It is possible, if one peels back enough layers, to find the memory of the wall; how the wall once appeared in the human mind.

It is almost always quite different than the wall you think you are looking at today. It’s darker, a little dim to see — and quieter.

All other layers contain sound, but the memories of the wall are always silent. Perhaps the mind could not remember what the wall looked like and also capture the sounds around it at the same time.

Memories of the wall, as you can see, are smooth but the sounds are smoothest of all. The light whispers, but the sound is dark. Try to touch it — you hear nothing.

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Geomo de la Fyre

Fyre embedded parameter file

Lately I’ve begun to seriously question whether using the term, “abstract” to describe any piece of artwork can be realistically used. I think the term abstract is itself an abstraction and is hopelessly inseparable from the world of realistic forms and imagery.

I think abstract is another way of depicting reality, that is, real things. It’s because our minds instinctively try to interpret all visual experience in realistic terms. Abstract becomes real in our eyes.

We ought to speak of “abstraction” then, because our minds refuse to think in any language other than that of real objects. Abstract is a style or type of realism; a minimalized style, transforming real things and commonly representing them in a simplified way.

The other end of the “abstract” spectrum — the opposite of simplification — is the excessive detail of chaotic imagery. It doesn’t look “realistic” but our minds translate such things so quickly that it soon becomes “something”. Jackson Pollock’s famous (notorious?) drip painting come to mind.

Fyre embedded parameter file

Maybe that’s it; abstract art is suggestive, and therefore keeps triggering matches from our mental database of real imagery. We’ve all just seen too much of reality to go back to looking at even a blank canvas or a simple square without seeing it as a variation of something we’ve already seen in the real world.

Fractal art is an excellent example of this; fractal art often “looks like” real things and is almost always named after something real — like it was a perfectly natural and obvious thing to do. Is it possible to look at a fractal image and not “see” something?

Some fractal imagery of course is obviously realistic as fractal patterns can be found in natural things (brocolli; the structure of trees; clouds…) so it’s not surprising with those fractal images that one sees something real. But I’m thinking that all fractal imagery is converted into real images regardless of how “unreal”, “non-representational” or abstract it may appear when analyzed.

Fyre embedded parameter file

Just as the state will appoint a lawyer to ensure that all defendants have representation in a court of law, our minds keep appointing realistic interpretations to represent “non-representational” artwork in the “court” of our minds. Abstract art never gets a chance to speak for itself.

Mark Rothko’s famous smudgy square images (also infamous? like Pollock) I always thought of as being windows in dim rooms (although very expressive windows). The smudgy outlines resemble clouds or muddy water; an archetypal sort of imagery if there ever was one. I find these things realistic, but just “stylized”, as if abstract was a style of rendering real things. In fact, take away the realistic qualities or interpretations and I think Rothko’s works lose all their effect, as does all abstract work.

The human mind just can’t handle abstract art.

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The Inner Workings of Walls

Fyre 1.0.1 embedded parameter file

Most have never looked beneath the surface of a wall, or even considered doing such a thing.

A wall is not seen as an object of substance, and therefore not thought of as having depth, or in this case — inner workings.

What walls do, cannot be explained merely on the basis of color and texture. Just like skin, which is “skin deep”, the smooth surface of a wall is deceptive and can easily suggest simple answers to all suggestions of deeper things.

People have often responded, perplexed, when asked, “what’s behind this wall?”

Fyre 1.0.1 embedded parameter file

Once, as a child, when I had measured the rooms of our house, I was intrigued by the discovery of what appeared to be (by implication of my measurements) an unexplained space in a wall. There was the fireplace, there was the bookcase, and now, here — the empty place.

Beneath all stairways, in every situation, without exception, there is a space. It’s as if the ascension of the stairway, like the acceleration of a rocket, requires something equal and opposite. When the design of the house was negotiated, the living room declared, “If you are going to leave my room and go upstairs to another room, then you will leave with me — your emptyness.” “Cursed are you above all constructions, stairway. For leading a man where he should not go, you will forever be half-useless and the haunt of spiders, a Tower of Babel in the DNA of every double-floored home.”

Fyre 1.0.1 embedded parameter file

Don’t be surprised.

