22 September 2008

What Is Your Art Worth?

Is fractal art worthless?

Some seem to think so. I don't believe this is the case. I can't quite tell if the comments are meant in a satirical or ironic way, or if they are serious. So, lets assume they are serious.

Can fractal art be sold?

Well, I've sold images, so yes, fractal art can be sold. I know of quite a few others who have sold images. I know of several who have sold images at various art fairs. I know of some who have been selling images online for quite a while. Now, I doubt there is anyone making a living from selling fractal art. But, some are making enough to keep trying. Yes, it is hard, but it can and is being done. So, the contention that you can't sell fractal art is demonstrably false.

Is it worthless because it is digital, and therefore, easily reproducible?

Actually, this is a valid point. Because fractal art is digital, it is easily duplicatable. But, so is digital photograph today. Photographers are still selling images whether they be prints or books or stock, and I would contend that the digital nature of today's photography actually enhances the photographers abilities to manipulate and enhance his/her images.

The question of uniqueness because of the digital nature is valid. It is true that photographers can destroy their negatives. But, most don't do that. Ansel Adams didn't to my knowledge. People can still buy prints from his negatives printed by people who trained with Adams. The prints aren't made by Adams, but they are an affordable way for people to own his images. A painting is an original, but there are paintings that are copies of the original. Thomas Kincade comes to mind here. And, there certainly are the lithographs of paintings. So, it's certainly not fractal art that has this problem.

A print is a print. It doesn't matter the print originates from a negative or a digital file. It doesn't matter if it is printed on photographic paper, or from a printer, or printed on canvas. It is still a print. It doesn't matter if the source is a photographic file, or a fractal image, or some other digital image. You still can hang it on your wall. Fractal art is just as tangible as any other form of printed art.

The digital nature of imagery today makes it more accessible to the average person. That's good and bad. It is easy for people to take (steal) images and use them against the artist's wishes. It also makes it easier for the artist to get exposure to their images. Photographers now use online proofing and save themselves the expense of having to make prints for their clients to choose from. This is just a natural change due to the changing technology. It presents new issues, and can cause problems for those who are slow to adapt. And, some may not like the changes. But, the changes have and are happening.

Digital is here to stay. It affects photography, video, any form of digital or art generated in whole or in part using a computer, music, movies, television, etc. As far as I can tell, the music industry is doing quite well adapting to digital. While they were a bit slow to react, and theft is a big problem, adapting they are. As are photography and the movie industries.

Digital doesn't make art any less legitimate. I suppose one could argue that digital makes art less valuable. Perhaps that is true. But, does it really matter? You aren't going to remove the digitalness from some forms of art. You can destroy (delete) the original. Perhaps that makes sense in certain, isolated or limited cases, but most people aren't going to do that. I don't believe most cases require one to do that.

If you have been selling your art, how many people have you found that are actually concerned about whether or not they have the original, or are concerned about making sure they have one of a limited number of prints? If you have purchased art, have you been concerned about this? I know some are, so I'm not saying the issue is not valid. I just don't think it is a big deal. If it is in a specific circumstance, it is easily dealt with.

While the digital nature of many forms of art today does present new and unique problems as compared to the past, it seems to me to be rather silly to claim that fractal art, or any other form of art, is worthless.

18 September 2008

Learning From Experts - Part II

I was reading a post on a blog geared towards photography. As I was doing so, I realized that it was very analogous to fractal art. In fact, I think you can almost replace every reference of photography with fractal art.

Behind the Lens - Art in Photography
There have been discussions over the months and years about whether or not fractal art or algorithmic art or digital art, etc. is really art. As the article says quite obviously, most such discussions about what is or isn't art are just a waste of time. Well, the article didn't say exactly that, but that's how I would say it.

To paraphrase a question in the article,
"is there any role at all for discussing fractal/algorithmic art as art that can actually make a meaningful difference to the individual artist?"
Well, if you have read any of the discussions over the last year or so, the answer is clearly yes. Many (some?) have a desire for fractal art to be considered "mainstream" with other forms of art including photography. Yet, as with photography, there are many people producing "snapshots" which are rarely good pieces of art.

Some lament that fractal art is worthless (perhaps more on this later). Some consider the masses "fractal-bookers". Some like to ridicule those taking classes and consider the classes part of the "Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art".

