The Algorithmic Circus

February 29, 2008

I’ve got a new filter!

From Terry Gibbons’ The Visual Index of Science Fiction Cover Art

I don’t know exactly how it works, but where there’s math… there’s fractals! Sure, the math folks will argue with me, but like all great minds, I don’t expect to be understood in this lifetime (or solar system).

How does it work? Start with some colors and some shapes, move the two sliders around and then push the “shocko-wocko” button, labelled, “OK”. Actually, there’s more to it than that. Like all artistic activity it requires a good eye and knowing just when to click.

Behold, Alien Gunsmoke!

Yes. It’s a lot like the old western gunfight dueling with six-guns. But just as the people of the future will have to use the western gunslinging skills of the past to deal with aliens on other planets, I too will have to use the ancient, tried and true techniques of the old masters as I polish the artform of clickism in this (can you believe it?) 21st century.

Parameter files? How does one even start to list the parameters of this bold new art, much less quantify them? Every work of clickism is a total original and extremely hard to reproduce, or more accurately — reverse engineer. Ask Da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa again. He could try. He could come close, but it would be different. He’d be able to… uh, actually Da Vinci or any of the other old masters would probably be able to reproduce their own work quite easily since everything is quite carefully planned out and controlled. But it’s still hard work.

Yes, these are the Digital labours of Hercules. Fortunately I have strange new machines to do my heavy lifting, and detailed work (Leonardo got some help too, I read somewhere…), leaving me free to focus on the essential, more serious matters of looking and clicking.

Oh, of course. The filter is the circular wave distortion filter from Showfoto. You don’t need to use their’s though, just about every graphics program has one of these. I think they’ve been around for ages; they look like circular water ripples — that is when they’re used in their proper, prescribed way. (And why would anyone want to do that?) In fact, that’s why I never bothered to experiment with it before. Give something a clear, coherent label, and everybody thinks they know what it is …and what it does …and what it’s for …like Fractal Art

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February 24, 2008

Ashes to Ashes, Pulp to Pulp

From Frank Wu’s collection of Frank R. Paul’s Golden Age Sci-Fi Pulp covers

“The sages of Calisto were super-intelligent and had become so far advanced in the Sciences that there was nothing more for them to achieve. They had then moved on to the Arts. Rega, the sociable one who had helped me repair my ship, was eager to show me their art gallery. ‘Art, when it reaches perfection,’ Rega said, ‘is nothing more than a stunning cloud of golden dust, suggesting both the entire universe and a sub-atomic flash in the same image’. I laughed out loud when I first saw it. But now that I’ve been eating their secret scientific food for three months, I’ve come to agree with them completely.”
— (excerpted from A Student on Calisto, 1953)

Sliced up about 10 times in XnView’s slicer filter (no post-processing)

“Imagine my surprise when I arrived on the spacemen’s home planet only to discover I was a celebrity in their eyes and treated like some kind of king! Still, I was not fully at ease despite how well the whole ordeal had turned out. I wondered constantly, ‘What will they do with me when they find out what normal Earthlings are really like and that I was escaping from jail when they captured me?’.”
— (excerpted from From the Electric Chair to the Throne of Pluto, 1949)

Showfoto’s circular wave set to maximum

Every morning the same thing. Fifty or sixty gopher sized holes – all new – would be discovered around our spaceships and equipment. Yet no one had heard or seen anything during the night. We all knew there couldn’t be any animal life since there weren’t even plants on Mars. That was before we’d started drillling.
— (excerpted from Gopher Hunting on Mars, 1962)

A detail of an 4x enlargement circular waved

Professor Menkin was a likeable enough fellow; he said hello to everyone and even once gave me a lift to the spaceport on one of his days off. I guess that’s what should have tipped me off: what was he doing driving out of town – and there ain’t nothing out of town on Venus – when he ought to be spending his free glide credits back at the Floaterium like the rest of us? He was working for the Venusians even back then, that’s what. I hear they’ve got his face on one of their coins now.
— (excerpted from I Wore a Tungsten Crown, 1951)

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February 18, 2008

Painting With Power!

“Great art picks up where nature ends.” – Marc Chagall.8bf

“One small step for a fractal artist; one giant leap for Fractal Art” -Neil Armstrong.8bf

“The aim of photoshop filters is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle.8bf

“What the mass media offers is not fractal art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” – W. H. Auden.8bf

“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough” -William Blake.8bf

“A new gadget that lasts only five minutes is worth more than an immortal work that bores everyone” -Francis Picabia.8bf

“I am become Clickism, the destroyer of worlds” -Robert Oppenheimer.8bf

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without photoshop filters” -Emile Zola.8bf

“Good taste is as tiring as good company” -Francis Picabia

“If we could but paint with the computer what we see with the mind.” – Honore de Balzac.8bf

“When I judge art, I take my computer monitor and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.” -Paul Cezanne.8bf

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of Ultra Fractal.” – Cecil Beaton.8bf

“Well begun is half done.” – Aristotle.8bf

Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers… What we call art is a game. -Octavio Paz.8bf

“Photoshop filters produce ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Ultra Fractal, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.” -Jean Cocteau.8bf

“If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s synergy” -Wilson Mizner.8bf

“A fractal formula gives the image structure. An artist gives the image feeling. A photoshop filter destroys both and changes the hue.” -Ragland T. Tiger.8bf

“Fractal Art is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” -Edgar Degas.8bf

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February 15, 2008

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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February 12, 2008

Read-only Moon

February 4, 2008

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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February 1, 2008

Words in the Ice

Algorithmic Art (art made by machines) is a lot like digital frost.

