Questions about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest…

A New Way of Seeing

A New Way of Seeing (2007)

…you should be asking — asking now that Version.2006 has a year of dry paint and Version.2007 has just rolled its wet pixels off the assembly line– asking before you start your generators and begin revving your fractals for next year’s Version.2008:

~Why is the judges’ work exhibited with that of the winners? Isn’t this breach of universally accepted protocol in itself enough to invalidate the entire contest? Can viewers easily know which artists were self-selected and which were juried? In other words, are distinctions between judges (who this year are semantically disguised as “panel members”) and winners thoroughly and consistently made obvious — at the exhibition in Madrid, in every online gallery, and in all promotional materials? Who made the decision to allow the judges’ work to be shown with the winning art? Who selected the judges, and what criteria were used to make the choices? And what is one to make of the 60/40 ratio in this year’s exhibited work ( Winners: 15 / Judges: 10)? Is this whole thing really a competition at all — or is it more of an invited exhibition where the judges walk their own work in through the delivery door and hang their art (with apparently no shame) beside the winners? How can anyone then tell the winners from the choosers? Shouldn’t this competition be either a juried contest or a by-invitation-only exhibit — but certainly not both?

~What percentage of the exhibited images (including art from the judges) from both last year and this year were created using Ultra Fractal? Over 75%? Higher? Don’t these numbers suggest the competition is just a facelift of the old Fractalus art contests dressed up in formalwear to better glitter for the press, seem more cosmopolitan to the viewers, and appear more inclusive and broad-based to the artists? But, if this actually is a retread in new duds and on steroids primarily designed to pump up UF art and artists, shouldn’t all the contest’s promotional and advertising materials make that fact explicit?

~Why is the submission size for entries so large when the director surely understands that artists using programs other than UF, as well as artists who post-process heavily, would face obstacles that could easily exclude them from competing? Why, in fact, do all prints have to be made to the specifications of doors and picture windows, as clearly seen in this short video piece about last year’s contest found on YouTube? Is bigger always better to display fractal details? Do we need to blow up the Mona Lisa or The Scream to plasma TV dimensions to “improve” them? Wouldn’t an exhibition of prints of an assortment of sizes be just as elegant and even more aesthetically pleasing? Or are the titanic entry requirements intentionally mandated to insure a certain fractal program (guess which one) is emphatically privileged?

~How many of the winners, alternates, and honorable mentions are now taking or have taken classes from contest judges who teach art students at the Visual Arts Academy? Did one of the judge’s students report her two entries were recognized in the contest– one as an alternate and the other as an honorable mention? Did another student selected for the exhibition note her his winning entry was created as a masking exercise in one of the judge’s classes? Did these judges recuse themselves from passing judgment on entries they recognized as being from their own students? Moreover, were any safeguards put in effect to insure judges refrain from making a recommendation when they recognized a friend’s work? Aren’t such reasonable guidelines commonplace protocols in literary and art contests? Here is an excerpt from the entry requirements of the annual literary contest held by the Associated Writing Programs:

To avoid conflict of interest and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, friends and former students of a judge (former students who studied with a judge in an academic degree-conferring program or its equivalent) are ineligible to enter the competition in the genre for which their former teacher is serving as judge.

How can the people responsible for the contest not see such an inherent conflict of interest? And doesn’t a situation where winners are thanking other winners for their formulas and where students are selected for inclusion by their teachers run an increased risk of presenting an exhibition showcasing a single, inbred, highly homogenized style?

~Isn’t Professor Mandelbrot generally considered to be the father of all fractals? Did he know that the work exhibited under the auspices of the “contest” that bears his name caters to the UFractalus school and is nowhere near a representational sampling of the current, multi-dimensional breadth of contemporary fractal art? Would he maybe prefer “his” contest to display more diversity in its range of fractal styles, programs, forms, and visions?

~And, in the end, isn’t the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest just a publicity stunt by the director and the judges to concoct a “prestigious” contest out of whole cloth and gild it with a veneer of juried rigor? Isn’t it both a sham and a scam that allows their own work never to risk the uncomfortable scrutiny of being judged itself — but to instead be safely grandfathered into an exhibition of their own creation?


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One thought on “Questions about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest…

  1. It’s clear to me now, your problems are the following:

    – You have personal issues with one or more of the people selected/invited to be on the panel judging entries. However, Damien explained to you why the judges works were in the exhibition. You are certainly allowed to question this, but to continue to raise questions as though there are ethical issues with this is disingenuous at best.