Some of the arguments have been about what is or is not post-processing. Some argue about whether post-processing is good or bad. Some argue about the use of layers. Some argue about everything looking the same. Some argue about whether nor not a particular calendar is "ethical". Some argue about some artists being considered "the top" artists of today. Some argue about how some contest or another is run.

The problem is, the arguments rarely serve any useful purpose. They are just a way for people to complain. They are a way for people who disagree with those taking a particular viewpoint to argue with the other. More often than not, they are only of interest to the parties doing the arguing. Fun and/or interesting for the participants, but as the article mentions, rather boring for the reader. And yes, I include myself in this group. In part, this blog exists as an outlet for me to offer a countering view to views I disagree with.

If discussions can lead one to better insights into their own art, then they can be productive. If they can lead to new outlets or competing outlets for people to show their art, then that is productive. If they tend to lump everyone into a big pile because most people are doing something, that isn't very productive. If the discussions are meant as a put down, then they might make the person making the argument feel superior, but aren't very productive or useful to anyone.

Generalities can be very useful in getting the broad picture of something. For example, it may very well be true that fractal art is boring in the broad sense. Say for sake of argument that it is. Does that mean every artist's art is boring or every piece created by a particular artist is boring? Not at all. A way to make such a discussion useful is figure out what can make fractal art more interesting. Figure out what can make your art more interesting. Turn the complaining into something productive.

I think the lessons learned at the end of the article are just as applicable to fractal/algorithmic art as with photography.
1) It isn't essential for a work of art to have a message, only that it be capable of interpretations, the latter being entirely personal to the viewer.
I think artists need to remember this. Especially, if one is trying to make a statement with their art.
2) There needs to be a reason to take the picture, and thoughts of "it will sell well" aren't good enough. It has to be a reason that relates to the artist. In the case of the photographer, it probably isn't necessary to understand why, just enough that you thought something needed photographing, that it intrigued you in some way you aren't even aware of, or perhaps even the feeling of "gee, I can do something with that".
With fractal/algorithmic art, there are probably only a very small number who have ever created anything with the thought "it will sell well". That's because there are very few fractal art sales compared with the number of images generated. I think the number of sales and artists making sales will increase over the years, the the relative number will remain small.

However, I disagree with this one a little when it comes to fractal art. Photography isn't nearly as abstract as fractal art is. Phot0graphy certainly can be abstract, but it is an effort to make it so, just as it is an effort to make fractal art not be abstract. Many times, fractal art just sort of happens. The artist starts on a path and in manipulating the image ends up going down a different, or many different paths before reaching the final destination. But, I do think the feeling of "I can do something with this" is part of what might lead someone down different paths in working on their image.
3) We have no trouble ascribing the term "artist" to a painter, but similar thoughts and drives and needs seem to happen to photographers [fractal artists], so why shouldn't we apply the term to photographers [fractal artists]?
Of course, not every photography is an artist, and not every one that generates fractal images is a fractal artist, but the comparison is still valid.

The article also highly recommends talking to photographers about the motivations for their works. The article recommends trying to understand the minds of great photographers. It recommends attending workshops and conferences. Well, this is exactly what many people are doing when they take classes to learn more about using a particular program. Granted with fractal art, the choices are rather few currently. But, many people have found, and continue to find them quite useful and instructive. Just as people do with other types of workshops.

There is nothing wrong with learning from people who know more than you. That is what wisdom is; learning from the experience of others.

If you aren't interested in a particular class, don't take it. But, does it make sense to ridicule those who do?

I didn't think so.

16 September 2008

Learning From Experts

If you are wanting to improve in some area, does it make sense to learn from someone who is better than you are in that area?

I think virtually everyone would say that yes, it does make sense to learn from someone who is better than you with what you are trying to improve upon.

If you are a 20 handicap golfer and you want to improve, you take lessons from a professional. Then, of course, you practice, practice, and practice some more the techniques you have been taught to improve your game. Practice alone helps tremendously. But, if your techniques are flawed, you may improve some, but you are still practicing flawed methods.

If you are a painter, would you turn down the chance to study with a DaVinci, or Monet, etc.? If you are a composer, would you turn down the chance to intern with Bethoven, or Mozart, etc.? If you like to write horror stories, would you turn down the chance to talk with Steven King? If you are a landscape photographer, would you turn down the chance to make prints with Ansel Adams?

