Life is not

Life is not for the rich and famous
for the successful applicant and the olympic few
Life is in the eye and the mind and the hand
It needs no permission,
or conditions
to be.

We can all be like Sindbad
and set off on voyages with nothing but today
We do not need to own the ocean
it is enough that we are here
 

“Better” than Pollock?

Back twenty years ago in high school English class I read or studied, or something, Julius Caesar by George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw, as he is called by those who are familiar with him, was something new for us high school students. We were quite familiar with Shakespeare as the school curriculum included one of his plays every year, like some sort of literary vitamin pill.

There are a lot of great literary things to be found in Shakespeare. Like dill pickles, it’s an aquired taste, and five plays in five years wasn’t enough for me. I came to view Shakespeare’s lofty reputation as an exaggeration, the “official playright” of an imperial nation wanting to present themselves as the possessors of an old and well established, and uniquely English, culture of arts and letters.

The year before Shaw’s Julius Caesar, we had been chained to our desks and deprived of the necessities of life until we finished reading, or pretending to read, Anthony and Cleopatra by that great playright, “the Bard.”

In introducing Shaw’s play, the teacher kept repeating (you have to do that a lot in high school English classes) how this play by Shaw presents some of the historical events found in Anthony and Cleopatra in a more historically accurate context.

Oh yes. I opened the book and saw the many scholarly primary sources that Shaw had exhaustively studied in order to begin writing his definitive play about Julius Caesar. It was shameless name dropping of classical historians. I didn’t like this guy any more than Shakespeare.

Jumping to the back of the book, where the publishers add in all sorts of extra stuff, like commentary and analysis of the play by eminent authorities, I began to see the old bearded Shaw in shockingly different light.

“Better Than Shakespeare?” was the title of an essay about Shaw’s play written by the Shaw himself! Wasn’t it blasphemy to consider someone else greater than Shakespeare? And then to say it about yourself, that was even worse, assuming of course there was even space below such already depraved behaviour to sink even further.

All of a sudden I liked Shaw. He’s Irish (the teacher repeated that a lot too) and apparently back then, maybe even now too, he was something of an outsider and not supposed to knock revered English writers off their marble pedestals.

To some of the English it was an embarrasment to have the historical absurdities of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra pointed out, and particulary by an Irishman. But then Shaw went one painful step further and corrected Shakespeare’s mistakes by writing his own revised version of the events in his own play, Julius Caesar. Perhaps Shaw was thinking we could now throw Shakespeare’s old play away and use his new and improved one in it’s place?

I really didn’t like Shaw’s play much. Too “didactic” or teachy. You’d think it was intentionally written for a high school English class to study. But I liked his irreverent sense of humour. He should of stuck to making fun of the establishment instead of trying to become one of them.
 

The Robot’s Renaissance

Although most labels in the art world have a number of interpretations, I define algorithmic art as artwork made with algorithms. An algorithm is a series of instructions.

Usually these instructions are computer commands and algorithmic art is made with computers. But it’s the “mechanical” component that makes algorithmic art special and the machine doesn’t necesarily have to be a computer.

Fractal art is a type of algorithimic art. The algorithms are primarily the fractal formulas but also the other programming components which contribute to appearance of the generated image.

Although purists would say true algorithmic art has no human modifications to it or any other human contibution (except creating the algorithm or operating the machine, of course), such a strict approach rarely works.

A small amount of human guidance yields enormous profits in the creation of algorithmic art. In fractal art this guidance comes in the form of adjusting coloring effects or choosing what part of the image to display, or adding layers, or any other arbitrary decisions that interrupt or alter the process of image generation.

Although randomly chosen parameter settings could theoretically reproduce all the adjustments made by a skilled fractal artist, I have never seen any examples of such mechanically made fractal art (ie. having a skilled appearance).

So algorithmic art (if you accept my non-purist definition) is primarily a collaboration between artists and machines. The more decisions the artist makes, the less mechanical the artwork is. The less involved the artist is with the process, then the more mechanical it is.