    – You want the entries of the selection panel hidden. BTW, where is this list of “universally accepted protocol[s]” that you like to mention? Again, this is another issue that Damien has explained to you why the situation is what it is. It is disingenuous to keep raising this as an ethical issue when it was clearly the decision of the sponsors.

    – You want to force the organizers/sponsors of the contest to conform to the rules you want, rather than the rules they choose. Since you can’t affect the rules for this contest, you want to raise bogus ethical issues about it. That is why I say create your own contest or exhibition and run it by the rules you think an exhibition should be run. I know you won’t because you have an appreciation for the effort and cost involved. But, you still want to rant and rave about ethics problems with this one even though you know the details behind it.

    – You don’t like Ultra Fractal. Many people don’t. So what? You don’t have to use it. No one requires it to be used. But, if many people choose to use it and enter images into a contest, who are you to complain about it? Additionally, if so many people use Ultra Fractal, then perhaps you should examine why. Perhaps, authors of your tool(s) of choice might be able to include features to make their tools better. What you really have a problem with is the “perceived” types of images chosen and the “perceived” program that was used to create them. You think images are excluded because have not been generated by Ultra Fractal. This is clearly a made up issue by you and Tim.

    – You don’t like artists works who use Ultra Fractal. Really, what difference does it make if the submitters used Ultra Fractal or not. A better question to ask is how many people submitted images that were not made with Ultra Fractal. And, if the number is small, ask yourself why. What program was used the most really has no relevance to anything at all.

    – You think Damien is a dictator working to exclude anything but Ultra Fractal images from being selected because he coordinated and hosted previous contests. If the sponsors want large images for display, don’t you think it reasonable that this requirement be known in advance that image size might be a problem?

    – You don’t like having to produce a large image. This is, perhaps, the only valid issue you have raised. But, if the organizers (I’m not talking about the judging panel) want large images, isn’t that their prerogative? Most, not all, but most images are going to look better at large sizes. But, if your tool of choice, or chosen work flow, limits you to smaller size images, then you shouldn’t complain if a particular contest requires images larger than you can produce. The author of one program in particular hasn’t seen fit to make reproduction at higher sizes a priority. I notice, though, that at least two images produced by this program were selected this year. I hope the artists are able to reproduce their images large enough to be included.

    – You don’t like artists taking classes from other artists and participating in a contest. If this were the type of contest you think this exhibition should be, you might have a point here. But, since you know the circumstances behind the exhibition (no matter how much you pretend to be ignorant), this really is just nonsense.

    – You would like to have anyone who ever took a class from any of the judges to be excluded from entering because you think the judges are so shallow that the mere fact that a current, or former, student entered an image in the contest is going to sway their decision. Really, now, what relevance does this have to anything? Besides, Damien has explained to you that the names of the submitters was hidden from the panel until after the selections. I suppose it is possible that one or more of the judges may have recognized an image and knew who created it. But, for this contest, do you really believe that this is significant, or an ethical concern?

    – You don’t like people show appreciation to someone else for writing a particular formula and think that the judge mentioned is so shallow that he will select that image merely because his name was mentioned in appreciation. Since the text you referred to was not present until well after the images were selected, this is another bogus issue.

    – You think there is a grand, universal conspiracy by Ultra Fractal and/or those who use it to take over the world and prevent any one who uses other tools or methods to create fractal, or more accurately, digital images from being able to display or participate in any contest of any form. Damien has clearly explained to you the details of the contest. Yet, you still proclaim “ignorance” as to how this particular contest came into being and how it was run. You continue to imply that there are ethical issues with Damien and the panel of judges by the questions you raise when you know how and why they were selected. This is dishonest, and you should know better.

    – How can the contest be a publicity stunt by Damien and the judges when they were approached by the organizers and asked to participate? Did they conspire to take over the contest and mold it to a form so that they could make an exhibition to flaunt their own art? That is essentially your charge.

    I find most of your “ethical” questions blantantly dishonest because you know the history of the contest because it has been explained to you. The answers to most of what you “question” is explained to you in the “written-record” that you like to keep referring to. Other complaints you raise are emotional and ill-reasoned. I would expect better of you and Tim. Art is subjective, as will be the selections for any contest. But, your complaints must be objective to have any merit. They aren’t, which is why I’m criticizing you for them.

    If I’ve made any factual errors, anyone is more than welcome to correct me. I’ve made my comments based on my opinions and on what has previously been posted here and elsewhere about this issue. It would also be interesting to see perspectives from other people, pro or con. However, I can understand the reluctance to voice opinions.

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