As I said in my last post, there’s something captivating about the Buddhist artworks in the Mogao caves in northwestern China and, strangely enough, I find it to be reminiscent of things I’ve seen in fractal programs. I’ve come up with a term for this electrifying visual genre: “Divine Diagrams.” “Divine” because they’re mostly, but not exclusively, religious artworks, and “Diagrams” because they have a highly ordered composition to them that makes them function like elaborate and very ornate diagrams; one almost feels like they should “read” them. Furthermore, the term is generic because I’ve found that the kind of images in the Mogao caves are universal, occurring in almost every religion and culture and not exclusively Buddhist or Chinese. Although the actual subject matter and purpose of Divine Diagrams differs depending on the religion or culture they’re from, the basic visual characteristics are the same and form a single, universal style spanning the entire world and even extending into the realm of fractals.
Geometry unites and defines the Divine Diagram genre and gives them also what I think is their artistic appeal. Otherwise imagery made in such a mechanical medium as a fractal program would be irrelevant and completely unrelated. But the reason fractal programs are able to produce similar types of imagery is because the medium fractal artists work with, the computer rendering of complex geometry, produces imagery with the same highly ordered visual characteristics. Different mediums but pursuing the same goal of geometric composition. In fact, it’s the hand-made artists of the non-computerized media who are attempting to imitate and follow geometric rules while fractal programs are merely doing what is natural to them and for this reason actually have an edge over their manual colleagues.
Geometry is the primary “visual ingredient” that flavours them all –hand-made or computerized. Geometry is the connection and since geometry is also the source of their artistic appeal, as I personally suggested, fractal programs are not a second-rate source of these Divine Diagrams but simply a fresh variation on this very old artistic theme.
Fractal programs differ in only one substantial way and that’s with respect to the hand-made or hand-painted elements. But although the faces, hands, trees and other realistic imagery found in the hand-made artworks do not exist in the fractal medium, fractal programs more than make up for this abstract-only limitation with their exhaustive output of complex and intense imagery. As a result, fractals and other computerized algorithms ought to have a lot of potential for making “Divine Diagrams” if their own specialized abstract medium consisting of color, shape and pattern can fill the obvious aesthetic gaps left by a lack of hand-made artistic content. Is fractal imagery too plain for such things?
What characterizes this genre of imagery is what it attempts to depict or express:
- hierarchy and status
- divine order
- revelatory declaration
- iconic abstraction; simplified, purified essence
The visual characteristics of the genre are:
- geometric composition and elements (unifying patterns and simple shapes)
- symbolic abstraction to the point of being stylish
- multi-functional imagery (beautiful diagram, ideological map, useful ornament)
Heraldry is an example of the Divine Diagram
Most religious or sacred artwork is a variation of what is best exemplified by a coat of arms. Heraldic imagery contains all the essential aspects of a Divine Diagram: they’re symmetrical; symbolic; abstracted; and perform the function of illustrating ideologies or cosmologies (world views) as well as being artistically attractive (ornate, decorative). Just as form follows function in architecture, the visual characteristics of Divine Diagrams take the form of abstract geometric shapes and patterns which symbolize order, hierarchy, and corporate identity (generic vs. personal). “Geometric” practically describes the fractal medium so it’s no wonder fractal artists have been stumbling across images that look like coats of arms: it’s a natural product of the fractal medium.
Notice the symmetry first of all. And foremost too. Symmetry is the strongest visual attribute of Divine Diagrams. But also note the stylized lions on each side. They could be dragons they look so abstracted and stylized. The shield in the center is a simple geometric element, as are the little scrolls at the top and bottom (also centered).
For years fractal artists have been posting images with titles like “fractal coat of arms”. Here’s the first page from a Google search on fractal coat of arms:
I’m sure there’s been a lot of anthropological studies done on the symbols and styles of the various religious art forms because the similar look, on the surface, and dissimilar ideologies, underneath, make for a startling contrast. I think the common link uniting all these religious artworks is the human mind and how it intuitively attempts to portray power, authority, order, supreme truth, as well as something a little more vague which I would call “cosmic wonders;” the supernatural has nothing to do with it. The ideologies associated with the artworks conflict with each other but the pictures, ironically, all fit nicely into one unending cosmic exhibition. Fractals however, lacking any ideological association offer a treasure trove of divine templates for any religion or ideological movement that currently finds itself a little short on visual inspiration.
Divine Diagrams from across the world
It’s not a huge painting like the ones in the Mogao caves; in fact it’s a sculpture. This thing is so abstracted and stylized as to be a company logo. Maybe it will be one day, the interest in this sort of iconic imagery is timeless. The loops in the center are so seriously geometric that it’s hard to see how its construction wasn’t planned out in a formulaic way with center points, angles and curves. Although it was carved from wood and covered with turquoise and pine resin (adhesive) it has a very modern, mechanical look to it because of geometric accuracy with which it was made. It hardly seems necessary to point out the mirror image symmetry.
Still in Mexico but jumping to a different religious world, the famous Virgin of Guadalupe, the New World’s version of the Shroud of Turin. It displays the traditional Christian Madonna icon geometric layout: semi-symmetrical, encircling rays of a halo. The human form is naturally symmetrical so it’s presence immediately adds that quality without the artists intention. The round or oval encircling halo is common to most venerated religious figures. The use of gold to decorate it is also a universal characteristic of religious art.