The machine becomes just another tool when complex layering and coloring are involved, similar to a brush in the hand of a painter… Digital brush, Digital canvas –Digital da Vinci.

But when the machine is elevated to the lofty status of “Giver of Art”, “Oh, Silicon One”… It’s every graphic utterance received with rejoicing and exultation… The artist reduced to a selfless slave, a lever pulling worm toiling in the shadow of The Great Mechanical Meta-Marvelous Master of Algorithmic Awe-Wonder

Well, that’s different.

I need to clean out my browser bookmarks. I accidently clicked on some old thing anonymously titled Main Menu, Algorithmic Art.

Richard Nixon once said that the reason people go to hear politicians speak is not to find out what they’re going to do if they get elected, but to find out, “What makes this guy tick?” We’re all curious about people and why they do what they do.

Honestly, I could never figure out what this guy saw in his own work. Why the excitement?

He’s got a pen or marker attached to a drafting plotter that draws the results of some algorithm. It’s nowhere near as interesting as even a simple mandelbrot formula would be. Has he never heard of fractals?

This second visit to his website, after a space of about a year, left me with a different impression. I think I know what makes this guy tick, now.

Look at the presentation of his, uh, simple images: Artwork framed alongside -and giving equal space to- the binary code of the algorithm that made them. The 0’s and 1’s starting and ending with a short strip of gold leaf!

I was touched by his reverence for the machine and I felt ashamed of the insulting things I had once thought about his work.

He’s not ashamed of the mechanical roots of his artwork. In fact, he seems to see it as something to be admired, as if binary code could almost be beautiful all on it’s own. Just like some architects who allow a building’s stuctural components, like iron girders and concrete pillars, to be exposed as elements of style, having their own massive and mechanical, primitive charm.
 

Cult of the Microbe King

Who would have thought this humble pest would someday take a seat beside the likes of David Copperfield or Martin Chuzzlewit, as The King of the Microbes.

One of the most startling events for fans of Charles Dickens this past year has been the recent discovery of an unpublished manuscript, The King of the Microbes. It’s authorship is still controversial, due to it’s peculiar subject matter, but some scholars say it’s nothing new, and argue that Dickens made numerous references to it in his diaries and letters although, until now, everyone assumed it never became more than just an idea.

Published for the first time after being written over a hundred years ago, Charles Dickens’ strangest work has become an instant cult classic.

A noted scholar on Dickens’ work has responded with total disbelief, “Charles Dickens never wrote anything remotely like this sort of science fiction novel. They didn’t even know about microbes when he was alive. It’s ridiculous, not even one of his contemporaries could have written it.”

Tracing the life of Jim, a microbe, the novel describes his impoverished beginnings and subsequent separation from his family at the tender age of 8, when he’s sent to a large industrial center to earn money to help support his family back home.

Exploited by the factory owners and earning nothing but a meager ration of gruel each day for his work, Jim uses his organizational talents and sincere charm to lead a labour revolt that eventually grows into something of a revolution ending with him being crowned as their king.

Standard Oliver Twistian fare, excusing the revolutionary theme, but this all takes place on the microscopic level and there’s none of the happy, plump and playfully named humans which the readers of other works by Charles Dickens would expect. In fact, there aren’t any people at all, and his best friend is named “Zorax.”

Download parameter file “crown09b.ink”

The prestigious Royal Institute for Victorian Literature said, “It’s obviously Dickens’ work. While he never actually quotes from it, he mentions a work, Microbe Town profusely in his diaries and letters, a few of which are to his publisher, who for some reason seems uninterested in it. Perhaps it wasn’t finished, although most of Dickens’ works were originally published as a continuous series of magazine installments. I rather suspect Dickens was uncomfortable with it and died before he could make up his mind to have it published.”

Still only available in hard cover, and elaborately illustrated, The King of the Microbes has completely sold out it’s first, and rather short, printing run. Copyright issues have blocked publication in the United States as the estate of Charles Dickens has said that since the manuscript was never published, it’s not in the public domain yet, unlike the rest of Dickens’ work, and therefore they still hold the copyright.

