2766 by Jock Cooper
Create your own visual style…let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.
The premise of this post is quite straightforward. I assert that Jock Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series is the most skillful, satisfying, and stylistic fractal art series to date. And here’s why:
11010401aa by Jock Cooper
875 by Jock Cooper
It’s About Something
The series has ambitions beyond simply creating ornate decoration. "Mechanicals" is, in fact, highly conceptual. Although the images are unquestionably technically proficient, exquisitely composed, and aesthetically pleasing, they are something more — something that most fractal art is not. They are meaningful.
I seem to recall someone once arguing that fractal art that was merely beautiful "was not enough." Oh. Wait. That was me — two years ago on this blog:
There’s nothing wrong with continuing to create and value visually pleasant works — unless it matters to you that our discipline move out of the craft fairs and into the museums. The prevailing aesthetic in our community is beauty, and nearly all fractal images currently made do not transcend to much more than decoration and ornamentation. Fractal art will never become a widely accepted fine art until more of us start making works of artistic expression and stop pretending that aesthetically pleasing works, however well crafted, rise to the level of art.
The problem in our community is that most of us seem to feel that making visually pleasing work is still “heroic” [Guido Cavalcante‘s term] and get defensive when some people, like Orbit Trap, find such a state of affairs to be questionable — even destructive. One reason I am “obsessed” with the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is that it is a mirror of the state of our discipline. It has a stated objective of presenting to the world the very best in contemporary fractal art, but it actually showcases highly crafted work that is visually striking but little else. With several exceptions that I noted in my initial review of the 2009 BMFAC, nearly none of the winning images suggest any meaning beyond themselves. They say nothing to me about my life — or about life in general. They provoke no thought. They raise no ideas. They stir no emotions. They put no dreams in my head or my heart.
But Cooper’s "Mechanicals" do provoke, do raise, and do stir. They are technological Rorschachs for the 21st century. They lay out overhead maps of our urban environments and display blueprints of the circuitry that powers our homes, our industries, our governments, and our very civilization. They, in fact, create powerful engrams — memories of the motherboard structures that are the beating hearts of the artistic tools that allow each of us to pump out our fractal visions.
They are also prescient. I recall, upon first seeing Cooper’s "Mechanicals," marveling at the complex arrangements of straight lines in logarithmic patterns, especially when one considers that the bulk of fractal imagery (at least when Cooper first began the project) utilizes curved lines. If you doubt my claim, than take another peek at BMFAC’s 2009 winners. Only one image, Yvonne Mous’ "Round the Block," employs straight rather than curved or rounded lines. Like any true artist, Cooper is ahead of his time and seems to have foreseen the advent of the straight line fractal imagery that would later come out of the 3D new wave — like MarkJayBee‘s "PowerBloc" (also seen in OT’s "Fractal Art Collection").
21261 by Jock Cooper
12352 by Jock Cooper
Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series is a concrete demonstration of Tim’s recent thesis that Pixel Art offers more creative opportunities and possibilities for individualized style than Parameter Art. Why did Cooper’s series seem so striking when it first appeared? Because it did not spring from the limited warehouse stock footage of homogenized parameter files. It was heavily post-processed — even to the point of significantly altering the original base image. Can you not now still hear the fractal guardians of purity shouting Oh, the humanity — or, at least bemoaning the sacrilege?
Contributor’s notes on Cooper seen on Fractalfilm.com note that his mechanical images are made by "blending fractal shapes with 3D modeling software." I don’t know how Cooper made the images, nor do I want to know. In fact, I wish more fractal artists like Cooper as well as the Fractalbook craftpersons masses would keep their secrets secret. Maybe then Fractalbook galleries would not be dumping grounds littered with countless variations on the same disposable parameters — nor would the "tweakers" on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List be so quick to find themselves crying Thief when the par files they so willingly posted to cyberspace are somehow "unfairly" altered.
The point is that Cooper could not have realized his particular vision without resorting to additional and I’d guess severe post-processing. The ornamental designs of the existing parameter variations were not expressive enough to produce the mechanically tinged imagery, replicate the series with continuing variety and style, and convey the broader technological themes suggested by fluctuations in composition.
In this particular case, at least, Cooper made a conscious decision to color outside the lines in order to see his vision realized. This bold move makes Cooper’s series more than a programming exercise or a technical accomplishment; "Mechanicals" is one of the best examples to date truly worthy of being called fractal art.