I think most would agree you would be an idiot to turn down any of these opportunities.

If learning from experts wasn't such a good idea, there wouldn't be all the myriad ways to do that very thing. It doesn't matter if the subject is painting, learning how to use cameras, photographic techniques, software, knitting, underwater basket weaving, painting, tiling your bathroom, etc., etc., etc.

And yes, Virginia, this even applies to fractals. It doesn't matter if the program is XenoDream, Apophysis, or even (gasp) Ultra Fractal. In fact, it doesn't matter what the program is, fractal or not. There are people who have risen above the crowd in their knowledge these, and other programs. If you want to improve with such programs, it makes sense to learn from those who can teach you techniques that you don't know. These techniques can range from learning to be more productive in using the program in your exploring of base images to learning more techniques to end up with more artistic images. It doesn't really matter. The key is learning things you don't know from those who do know.

The purpose of these classes isn't to create clones who make the same images as the instructor. Taking photographic classes from a particular photographer doesn't turn you into a duplicate of that photographer. Taking instruction from any expert won't turn you into that expert. It only increases your knowledge of the subject so that you can apply that knowledge to the way that your work. The situation is exactly the same when you take classes to learn more about any particular fractal program.

I really believe this is what wise and smart people do to get ahead.

Of course, you don't have to. Many people are just hobbyists who enjoy the diversion and learning on their own at whatever endeavor they are pursuing. These really aren't the people I'm talking about. I'm talking about those who are serious about their pursuit and genuinely and seriously want to improve in their chosen pursuit.

Just remember this when you read comments referring to the "Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art." You may have seen the term used in a snide, condescending, and derogatory way. Why would some choose to ridicule those striving to learn? Beats me. All I know is that it is the opposite of what wise and smart people do who want to learn and improve. It also strikes me as rather petty and juvenile to criticize those who choose to take instruction from those they can learn from.

What do you think?

14 September 2008

Computer Technology

I am constantly amazed a how much computer, electronic, and storage capabilities have improved in the years that I've been involved with computers. I'm sure kids today will be equally amazed with continued advancements when they are 30 years older.

When I started working with computers and learning to program, there was no Apple Mac, no Linux in its myriad flavors, no Windows, no IBM PC or compatibles, just something analogous to the DOS window. There were the DECs, IBM, CDC, and other large computers. The most powerful thing available to the average person were the programmable calculators. These were the days of the first microprocessors. The CPU speeds were an incredible 1 MHz. There was no mass storage for these microcomputers, only cassette or paper tape. Soon there were disk drives, 8.5" inch disk drives. You only see those in a museum any more.

This is the computer that I started with.

Read more about it here.

I built many of them back in those days. Building back then meant wiring the case and putting components on the circuit boards and soldering them. Today it means plugging in the components in the case.

It would still be a few years before 5.25" disk drives and hard disk storage. A 10 MB disk drive was like a two drawer filing cabinet laid on its side. 5 MB internal and 5 MB removable on a 12" platter. They weighed about 200 pounds and took two people to move. Some people probably still have 5.25" drives for their older PCs. I do. I'm not sure if that PC will even still boot. Most new PCs today don't even have a 3.5" drive.

But, this was all from nearly 30 years ago. Everyone knows how much things have advance since then. However, even in recent years, things have advanced considerably, as they seem to do every few years.

The 1.6 GHz P-IV Dell that my kids use is so slow that I can't stand to sit in front of it to do anything. I think the major reason is the low amount of RAM in this PC. I've been fortunate the last several years to be able to use a 3 GHz P-IV HT laptop. But, it is even slow compared to the current processors. But, don't feel too badly for me because I was recently able to upgrade to a 2.6 GHz Core 2 Duo laptop. I got my wife a quad core desktop PC so that she didn't have to compete with the kids.

Just to show some comparisons, here are timings for a fractal image on the different PCs I have access to. The image isn't relevant, as I'm just wanting to show comparative times.

