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.


Keith said...


I appreciate you bringing these ideas up in a way that will lead to open discussion. These topics have been discussed a zillion times before over the years, but I see nothing wrong repeating the discussions.

There are some basic, generic artistic principles that I have learned from others that have helped me to keep an eye out for what might be considered art. Stuff like complementary colors, eye flow or the rule of thirds can help to produce images that others might find pleasing (now you know everything that I know about art. I need to learn more).

I have heard it said before that "rules" stifle creativity and if we follow them then we are not being creative. That might be somewhat true, but to me it makes sense to start with the basics and then go from there. At least when we do that we can have some confidence that we are starting in a place that most people might find interesting. Our creative journey might take us out of the realm of the basics, but chances are, our viewers won't be interested in what we come up with.

Photography is so much like fractal art, but photography is so much like art in general too. The basics still apply. For example, take a look at this picture. I have shot that mountain dozens of times, on days just like that one, in almost that same location, but that image is more interesting (to me) because the 2 focal points, mountain and deer, somewhat follow the rule of thirds. Like fractal art, that image was a discovery. I came over the ridge and there it was (unlike fractal art, the deer didn't wait around for me to reconsider the composition :-)).

Learning from other people, whether they know more than we do or not, can only serve to make us better. There are lots of ways to learn. Some ways might be to take formal training, mimic what others do or make our own discoveries. Making our own discoveries is fine, it's just not very efficient when others have already made them for us and we can learn from them.


Ken said...


Thanks. I really wasn't bringing them up for discussion, but I'm not against discussion, here or anywhere else. I was primarily offering a countering opinion to the attitude of some that I considered rather silly.

For reasons that I've never figured out, the fractal community doesn't seem to like to discuss much. If there are strong opinions, people get turned off. I don't mind strong opinions, nor disagreement. But, it is clear that many do. Some don't even like their opinions challenged. I'm sure you've noticed that as well.

Most of the artistic and composition "rules" are there for a reason. As you say, they can be violated, but if you don't know how to use them correctly, violating them probably won't help your images.

I've heard it said that the key to wisdom is learning from the experience of others. That's why I find it so silly to ridicule those who actually seek to do that.

Keith said...

OK. I understand that you were offering a countering opinion, but I was hoping to move beyond that...

It does seem that the most people are not interested in discussing fractal art anymore. Back in the olden days there was all sorts of discussion on the mailing lists and forums. The Renderosity Fractal Forum, for example, was very active a few years ago. I wonder what changed.

Ken said...

I'm not sure what changed. There used to be more discussion on mailing lists and perhaps UseNet. I haven't looked at newsgroups in any detail for many years.

There are, and have been, people whose approach to topics and discussion has tended to turn people off.

Perhaps the most serious fractal artists are comfortable creating their art and aren't interested in many of the discussions. Those who are new or are just doing art for fun don't feel qualified or are intimidated in offering opinions.

If the approach to giving opinions and bringing up topics is to attack others, that is certainly going to stifle most communication, especially when you set things to limit feedback.