Imagine what you thought the first time you looked under the hood of a car and saw — all those things. The car had done a pretty good job of hiding its inner workings. Perhaps you thought it just moved — all by itself.

Yes, and so it is with the inner workings of walls. The engine revealed. The machine unmasked.

Woven within white wind, we whispered; what wonder was worked with walls.

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Art Without an Audience

Fyre 1.0.1 embedded parameter file

When Orbit Trap was started, back in August of 2006, it had always been foremost in my mind that it would be a positive contribution to the fractal art world.

What does that mean?

To me it means that it would encourage the creation of exciting new artwork. “Exciting”? Exciting doesn’t need to be defined; we know what excitement is when it happens.

Some of the criticism that Orbit Trap has received, and that I have personally received, has lead me to think that many people in the fractal world misunderstand the function of criticism that Orbit Trap is performing.

I believe it all comes down to the role that criticism, and critics in particular, play in the world of art. Serious, meaningful, and sustained criticism is something that has been oddly lacking in the fractal art world. Perhaps because fractal art is still a relatively new art form? Or perhaps because criticism in the fractal world has often been met with harassment and punishing consequences?

Criticism is simply commentary. The word “criticism” has acquired a negative connotation in everyday speech, but I’m using the word in it’s traditional, neutral way, which simply implies any kind of feedback or discussion regardless of whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant. Criticism is merely talking “about” something.

Critics are people who comment on art. They may easily appear “opinionated” because commentary is, by it’s very nature, opinions. While critics have played an important, and at times, very influential role in the development of new artistic styles and types of art, I would say they are not very common, and for that reason, are a somewhat rare and unusual type of person. Most people are uncomfortable in giving criticism — ironically, even more uncomfortable than they are in actually receiving it.

Critics like to comment about art. Why? Well, for the same reason artists like to make art: quite simply, artistic passion. Commenting on art produces new ideas and perspectives and in consequence – new possibilities. Critics are just as interested in art as artists are. The roles are different, that’s all.

Critics help artists and viewers to see art differently – and in some cases to see art where people don’t see it at all. Artists like Jackson Pollock, who have had an enormous influence on the art world, would probably have had much less success if they were not “interpreted” and “explained” and introduced to the larger art audience by the thoughtful writing of art critics who saw something valuable in what they were doing.

So, in the world of art, criticism persists because art persists. Critics do not “get over it” just as artists do not “get over” making art.

Art without criticism is like seeing without thinking. It’s like art without an audience.

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Looking for Arrowheads

Made with Fyre 1.0.1. Embedded parameter file. Click, click, click, done.

I read once
about kids who would go looking
for arrowheads

I was a kid
so I went looking for arrowheads

The arrowheads
are in the ground
or just below the surface

The shaft of the arrow
is gone
and the feathers too
the guy who shot the arrow
is gone
but the stone, flint arrowhead
lives on

Flint is a stone
It doesn’t know
it’s an arrowhead

So it waits
the way a stone waits
stays sharp
stays covered

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Planes, Birds and Fish

Back in the early 90’s, I went through a 3 year phase when I wanted to become an airplane pilot. In addition to taking flight training in Ontario, Canada (where I live) I also “studied” in Phoenix, Arizona and Hoxie, Kansas where I took some cropdusting lessons.

During this time I became acquainted with some of the aviation “culture” including the juvenile, false bravado and machismo attitude of many pilots (particularly new ones). Aviation culture also included the habit of using the metaphor of birds to refer to airplanes.

I was never really comfortable with this bird analogy for planes, although, like birds, planes fly and planes have wings. Birds however, incorporate a lot of movement into flight unlike planes which are extremely rigid and also extremely smooth and streamlined — more like fish, fins and swimming than birds, wings and flying.

In fact, one sunny morning at the Scottsdale airport in Phoenix (it’s always sunny in Phoenix) I was doing my required “walk around” of the training aircraft and I decided to take a look at the underneath of the tail of the airplane. It was much like the smooth, curved underside to a fish, I thought. Isn’t an airplane really more like a fish or boat with wings?

In fact, “flying boat” amphibious aircraft require very little design modification to transfom them from what is a typical aircraft design. I suppose, of course, one could say the same thing about a duck — a floating bird — but that just emphasizes my point that aircraft are more like water creatures than air creatures (more like ducks than eagles).

