Challenges for Fractal Artists

Under Red Sea, by maruscya

I think working with fractals is very much like the art of nature photography.  Nature photography tends to be descriptive, showing what things look like and focusing primarily on the form, color and interesting situations that one finds in the natural world.  Sometimes you see a really startling photo that expresses profound ideas like fear, terror, contentment,  or raw, animal power, but mostly nature photography is just pictures of nature and appeals to those who like natural imagery.

But when one looks at the larger world of art which contains works of social commentary, intense emotional expression, and other creative work drawing heavily from imagery found only in the human world (faces, buildings, technology), then what are we fractal “nature photographers” to do if we want to produce fractal art that is more than just weird patterns or the proverbial eye-candy?

In the pursuit of more than just eye-candy, fractal art faces the same challenges (frustrations?) that abstract art does:  It’s hard to express complex themes from the realm of human experience without the rich symbolism that realistic imagery provides.  This is why attempts to do this with fractal/algorithmic imagery often depend heavily on the title the image is given — you have to tell people what it is.  I don’t think fractal imagery is very good at conveying ideas or themes in the way that photography and the hand-made arts (painting, sculpture…) are.  It’s an interesting aspect of fractal art to pursue, and maybe some really profound works in the future will change my opinions regarding this — like the creation of some sort of Fractal Guernica — but I feel it’s not the sort of thing that fractals have a lot of potential for.

I think it’s just the nature of fractals that they don’t say much or fit well into social/political commentary.  In that sense, nature photography actually has an edge over fractals as it’s quite conceivable that animals and other elements from nature can be convincing metaphors for things in the human world, like predators for criminals; peacocks for pompous, narcissistic rulers; eagles for noble virtues; and that sort of thing.  There have already been a number of books written using animals as metaphors for certain kinds of people, although as far as the artwork that might accompany them goes, I’m sure the illustrations weren’t photos of real, natural animals because they’re not likely to express quite so effectively those human characteristics as well as a hand drawn, artificial caricature would.

Although I am still thinking these things through, it’s my growing opinion that fractal and algorithmic art will achieve its greatest successes by being more fractal and algorithmic and focusing on the beauty of mathematical/algorithmic imagery.  If others can succeed in other innovative ways using fractal imagery such as creating the Fractal Guernica of our times, then I think that’s a noble pursuit and I admire them for taking up that fractal art challenge.

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3 thoughts on “Challenges for Fractal Artists

  1. Ahh, this is fascinating! I’ve been thinking about some of these same issues lately. I keep debating (with myself, mostly, because I don’t know very many people with the background or interest to take such things seriously) whether or not fractals count as abstract. The idea behind abstraction, as far as I can tell, is to be completely non-representative of any specific thing, so as to convey pure emotion. But fractals are specifically representations of mathematical equations and functions; even if they’ve been filtered or altered, they’re still precisely recording the numbers that generated them. They’re basically just very complicated graphs. So I feel like they’re not really abstract, but at the same time they’re not pictures of things, they’re pictures of ideas, which are abstract concepts. I go round and round about this.

    And then of course it’s possible to use lots of functions all at once, to build images that are pictures of things, as I have done to make fractals full of eyes or jewels or gears or what-have-you. But I think of those more as illustration than art. (The question of illustration vs. art is yet another thing that sometimes bothers me when I can’t sleep at night.)

  2. It seems to me that an artist says what he/she wants to say and an illustrator says what his/her client wants said.

  3. I consider myself more like a photographer, capturing images, than a painter, creating images. And I agree that one of fractal art’s challenges is the community of those innately human things like emotion and social commentary. But, it’s not impossible. There are those in our community (yes, I do think there is a fractal art community) who I see as more painters with fractals and who do well in communicating those more traditional art ideas in their works. It’s easier to communicate despair through an image of a crying child than through a Julia spiral, but that’s ok–different tools for different tasks.

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