Fractals That Suck

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

We by silwenka

Happy Valentine’s Day.  By the way, as fractal art, this piece, allegedly, sucks.

There’s an oddly fascinating feature currently on display on deviantART called “People Who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!”  I’ll let the author, =Fiery-Fire, self-proclaimed “Fractal Gangsta’,” explain the general idea:

In fractal ‘world’ we have a lot of names which are well known, established, the images from those ‘masters’ or ‘wizards’ leave us in awe and amazement. But did you ever wonder, how did they do, when they first opened their fractal program …whatever it was apo or ultra fractal.

So, there’s the basic set-up.  Ms. Fire selects early and recent works by assorted DA fractalists she considers “masters” and posts samples for before/after comparisons.  What’s supposed to be self-evident, I guess, is that the early renderings are unquestionably amateurish, while the more recent postings are irreproachably masterpieces.

Ms. Fire says she wrote the article to “promote a lot of laughter and amusement,” and, indeed, it does, although perhaps not in the manner she intended.  The feature is worth examining because it serves as a vivid, concrete encapsulation for much of what Tim and I have been observing for years about the fractal art scene.

A helpful beginning might be to look at a few comparisons — even as we wonder if “suckiness” is in the eye of the beholder.

The sucky before:

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

Purplerain by =Jimpan1973

The masterpiece after:

This fractal artwork is allegedly a masterpiece.

Monster Julia by =Jimpan1973

What’s the main difference between the two images? Can’t see it yet?  Try again:

The sucky before:

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

Cosmosis by *milleniumsentry

The masterpiece after:

This fractal artwork is allegedly a masterpiece.

Smile by *milleniumsentry

Personally, I don’t much care for most of the featured art work Ms. Fire has chosen.  Nevertheless, there does seem to be qualitative differences between the early fractals that supposedly suck and later fractals that supposedly rock.  In nearly every instance, the later “masterpieces” are more slick, more busy, and much more decorative.  In fact, nearly every available space within each later frame is filled (padded?) with eye-popping ornamentation.  The earlier images, by contrast, are rawer, make better use of absence, and sometimes seem better composed — probably just because they are not crammed to the threshold of overspill with visual information.  Consequently, although the later images are better crafted and surely more technically proficient, the earlier images seem to better utilize artistic principles and design elements.

In short, these “wizards” might be going backward.  One could argue that the more the “masters” master their software and polish their craft, the less successful they are in their attempts to be artists.

What happens when priorities are out of whack?  Like when emphasis is placed on “mastering one’s tools,” as Keith Mackay likes to say, rather than on producing fine art?   Isn’t it evident?  As long as what can be done with software is prized over what fine art can be made, the trend shown above will continue.  Fractalbook, truth be told, institutionalizes such thinking with its “challenges” to adjust existing images and par file tweaking games popular on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List and elsewhere.  The priority is to see what the software can do — not what individuals can create as artists.  As long as this is the ruling aesthetic in our community, our “masters” may eventually conquer craft but will rarely produce fine art.

As long as one thinks of tools as toys, one’s work will remain more childishly playful rather than masterfully artistic.  I suppose only in the realm of Fractalbook can some of these featured “artists,” like LoonyL, rise from being a totally sucking noob to an accomplished grandmaster in just a little over two years.


Worse, the “art” being produced, especially in Fractalbook, nearly always must conform to an overriding, popular rubric of what constitutes fine fractal art in order to receive the longest choral threads of instantaneous praise.  Surfing through DA’s fractal gallery is like taking a trip out to some suburban fractal ticky-tacky.  Look at the less-than-subtle similarities in some of Ms. Fire’s chosen masterworks:

A masterpiece...

Overflow by JoelFaber

Another masterpiece...

mind reading by *LoonyL

Yet another masterpiece...

Starry Circuit by ~depaz

And still another masterpiece

the red dragon by ~grinagog

Clearly, a certain look is necessary in order to be proclaimed a “master” in the DA fractal community.  The images above are so, forgive the pun, self-similar and spiral-grounded that I wondered if the Fractal Universe Calendar had been resuscitated.  It’s no surprise that some people feel let down and experience cognitive dissonance when perusing Fractalbook.  This is what is considered the best we have to offer?  And the more it is held up to be so, the more the fractal assembly lines will crank out similar replications.  After all, who wants to run the risk of their praise-packed comment thread shrinking by living up to the site’s name and actually “deviating” from the agreed-upon by-popular-demand template for fractal wizardry and excellence?

It’s a hopeful sign, I suppose, that an occasional, lone voice questions the worth of Fractalbook’s ruling hierarchy. Case in point?  This astute comment from *Aspartam:

I dont get the point at all…Some nice fractals in both categories “before” and “after”. The one thing I see is a tendency to be less mainstream ( less overdone, with more use of space and not so many spirals) in the before category. Is it a way to point out a growing conformity in fractal making?

