05 February 2008

Fractal Universe Calendar

Lets take a look at the Fractal Universe Calendar.

The authors of Orbit Trap keep bringing it up, and keep mentioning it in the context of "professionalism". Here's a recent statement in the "Beware of the Anti-Fractal" comment section,

"Our concerns about the FU Calendar and the BMFAC have always centered on lapses of professional conduct. The point is not whether these institutions are money-making ventures for publishers or aid artists in “expression and self-realization.” Both fractal competitions include the work of their own judges/editors."
This is a direct charge ethical wrong doing by the editors of the calendar. Yes, they refer to it as "professional conduct" in the comment, but when you look at the entire argument over many posts, they are basically accusing the editors of ethical misdeeds. They want the "issues" about the calendar addressed. So, I'll take a look at their many comments about the calendar and address them.

And one from the "Leave a Light On" post,
"We’ve made it clear that the publisher (Avalanche) is free to do whatever it pleases. Spiral away we say. It’s their money. But the editors aren’t forced to agree to the publisher’s terms, so why express surprise, yet alone anger, that someone might question whether such conduct is proper?"
Actually, IMO, they have not made it clear that the publisher is free to do as they please. If so, then why the continual fuss? As this post will detail, there is no improper conduct. There is only anger from the critics that their standard, as ridiculous as it is, is not being followed.

As you read the comments, it is important to understand the definition of a contest used by the Orbit Trap authors. They use the word contest in the sense of a strictly run contest where judges (editors) have no association with any participant, cannot participate themselves, the rules are formal rules developed by some association, etc. They believe that there should be no other type of contest with informal or different rules than some "standard". I believe most readers realize that contests can be formal or informal or any where in between depending upon the intent of the contest.

I'm not sure when it first started. I remember seeing it around 2000 or 2001. That was back when Rollo Silver was the editor. He had an FTP site where people could upload images to be considered for the calendar. Somewhere around that time, he decided to stop being involved with the calendar and the publisher. The publisher contacted one of the previous artists to help ensure the calendar continued. In that first year of the current format, only a few people knew about it and submitted images. After that, the editors started the submission system that is basically the current system.

Some basic facts about the calendar are,
  • It is a commercial arrangement with Avalanche Publishing
  • The editors, currently two, are guaranteed to have one selected for the calendar
  • The editors receive no compensation for their work other than an image in the calendar
  • The editors solicit images for consideration by anyone who wishes to contribute
  • The editors send a selection of approximately 200 images to the publisher
  • The publisher makes the final selection of images for the calendar
  • Artists receive $200 per image selected, and $400 if their image is selected for the cover
  • The editors submit a variety of styles of images based on the images submitted
  • There are no requirements to use any particular program or process to make your image
  • There is a size requirement of 4200x4200
  • Historically, the publisher selects a variety of brightly colored spiral images
  • Sometimes, more often than not, the editor(s) have more than one image selected
There is a FAQ, which answers more questions.

The calendar is not,
  • A formal contest, either in image submission or selection
  • A self-promotion event by the editors
The calendar is a contest only in the very informal sense of the word. Images are submitted and selected. I suppose that is a competition and can be called a contest, but that is not the definition the Orbit Trap authors will be using. Bear that in mind as you read their comments.

So, lets look at some of the statements made by the administrators of the Orbit Trap blog about the calendar.

In "The Fractal Alternate Universe Calendar 2008" post, the author wrote,
"I helped contribute to the Fractal Alternate Universe Calendar. In keeping with the traditions of the original Fractal Universe Calendar, the work is heavily weighted to showcase the work of the editors."
This statement implies that the editors have skewed the image selection process in order to benefit themselves. This is an absurd, and false accusation. Plus, we'll put aside for now the question of ethics and professionalism in taking the images from the calendar, applying filters, and re-posting them in their modified form without the permission of the original artists.

In "Test-Tube Art" post, the author wrote,
"Alright. Sorry -- sorry for having a sense of humour! But back to your impolite comments about the Fractal Universe Calendar; I'll try to be more Jiminy Cricket-like. I find the calendar's choice of artwork to be a profound statement of time and very appropriate for what really is the current state of fractal art."

"No, I'm serious. Every year, the same old stuff, reworked by a few people and slapped with a new label: 2005; 2006; 2007... In the words of Samuel Becket, I think, "Nothing ever happens". You see? That really is the current state of fractal art: a handful of people doing the same old thing every year."
There is some truth to these statements. However, they are very cynical and appear to be meant as nothing more than a snide swipe at the calendar, editors, and images. Besides, the calendar publisher picks the images. If they know what sells for them, and it is the same year after year, so what? Does that really harm anyone or hurt anyone's artistic expression. Does it really serve any purpose to complain about it?

In the "The Price of Professionalism" post, the author wrote,
"Here are a couple of results from such open books: 40.3% of the images selected for the Fractal Universe calendars from 2005-2008 came from just four people -- the two current editors and the two previous editors."

"Basically, we have asked questions about these contests in two areas: professionalism and conflicts of interest."
Here the author seems to imply that the editors are intentionally using the calendar for self promotion at the expense of others. Of course, that is false. The editors, as do many of those submitting images, understand the type of images that the publisher likes and create images that are more likely to be selected. An objective inspection of the images in any given calendar show that all images are roughly of the same quality. The images from the editors are not out of place. Now, you may not like the images selected, and you may even have images that are better. But, that isn't the point.

