Leave a Light On

Leave a Light On

Leave a Light On (2008)

Reader Toby, in our comments section, has finally taken up the challenge to address some of the points Orbit Trap has raised about the two major fractal competitions. He also added a few additional rimshots for good measure.

I admit it’s tempting to rip right into the snark. Wouldn’t everyone savor an entire post of juicy call-and-response cleverness like this?


As a personal aside, I find your meretricious writing style quite juvenile and hardly worthy of your obvious intelligence, but that is just a matter of taste.

Ouch. What does one say to such a stinging remark?

Option One: Apologize? I’m very sorry. The next time I make my weak arguments, I promise to use a style you find more pleasing.

Option Two: Fight fire with fire? I understand, just as I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you I find your powers of observation and deduction to be somewhat lacking.

Option Three: Go all Zen? It’s just a cheap shot, Grasshopper. Journey inward and become one with it. Then you will attain the peace that passes all understanding.

I think I’ll choose Option Three….


Fun, yes, but ultimately off the point.

Toby’s post has more branches than an arterial system. But I will limit my response to his observations on fractal competitions. Much of the rest of his lengthy screed is diversionary fog. Toby said he perused OT’s archives, but I suspect he did not dig deep enough to find the big picture. If he had, he’d know Tim and I have previously addressed most of his arguments. Perhaps that is nature’s way of letting us know it’s time for a refresher course.

I never said anything about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest until its second year. I gave Damien M. Jones a free pass the first go around and chalked it up to establishing initial seed money to get the project off the ground.

But last year’s contest had identical regulations and protocols — which were announced months before a sponsor was even named. How could the phantom sponsors thus be responsible for mandating the stipulations of the contest? Are they telepaths? And, even more astounding, what are the odds of two completely different sponsors insisting on indistinguishable arrangements?

No, there is a more logical assumption. Jones, as the resident “fractal art expert,” convinced the initial sponsors to accept his own regulations — like exhibiting the judges’ work. The second year, with the competition established, the late-arriving sponsors simply fell in line and accepted the existing procedures. Although Jones claimed he included the judges’ work as a “hedge against insufficient quality,” BMFAC handed out nearly fifty honorable mentions last year. And yet the big prize, the exhibition in Spain, will be nearly half-filled with the work of the contest’s own judges. Face the facts. BMFAC was deliberately created, first and foremost, for the judges’ own self-promotion. Everything else is an afterthought.

Toby notes that Jones was “uncomfortable” with the BMFAC arrangement and agrees that including the work of judges is “rather unusual and not particularly desirable.” You don’t say. Isn’t that just a euphemistic way of avoiding coming right out and stating such a practice is unethical and unprofessional? Why might such collusion be universally frowned upon? Because a contest’s results look rigged rather than fairly juried? Why was Jones so uncomfortable if his actions were so reasonable and appropriate? Because people like me might raise questions about their propriety?

Even if Jones did not write the rules himself, which is improbable, he’s not off the hook. No one forced him to accept the terms of his ethics-deprived sponsors. He made his devil’s bargain freely — knowing full well it would likely make many others uncomfortable, too. He chose what was expedient over what was correct. As a result, we are left with a contaminated competition.

Toby laments OT’s “slanted, polemical style” and claims that the entire BMFAC set up was not for “self-glorification” because the entrants’ work was “clearly separated” from the judges’ work. But such a separation, which in no way validates including the judges’ art, only occurs at the contest’s 2007 web site. There is no such separation on the 2006 BMFAC home page. Moreover, was any distinction between “winner” and “judge” made last year at the exhibition? Here is what is not in doubt. The judges stake out their 40% of the wall space first — guaranteed and completely unjuried. The rest of the contest is then filled in around them. That’s self-glorified enough for me.

But Toby’s entire point is bizarre. Does simply announcing that one is going to cheat allow one to then cheat with impunity? Being open about including the work of judges in a competition does not magically wipe away all ethical concerns. But I will grant that it is certainly arrogant.