Dell Dimension 8100/P-IV 1.5 GHz - 11:43

Dell Inspiron 9100/P-IV HT 3.0 GHz - 9:33

Dell Precision 9300/Core 2 Duo T9500 2.6 GHz - 1:29

Gateway/Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4 GHz - 0:53

I was rather surprised to see that the Inspiron laptop was not much faster than the 8100. I have 2 GB of RAM in the laptop, but only 256 MB in the 8100. It uses RDRAM, which is quite expensive compared to DDR RAM, so I never upgraded. I may have to investigate prices again because it might be worth the performance gain to have 1 GB of RAM in that old thing. The 8100 is probably four or five years older than the Inspiron.

The jump in speed increase with the two newer systems was quite dramatic. Much more so that I would have initially guessed.

I can walk around with dozens of gigabytes of storage in my pocket in the form of USB sticks or memory cards. I can easily carry 500+ gigabytes of storage in my computer case. I can print photographic quality prints on my printer. Today's widescreen monitors where you can view high quality images are a tremendous leap from the old text only terminals or the first 320x200 monochrome graphics monitors.

The increased speed, memory, and graphics capabilities let us compute fractal images that used to take weeks or months in minutes or hours. Today's images that take weeks or months will be done in hours in the future. We now have digital SLR cameras that have surpassed film in the image data that can be captured. I knew this would happen, but a few years ago, I wouldn't have suspected it happening so soon. We can do things with Photoshop or other image editing program that used to be impossible, or very difficult in a darkroom. Anyone can publish their own book of photographs or images. The list is endless.

What will happen in the next 30 years? We have a glimpse by looking at what is being researched, but I think we'll be just as surprised when we look back then as we are when we look back now.

12 September 2008

Do Fractals Talk To You?

Art has been used over the centuries for any number of purposes, including political and social commentary. Fractal art, digital art, algorithmic art, or whatever label you want to put on it is just as valid an art form as photography, painting (oil, water color, acryllic, etc.), stained glass, cartoons, sculptures, and so on and so on.

But, can fractals speak?

I've seen fractals used to depict emotions. I've seen fractals used to depict seasons. I've seen fractals used to depict hot and cold. I've seen fractals used to depict song titles. I'm sure there are many more example of fractals depicting concepts such as these and more.

But, do fractals speak?

Traditional art forms clearly do. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Not every image, of course. But, I'm sure everyone can find images that convey a meaning or message. Often times the same image depicts different things to different people. Many times, art is just something nice to look at. Sometimes, art is disturbing. Sometimes, art is intentionally created to convey a message. Sometimes, it is accidental.

Do fractals do the same thing?

Perhaps. But, I contend that it is very hard to make fractals speak when you are wanting to make a social or political statement. In fact, I think it is so hard that it is virtually impossible. I've never seen a fractal image that successfully makes a social or political statement. That doesn't mean it is impossible, just that it is very difficult. That doesn't mean there aren't examples, just that I've not seen any.

Now wait, you say. I've seen fractals used to make social and political statements. Perhaps you have, and if so, please share a link to the image. However, what you have probably seen is a fractal used with a particular title and/or commentary to make a social or political statement. That is not the same thing. If the image actually made such a statement, words would not be necessary. In these cases, it is the words that make the statement, not the image. The words by themselves would make the same statement.

Fractals are essentially a form of abstract art. It is hard to make abstract art say anything specific. Not impossible, just difficult. I doubt most people even try. Quite often, the titles artists give their images are nonsensical. Or, they remind the artist of something that they thought of while creating the image. The viewer often can't even understand how the title relates to the image. This isn't true in every case by any means, but I think it is true in most or a very large number of cases.

Can fractals speak? Yes, I think they do. At least as much as abstract art speaks.

I think when artists try to force a message with their art, it often fails miserably. This has been the case with the examples I've seen of fractal art used to try to make a social or political statement, primarily because it is the title that does the talking.

I don't think it is necessary for fractals, or art in general, to convey a message. Art can simply be something that is nice to look at.

If fractals have been talking to you, I'd like to see the image(s) doing the talking. Especially, if they are making any social or political comments.

09 September 2008

The More Things Change...

Well, actually some things don't change. What doesn't appear to be changing is the pathological obsession with complaining about the Fractal Universe calendar and the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest. I suppose the complainers should rename their blog to "1001 Ways to Complain".

It's not a big deal for people to disagree about something. But, I do consider it a big deal for people to misrepresent, or outright lie about, information to make ones case. So, lets analyze a choice quote from a recent post.

