Recollections, part 2 – More old posts that are still relevant

This text in some old post of the old site (from June, 2010 I think!) was sort of a very old (and long! But necessary!) rant from a distant time where I was really unhappy with my own creative process and what I was experiencing with the so-called fractal community. It still makes a bit of sense to revisit it today and add some new elements like AI to the talk. I also found another post that is in the same theme, I’ll insert some of it here as well. Here we go (it was edited purely for context and update the themes mentioned):

Still somehow inspired by a post about the misunderstanding of what a fractal is and the wrong use of the word fractal and some stuff I read at the Orbit Trap blog (the link is from the Wayback Machine as I think this blog is now gone or at least the original page I’m quoting here is gone), I remembered about another subject that bothers me (here comes another long rant!).

While checking for fractal links at Google (back then, when this post was originally written), I noticed that a lot of the current examples of fractals seemed to be related to Apophysis and its own kind of fractal, the “flame” fractals, which was the latest trend back then. OK, they are still fractals, but what happened to the “classic” images of Mandelbrots and Julias (or Newtons or IFs, and so many others)?

The easyness of use of Apophysis is kind of responsible for this I guess (not that it’s a bad thing – more on that later), along with this new generation of computer users that are more used to point and click and get faster results (even more noticeable nowadays with the social media apps) than to fiddle with command line controls or weird looking windows and forms with data that must be filled for things to work. Many of the old-school fractal generators and even some modern ones, those that also focus somehow in the scientific side of fractals as much as on the graphical aspects of a fractal are sometimes quite hard to understand and use. A good example is FractInt. Another more recent one is Mandelbulber and Mandelbulb 3D. FractInt, from the good old DOS days, is an amazing fractal creating tool, but it’s quite hard to be deciphered and also quite limited in resources, if you want to get past its basic images and find where the real fun is (hahaha!). Some of its features and settings are meant to be used with really old computers (like “enabling a co-processor”… who needs that or knows what it is nowadays?) and these extra details kind of clutter and deviate the learning curve of the software to a new user. Mandelbulb 3D for example – now an opposite situation, it’s incredibly more complex and powerful than FractInt – have a zillion commands and options that are quite hard to understand even for some experienced fractal creators (like me?) and one might not even get the whole potential of the software. With Apophysis, you can just “point and click” and with some luck you can get some decent images without too much tweaking or understanding what should be changed to make it look a little better. Install some plugins and there you go, some quite nice images in seconds!

One thing that I’ve noticed the most when I started in the fractal world was that everything that was made with the help of a computer – and help is really the key word here –  was placed in the same bag labelled “digital art”, and a wrong idea was passed along that there is no involvement whatsoever from the “digital artists” in the creation of these images, therefore… there couldn’t be art without an artist, so it was not a valid form of art because “it was the computer that made it!” (sic). And a computer isn’t an artist, it’s a machine, and the work was done by the computer, they said. This is not entirely true, though. A computer needs you, the artist, to make these images. It’s with your input that these artworks are created. Except in a few cases with the AI added to the process…

At Orbit Trap they also talk about these new art works and images in another way, they seem to be a bit upset with the fact that there is a lot of so-called fractal art around nowadays, art that uses fractals in some way, which is actually good but there’s a few images of just fractals, images that also are art in their own way (should or can we call them fractal art, instead of digital art?), without the need to be enhanced by anything else to prove anything or stand out. Pretty fractal images that beside (and despite) having a certain artistical meaning (on purpose or not), can also be “pure” fractals, and  these are part of the more classical kind of fractal art you will ever find and are as good looking as any of these new and modern Apophysis images or these mixed images (compositions with fractals and many other softwares) very popular at Renderosity and Deviant Art. Today there’s still a lot of mixed images – not that they aren’t some form of art – that are called plainly fractals (they aren’t, they are digital art that use fractals!) just because they have one fractal characteristic to them (self-simmetry, etc) or have some basic fractal-like element in their images but the image is clearly some form of a 3D composition or some image edited in Photoshop.

What annoys me about these trendy apps that create “fractals” in seconds is that it’s perfectly possible as I’ve said before to make a batch of images in say Apophysis without any additional effort or involvement from the artist and occasionally get some nice artistic composition, just by random clicking things here and there, and this makes a lot of difference in my opinion between things like creating a fractal with random clicks and presets and creating a fractal that is also an artistical element, an artwork.