Anyhow, I’m sure the bird metaphor for airplanes lives on, just as the James Bond mentality of many pilots probably does too, even though they’re both just as unnatural and out of place in the real world.

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Lookin’ Great in Two Thousand and Eight

It’s amazing how those two words, “Great” and “Eight” with such very different spellings can actually rhyme. And that’s the way it often is with webpage designs; it’s amazing what looks good together once you actually try it.

The Silent Star Award

Sometimes you have to see an example before you get inspired. For my current Fractal Beanstalk redesign (which may have changed, yet again, if you’re reading this from the archives a year from now) of white page with grey sidebars and black strip across the top, I was inspired by a WordPress template called, unsleepable designed by Ben Gray.

I didn’t use the actual template but just took the general design and color scheme. Yes, black, white and gray is a color scheme. I’d been of somewhat half a mind to do something with my old design which was all black with white text. It was great for images (the black page background), but the text being white “ink” on black “paper” never gave me a good feeling like plain old black text on a white page does.

Of course I’d tried similar simple greyscale designs before, but they just looked too boring although they really provided a nice neutral background that made the images in a blog posting stand out nicely. So I was very excited when I stumbled across Ben Gray’s, “unsleepable” design because it’s the sort of minimalist grayscale design I had always been trying to make.

What else…

The more I “blog” the less I care about what the layout or template of my blog looks like. All I really want is a design that doesn’t interfere with the postings — that doesn’t interfere with the blogging. The problem of course is that minimal designs are actually just as hard to make (good ones, that is) as complicated, ornate ones are.

Save yourself some time and effort and browse around the internet and steal something that looks good. That’s probably how all the good designs got started anyhow.

Thanks Ben. The lost sleep was worth it!

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Desert Roads and Mountain Lakes

Desert Roads

Back several month ago, I posted about a program called Fyre. As is often the case with new programs and new forms of algorithmic art, I quickly reached what I thought were its creative limits.

A recent comment on my blog asking for information on how the images from Fyre are made, re-kindled (ha, ha…) my interest in the program. I went looking for the Fyre website to see if it had the information needed (I avoid trying to explain mathematical processes). While there, I visited the official Fyre gallery on Flickr where I saw some very interesting images and asked myself, “How come I couldn’t make stuff like that?”.

One of the extremely smart and super-convenient aspects to Fyre is the incorporation of a parameter “file” in the meta information (hidden notes) of the images it saves. Open up any image saved from Fyre and you can rework it just as you can with the autosaved parameter files from some fractal programs (Inkblot Kaos, Tierazon…).

So I opened up some of the images from the Fyre flickr gallery and began to see how others had used the program and made these images that I hadn’t thought were possible. I then went further still, and began to experiment in many new directions by moving around any parameters that weren’t nailed to the floor or screamed when I touched them.

Mountain Lake

Fyre has harnessed what I would call one of the primary tools of algorithmic art: RANDOMNESS. Ctr+R instantly gets you an image formed by it’s randomly generated set of basic parameters modified by the users pre-set rendering options (exposure, gamma, type of gradient…). The human mind cannot think randomly and so is handicapped when it comes to competing with the randomly generated constructions of computer software.

Don’t feel bad about this handicap. The ability to be controlled by randomly generated instructions is a result of the weak ability, or complete lack of ability, of machines to think. Machines don’t have a brain and so it’s easy to make them do “machine tricks” like senseless, random behaviour. People, on the other hand, think too much and ironically this tends to make them behave more repetitively instead of more creatively.

Portrait of Sindbad

So what are we good for? Sorting the good ones out from the bad ones, which is something that will probably always be beyond a machine’s capability, art being the sort of difficult to define thing that it is. Push buttons. Slide sliders. Interpret error messages… there’s plenty of work for us, brain-encumbered, creatures to do.

And write blog postings. Can a machine ever write a blog posting? No way! It’s us, who control the machines and direct their development that alone can do that. We’re the ones who do the thinking and comment on the processes and principles. Speak your mind and we’ll all be enriched and improved by it. The re-education camps are a thing of the past now. It’s safe to speak out, comrades. The Great Leader has said so. Let a thousand fractal art postings blossom!