There has never been even the slightest evidence presented in any post to support any charges of "[lack of] professionalism" or "conflicts of interest" regarding the calendar. Because the editors have an agreement with the publisher to include one of their images in the calendar is not, I repeat is not, a conflict of interest. Because the critics say it is, and repeat the charge doesn't make it true. There should be public apologies made to the calendar editors for these unsubstantiated charges.

In the "Damien, Inc." post, the author wrote,
"We got the deep background on how The Fractal Universe calendar competition was established way back when and designed from day one to allow editors to conveniently slip their own work into the final product."
This comment is nothing more than the snide opinion of the author attempting to smear the calendar process. Basically, it's the classic straw man argument where the critic invents an issue that he then proceeds to attack.

In the "Evening Stroll" post, the author wrote,
"I bet I've entered probably 200+ contests. I did not win or place in most of the competitions I entered. Yet, in all that time, I have only questioned the operation of two contests: yours and the Fractal Universe calendar. There's a reason. You both have something in common -- you mix the work of judges/editors with those they have judged/edited. Such a practice is widely regarded as an unprofessional conflict of interest."
Here the author tries to falsely equate contest judges with the calendar editors. And, again a charge of unprofessional conduct levied at the calendar editors. The calendar process, from submission to selection, is fully detailed. There is nothing unprofessional or suspect in any way with the entire process.

In the "Cowards of Us All" post, the author wrote,
"Can you name any five art contests anywhere that do allow inclusion of the contest judges' work. Well. Okay. You're right. The Fractal Universe calendar."
Again, another equating of contest judges to the calendar editors. Again, this is nothing more than a false, unsubstantiated charge.

In the comments of "Take it To The Limitations" post, the author wrote,
"Type two is the contest that claims to be a representative collection of contemporary fractal art. The Fractal Universe calendar falls into this category. In the FAQ section of the calendar’s Fractal Forum, the editors state they try to “produce a calendar that is representative of the current state of our art.” Here’s the link. Now I ask you. Is this statement an accurate description of the final product? Or would a more honest tag line be: a compilation of mostly fractal spiral forms made mainly using Ultra Fractal? "

"And, Keith, you’re telling me that you never said the calendar is a contest? Are you saying it is not one? Are you prepared to argue that inclusion in the Fractal Universe calendar is not competitive? Aren’t entries juried with winners ultimately selected? Aren’t the chosen entries compensated while entries not chosen are neither published nor paid? Do you think using a euphemism like “image selection process” masks the fact that you are conducting a contest?"
Here the author is addressing one of the current calendar editors. Again, the author is making more false charges.

It's very clear that the Orbit Trap blog authors don't like the Fractal Universe Calendar, nor the process by which images are submitted and selected. It's also very clear that there has not been any substantiated evidence that there is any ethical problems with anything associated with the calendar. Why then, do the Orbit Trap blog authors continue to complain so much about it?

If you have read this far, let me ask a question. Is it fair, or professional if you will, for two people to
  • coordinate with the publisher
  • take the time and effort to solicit images
  • take the time and effort to select about 200 images
  • send the images to the publisher for the publisher to select images for the calendar
and then receive compensation by having one image in the calendar?

Or, do you believe, as the Orbit Trap authors seem to, that the editors should do this free of charge for the goodness of the fractal community? Do you believe, as they do, that this calendar is hurting fractal art? Do you believe, as they do, that it is a "conflict of interest" and "unethical" that the calendar editors are compensated by having an image in the calendar? Do you believe, as they do, that the editors are intentionally promoting their own images above other submissions?

If you believe any of the above, what proof do you have to offer that any of your beliefs are true? How would you run the calendar submission process differently than it is currently run? How do you think the editors should be compensated? Why don't you set up such an arrangement with a calendar publisher?

The bottom line is this,
  • The Fractal Universe Calendar is NOT a contest or competition in the sense that the Orbit Trap authors claim it is
  • There is nothing professional, or ethically, at question with the calendar
  • With all the self-publishing methods available today, if you have issues with this particular calendar, then create, publish, and market your own calendar
It's also very clear to me that the Orbit Trap blog authors should publicly apologize to those associated with the calendar. That's what people with high professional standards would do when they have been shown to be wrong. That's what people of strong, admirable character do.

1 Comment:

Panster said...

Once again I've come late to the party. I didn't know you had started this blog, Ken, but I thank you for this post (and others).

For reasons that mainly include duplication of efforts, bookkeeping, and deadlines, I have decided to edit the 2010 Calendar alone this year. I'm also very tired of the OT kind of flak that slides through every single year about the Calendar. I'm not going to subject anybody else to the fray.

If if means anything to anybody, the contract between the Publisher and Editor will not be changed.

I tried, it didn't work.

Is it better to have no Calendar at all than to have one that compensates me as editor by including one of my images? 80 artists and 640 images for the 2009 calendar say "no". FWIW, I hope we get a thousand submissions for 2010.

I don't get paid more than any of the other selected submissions, and it's a heckuva lot of work.