Nov 03, 2005 - 0 Comments - Uncategorized -

Brave New Fractal World

“Fractals make the Sistine Chapel look like cave paintings” -Walter Merton, World Museum of Art


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Just what could the future look like if serious and hardworking artists discover the creative power of fractals?

In the year 2025, not too long from now, fractal imagery is everywhere. The restoration of great masterpieces, like that of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have been abandoned. According to a leading restoration expert in 2025, “Why should we spend millions of dollars and years of effort when I can make something better with my computer in a few seconds?”

In schools of the future, the same attitude prevails. I open my son’s university textbook on Art History: It doesn’t start with Greek pottery and busted figurines. Chapter one, Origins of Art, is a biography of Benoit Mandelbrot.

“If you want to see what we used to call ‘the old masters’ today,” says Vito, a retired gallery curator, “you have to go to a museum. People laugh if you call it ‘art’ these days. They call it folk crafts and say it belongs in a museum, but only if it’s at least 300 years old. I don’t know, maybe they’re right.”

Vito continues, “Most galleries dumped the old stuff years ago. I’ve got everything ever painted by Whistler in my garage right now. There were coffee grinds on his mother when I fished her out of the garbage behind the gallery.”

I’m shocked. I ask Vito what happened to things like the Mona Lisa. “She was painted on wood, you know. So chances are she’s still around, maybe covering over a broken window or something, who knows? Everthing on canvas was rolled up and tossed. I mean, how many of these things does a museum want?”

You can look all day in magazines, at advertisements, on television and even in art stores, and you won’t find anything but fractals, in the future. I thought I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on a kleenex box in Walmart, but it turned out to be another fractal.

I contacted Walter Merton, the curator of the World Museum of Art in New York, and asked him, point-blank, “You don’t really believe that art began with fractals, and everything before that was junk, do you?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it junk, exactly. There’s a few things I’ve seen that are rather interesting, culturally speaking. But there’s not much to it, artistically. A small brush, some paint and a square of fabric. In the past that’s all they had to work with, so it was a real accomplishment back then. But you can’t put it in the same category as something so sublime as a mandelbrot. No serious art gallery would.”

I told him that many classical oil paintings took months to complete by painters who had decades of training. All he could say was, “Great, good for them. But so what? If I look closely at even a mediocre fractal piece, I see incredible detail, the product of millions of perfect calculations, the mathematical roots of the universe revealed. If I do the same with the old ‘folk pictures’ you’re talking about, I might see a smudged finger print or some dirt.”

After that I have no more questions. It’s 2025 and I’m just an old man who doesn’t get it. Like the retired curator with a garage full of Whistlers, I’m also thinking, maybe they’re right. I always thought fractals would someday take their rightful place in art galleries, but I never dreamed they’d take over the world.