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June 9, 2014 5:41 AM   Subscribe

Fractal art has been with us for some time, but to my knowledge there are only two people attempting any serious art criticism of the genre. Both of them live at Orbit Trap, a blog about fractal art, where the authors trace the line that separates "the art folks from the science fair enthusiasts" and occasionally rail against the ubiquity of pretty spirals. Fuh-fuh-fuh ... fractals is Tim Hodkinson's latest round-up of things that caught his eye. Includes a pleasantly seasick video journey through a 3D fractal world plus some magnificent still works and a few of Tim's opinions.
posted by valetta (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I could watch those 3D fractal movies forever (pun not intended)
posted by slater at 6:06 AM on June 9


Funny seeing this juxtaposed against the "What is art?" conversation in the Thomas Kinkade thread next door. Fractals are sort of like "found art" or "ready-mades" I guess.

Fractals, and Jame Gleick's book "Chaos," were some of the things that drew me into science and math when I was an impressionable little girl. Prompted by the "frozen fractals all around" lyric from "Frozen," my three year old daughter and I have been playing with a fractal generator on my phone, lately. (It's a great way to keep her occupied when we're waiting in a line.)

So now I want to make some kind of Lisa Frank inspired fractals, or evem Thomas Kinkade inspired fractals...
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:45 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


These fractal designs made out of real footprints in real snow are worthy of an FPP all by themselves, I think.
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:24 AM on June 9


I noticed how the "What is art?" conversation sprang up not long after I posted this. I assumed it was coincidental and not some oblique jibe at the status of the fractal as art. I certainly enjoyed plunging into it, but I didn't take any fractals in with me, just in case.

Fractal art has often been slung and arrowed with accusations of not-being-real-art, less so today than a decade ago. Similar to the reputation of photography until recently. Made by machine, not by hand. But oh, aren't they fun to make? There's some sophisticated software out there that has so many knobs and sliders to play with it can keep an adult occupied for years.

I've tried to read "Chaos" twice, and I've tried to improve my understanding of fractal math, but I don't get far with either. The art, on the other hand, I get. I don't think I'd call fractal imagery entirely "found" or "ready made". To some extent, but there are also aesthetic choices made by humans, both in the programming and in the execution - colours, shapes, scale, composition and title for e.g.

I think of it as a collaborative effort shared between programmer, artist and machine. I like not being in complete control. I like surprises.

I've been following Orbit Trap for a while. Not that keen on Tim Hodkinson's own work, but I like the idea of his method, "pushing knobs and turning dials", he thrashes the image with extreme filtering, over and over till the pixels form something dirty and dense. I just don't get turned on by the results. But I enjoy his posts, and his co-blogger Terry Wright's. I liked "Eternal repeating" by abbaszargar best in this one, that ... place, so mysterious. And yes indeed, the snow fractals do deserve an FPP to themselves.
posted by valetta at 12:38 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


I like this.
posted by Bugbread at 2:48 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


I'm a physicist. I'd say that's why I really like the "math" side of fractals, but really the cause and effect go the other way -- it's in part because I like fractals and was interested in understanding the math that I ended up becoming a physicist.

I think snowflakes and coastlines and clouds don't just look like fractals -- they really are fractals. They map out solutions to complex self-referential equations. That blows my mind in the best possible way.

But yes, of course there are a lot of aesthetic choices to be made by humans turning the math into an image. Though I would say the collaborators are "programmer, artist, and mathematician" rather than "machine" because somebody discovered the equations that the programmers turned into algorithms, and the machine just... iterates them.

Anyway, The Hall of Masters image from this post is my new desktop background but I imagine as I browse these going forward, I'll be wanting to change that from time to time.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:34 PM on June 9


Fractals are so fascinating because so many things in real life are apparently fractals, and the computer generated ones seem to have a realistic quality lacking in other types of abstract art. Fractal math can generate incredibly realistic mountainscapes, planets, coastlines, and even plants with very little input. Where fractal art gets interesting is when we get that quality of realism from things which are clearly also not natural or even trying to look like they are at all.
posted by localroger at 3:52 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


I'll stand firmly on the "not art" side. While there are some people who work in generative procedural "art," it really is sterile and incapable of conveying abstract ideas. Art is a process of conveying meaningful abstract ideas to a viewer, and if the message is a formula, that's math not art. Sure it can look like eye candy, with enough work. But it is devoid of meaning.

I remember long ago on Usenet, somebody jumped into rec.arts.fine and gushed about his 36x48" Cibachrome prints of fractals. He asked for suggestions about mounting and displaying the work. I suggested shrink wrap over cardboard, affixed to the wall with duct tape.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:50 PM on June 9


charlie don't surf: "I suggested shrink wrap over cardboard, affixed to the wall with duct tape."

Wow, you really told him!
posted by Bugbread at 8:25 PM on June 9


charlie don't surf: "I'll stand firmly on the "not art" side. While there are some people who work in generative procedural "art," it really is sterile and incapable of conveying abstract ideas. Art is a process of conveying meaningful abstract ideas to a viewer, and if the message is a formula, that's math not art. Sure it can look like eye candy, with enough work. But it is devoid of meaning."

I disagree. Also, I mean, of fractals and Thomas Kincade, which would you call more "formulaic"?
posted by Deathalicious at 8:59 PM on June 9


They're both about equally formulaic. Someone who sets up a mathematically iterated pattern is not so different that a formulaic painter who repeats the exact same procedures to crank out a dozen nearly identical paintings.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:22 PM on June 9


the collaborators are "programmer, artist, and mathematician"

You're right. Consider my position revised, updated and improved, thank you.