Even the slightest change in a colour shade, for example, already implies an artistical involvement, it’s not just the machine working and making “art” on its own, as it happens a lot with this new trend 15 years later, the AI. This is what makes the difference. At the same time, using this same way of thinking I think I should say that, to me at least, it doesn’t need to be “complicated” in terms of computer processing or take years to be finished to be considered art nor it needs to be made just with Assembly command lines to be considered a fractal. You don’t have to spend hours retouching and fine-tuning your favourite fractals for them to be considered art, though (although at times these adjustments are just part of the fun – holes need to be covered, colours need to be changed, etc.). It’s not because it was made in a DOS software that it’s not enjoyable. It’s not because it was retouched in Photoshop that it’s not art either (or that it’s not a fractal anymore – it still is, or it was at least depending on how far it’s modified by the touch-ups). It doesn’t need to have 100 layers in Photoshop (or in UF or other fractal softwares that also have some kind of image editing tools) either to look “acceptable”. Art is just art, you’ll know when you find it or make your own without this “mass production” feel.

The vast majority of these newer images look to me like that they never had any kind of that involvement of its creator (aka “the artist”), except for picking up those that call your attention faster in that batch – the so called “eye-candy” images, those that will generate more likes in a social media app. With that, the quality gets lowered not because these mass-produced and mechanically made images don’t have some quality (they do, occasionally), but because thousands of similar looking images appear everywhere, with hundreds of these now called “artists” posting these images in their blogs or at Deviant or on social media. And to make things even worse, we now have these AI tools. I’ve seen some horrible “fractal” images made with these tools. They all look the same, they don’t have any uniqueness to them – the artist’s touch. There are exceptions of course, but not all the time. There’s no artist interference in the AI process, in a lot of situations. It’s like a “randomize” button of a software, but much worse. If AI is used to help you with some tasks, I think it’s fairly acceptable. But if it’s the AI that does all the job start to finish, no thanks, I’ll pass.

With this easiness of use, the interest in using the more complicated fractal generators was a bit lost (they aren’t complicated, perhaps a little less user-friendly until you learn how they work) and also what was lost is the ability to make fractal (and fractal art) from their basics, by altering some parameters of the formulas and understanding what these mean even if it’s just visually (and therefore, artistically) and not in a mathematical sense.

With all that, the old fractals are starting to disappear, or at least are less seen, mostly related to art and these new “fractals” are taking their places. You barely see images that call themselves fractal art that use old-school Mandelbrots, Julias, Newtons, IFs… these images seem to appear more often when they are needed to illustrate some fractal/geometry concept than when in an artistical context. It’s a pity, because there is still a lot to get from these old friends. You can and should embrace the future and new technologies, but don’t forget the past, where it all started. Maybe this is why I’ve decided to restart the site from the FractInt images?

Part 2 (from another post after the previous one)

Many thanks to the guys at Orbit Trap for having quoted my opinions, to slightly discuss them and more, and to understand them perfectly. I’m more than anything learning to be honest with my own feelings (artistically and in everything else) so whatever I’ve said here about my disappointments with fractal stuff in general that was repercuted by Orbit Trap is absolutely true. Whenever I say I am (currently) hating Apophysis for example, I really do. But I’m hating the DeviantArt kind of Apophysis – the mass-produced, randomized thing.

I don’t have any personal or commercial links to any of these people mentioned (from the evil or the good side of the force) so I just said what happened to me and my creative process during all these years and how following the self-similarity flock mimicking their work and style was making me a worse artist and making me extremely bored. It made me quit making new images for years, if not a whole decade. All the images I have discarded and deleted and won’t be posting anymore (even the parameter files were deleted) are from that period, where I was being negatively influenced by these “trends” and the final results were awful. And I think I could only understand what was going on when I read these posts at Orbit trap pointing me to some obvious things that most people (comfortably) refuse to see, better still have your comment box filled with friends’s pats on the back than making something you’re enjoying.

I might be touching some sensitive fields now I guess trying the Mandelbulb images and I’m starting to like them a lot despite hating them at first (as they seem to be the latest hit of the moment), it can be controversial, as I said I hate these trends taking the places of some still useful “old” tools. Even a few years later after its creation, when I really got interested in MB3D, there isn’t a gigantic community or group dedicated to that neither too many useful tutorials outside of the common corporate fractal galleries, which I try as much as possible not to read unless i’m looking for a fix for a problem or a tutorial, this way I am a bit “isolated” from whatever kind of “style trend” in Mandelbulbs that might be the hit of the moment so far and I’m very pleased with the images I’m making almost on my own. I see a lot of posts mentioning “whipped cream”, “cathedrals” etc. etc. but I have no idea how to do that nor do I want to do that kind of thing intentionally. Are these images (sometimes) gorgeous? Of course! I’m using Mandelbulb 3D just like when I first started Fractint: using my instinct. I liked what I did? OK, I’ll save and post. I didn’t like it? Let’s start again. If someone else likes it, great. If not, great as well. No presets, no cheating. But I’m not a trendsetter follower.