Us and Them


Aigaios (2008)

All I want is some good Clean Fun
All I want is some Good Clean Fun
–Descendents, “GCF”

It’s not torture when we do it…
Bark of the Moonbat (and countless others)

When so many love you, is it the same?
Neil Young, “Cowgirl in the Sand”


Reader Toby — Orbit Trap’s wanna-be moral conscience and corrections headmaster — is typing again.

In fact, he’s taken up verse in the disguise of social commentary. Having created a new Ultra Fractal formula, he’s decided to dedicate it to Tim and me for our “untiring efforts to publicize UF” on Orbit Trap.

So, I thought maybe we’d offer a bit more free publicity to Toby’s doggerel — and to the subsequent comment raves about it. You can read the doings here on Renderosity — assuming you have a membership to that art community.

But here’s a taste of the poem for any non-members who don’t wish to hand over more personal data to who knows who:

In strident tones of hate,
they shout before the gate,
hoping that the masses heed their call.

‘Tis a shame they cannot see,
that their source of misery,
lies within and will not yield to the spar

And what was my reaction when I read Toby’s poem?

I laughed.

I laughed because I can take a joke — even one at my own expense.

In one sense, Toby’s right. I sometimes take things much too seriously.

Why should I give myself ulcers over whether fractal art contests are fair? Does it really matter that UF’s viral popularity provides no inoculation against the spread of homogenized, production line art? Surely not. Better to chortle at yourself and reshuffle some priorities. Here in the U.S., a senseless war drags on as elected officials and pundits actually debate (and with a straight face) whether torture is acceptable. Civil rights, some as old as the Magna Carta, are being scrapped in the name of security. And I better not speak up or readers might flee from OT for the taboo of my mixing politics and art. That’s your cue. Feel free to now question my patriotism and insist the wiretaps and library lists and drug tests only trouble people who have something to hide.

And the shifting strain of daily life is certainly weightier than any disagreements played out on some blog. The give and take of love needed to make a marriage last. Holding on to one’s children — and letting them go. Watching friends sink under the waters for the third time.

So a good-natured poke in the ribs is much appreciated, Toby. Thanks. Every laugh — even those that sting afterwards — is a gift.


But can I add something, Toby? I’d surely laugh even harder if your joshing came ashore without a boatload of hypocrisy.

All those “strident tones of hate” you mention seem to me to be found at the “gates” of Orbit Trap’s comments section. That’s where the barbarians shout. Can you hear them? Listen. Tim and I are “cowards.” We’re “overly stupid.” We’re “so damn cocky and presumptuous.” We owe multiple apologies and should just “get over it.” We “talk out of our ass.” Yup. Yup Yup Yup.

And, Toby, while Tim and I are doing all this spiritual spelunking inside to excavate our sources of misery, would you mind embarking on an inward journey, too? After all, haven’t you been the one wagging your finger and chiding us how we should be ashamed for our mean-spiritedness and lack of noble purpose? Let’s roll some recent Toby comment footage:

Ah! another positive contribution to the fractal art world! Thank you guys so much for all the joy and light that you spread in our community…


Somehow that got lost in all the mocking and insinuation, I guess.


You must feel some sense of personal injustice to put so much energy into constantly harping on the subject. Or perhaps it is a function of your own psychic state: you just need a target on which to focus and discharge your anger…


I find decent criticism in our little fractal art world sorely lacking, but if you really wish to contribute positively then you must find a way to present your views responsibly, which means that your criticisms should spring from insight and should be presented in a way that will not be perceived as an attack on those at whom it is directed.

I think I’m beginning to understand how your worldview turns, Toby. It’s only negativity and mocking and insinuation and irresponsibility and attacking when we do it. But, when you do it, it’s just good clean fun.


It’s harder, though, to laugh at the echo of comments rooting on Toby’s cleverness. Springing from insight can be damned if the butt of the joke deserves to be bludgeoned. Apparently, one can yuck up attacks — if the cause among the cloistered is seen as just. Dig those smiling here-here emoticons — with plenty of thumbs-up praising going down, too. Toby’s insights are “wise” and “excellent.” “Loved the poem” chimes one. “A lovely…bit of words” sings another. Just another day of (what Toby once called) “idle, coffee-table chat.” Where’s the harm in it?

