In the 21st century, in the age of self-publishing and the immediacy of information spread, being an artist is –or so it seems to me– more a matter of attitude, self-esteem and passion for public projection or self-promotion (or should I say personal marketing?), rather than a natural or trained disposition to excel in producing artifacts that may be regarded as appealing to both maker and public (in that order). It also seems to be a distinction, for the most part, bestowed upon oneself, rather than a recognition granted by someone else based upon some mastery, talent or ability towards the production of objects distinguishable for their aesthetic or communicative worth.
(Of course, this is just my personal appreciation on the matter and not a scientifically-proven fact.)
Even though the dictionary definition (pick your favorite) states an artist is someone that is proficient in one of the arts (and by “proficient” it is expected to mean something like “fully skilled”), it seems to me the motto merely requires two things: someone that can produce something that “speaks” to at least one of the senses –the level of emotional stimulation varying greatly–, as well as a disposition to promote said result among a more general, and perhaps, like-minded audience.
Today’s artists have mass media and social networks to freely and quickly position themselves through self-exposure –most of the time– or a close-knit net of sympathizers acting as a point of dissemination. Critic or peer review filtration is not as necessary as –it seemed to be– in the past. That may be why there seems to be so many of them as of late.
I don’t say all of these in a negative way. I actually mean that mass communication has widened the membership status of a once selective club to a broader group that have decided to become art makers instead of simply art consumers, or onlookers. And we have to thank technology for letting creativity be more open-minded, bypassing the exclusiveness of the few –the masters of old–, and letting the public choose more freely what actually appeals to them. Art has become, in a sense, more democratic (and perhaps as well more anarchic?), and so too has happened with whom we consider an artist.
Fractal explorers –sometimes self-identified as fractalists– are among those self-proclaimed and self-promoting artists that the digital age have nurtured, and they too long for recognition. And I don’t think that’s been merely a means to fuel personal egos, but probably a behavior aimed to elevate this trade, the art of deciphering fractal pictures, to the ranks of the admirable visual arts. Yet, as a class, there has been some kind of self-sustained inferiority complex going on for many years. For instance, take these quotes from two well-known fractal art-related documents:
Fractal Art is a subclass of two dimensional visual art, and is in many respects similar to photography—another art form which was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. (Kerry Mitchell, The Fractal Art Manifesto, 1999)
We sometimes have difficulty being included in art shows or in selling our work; we’re not always taken seriously, so to speak. We are treated as dabblers, pretenders, rather than as artists expressing ourselves through a new (relatively unexplored) medium. (Damien Jones, Of Fractals and Art, circa 1999)
Mitchell and Jones, almost 20 years ago (during the late 1990s’ boom of fractal image creation), used to be two of the most voiced and self-proclaimed fractal artists that, while having mastered the skills of the new computerized age, recognized the opinion of digital art detractors regarding their pictures. Others, such as Tim Hodkinson, himself a fractal explorer, have been more analytical about the subject, openly questioning the artistic dimension of fractal “art” in many of his writings (see the links at the end of this page for some of his posts).
Indeed, fractal art, as all other forms of computer-generated art, has encountered some resistance from the established, traditional crowd who seeks in its own forms an opinionated justification to, perhaps, maintain the status quo (or has it been the role of art critics?). And worse still, it has also had to face quarrels from inside claques that have tried to seek recognition by trampling upon those that they deem simply craftsmen.
Naturally, even if fractal pictures were to be considered an undisputed art form, not all fractal artists –if any– would gain wide acclaim (the same is valid for photographers or painters or actors: some do, some do not), but is that reason enough to automatically demote the collective as a whole? As most “occult” practitioners of the arts, fractalists are used to work from closed quarters, away from the public eye. (Maybe that’s the reason why people involved in the performing arts, conditioned to public exposure, gain celebrity status faster than the others, who usually maintain a more shy or behind-the-scenes profile overall.) On the other hand, should we use such a status –calling someone an artist– to validate an expression as being art?
Anyway, if fractal explorers, as a class, believe in what they do and are convinced it deserves the praise of the masses, chances are a handful of the billions of people inhabiting this world will be in the disposition to agree with them at some point. Channels for that abound. A specific audience is all it takes to instil our neurons with the necessary stimuli that may eventually lead to aesthetic gratification. If someone, anyone, achieves that through his or her work, then I think we may have a true artist.
(In any event, I think it’s the audience who ultimately decides the worth of an artist and of the fruits of his or her genius.)