It certainly looks like a cancerous conformity to me, but Ms. Fire disagrees:

[S]ome of the first fractals are unique …I wouldn’t call them masterpieces not due to shape, but a basic lack of skill of the owner at the time of creation, and yes making the fractals more proper….isn’t main stream, it really requires full understanding of what each variation is doing.

There’s a manifesto to rally around:  Make your art more proper! Exploration has no place in creative acts.  Stifle such impropriety.  And don’t feel bad about grazing with the herd.  You aren’t going mainstream.  You’re just honing your craft and overcoming a “basic lack of skill.”  That way, you’ll avoid the stink of serendipity and never have any cumbersome accidents while making algorithmic art — which, as we all know, is grounded in absolutes and demands precise programming and complete technical comprehension.

PicassoMatisseGauguinMiroBasquiatSerranoOfili.  How much more famous would they all have been — if only — they’d made their art — more — proper?

As long as our community embraces prevailing mindsets like

–only programs like UF and Apo can help one become a “master”
–only decorative, spirally, layer-laden eyecandy — like that found in BMFAC exhibitions, the defunct FUC, and this DA collection of “masterpieces” — is “proper” enough to count as legitimate, worthwhile fractal art
–mastering the capabilities of fractal software is equivalent to creative acts of self-expression
–placing work in insular and isolated Fractalbook hidey-holes where social expectations define success based on behavior patterns of false flattery and mass conformity to limited artistic models is comparable to a stratagem of placing work in fairs, galleries, museums, and non-community web sites to be openly seen and widely reviewed

then the general fine arts world will continue to see fractal art and artists as, at best, non-professional — and, at worst, as completely mediocre.


Perhaps the last word on this whole fractal sucking matter can be found in the signature line from this comment from Jimpan1973:

Awsome news article!

Real friends are those you can fart with!

Yes, if nothing else, there seems to be plenty of that going on here.


Note: Edited to correct a misspelling and to add missing italics.

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10 thoughts on “Fractals That Suck

  1. Iwona “Fiery-Fire” seems to think there are only two fractal applications available to use, and/or even compare fractals against. (Though since this is about “Fractals That Suck”, these are probably the best to find examples from.) She probably would be surprised to learn there are well over 550 programs, and several of these may be seen on Deviant-Art.

    As to her choices of images, like anything that is considered “artistic”, it all depends on one’s personal opinions. And I do see your point about “busy” graphics, apparently Iwona and others have never heard the saying that “less is more”. Makes me think of the Baroque style prevalent from late 16th to early 18th century, which usually means “excessive ornamentation or complexity of line” in today’s terminology. There are a few she chose as “Before” works which I found quite appealing and worth viewing in a gallery or art show. Older and leaner does not automatically make it not as good.

    And yes, Deviant-Art stopped living up to its Domain Name long ago. Most everybody there is now trying to follow the “norm” so they can get tons of comments and followers. Just seems like another MyFace/SpaceBook website for groupies. Definitely a site for those that master the “spiral”.

  2. I’m not going to claim that the mainstream ‘deviant’art fractals mean anything to me or defend anyone’s criteria for separating what sucks and what rocks, but I think there’s an important point to make here. I don’t know about every individual piece that is considered as “sucky” here and what the respective artists’ intentions and thoughts were when creating them, but there’s a difference between intentionally creating negative space for artistic purposes and simply not knowing what to do with the program and the canvas.

    indeed, there’s a distinct pattern that artists in deviantart follow and a distinct favour for extreme ornamentation and technical craft. this disturbs me too and certainly my choices of what sucks and what doesn’t would be different than that of Fiery-Fire’s. however, for me that doesn’t add any more value to haphazard fractals that were presented as they were merely because the “artist” didn’t know what else to do with them.

    i don’t see art where there is no intention. THAT’s when it starts valuing what the program can do over what the artist can do. all the artists you mentioned had manifestos for their art, they knew and could handle “proper” and intentionally threw “improper” at our faces – for a reason! i have infinite respect for artists that can stay original even after they know what they’re doing with the program – but I won’t give someone credit because their program happened to throw out a spectacular random fractal – props to the programmer in that case.


    Before posting stuff like this, make sure your own art isn’t just a bunch of brushes, third-grade fractals and photoshop filters.

    And please shut up with your logical fallacies already…

    Secondly, you can’t take one fractal out from a whole news article. As far as i know, she features at least five pieces to compare with. That make it seem like you have a personal grudge against her.
    And well, of cause the “bad” piece is apo, since that is what most people started with. Random apo batches.
    Compare Jimpan1973’s apo batch with pieces like or . See? That’s not the tight spiral you found was a perfect example to trash her articles?

