorschach Tests of our generation but since in our generation everyone is an authority, the diagnostic tests have been developed by the mental patients instead of the doctors and being crazy, we, the patients, have hung them on the wall as art instead of hanging them on the end of our hospital bed as charts that display the severity of our disease.


The deserted shore Sinbad was stranded on

I suggest a name change:  since fractal art is really rock collecting and rock collectors call themselves “rock hounds” let”s stop calling ourselves fractal artists and instead use the term, “Fractal Hound”.  For example: The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Hound Exhibition.  Our official symbol won’t be a spiral it’ll be a wheel barrow.

In case I’ve failed to make a coherent point in this posting, let me end with something straightforward: fractal artists (I mean hounds) need to take themselves a lot less seriously.  We have an oddball art form that doesn’t do what most art does.  It’s a niche art form and appeals to the typical niche dwelling life forms like spiders and cockroaches.  Our audience is us.  Your audience is you.  And it wouldn’t surprise me if my audience is me.And now, back to staring in the pool.

3D Printing: Will this be Fractal Art’s Big Break?

With 3D printing technology, fractal art can cheaply and easily enter the domain of sculpture.  It’s an exciting development and offers the ever dazzling world of fractals another venue in which to capture that proverbial and elusive, “mainstream” audience.  Will this be fractal art’s big break or just another demonstration of how hard it is for “normal” people to relate to fractals?  But first a little explanation of the technology.

They call it 3D “printing” because the objects are built up, layer by layer, from the bottom to the top.  This is “additive” rather than the old fashioned “subtractive” method of carving out the object from a block of material like they do in machine shops.  There are various 3D printing processes, some resemble an inkjet print head or laser plotter moving around quickly adding layer after layer of 3d pixel bricks while other methods fuse the powder in a large sand pile into smooth, delicate pieces with the precision of a master craftsman.  (Here’s two basic links for more info: Wikipedia: 3D Printing, and a very good Economist article.)

Naturally it all starts with a 3D digital model.  And although I’m sure there’s got to be some limitations as to what you can make with 3D “prints”; such as you can’t have parts of the model floating in mid-air; it looks like the only real limitation is your imagination.  That is, what you can dream up in a 3D digital program.

Here’s where fractals have the real advantage: what could be a greater source of 3D dreams and imaginative works than 3D fractals?  What could be a more exciting and better use of this custom sculpture technology than rendering the kind of complex and beautiful 3D fractals we’ve seen fractal artists making for years?

Consider what this new technology means:  Isn’t it just like the early days when fractals were first graphically rendered –in 2D?  That was the great debut of 2D fractals and this is the same historical event but now in the much more sophisticated medium of 3D.  Fractal art has now moved into the medium of sculpture and would it be premature to expect it to take on a much more radical popularity?  Who can come up with more amazing, and a much more prolific amount, of 3D objects than a fractal artist?

Jeremie Brunet (aka bib) has been posting photos on of his recent 3D prints made at, one of the leading 3D printing companies.  Shapeways will render your 3D image file and also give you a gallery on their site so you can exhibit it and even sell them to the public, just like Deviant Art does for artists with 2D prints.

When I first saw Jeremie’s photos on Fractalforums I thought they were just digital images using a new photo realistic rendering technique.  As we all know, 3D digital art can look pretty realistic these days but as it turns out his photo realistic images were real photographs of real objects, some of which were sitting in his hand.  I think it was the sight of that hand that started me thinking, “What the what?”

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet on

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet (in the Master’s hand) posted to

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet

3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet

Box Pillar by Jeremie Brunet

Box Pillar, 3D printed fractal by Jeremie Brunet

There’s a lot more by Jeremie in this post, Shapeways for 3D printed fractals. Some are metallic and others, like the Box Pillar above, show you how detailed and “fractal” the images –sculptures, really– are.  It literally is the equivalent of printing out a fractal image in 3-dimensional form.  You can see more of Jeremie’s sculptures at his account.  In fact, you can buy your own copies of some for as little as $6!  Buy some before he becomes famous.

