Friday, November 27, 2009

Great works of art and the miserable books about them

Oh man, this horrible book. I keep wishing I could somehow just sum it up in a couple of pithy, brief paragraphs, but so far it hasn't worked. And the more energy I spend thinking about it, the less I bother to make pictures, so that it threatens to cut off my productivity altogether. (Although it has also gotten me away from the computer for a bit, so maybe that's not so bad.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No bulbs, just flat

Wow, I've finally finished reading Great Works of Art and What Makes Them Great. By the end it was more like skimming than reading, and even more like picking through a sticky heap of chicken entrails in hopes of reading someone's fortune. An unpleasant bunch of prose, especially when taken in large continuous doses. I definitely have one more installment to write about the book, but I'm taking a break from it for now.

There seems to be all sorts of excitement lately about the Mandelbulb formula. Lots of interesting pictures to look at. I tried one of the formulas myself, but my computer is way too old and slow for me to do any reasonable exploring. The eighth-power bulb pictures did make me curious about what an eighth-power regular old-fashioned Mandelbrot would be like, and since I've never done much messing with higher-power Mandelbrots I thought I'd have a look.

They're less immediately satisfying to zoom into the the standard power-two image. They're so dense with little seven-lobed minibrots that there's practically no room for them to develop the intricate patterns that you usually see. But by zooming fairly deeply, some interesting forms do appear.

untitled [mandel^8]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anarchy reigns in the world of art today*

After four semesters of art history classes, one of the biggest questions I had was "Wait a minute, what exactly was such a big deal about Modernism anyway?" We had looked at a fair number of the better-known Impressionist paintings, and proceeded from there through Matisse and Mondrian and Picasso and the usual famous names, and it all seemed like just a bunch of familiar, slightly dull stuff. More dates to memorize. The teacher was telling us that it was really earth-shaking and revolutionary, but since I'd been seeing these paintings reproduced on a million coffee mugs and tote bags and umbrellas my whole life, that didn't make any sense to me at all.

(Good heavens, the ludicrous verbosity of the book I've been reading seems to have rubbed off a bit. Let me see if I can put this behind a cut.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've finally had a chance to take a better look at the contest, and I find that I'm left feeling a little bit let down or disappointed. Not with any individual image, necessarily (although as several people have pointed out, a couple of them aren't even really fractal), but that this year's selections seem to be heavily weighted toward texture-fields and minimalism.

"So, which one was your favorite?"

"Oh, I liked that one that was textured all over, mostly orange and white, with just a little blue."

"Yeah, that was my favorite too. We'd better make sure it gets printed."

The thing is, out of twenty-five winners, do there really need to be three that fit this description?

With the more minimal ones, I mostly just wonder what advantage there is in printing them very large, since there's not particularly any new detail to be revealed. Graphically, they will no doubt be quite effective, but they seem to ignore the specific potential of fractals to be full of interesting surprises when magnified.

It's all gotten me started thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of fractals as a medium, and why I like them, which seems to be maybe different than why other people like them, and what the implications are for my own future work and the fractal-art world in general. It's too much for me to process! And it's all mixed up with a book I'm reading lately, written in the early 1920s and intended to explain why Modernism was (a) degenerate & evil and (b) doomed to be quickly forgotten. There seem to be some possible historical parallels, but I suspect it's going to take me some time to sort them out.

Still, it does reinforce my idea that it would be really good if there were more fractal events than just this occasional big contest. I'm beginning to wonder if I might be able to organize some kind of small-scale thing. It's an intimidating thought.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Less grit, more dissolve

One more, the same flavor.

untitled [glowing phoenix]

And the contest results have been posted, so there's a big pile of new pictures to look at. Hooray!

I really do wish there were more fractal events. Not huge major contests, necessarily, but some kind of regular checking-in kind of thing. I'm not sure what format I would want it to have; the main thing is that I like when there are a whole bunch of new pictures to look at all at once, and I would be glad if it happened more often. Every so often I go look at the fractal section at DeviantArt, but it's not sorted out very well, and I get tired of wading through all the anime sketches on scanned notebook paper. And I hate the site's graphic design, so I don't go there very often in any case.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hard gritty rainbows

I think a large part of the fascination with these grainy inside fractals is how difficult I find them. The Mandelbrot set, by now, is quite familiar: I've explored it very thoroughly, and learned a lot about how its patterns fit into each other. I know it well enough that I can fairly reliably navigate to any kind of pattern I decide to look for. With coloring methods, too, many of them have become familiar enough to be very precisely controlled, which is what allows me to make those literal, illustrative images that I still can't decide whether I like or not.

But these Nova insides are unknown territory, strange and foggy, and (at least so far) nearly impossible to get a grip on. Patterns stack up on top of each other, sliding in and out of focus as the maxiter changes. It's clear that they're following some kind of deeply-structured logic, but so far I haven't been able to understand it well enough to predict what it might do in any given spot.

So working with them is hard. And it turns out that I've been somehow craving something hard, something frustrating, something impossible to understand quickly. Maybe it's because I'm free of school. School was horrible in a whole bunch of ways, but it did at least give me a fair amount of hard stuff to bash at.

I have conversations with the Professor sometimes, usually around exam time, when his students are complaining bitterly that things are too hard. And I sympathize, except that when I'm only doing easy things, it's as though I can feel my brain cells shriveling up. Doing something hard helps keep me in shape, so that I don't turn into a sad dull boring person, full of complaints about how hard everything is.

With these two images, I'm trying to see if some of my comfortable, familiar techniques (like the three-layer spectra) can be used on any of these infuriating sandy fractals.

Dragon & Phoenix Soup

Chain Reaction

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Infinite exoskeletons

This is really a better Halloween image than yesterday's. It's all full of centipedes and crawly wriggly things.


I'm still wandering around the extra-relaxed, exponentially-smoothed insides; this one's a PhoenixDoubleNova. They're so incredibly full of detail that framing an image becomes very difficult. There's stuff everywhere, and in a lot of areas the density is fairly uniform, so there's nothing to act as a focal point. Not very many coloring methods work well on the insides of sets, either, so there aren't too many options for getting variety in the layers. It becomes more a matter of changing the gradient density and the maximum iterations, and then just a lot of exploring to find good places.

I seem to remember reading once that astronauts wanting to take pictures from space ran into similar difficulties. When you're in orbit around the earth, it doesn't matter which direction you point a camera, because there's always something spectacular. Foreground, background, everywhere, all around. Sometimes working with fractals feels that way too.