The Synthetic Aesthetic 2: The Re-Introduction

In the first part of this series, I introduced a few new ideas which have a central part to play in my concept of the Synthetic Aesthetic.  I believe it might be of great benefit to pause and clarify those ideas before moving on to examples of actual artwork that illustrate these trends.

Here’s the idea:

Fractal art has become progressively ambiguous in terms of what it looks like and depicts (i.e. subject matter) to the point that now it is no longer unique and distinctive and could just as easily be given a generic label like “synthetic” rather than “fractal”.  Fractal art is no longer an art form exclusively dedicated to “math visualization” as fractal artists have abandoned that easily identifiable visual theme in the pursuit of a broader artistry defined only by whatever can be done with a “fractal” program.

While doing so, they have produced artwork with greater artistic appeal but at the same time with less mathematical relevance.   Although the inner workings of the software still remain fractal formula based  –the only thing that distinguishes fractal art as a distinct artistic category in the first place– the role of these fractal algorithms are now largely employed by artists in “anonymous roles”, unrecognizable and becoming mere anecdotes to the finished artwork rather than the essential element.

This is much the same way that Terragen’s computer generated and photo-realistic landscapes can be said to have a fractal connection because they were “made with fractals” — that is, deep in the inner recesses of their computer code; a trivial distinction which has never made anyone seriously consider them as “fractal” art.

Four nicely numbered points

So, two things have occurred:

1) Fractal art has become much broader in scope and now includes artwork which in appearance is quite similar to other computer “synthesized” art forms despite their widely differing software origins;

2) Fractal art has created a look or visual style that has come to be associated with its fractal algorithms but is really much more a product of its many rendering methods which apply computer graphical rendering techniques and effects, some of which can also be found in computer graphics programs and there used to produce artwork with the same “fractal aesthetic” as fractal art although no fractal algorithms are actually used, only similar graphical rendering methods directed by other, non-fractal methods.

This has lead to a third occurrence, the logical consequence of the two previous items:

3) While the term, fractal art might be confusing when applied to those “fractal-looking” artworks made in a graphics program, the term, fractal art is probably just as confusing when applied to those “synthetic-looking” artworks made in a fractal program.

Which leads us to a fourth item:

4) If one considers solely the visual style and creative method of artworks and forgets for a moment what they were made with, there will appear a rather logical grouping to a wide variety of artworks which previously had been separated by their apparently distinctive mediums or tools but actually fit together like scattered puzzle pieces when rallied under the simple label of “synthetic” art.

Fractal art has actually lead the way in all this and stands as the strongest tool for “synthesizing” art.

Un-defining fractal art

Anyhow, the fractal art world has changed.  The boundaries are different now.  Actually, the boundaries have disappeared.  It all happened when, deliberately or not, fractal artists came to define their art form as whatever can be made with a fractal program.  With the arrival of exotic rendering functions and graphical features like layering, these new tools redefined fractal art because they redefined the fractal program –the de facto specification for fractal art.

Perhaps the word is not so much “redefined” as “un-defined” since the results of expanding the toolset of fractal artists has been the creation of  artworks characterized by some very “un-fractal” features found in graphics programs like Photoshop.  The end result we see today is that the domain of fractal art partially overlaps the domain of what I would describe as synthetic art.  A domain distinguished by a style or aesthetic lacking the involvement of the human hand and instead expressing only that of the algorithmic, the accidental or the mechanical.

In the next part, Part 3, I will show some relevant examples of what I’ve been talking about which ought to make things a lot clearer  by making them less abstract and more concrete.