Saturday, August 1, 2009

De re psychedelia

In the spirit of NaArMaMo, I'm going to try to post something every day during August. In that same spirit, there are no guarantees that any of it will be any good. My plan is to start with some discussion about psychedelic art, which I've had rattling around in my head ever since the local art critic came to talk to our senior class about the BFA show, and decided that was what category my stuff belonged in, because it included some fractals. A reasonable assumption, given the minuscule amount of evidence available to her, but definitely not how I think of myself. Psychedelia is strongly associated with certain kinds of counter-culture politics and philosophy, which I mostly don't find interesting, even though I sometimes enjoy the aesthetic effect.

There is no question that fractal forms are well suited to psychedelic imagery. Repeating geometric patterns are well-known features of the poster art of the '60s, and spirals are always a recurring motif. Computer monitors, with their pure RBG emitted light, are a perfect medium for anything that uses brilliant saturated colors. It's ridiculously easy to make bright groovy pictures with a fractal generator.

A quick bit of explanation about color theory: In the usual systems, there are three primary colors. Subtractive mixing, as with paint, ink, or other pigments or dyes, has magenta, cyan, and yellow as its primaries. As colors are combined, wavelengths of light are absorbed by each of them, and subtracted from the mix. Less light is reflected, the combined colors get darker, and if all three primaries are mixed in the correct proportions, the result approaches black. With additive mixing, as on a computer monitor or other illuminated screen, the primaries are red, green, and blue. When these colors of light are combined together, the wavelengths are added to each other: more light, and the color gets brighter and approaches white.

Different sources vary in their use of the words "secondary" and "tertiary" to describe colors. According to some systems, the secondary colors are defined as only the ones which combine two primaries in equal proportion—those which fall exactly half-way between the primaries on a color wheel. Therefore there are only three secondary colors, and the tertiary colors are all the rest of the hues around the circumference of the color wheel, with maximum saturation. Colors with added white or black are called tints or shades.

The other way to define secondary and tertiary is that secondary colors combine two primaries, while tertiaries combine all three. The resulting color depends on the proportion of each primary, and can range from almost complete saturation to quite neutral. I find this second system more useful, mainly because it seems more descriptive of how the color-mixing process works. It means that when I'm adjusting the coloring of a fractal, and maybe it seems too bright and harsh, I know that I can desaturate it to take the edge off a little. And desaturating a color can be as simple as adding more of whichever primary there's the least of.

Anyway, the point of all this digression is that if I'm talking about a secondary color, it means one that's composed of only two primaries and is completely saturated, and not just one of the three in-between hues.

So, given all this color stuff, I'm going to find a nice eye-sucking spiral and blow its mind. Here's a good one, from the Julia set with seed (-0.732261, 0.225087).

There's something about this that reminds me of certain kinds of neo-baroque wallpaper. A bit stuffy, perhaps. But not to worry! Just eat/drink/sniff/snort/dissolve-under-the-tongue/otherwise ingest this. Zowie.

Ouch. My eyeballs feel funny. Can we mellow it out a little?

Hm. Well, maybe it has a little bit of a Peter Max vibe. "It looks like kindergarten," says my (relatively sober) outside observer. And that's a reasonable observation, because what's going on here is that the colors are very simple and unsophisticated. Absolutely pure primaries and secondaries are the quickest way to make something look like a blacklight poster. But it's a pretty cheap trick, and lacks any subtlety. I plan to remedy that tomorrow, after the walls stop pulsing and oozing like that.

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