Infinitely replicating slugs of ignorance - Fractal Sculpture by Kraftwerk

Infinitely replicating slugs of ignorance – Fractal Sculpture by Kraftwerk

Jeremie isn’t the only one getting into this.  Here’s an excellent example by Kraftwerk (aka Mandelwerk, Johan Andersson).  Fractals should have the potential to be the Michelangelos of 3D printing because no other method creates such intricate and novel objects with such ease and in such quantity.  Compare the 3D print above with the original, “virtual” 3D image below:

The infinitely replicating slugs of ignorance and the false revelations induced by their phlegmatic movements by Kraftwerk

The infinitely replicating slugs of ignorance and the false revelations induced by their phlegmatic movements by Kraftwerk

Although the 3D “print” isn’t as rich and nuanced as the original image, it does illustrate how the aesthetic qualities of 3D fractals can be transferred to a 3D printed object.  And the process is only going to get better –and cheaper.  A fractal on every coffee table –or hanging from every rear-view mirror like CDs were back in the 80s.

Here’s a short, two minute video from showing how their 3D printing process works and how it can work for you:

My favorite bit in the Shapeways video is where they lift the finished products out of the sand.  It was like seeing buried treasure being uncovered.  Your 3D files and Shapeway’s machine can turn that industrial sand pile of theirs into a never ending archaeological treasure hunt in the Valley of the Kings.

Of course fractals aren’t the only thing that’s being “printed” there.  But like I said in my introduction: what could compare to the visual wonders of 3D fractals?  They’re sculptures; mathematical masterpieces that you can hold in your hands.  They’re things that no human mind has imagined or could imagine.  What is there in the world of 3D printing that could possibly rival fractals for the top spot?  What could turn the heads of anyone once they’ve stumbled upon the mathematical majesty of 3D fractals?

How about My Little Pony?  Yeah, look at this:

Art category from the front page of

Art category from the front page of

And skulls.  Who wants to look at the wonders of math made flesh when they can oogle over an ornately carved human skull?  Fascinating, isn’t it?  It’s this apotheosis of mediocrity that really struck me when I visited 3D printing hasn’t changed a thing for fractal art.  It’s still the same old world where people’s attention is monopolized by trivial things and stuff they’ve all seen before.  What in the Sam Hill is wrong with society?

Now of course Shapeways isn’t trying to promote “art” they’re really just trying to promote art sales, that is, sales of the 3D objects exhibited on their site.  It’s just like Deviant Art going out of their way to get visitors to buy prints of the artwork they’re browsing and thereby convert as many of their visitor stats into art sales.  Shapeways is a business.  But so is just about every art gallery, too.  Art has always been commercial.

I think Shapeways can give us a little insight into how fractal art fits into the rest of the art world by virtue of how much or how little they showcase 3D fractals over 3D skulls and 3D cartoon characters.  For what it’s worth, in the “Art” category image above, fractals, or at least something geometrical, has equal billing with My Little Pony.  Let’s look at some other 3D printing categories:



Fractals have intricate detail but apparently there aren’t any on Shapeways to compete with Loser Man, or spinning tops (are they geometric?), little cars and the inevitable cartoon bunnies.  How about another category?  Can I have the envelope please…



Oh!  “Featured Picks” and not one a fractal or anything geometry-like.  Just a Steve Jobs Lego-like head, an iPhone case (kinda fracktally) and, well, who cares what those other two things are?  Perhaps Shapeways is trying to feature the capabilities of their 3D printing technology more than the quality of the items that can be made?  Even still, wouldn’t Jeremie Brunet’s second image, the geometric cauliflower thing be a much more impressive example of 3D printing?  Or is Shapeways more interested in showing how –ordinary– the output is?  How it can be like: all those cool things you’ve seen before.

What next?



Jewellery holds some promise for fractals, I think, based on the geometric, curio-type objects being showcased there.  What could be more “curio” than 3D fractals?



Check it out for yourself, but so far I think the audience for 3D fractal printing is going to be the same audience that already exists for 2D prints.  Despite the inherent qualities of 3D fractals to astound and amaze in 3D format, most of the world still seems more interested in the things that they’re familiar with and have an established presence in the traditional arts and crafts world, such as skulls, cartoon characters and mobile phone cases (the tie-clips of our time).

Is there something about fractals that makes them too odd and weird to ever have mass appeal?  I get the impression that fractals are something that most people have an immediate but brief interest in and can’t get interested in on any sort of deeper or more lasting level because their appearance is inherently artificial, synthetic and unnatural looking and for that reason lacks the warmth and attraction of real world objects and imagery.

It looks like fractals are still a niche art form and always will be; whether they’re in two-dimensions or three.  But maybe it’s too early to render such a verdict?  Could there still be a massive invasion of 3D fractals into the mainstream world?

Watch the skies!  Watch the coffee tables!