    Same goes for milleniumsentry’s pieces and . I bet you have never seen fractals like that before… No wonder this blog is called the “orbit trap”….

    So please, get a hold around your ego, and try to make sense.

    And my dear Nahee Enterprises….

    Iwona knows her share of fractal programs. She and I enjoy several other programs than UF and Apo (they are the mained ones… might as well face it…)
    We enjoy ContextFree, FractalExplorer, StuctureSynth, Tacticus and a fair share of other programs as well.

    “As to her choices of images, like anything that is considered “artistic”, it all depends on one’s personal opinions. And I do see your point about “busy” graphics, apparently Iwona and others have never heard the saying that “less is more”. Makes me think of the Baroque style prevalent from late 16th to early 18th century, which usually means “excessive ornamentation or complexity of line” in today’s terminology. There are a few she chose as “Before” works which I found quite appealing and worth viewing in a gallery or art show. Older and leaner does not automatically make it not as good.”

    Well, i agree with you there… But the whole thing about the news article is the progress….

    “And yes, Deviant-Art stopped living up to its Domain Name long ago. Most everybody there is now trying to follow the “norm” so they can get tons of comments and followers. Just seems like another MyFace/SpaceBook website for groupies. Definitely a site for those that master the “spiral”.”

    Sadly, i’ll have to agree again…
    But there is a core of fractalists whose goal is to deviate from spirals and suck.
    Not unlike me. I seldom use spirals. Seriously… No Doodads OCA’s either. Even the tiny fractures of my gallery that isn’t UF still looks more or less unique (some of my apo pieces are generic tho… but that’s because i suck at apo…)

    well, that was my input….


  4. “As long as one thinks of tools as toys, one’s work will remain more childishly playful rather than masterfully artistic. ”

    DA (and its clones, if there are any) looks like a big kindergarten, with kids saying “my dad has bigger balls than yours” while playing in their Photoshop sandboxes.

    If one makes fractals for his own pleasure, he must keep away from those places like vampires from garlic. For his own safety and (artistic) health.

  5. Thank you for showing interest in the Fractal Art community at Deviant Art.
    As far as I can tell from the tone of the critique, this is your basic feeding ground to “twitter” your opinions on sites quality of art as well as quality of artists of the site you don’t actively participate on.
    The cleverly written article with strong subjective undertones and defined sarcastic superiority was quite amusing.
    First I would like to point out to you few simple, critique rules, you may consider in your feature references. Shortening or misspelling people’s Art ID’s or names is considered by any means – Ignorant.
    Aspartum ? I think you mean Aspartam (Adam, an exquisite french artist, who’s
    passion are experimental digital works on Mac system, his style of preference is abstract and fractal manipulation). Ms Fire? Have never heard of the person must be another login-in ID. If you would like to address me properly my name is Iwona (with devart ID Fiery-Fire).

    Secondly, as strangely entertaining as your critique was to get familiar with, you misplaced the meaning of the News and also you lack of the inside knowledge of events preceding it’s publication.

    Thirdly, as any digital Artist would inform you, every application you may wish to learn and use for creation of your artwork has a learning curve.
    Nobody uses the software be it fractal software or graphic software, the same
    way from day one and I haven’t personally met a person who claims to know
    all the ‘sleek’ and short-cut tips within 24hrs.
    In Apophysis Fractal Flame Generator (this is the accurate name for the program), when you open the application – the software loads a selected number of random flames, which contain completely random and accidental combinations of functions (called variations) chosen by the code. Most of the works which are in “before” section come from that batch, unfortunately this diminishes the artistic input from the author – as exciting or experimental as they may seem, they lack the intentional design, have poor quality output and even the coloring gradient is selected automatically at random.
    The later works – show the progress of Artists, their growth and yes they have a tendency to be more complex and have more intricate designs.
    In your comparison of images, you taking examples from different programs – again you can not critique UltraFractal and Apophysis (nor FractalExplorer, Incendia, Sterlingware,and all other hundreds of programs) side by side, as they have different interface,completely different means of applying formulas and the output to generate the image renders is not compatible.

    I’m glad you got so ‘enthusiastically’ hang-up on “proper”, DeviantArt is not a selective, VIP site for well known artists. Many people join the site to show things, which they produce as a hobby.
    Not every single person, who starts out in drawing, painting or digital art will become Wassily Kandinsky or Jean-Michelle Basquiat, that does not mean, they should stop enjoying their keens, which they are very proud of (just as not every person who enjoys morning jogging will participate in the Olympics).
    Setting the standard, trend bar and advising people, the more they will make themselves familiar with the tools they using, will diminishes their artistic, creative ability is absurd and atrocious.
    People with raw talents are born rarely – people, who blog their own derivations based on insufficient information to make themselves sound knowledgeable on the topic are born every minute.

