Gothic V

Recently, there was a posting in the newsgroup that tried to validate the artistic side of fractal images by comparing them to photography. This idea is not new but a recurring theme in the newsgroup as well as in some other fractal-related sites and mailing lists. The message stated that fractal pictures are closer to photography than to imaginative art. While I agree with its two general ideas, disagreement flourishes when examining the implications, however the good intention of the author.

In that assumption, the message extracted (or at best diminished) from both photography and fractals a very important element for their consideration as art forms: imagination. I will expand this thought to specify that:

  • There are fractal images worth considering artworks.
  • The creation of a fractal picture is similar to the process of taking a photograph, in the sense that we are just making an impression of something that exist on its own and not creating it. (Obviate at this moment the philosophical discussion that could be brought forth from that last assertion).

If fractals are art, then, they need to be imaginative also, for imagination is a key element for anything to be considered a work of art. Fractals in themselves are not art, as a beautiful sunset is not so either. A sunset (part of the natural world) becomes art when it is transferred, for example, into a painting or a photograph; that is to say, when it is imprinted into a manmade medium. Thus, art as we understand it is manmade. In our craft, the computer is just the tool that makes possible that a mathematical expression that lingers in the fantastic realm of complex numbers be transported and converted into a visual (digitally) representation of what otherwise would remain hidden from our view.

When we talk about fractals as an art form, we are not referring to the formula or the plain graphical representation of all the numbers belonging to the Mandelbrot set, for example, but to an aesthetically enhanced version of the natural form. This set is defined as the set of all c (c being a complex number) such that iterating z(n+1) = zn2 + c, starting with z = 0, does not go to infinity. By assigning colors to each point that goes to infinity, according to how many calculations are necessary, we convert the graph into an admirable picture. If it weren’t for the extra enhancements, a fractal’s picture would be as unattractive and ordinary (but not necessarily uninteresting) as plotting the results of a more simple equation into a chart.

There is another important consideration to be made: When we create a picture of a fractal, sometimes we do so with the intention of making it a work of art, not simply to get a record of it. Unlike a picture we take to function as evidence of an event –so we can keep a fresher memory of it–, any image conceived as art is intentionally worked out by means of careful control of the input in order to produce a desired output. That is valid for photography, fractal pictures, painting or anything else that could be classified as art.

It does not take imagination to make a fractal (as the message stated), if we think of it as a computer-generated representation of a mathematical entity produced by calculations. But it does take imagination to make a fractal image an artistic rendering. One thing is to click a button and wait for a figure to appear in our computer screens; another, to take that same image, select an area that, to begin with, catches our imagination, and color it (plus all other adjustments employed in the beautifying process) to give it that special appeal that turns it into a work of art.

Another simple routine to know if a fractal image (or any other visual-dependent human creation, as a matter of fact) is a work of art is to examine if, when we look at it, it causes in us some response. If it stands on indifference, then it has failed to provoke any effect on the observer, a recognition that may level it from commonness. In that case, it may not be art. If the contrary occurs, then we’re definitely looking at an imaginative piece that merges originality, talent, skills and well-applied technique into a fresh and worth-admiring composition.

We have to admit that there is a high degree of randomness in the generation of a fractal image. That is what usually raises the debate on whether they should be regarded as art or not. That is true… up to a point. Once when, in our ramblings, we find something that we deem interesting and worth developing, careful inspection and conscious control of variables displace arbitrariness. At that moment a fractal abandons the world of “simple” equation and begins its metamorphosis to art.
Every art form is imaginative; otherwise, there won’t be art at all.

Juan Luis Martínez-Guzmán
1999.06.07 (Monday)
last revision: 2017.01.03 (Tuesday)

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