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I am Imbecile

I’ve really come to appreciate the great contribution that programmers make to the lives of us computer users, especially the ones who give their programs away, out of what I believe is just plain goodwill, and the joy of sharing their work with others.

I was working away with Fyre the other day and began to simultaneously praise it’s wonderful creativity and curse it’s lack of parameter files and the ability to do anti-aliasing.

Imagine my regret when I soon discovered how to save image parameters (so I could rework them later) and also to get rid of those revolting rough, jagged edges on curved shapes (ie. anti-aliasing – smoothing).

Not knowing much about how Fyre works (I think it’s an IFS, or flame thing, like Apophysis) I wasn’t exactly sure if it was even possible to save parameter files (the basic formula or underlying structures of the image). The menu options are pretty simple, although that also makes them easy to use, and I thought I’d tried them all.

While viewing a Fyre image in my image viewer, Konqueror, I suddenly saw it display some “meta” information that looked like all the variables used in forming an image. That looks just like a fractal parameter file, I thought, just a little shorter than usual -embedded in the png image file.

I knew jpgs could include information like a copyright notice, but I didn’t know pngs could. It’s just not an aspect of image files that I’ve ever had a need to use. I’d always wondered what the menu item, “Open Image” was for and so I opened my old image made in Fyre and instantly it was regenerated. I made some adjustments and was able to modify the image as if I had never stopped working with it. The saved png images contain the parameter information as meta information and all you have to do is reload the image to start working with it again. That’s pretty smart programming I think.

But the ugly jagged curves? I thought I would just have to do what I do with fractal programs that don’t have any built-in anti-aliasing: I would generate an image 2 or 4 times the size and scale it down 2 or 4:1, which is what anti-aliasing does, I think. Funny though, just below the two fields where you input the height and width sizes of the image that I wanted to change, there’s this “Oversampling” thing which has “1” as the default entry. I changed it to “2” (I tried to change it to “0”, but it wouldn’t let me). The image immediately regenerated, a little more slowly, and seemed to have lost all of its rough edges -it looked anti-aliased.

I don’t know why I didn’t experiment with the oversampling option. Its a common variable in many graphics tools. I guess I’m just used to seeing the label, “anti-aliasing”, and wasn’t thinking. I was almost ready to send off an email, telling the developers how great I thought their program was and wouldn’t it be nice if in the next revision they could just give it the ability to save image parameters and do antialiasing. If I was one of the Fyre developers, my response to an email like that would be, “Man! This guy’s a real imbecile!”

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Mondrian on Fyre

The way I’ve come to see it is that Algorithmic Art is like a sports league. Programs are the players of the sport and the authors of the programs, the programmers, are like the parents of the players. The operator of the program (artist) is the coach.

The job of the coach is to figure out what the program does best and get it to focus on those skills and leave its other capabilities alone for the time being. The parents may protest and try to tell the coach what their kids are best at, or what they were designed to do, but a good coach ignores all this and concentrates on making the team sucessfull.

In defense of the parents, they’ve done such a good job in making the program and building it’s inner workings that they can’t be expected to know everything the program is capable of, just as the inventor of something like the saxophone or electric guitar couldn’t possible envision all the different ways musicians would discover to play those instruments.

I’m sure the author of Fyre didn’t imagine it being used to make these frames and boxes. Fyre generally makes flame type images like Apophysis does, but in a much simpler way (so far). Being one-color really limits it’s creative abilities because color can add a whole new dimension to imagery. One the other hand, there’s a lot of really good photography that’s been done in black and white. In fact, the single color mode offers great opportunities for high contrast and stark surface textures.

The high contrast and surface texture of minimalist furniture and room partitions. The square compartments are similar to Mondrian’s famous series of colored-block paintings. Various types of wood-laminate display cabinets. Some even suggest rice paper sliding doors and partitions. Or steel window frames.

They’re very easy to make. You just keep pushing the random example button until you come to one that looks reasonably square, and then you tweak the A, B, C or D dimension to make it really smooth and sharp. It’s like arranging a pile of square pieces of paper. Then you adjust one or two of the other dimensions to move the inner frames and pieces around.

I’m not sure how I stumbled on these types of images. They look pretty bland compared to the regular big and swirly things that are Fyre generates. Maybe they are bland. I don’t know why I find these things so compelling.

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