And you know what’s sad? None of these images would likely get out of the starting gate in the current BMFAC competition. For one thing, I wonder how many could be rendered in the supersized entry requirements — or, at least, without significant degradation of detail. For another, the "Mechanicals" are not the "style" BMFAC hopes to perpetuate and eventually codify. They’re distinctly anti-UF — no soft-layered swirlies, no sheets in the wind and rings of gold. The BMFAC rules page makes quite plain what they want: Work that is "uniquely fractal" (meaning don’t touch those post-processing knobs and dials*) and work that "has lots of good, interesting fractal detail" (or, as Tim calls it, "organized imagery").
Poor Jock. Some of his best work will likely never wind up in BMFAC’s traveling craft mall. And why? His work is, ironically, too chaotic. With apologies to Vietnam War paradoxes, Jock had to destroy the fractal…in order to save it…
….in order for it to evolve beyond decoration and embellishment…
…in order for it to be reborn as art.
2151 by Jock Cooper
02070502 by Jock Cooper
Meta, especially in art, is a term used to describe something that is characteristically self-referential. Think of the play within a play in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example. With "Mechanicals," Cooper creates his technological visions using the very technology he depicts. And, of additional interest, especially in this context, meta has another definition in the field of computer science: "It defines things that embrace more than the usual. For example, a metafile contains all types of data. Meta-data describes other data." "Mechanicals" definitely goes beyond what fractal art conventionally embraces.
Meta-art grew out of a cultural frustration that artistic expressions had become stagnant, sentimental, hackneyed, and landlocked. Does this sound familiar? It should, for it’s a dead ringer for the current fractal art landscape that Tim described so well in his recent Rebooting Fractal Art series. To see the correlation more clearly, let’s turn to philosopher Edward Feser, who, in a post called "Art and Meta Art," notes:
As Roger Scruton has emphasized in An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, aesthetic modernism was driven in large part by a desire to avoid kitsch, the banality and sentimentality that so often attends the mass-produced culture of modern, secularized consumerist society. Accordingly, Scruton tells us, “the first effect of modernism was to make high-culture difficult: to surround beauty with a wall of erudition” (p. 85). Old forms came to be seen as exhausted, no longer capable of expressing genuine feeling; new forms had to be created (so the argument went) so that truly high art could once again be possible.
If you want to see Scruton’s misanthropic conjectures about the impulses for modernism made flesh and rendered immediately visible, then open the Fractalbook fractal galleries at Renderosity or deviantART and drink in your fill of "the kitsch, the banality and sentimentality that so often attends mass-produced culture." But what can we do to rise above such stagnancy? Well, what did the modernists do? Feser continues:
The nature of art became itself a subject of art in a way it had not been before. Modernist works were as much statements about what art is and what it could be as they were statements about their purported subject matter – religion, everyday experience, and other traditional themes – and as experimentation with new forms progressed, the former theme started to crowd out the latter ones.
I understand that one might assert that a little meta goes a long way, and that, arguably, the postmodernist’s later obsession with frenzied self-referentiality could be taking the concept a bridge too far, as Feser eventually gets around to suggesting. But the touchstones of his observations nevertheless ring true and reflect our community’s current plight. Fractal imagery has come to an inescapable impasse. Presently, nearly all of it is crafty at best and kitschy at worst.
The modernists found a workable way out of their artistic morass: Make "new forms" so that "truly high art could once again be possible."
And isn’t that exactly what Tim is suggesting — and precisely what Jock Cooper has done so convincingly?
080604_1800rev by Jock Cooper
*[over-caffeinated announcer voice]: Extreme graphic processing with Ultra Fractal is both highly recommended and of course considered perfectly uniquely fractal for BMFAC purposes other uniquely fractal suppositions include completing courses by BMFAC judges imitating the UF look of BMFAC past and present judging panelists wishing the UF author was still a judge making snide but oh certainly not sexist remarks in DA journals about the reasonable and understandable lack of a female judge not caring that the competition pushes the director’s self-serving aesthetic feeling fine about those Godzilla size entry requirements because you’re in good standing since a "friend" just sent you an invitation to join the UF Facebook page and prized above all public criticism of Orbit Trap like calling the bloggers retards and insinuating one is winkwink gay for using Barbie analogies all of which likely ups the odds of hanging around in BMFAC information hallways but has side effects like neural sluggishness discourse collapse viral fallacies critical thinking impairment irrational belief that Chris Oldfield possesses the wisdom of Diogenes and erectile dysfunction which of course is caused by everything.
Next time in the series: "I Know What I Like…or Do I?"