Well, on the subject of meaning, all I can say is I strive for that in all I do in this medium. I've rarely set out to make an image with a particular subject or mood, just occasionally. So yes, that kind of intent is not often there, in the beginning. My starting point is usually a simple desire to make something. I mess around, try this, try that ... until the moment I see something that speaks to me of a possible place, an object, or a feeling, and then I work like a demon to make it stronger, clearer. Sometimes I fail. My hard drive is littered with images that have potential, but don't quite cut it. I see what they might say, but it's not loud enough for a viewer to hear. Those never make it to print, but I keep them to return to another day and try again.

This is common to abstract work in any medium. Sometimes the artist will start with a specific intent, other times the work will grow from the first mark, to the second, and so on till it becomes a coherent whole.

I didn't set out to make this thread about me, respecting the rules in this community about vainglory and self-promotion, so I'll shut up about what I do and say the video Bugbread posted above is glorious.
posted by valetta at 2:45 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


This is common to abstract work in any medium. Sometimes the artist will start with a specific intent, other times the work will grow from the first mark, to the second, and so on till it becomes a coherent whole.

How do you know this? Have you worked in any other medium? Your experiences in any non-digital media would be most relevant, if you're making generalizations about how "artists" work.

Visual artists as a whole, can be pretty inarticulate about their work, and in particular, about HOW they work. There's an old apocryphal story about Picasso, who said, "If I could tell you what my work was about, I'd be a writer, not a painter." Art historians often are no better, since most of them are not accomplished artists in their own right.

the video Bugbread posted above is glorious.

I watched it, it's awful. What do you think that video was about? I can make a guess, based on the title, but that is not what it's about.

I have some paintings on my wall that I spent months creating. I have some photographs I have worked with for several decades. What the hell was I doing all that time? Messing around, trying this and that?
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:04 AM on June 10


charlie don't surf: "I watched it, it's awful. What do you think that video was about?"

That standard only makes sense if you're looking at it as art. Valetta didn't say it was glorious art, just that it was glorious. Going by your definition of art, that video would be eye candy, but I think it was glorious eye candy, which, because it's eye candy, doesn't have to be "about" anything.
posted by Bugbread at 6:18 AM on June 10


Thomas Kinkade fractal

Another one

...And another

Lisa Frank fractal

Another Lisa Frank fractal
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:23 AM on June 10


Have you worked in any other medium?

Sure I have ...

ink
graphite
charcoal
pastel
watercolour
gouache
acrylic
oil
enamel
thread
fabric
papier maché
plastic foam
cardboard

All media used after I left school and finished a degree in art history and during the 15 years I worked in theatre and in the 20-odd years since that I've been working a day-job, attending life-drawing classes and workshops in various media and making art that I've exhibited and sold, in traditional media and as prints of bitmap, vector and fractal work made with a computer.

How's my credibility now? What else would you like to know - how many square metres of canvas I've covered? How many solo shows I've done? (six) How long I work on a fractal? It's not a couple of clicks instant, that's for sure. Days, weeks, months - it varies.

I think I can talk about "the artist" with some confidence, and in the paragraph you refer to I used the term in order to shift the conversation away from myself. But you bring it back to me. It really doesn't matter if I call what I do with fractals "messing around" and you call what you do with your chosen media something else. I do not mind if you don't think computer-generated imagery can be art and you needn't mind that I do.

As I scroll down to hit "Post" I see the reminder at the bottom: Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.

So yeah, enough - let's return to healthy, respectful discussion.
posted by valetta at 8:44 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


charlie don't surf -- if you have problems with defining fractals as art, you must have problems with a lot of modern art -- Andy Worhol's pop art is also based on taking an image that the artist didn't create, and tweaking the colors, the pattern etc. How about abstract art like Pollock? (by the way -- Pollock's paintings have a fractal dimension). Was Pollock not a real artist because he didn't have a picture in his head of each finished painting before he started -- I think Pollock very much worked by "messing around" with the paint? Is all non-representational art just "eye candy?" Or if not, what is it about the medium that changes the meaning?

But really, the best analogy, as mentioned above is photography.

You "explore" until you find a scene that moves you in some way, and use a machine to try to capture that image, adjusting the composition, lighting, perspective, etc to try to bring out the aspects of the image that spoke to you, to share with other people what you see in this scene.

I used to have my own doubts about the "meaning" of non-representational art, actually. But then I decided that if a sunset or a cloudscape or a pattern of leaves could be beautiful and moving without having to look like anything else, why should humans not also make beautiful and moving things that don't look like anything else? Fractals are, or can be, both beautiful and moving to me.
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:12 AM on June 10


valetta, I did not notice you were the OP so I was not aware you might think I was making you a proxy for the subject at hand. Just don't consider a critique to be a condemnation, which is something every Studio major had to learn the hard way.

OnceUponATime: by the way -- Pollock's paintings have a fractal dimension

And ancient bronze structures have a metallurgical microstructures, but they're not about metallurgy.

Art by Warhol and Pollock is about art. It is painting about painting. Using the conventions of art to metacritique art is a bit different than digital images about math.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 PM on June 10


And ancient bronze structures have a metallurgical microstructures

Unlike the fractal dimension of Pollock's paintings, those are not readily observable by normal viewers.
posted by localroger at 5:53 PM on June 10


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