Sound familiar? Fractal art is waiting for a similar transformational break. The prevailing monarchy -- with its de rigueur software (UF) and its corrupt, self-serving contests (BMFAC, the FUC) -- constitute our comparable "proprietary system." These Fractal CEOs create competitions designed to first and foremost highlight their own art, then claim in subsequent publicity materials to be showcasing "high quality works by the most important fractal artists in the world." Even OT disliker Ken Childress catapulted such propaganda again last week on his blog (no link):

UF is the program of choice for many of those who are the most respected fractal artists today.

And Childress proves this claim by ... simply making the claim -- as if saying so makes any utterance true, just like judging a fractal contest that includes your own work makes you respectable and "important." Meanwhile, Childress gets to hang out with the self-selected Kewl Kidz in the Fractal McMansion. Why rock the boat when you're sitting on a velvet cushion in it?

Normally, I delete all the little links before using a quote. But, in this case, I left one in because I reference it below. Generally, unless they are useful or directly relevant, I consider the practice rather juvenile and inane.

Let's list the lies, or false statements if you prefer, in this excerpt quoted above. As you read them, remember this excellent rule.

First tell the truth,
then give your opinion.
  • prevailing monarchy -- with its de rigueur software (UF) - Monarchy implies a controller or controlling authority. There is no such thing in the fractal world. Ultra Fractal is a program that is clearly more popular than all others and it is clearly far superior to any other program in the artistic and programming capabilities it offers. It would seem that this is what is being complained about.
  • corrupt, self-serving contests (BMFAC, the FUC) - I realize that this is their opinion. The reason that this is a misleading statement (lie) is that it is meant to give the uninformed reader a negative opinion. There has never been any evidence to support either claim. There is nothing corrupt or self-serving about this two events. Nothing wrong with them either. Read the archives here for all the gory details. I do admit that some don't like them. I do admit that they don't follow "Hoyle's Rules of Contests" and are more informal than formal. No big deal, except those that don't like them just want to complain about them, rather than do something to counter them. It reminds me of the saying "them that don't or can't, complain". Well, I modified the saying a bit, but it is still quite applicable.
  • constitute our comparable "proprietary system." - Proprietary implies closed or restricted access. In fact, the opposite is true. Popularity does not equate to proprietary.
  • These Fractal CEOs create competitions designed to first and foremost highlight their own art - "CEOs" implies a controlling authority. Another falsehood (lie). This implies that this was the reason the two referenced events exists. Anyone who knows the history behind them knows that this is not true. Thus, this is just a spin (lie) to make the events sound ominous.
  • Even OT disliker Ken Childress catapulted such propaganda again last week on his blog (no link) - I assume the Pinocchio link on my name is to imply I've lied somehow. These complainers like to imply that, yet they have never produced any such proof. They won't, because they can't. They also won't link to this blog because they are cowards. They are afraid that the many more readers they have than I will be exposed to the truth.
  • And Childress proves this claim by ... simply making the claim -- as if saying so makes any utterance true - My statement is a statement of opinion. An observation of the evidence shows the opinion to be very true. However, some will disagree. Fine, that doesn't make what I said any less true. If you disagree, point me to names of those who you think are among the "most respected fractal artists today".
  • just like judging a fractal contest that includes your own work makes you respectable and "important." - Don't like the rules? Make your own contest. Contest organizers can make their own rules. Live with it.
  • Meanwhile, Childress gets to hang out with the self-selected Kewl Kidz in the Fractal McMansion. -Hmmmm. Where is this mansion? I didn't get the memo. I'm starting to think I should be quite upset that I haven't received my invite to all these "insider" meetings to work on expanding the cabal to take over everything related to fractal art. I'm hoping that on the agenda soon is the movement to prohibit filters being used on images unless they are part of an Ultra Fractal formula. Please Kidz, if you are reading this, make sure I get the meeting notice.
  • Why rock the boat when you're sitting on a velvet cushion in it? - Trust me, if I see unethical activities in the "boat", I'll rock it. I see unethical behavior coming from the complainers, so I'm exposing it. When I see it with the calendar, I'll speak up.
While most of the post is an interesting, if not wishful thinking, comparison of fractal art to other art and "guerrilla" tactics, the above rendered the otherwise thoughtful post to just another rant.


First tell the truth,
then give your opinion.