Borderbooks, a U.S. publishing house in New York, says it intends to publish the work since they say they have an exclusive contract with someone they claim to be the real, and currently “living” author. The real “Charles Dickens” who wrote the book they say is an american who uses “Charles Dickens” as a pen name and was something of a drifter who previously worked as a microbiologist and has been an avid fan of the original victorian writer all his life.

This american microbiologist apparently was intrigued by the references the original Dickens made to the unknown work, Microbe Town, and set out to write the novel that he thought the real Dickens would have made.

The mysterious writer has so far been unavailable for comment and, according to his publisher, was last seen “dressed up like the Ghost of Christmas Past on a motorcycle he bought with his advance money, seriously drunk, and intending to head out to California, with a surf board tied to the back rest of his motorcycle and promising to write a sequel along the way that he’d drop in the mail when he got there…”

Alright. That’s too much. I should have stopped before I got to the motorcycle, or the drifter.

Anyhow, I thought these processed Inkblot Kaos images would fit in just perfectly with such a novel, The King of the Microbes. Should it ever be written. Or discovered. Or whatever.
 

He played the Balalaika

He played the Balalaika… then ate it!

I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I clapped.

He wasn’t finished yet.

Everyone in the alien dinner theater scowled at me while he started again, from the beginning.

I couldn’t see why this guy was such a big celebrity on this planet.

Until he started to sing. It was the most amazing performance I’d ever heard.

But the local aliens at my table weren’t too impressed. “Anyone with two heads can sing harmony like that,” they muttered.
 

Electro Sine Trap Tentacles of Terror

It’s been ages now since ants took over the Earth, but they still enjoy reliving the old battles.

“One small step for an ant, one giant leap for all insects.” Conquering the humans was the defining moment in the civilization of the ants.

When they read what we wrote about them in textbooks, they weren’t insulted. “Look how the mighty have fallen!” they roared with joy.

Every year on Veteran’s Day (for ants) they re-enact the great battles and tell their children and grandchildren about the Revolution.

“Son, the history books will tell you that the 214th Leaf Cutter Division captured Washington. But by the time they got there it was just me and few other guys. Beat but not beaten.”

“Just me, a few guys and our Electro Sine Trap Tentacles of Terror!

“Boy, tell your children and your grandchildren, if the humans ever come back from their holes in the ground, just let ’em have it with the Electro Sine Trap Tentacles of Terror. Those babies will fry ’em where they stand!”
 

I walked with Warhol

Hey, how about it? Is this the Campbell Soup Cans of fractals or what?

Anyhow, Andy told me, and no one else knows this, that he’s taken all his talent and everything he’s ever learned about art and put it into a single photoshop filter.

And he gave it to me, on a diskette.

I’d post it for download, but I promised I wouldn’t, or else I’d lose all my super-powers.

A long time ago when I was in university I wanted to learn Spanish because I was going to go to Mexico for two months in the summer. Being exceptionally lazy when it comes to learning languages, or anything else mathematical, I checked out, started to study, and gave up on, a number of Spanish grammars.

I was in the public library looking for a different kind of Spanish textbook when I found a hardcover one with no dust jacket from the 1950’s illustrated with small line art drawings. Each little ink sketch was signed, “A. Warhola.”

I laughed. It had to be Andy Warhol. In fact, I figured he was a little embarassed with putting his real name on these trivial illustrations so he contemptously wrote his last name “Warhola.”

Years later, when I began to read about things, I was surprised to find out that Warhola was actually his real name from the beginning, and he dropped the “a” off the end later on so it wouldn’t sound so…

I never finished reading the book about Andy Warhol. I don’t know what the reason was. A lot of people have altered their names to make them sound more or less of something. I’ll bet there’s even been someone with the last name Warhol who’s added an “a” and changed it to Warhola.

Here’s the original before “warholization” occurred, made in Inkblot Kaos.

Download parameter file “fan23.ink”

Which is better? The Warhol or the Warhola?