Toby asserts that Tim and I implied that “judges and entrants [my emphasis] are a self-serving clique” and that we “failed to acknowledge that no artist’s names were known to the panel during judging.” Toby is being less than honest here. Neither Tim nor I have ever had anything ill to say about the contestants in any fractal competition. In fact, we have repeatedly made clear the selected artists are deserving of recognition and acclaim.

The 2007 BMFAC exhibiting judges are another matter entirely. Are any of them not members of the Ultra Fractal community? Certainly there is room for more aesthetic variety on the judging panel. And when you combine the UF backgrounds of the judges with the mandatory, mammoth, made-for-UF scale in the entry requirements, well….

Furthermore, how does Toby know the judges did not see the names of the entrants? The BMFAC site makes no such notation. In fact, some of the winning entries contained visible artist signatures. And were additional steps taken to ensure that judges/teachers in the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art™ did not recognize the work of their own students — some of whom were selected as winners? In truth, a strong case can be made that BMFAC’s organizers consistently showed an overall laxness in preventing conflicts of interest.

Toby then ticks off the usual refrains about the Fractal Universe Calendar: it’s not a contest, including the editors is fair compensation, and the publishers rather than the editors are the final arbitrators.

If the FU Calendar was nothing more than a publishing venture, then the editors would directly solicit contributions. Instead, images are submitted and pruned by screeners. These editors are paid in part by having an image included in the final product, but are also free to add more of their own images into the initial cut. They then turn over a batch of pre-screened “finalists” to the publishers who act as judges. This is indeed a competitive process. I believe all accepted entries, including those of the editors, also receive a monetary payment.

Things go bad at the screening level. Again, we have a case of those doing the editing being “exhibited” in the calendar. That’s a fair compensation, you say? Would you still feel that way knowing that just over 40% of the selected entries for the last four years were the work of four past or current editors?

Just as 40% of the exhibition in last year’s BMFAC is comprised of the work of the contest’s judges.

I don’t have to study pattern recognition theory to see what’s going on here.

Again, as with Jones and his sponsors, the FU Calendar editors willingly choose to enter into their agreement with the publishers. The editors certainly deserve to be paid for their services. But they could aspire to professional standards by declining the option of having their own work included. They don’t.

We’ve made it clear that the publisher (Avalanche) is free to do whatever it pleases. Spiral away we say. It’s their money. But the editors aren’t forced to agree to the publisher’s terms, so why express surprise, yet alone anger, that someone might question whether such conduct is proper?

Toby then concludes that “it is Damien who comes out clean here” and asserts that Jones’ decision to “cease hosting your site was a rational act of self-preservation, which he appears from the record to have done honorably and sensitively.”

If you read the email exchange carefully, you’ll notice that Jones abruptly blocks access to my web site and informs me the situation is permanent. There is no mention of me being a “security threat” until much later. Nowhere does Jones ever show that I had either the ability or the inclination to damage Fractalus — which, as many readers know, is probably one of the most battened-down, secure servers on Earth. The suggestion that I could access files other than my own is absurd. No. Jones was trying to cover his butt. He knew how his actions would look, and he resorted to smearing me for the sake of damage control.

Such a ploy is not a new tactic on his part. Some years before, he used an identical maneuver to toss Paul N. Lee off Fractalus. Lee, too, had a record of being critical of Jones and suddenly found himself labeled a “security threat.” To my shame, I believed Jones’ explanation and said nothing at the time. I apologize openly to Lee — here and now — for my silence and for anything I ever said that wounded him. I was wrong not to look for the truth. What happened to Lee eventually happened to me, and I find nothing honorable or sensitive about any of it.

Toby finishes with a shot chiding us that it’s “easy to criticize when it isn’t you bearing the responsibility, isn’t it?” You think so? Toby should try moderating this blog for a month and see if he can still find his way home after the experience.

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One thought on “Leave a Light On

  1. I’m sorry you guys are so frustrated with everything. I understand how that feels, and hope things work out better for you at some point.


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