    Finally Ms Fire (read: “Fiery-Fire”) finishes the stand-up comedy Mr/Ms cruelanimal ‘devils advocates’ musings bedtime read-up and “fires up” Ultra Fractal to make some awesome spirals using Orbit Traps (OCA) LOL.

    “The arts are not a way to make a living.
    They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”
    –Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

    Cheers – no orbittraps were harmed or tested on, during writing of this response
    Sincerely Iwona.

    Universal rule and courtesy, I hope you obtained the Authors permission to post the thumbnails of their artwork in your article (most Artists on devart, do have copyright protection on their images and that includes blogging, without authorizing the thumbnail of the image, will be posted outside the desired site).

  6. Dear sir/ma’am!
    I’ve heard of your writings in the past but no article has disgusted me more than this. Why do you even read postings on deviantART if you hate it that much? Can it be that there is an attention-addict child on the other line craving for stuff it could rape by twisting others words like the medium-class spirals I see all over this place?
    What the article you complain about originally means with *suck* is not in the context you want it to see. “Fractals that suck” clearly means “Fractal artists at the beginning of their learning curve”. This does not really imply that the results are bad in the art-viewing eye but that the full potential of the artists talent is not showing. You know the word “relative”?
    There is seriously a difference between hammering the certain programs functions and having a lucky shot and really knowing what you are doing and maybe sometimes overrate the outcome. IMHO you completely fail understanding the meaning of the article.
    Other commenters (and I am almost sure you did too) complained about that only Apophysis and UltraFractal were mentioned. Maybe you should accept that these two are the most common applications and thus the most well-known. Mentioning a probably good but unknown tiny little tool which hides in the depths of SourceForge would be pretty pointless in this context.

  7. Wow..I am scratching my head trying to figure out your agenda in writing this. You have so blatantly twisted the spirit of Iwona’s article. You have taken a piece that was meant to be lighthearted and inspiring and turned into a “manifesto” for creating cookie-cutter artwork.

    I have freshly read all 3 of her articles, and I am afraid that I just don’t see where she implies that “exploration has no place in creative acts”. She not only encourages artists to learn new skills and techniques but to also experiment. Her goal is not to advocate the mass-production of identical fractal artworks, but to encourage others to realize that they have the ability to grow as artists.

    I also seem to be missing her promotion of UF and Apophysis as the only programs to use in creating masterpiece fractals. I guarantee you that she is well aware of the many different fractal-generating software available, as she featured my work, which is comprised mostly of fractals created with Incendia. In fact she also uses Incendia herself.

    I wonder if the artists that you have “featured” in this post are aware that you have used their work. I find it hard to imagine that they would condone the use of their work as examples of what you feel is wrong with fractal art or to assist in your agenda to show art sites like deviantArt as a hotbed for mediocre and non-professional fractal art.

  8. Despite the obvious undertones and quote unquote, “wordplay”, I will humour you guys with a response.

    DA – “Fractalbook” gives you reference for what is main stream yes. It’s the artists choice, and always will be, whether to be ahead of the curve, or behind it. Like all things in life, we have moments where we are behind, or calling for folks to catch up. Faulting someone for where they are on that line seems illogical to me.

    Likewise, context plays a large part in artistic endeavor. Under the umbrella this article tries to open, it is unwise to make fractals (or any image) for any purpose but for an “artistic” one. Enjoyment doesn’t seem to play a role. Learning doesn’t factor in. Experimentation should be kept behind closed doors.

    I can’t help but question the conformity you so often call into play, in order to dish out your own sense of the ‘proper’.

    In the end I would pose to you the arguement that a true masterpiece is the culmination of both artistic understanding and technical endeavor. There is no half way. Faulting folks for pushing the technical envelope simply means your understanding of what it takes to produce one is limited.

    When you do start pushing that envelope, you will realize that some fractal software packages are indeed ‘toys’ and afford you very little artistic control beyond cropping and basic palette control.

    You will never create a masterpiece with shoddy supplies, and broken tools. Anyone who takes art seriously can confirm this.

  9. Just a knit picking bore! I had loads of fun making fractals! So whats it to you..Mr lonely! I personaly have restored and reproduced some of Arts “Great Masters”…but I had much more fun and self-enlightenment out of finding beauty with math from a PC! Ask if you want to use anything of mine in future..thief!

  10. gdzsjkvirnsvjxnh kdfojvzx/locji z kiasdfuvhylsa,cjkhzkudrfhzdfvj ghskobx.n erha;;;;;sdfjvwl.45sfkaduhfmmhergbf………arafergtwryrstvsrt

    there is sometimes meaning behind time wasting…as here! ;o)

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