Actually, the effect is just the uscomic.8bf thing with the darkness slider moved to the lighter end of the range, the image inverted and the hue moved about half way around the spectrum. But maybe that’s all Andy Warhol ever did when he made his famous stuff.

Of course he would have had to do it the hard, old-fashioned way.
 

The other machine

It sits there, quietly. Unused but waiting.

Sometimes while working on the fractal machine, I look over at it. Our eyes meet. I say nothing and return to the fractal machine.

Before I discovered fractals my hobby was making seamless background tiles and web graphics in my graphics progam.

I made thousands, maybe ten thousand tiles. It was a lot of fun taking any kind of image and working it over with filters and effects then hitting the “make seamless” filter.

I used the GIMP because it’s the most graphics program you can get for free. Photoshop probably has more capabilities but I couldn’t justify paying that much for something that was just a hobby.

I’m not trying to boast or anything, but when you make ten thousand unique background tiles over the course of three years, working for a couple of hours every evening, you aquire some familiarity with your graphics machine. If I had practiced the piano or guitar that much, I’d be a reasonably good musician. Anyone would be.

But then I discovered fractals and the effect of the seamless filter didn’t “become” them. I made one seamless fractal tile early on, and despite many hours of subsequent work, couldn’t make another that looked appealing.

So with the arrival of my fractal machine…. dust settled on my graphics machine.

Occasionally I sparked it up to make some web graphics to accompany my new (and ever-expanding) fractal gallery. Sometimes I would embark on a weeklong binge of “tinting” old photos I got off the internet (public domain).

I never fed one of my pristine fractals into the titanium teeth of my graphics machine, ever. Never. Stop it! Stop looking at her like that! You filthy graphics program!!!

It wasn’t for any ideological reason, like I was against “post-processing” or anything like that. It was just that the fractal programs I was using, Sterlingware and Xaos, produced such wonderful images on their own that I didn’t see any use in adding a second machine to the process.

Also, the process of creating fractals was a very complicated one and meant that you needed to see the results of any parameter adjustments right away and then make changes to the basic image (zoom in or out). All I could do in a graphics program would be to add graphical effects to a single image. If it didn’t produce anything worthwhile, all I could do is go back to the fractal machine and start over again.

Xaos actually incorporates two styles of edge-detection within the program, and good, random palette generation. And what could my coal-burning graphics factory add to the refined imagery made on a fractal Stradivarius like Sterlingware?

Nothing but crude effects and general graphical graffitti.

But things change. I changed. My fractals changed. I went from making super-crisp photorealistic images in Sterlingware to making flatter, more abstract, silk-screen like images.

My fractals started to look more like the “tinted” or post-processed photographs that I liked to make. I was getting closer to producing the same type of imagery with two different machines.

Maybe I could process a fractal image the same way I processed a photographic one? If I could turn an old National Wildlife Service photo of the desert into a glowing green moonscape, maybe I could put a fractal “photo” into a similar orbit?


A dull, ho-hum, recycle-bin grade fractal
Should have been anti-aliased, but who cares?


Whoa! Beam me up Scotty!
It’s the..
Alien Portal to the 4th Dimension!

I resized it up to 400×200; reduced the palette to 8 colors with a dithering thing; applied the “oil painting” filter; and then took the rest of the week off.

Some times it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, it’s like turning straw into gold. And if that happens often enough, it’s worth the extra time jolting, zapping and irradiating a fractal …in the other machine.
 

Tugando: the dancing fractal bear

Download parameter file “bear01.loo”

Where is the music? What is the music?

It must be jumpy and fast; look at the way he’s dancing.

Check out the shoes: He’s a stylish fellow.

And that strange flowing white stripe, like a flame, a scarf unfurling from his brain.

Hey, he’s got two heads.

Cool.

In another place,
in another plane,
he would not be a bear

He would be some royal seal
an emblem, rich and strong
glowing with tradition and history,
and dignity that never really was

I’d better leave now,
Both his heads are looking at me.
And the music has stopped.