Here’s a reinterpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Notice how it’s been made more symmetrical and more orderly –more official and authoritative:
The prize for madonna images goes to the shrine in Walsingham, England, if you can believe that. It’s actually 20th century, which explains the heavy art noveau look to it. Originally I thought it was medieval but it’s just too artistically wild for that. Note, again, the same geometric composition: symmetry; abstraction; simple formulaic shapes, etc…
How could British protestants produce such a fine example of iconic artwork? I would have guessed this was Russian or even something more eastern. But the answer to the question is simple: when you follow the simple style guidelines of all Divine Diagrams the resemblance to others is automatic.
Here’s a larger image of the shrine:
Compare it, visually, not ideologically, with this Buddhist shrine:
The visual style is universal; it’s only the ideologies behind them –behind the imagery– that is contrasting.
Pay attention to the head and the stylized body in general and compare it with this fractal image from Sterling:
Of course it’s not a perfect match or anything like that, but what I want to suggest here is that the stylized human form is similar and that fractals so easily make these similar kinds of images because the imagery is more geometric than realistic and therefore fractals naturally lend themselves to this genre of geometric abstraction.
Here’s two other pre-columbian Mayan or Incan figurines to consider. Note the heavy non-human, geometric alterations to the basic human form.
Ultimately the connection is the entire category of Applied Arts since most of this religious stuff falls just as easily into the category of jewelry, a class of artwork that is clearly an applied art rather fine art and has a different function and performs a different function than works of the fine arts.
This one below makes the jewelry connection case well, but there’s thousands of other examples of fractal-like jewelry — or jewelry-like fractals? They seem to both come from the same place.
The above item is practically the Mandelbrot set although, again, not an exact match. The resemblance suggests that many of the shapes formed by fractal programs have already been envisaged by artists and artisans over the centuries as they’ve tried to come up with variations on the theme of geometric ornamentation.
Another geometric design; almost with a digital, pixelated look. Color, shape and pattern with the added hand-made touch of realistic, representational imagery (people). This divine diagram really is intended to be read and contains a whole bunch of symbolic statements. Compare it with this one:
This isn’t a fractal, but it’s still algorithmic in origin. I like it better than the authentic Navajo works and I’d like to see how well it sells at the souvenir stands in New Mexico compared to prints of the genuine sand paintings. I made it with a variety of chopping effects and finally a symmetry effect that mirror images anything you let it get its hands on. The style of divine diagrams is simple and geometric and so it’s easy to imitate with simple geometric algorithms. I can make up a colorful legend to go on the back of the postcard, too. Tourists love that sort of thing.
So we’re now in Indonesia and yet the same geometric type imagery is present. I don’t know if this one is strictly speaking “religious” or not, but “ceremonial” still has the same power and authority theme as its function. This has a real computer art look with it’s squarey-ness. The margin on the right side almost looks like an old dot matrix printer report border. They had some sort of chevron pattern to them if I remember correctly. Is there some kind of ancient computing connection with the cultures of the world? Adds a whole new dimension to Erich Von Daniken’s, Chariots of the Gods theories: Computer Graphics of the Gods.
Here’s something but I’m not sure what it is. I found it on the Wikipedia on the Waddeston Bequest page:
Remember, the content is irrelevant, we’re just looking at the pictures:
Different geometric shapes and patterns but the same ideological/religious type of message and therefore the same geometric style to the artwork. This one, incidentally, was located under the heading of “propaganda” on the Wikipedia page for the Comintern (“Communist International”, also known as the Third International). I like how both contain the same gesturing, pointing hands and arms.
The leafy border of the Jupiter one with the stylized, coat of arms like composition in the center compares nicely with this soviet era coat of arms for the Ukraine:
Note the common scrolled background/frame element in both the coat of arms and the Jupiter thing. Their common form follows their common function. The abstracted wheat that forms the border of the coat of arms is a good example of abstracted imagery; it’s become a pattern and the kind of pattern which fractal programs often spontaneously generate:
I could go on with more examples but I think by now you’re either connecting the dots in the same way I am or you never will. I admit there is something of a “gestalt” here that one needs to “perceive” before they “see it.” A lot of stuff in art is like that and that’s why I think tastes can vary so much: we don’t understand what others are thinking when they look at “that.”
There’s much more I hope to write about with respect to the “divine diagram” genre because it’s one that I’ve personally made a lot of examples of while experimenting with photoshop filters and other algorithms besides fractals. It’s really an algorithmic thing and not exclusively fractal. Fractals just make the most elegant examples, but as you can see now how important the element of symmetry is, almost any image takes on a divine diagram look when it’s mirror imaged or kaleidescoped. It’s a very easy thing to do digitally but requires much more effort and skill for a hand made artist to imitate. Algorithmic artists have the edge here, surprisingly and the hand made artists have to struggle to imitate us.
Ultimately my hope is to show that the scope and artistic “reach” of fractals is a function of their medium and not the artists who work with it. Fractals easily make coats of arms and “divine diagrams” because the geometric essence of those two applied arts genres is geometry. Add in jewelry and you’ve got just about everything that fractals are capable of making. They’re in their natural element when they produce works of the applied arts and out of it when the artist tries to fit them into the fine arts category. That requires a change in the medium because it’s the medium that restricts them to the applied arts. Changing the medium means adding other software (post-processing) or adding other kinds of imagery like photographs or hand made enhancements (mixed media). Fractals are simple but fun.