Of course, some of these people I once counted among my friends in the fractal community. In some cases, I hosted their art in guest galleries on my web site for many years. If they are not a judge for BMFAC or an editor for the FU Calendar, I’ve never questioned their motives or behaviors on OT or anywhere else. So why are they so quick to light the torches outside Frankenstein’s castle? Maybe they have stock in Ultra Fractal. Or could there be other reasons for hopping on the bashing bandwagon?

Overall, I think art communities like Renderosity and DeviantArt do a lot of good. They are useful places where beginning artists can get tips and advice from more experienced practitioners. However, among some people anyway, these sites occasionally lead to the shadings of insider quip-trading on display here. When such behaviors take root, these communities have little to do with art. They become only country clubs for socializing in small ponds that seem like oceans to the participants.

It is precisely these kinds of cliques that turned me off to art communities. There’s a kind of cloying smugness about them that should have been left in high school. Part of the problem stems from the infrastructure itself. Popularity indexes are embedded in the environment. Everyone can always see the stats you’ve racked up — page views, comments, favorites, and friends. Or, worse, and to your public shame, everyone instantly knows how poorly your art is faring. Clearly, competition is the prevailing rubric.

So you draw your wagons into increasingly smaller circles of self-satisfaction. Maybe you begin, even if subconsciously, to make art that will score more mouse clicks and a higher percentage of compliments. Before long, everyone in your circle is a genius producing masterpieces every hour on the hour. Outsiders who question such a cozy status quo threaten world order. Better put them in their place — before they become popular enough to take your place.

Is insulation like this — where “so many love you” and everything you say or do — healthy for artistic growth?

Uh-oh. I think someone’s getting too serious again. Quick. Somebody write another satirical poem that starts a new snarky thread.

After all, it’s not discharging anger when you do it.


Image made with QuaSZ. Post-processed until it blew out to sea.

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2 thoughts on “Us and Them

  1. toby, read this before replying:

    as much as i hate to say it, this post does correctly point out that you’re following the same path in constantly moaning about what you feel to be wrong. (i did the same in the past, before i realised the futility in doing so.)

    pointless controversy and bad-mouthing is the lifeblood of this blog, don’t feed the trolls.

    let these guys complain forever about the mandelbrot contest and ultrafractal if it floats their boat, there’s no need and no way for you to save them from themselves ;)

  2. Ah yes, the famous “those who fight monsters” quote of Nietzsche does come to mind…the middle way is indeed difficult–it is a knife edge–and any effort to compensate for falling in one direction immediately throws us across the balance point, to topple in the other.

    It is refreshing to discuss things that might matter, rather than fractal calendars and art contests. Let’s talk about torture for a moment: If you feel strongly about the latest moves (not only in the US) to restrict civil liberties in the name of “protecting freedom”, and the practice of torture in the name of respect for human rights, do you not wish to speak out against these injustices? I’m sitting in China as I write this–my colleague has just returned from being threatened and detained by the police for trying to interview a dissident. The Japanese callously slaughter whales and lie about the reasons, and the meat cannot even be sold because of the high levels of heavy metal contamination in it.

    I think I know you well enough from this blog to know that you are passionate and vocal about what touches you. Do you wish to remain silent about injustices that inflame you? I think not. And do I not have the same right to speak out about injustices that come to my attention?

    Personally I could care less about the BMFAC and the FU calendar. But your blog has caused so much discomfort in this little fractal community that I decided to have a look, and your negativity hooked my negativity. This is one of those karmic laws: hate attracts hate, just as love attracts love. Am I being negative in criticizing your criticisms? Guilty as charged. But in and among all my reflexive, flailing reactions, I am–in fits and starts–breaking surface occasionally and realizing that the only way to dispel darkness is to bring light. And that light does exist within us.

    It is said of the judges of ancient China that their job was not to condemn those charged with crimes, but to put themselves in the place of those accused and try to understand a human being could be driven to such extreme acts by personal history and circumstance. No matter how horrific the crime, if the judges could understand how a human being could be driven to such an act, the accused was freed.

    And the judges most respected were those who let the most people go.

    Let the sting of those comments on my stupid little poem penetrate you and consider how your criticisms penetrate others. There is no need for any of this. While I honor your intentions I am less sanguine about your methods. As a wise teacher once said, “Hating war will not bring peace, only love of peace will do that.”

    Take care,


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