I think almost every photography book has a picture of frost on a window pane. Frost is a mechanical process and is quite well understood but the imagery it produces never seems to lose it’s allure.

There’s no Jack Frost or any deliberating influence involved, it’s just a simple, natural process of water crystalizing (freezing) on window glass. The frost patterns develop as more water vapour adheres to the edges of the growing formation.

The ingredients of frost are simple. The ingredients of algorithmic art are fairly simple too. Although some algorithms may be difficult to construct, they’re simple to run. Similarly, water molecules wouldn’t exactly be easy to make oneself, but once made, they run themselves.

Like the mundane process that creates frost patterns, these images were made with the block wave distortion filter in KDE’s Showfoto (part of the Digikam project).

It’s just a distortion effect and probably not anywhere near as fascinating as fractals, which seem to occupy a whole separate realm of digital art (and mathematics too). Distortion filters ought to be much less interesting than fractals, one would think.

What does that say? It says that art is stupid. It says that our eyes care little for the origins of the imagery they look at, although they can be easily influenced, temporarily, by a nice frame or a famous name …or a price tag.

A fractal on the computer screen is a fish out of water – dead – just another piece of visual meat to be devoured by our eyes. Fractal math is just an interesting anectdote and bit of trivia that people like to package with their fractal images like the phrase,”Sparkling Natural Mineral Water” that you see on the labels of bottled water.

“Post-processing”, the use of filter effects, lays bare the inner workings of digital images. Before long it becomes pretty obvious that “fractals” are just another photoshop filter. Add in the use of layering, one of the strongest and most common graphical effects, and the mighty label, “Fractal” starts to look a little transparent.

Yeah. It’s true. I know it. I speak the language of the ice. I can read it.

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January 23, 2008

When Eyes Move in Retrograde

Retrograde. That’s not a city in Russia. It means to move backwards. Usually in reference to the path of a planet (orbit) in the night sky when viewed from Earth. The backwards movement doesn’t really occur, it just looks that way when viewed from Earth.

Retrograde is an illusion. The retrograde movement of Mars for instance, occurs because Mars is orbitting the Sun and not the Earth. The path of Mars starts to slow down and move backwards because of the relative movement of the observer on Earth. Neither planet orbits the other, but rather they both orbit a third object, the Sun.

Retrograde then, occurs because the relationship between the two planets is confused by the observer. The astronomers on Earth used to think Mars orbitted the Earth and therefore expected it to follow a path that moved it smoothly around the Earth across the night sky. The predictable but unexplainable retrograde movement that occured was easily solved when the Sun was shown to be the object that both planets revolved around.

And so it is with the eyes. They’re the Earth and the image is Mars. Confused with what they’re looking at, the eyes declare the image to be moving backwards. Confusion and abstraction become clarity and reality as the eyes cleverly explain what they can’t understand.

That’s the wonder of “abstract” art. The artist is in the eyes.

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January 21, 2008

Journey to Mercury

In the spirit of Sindbad, I went on a voyage and just recently, returned. It was a digital voyage. Not really a voyage I guess, but I left where I was and out of curiosity went somewhere different and then here I am again.

I journeyed to the edges of minimalist window managers and desktop environments in Linux. While doing so, I often experienced a completely black screen (call it a desktop) from which I was only able to send messages to the system by way of a run dialog opened with the keystroke alt+F2.

Like a sailor whose map is the stars and navigates better at night than in the day, I found that a simple run dialog was often more efficient (and certainly much simpler) than desktop icons or menus. Better still was the boolean search feature in Thunar which would allow you to access any icon in the /usr/applications directory.

As I continue with my tale from strange lands, I discovered the near ability of the Opera browser to replace all the functions of my operating system with the exception of the ability to run Opera itself. In addition to browsing the internet I could read my email and RSS feeds and also browse (in a primitive way) my hard drive and even write postings via it’s onboard notes feature.

I loaded a widget that completely replaced the calendar, clock and appointment manager that normally requires a taskbar and system bar and was able to switch from application to application via something so incredibly simple as alt+TAB.

The greatest moment of all was discovering this stunning image of the planet Mercury which, like my empty, minimalist desktop (no taskbar, no icons, no clock, no right-click menu…) fitted in quite well with my floating in space desktop environment. I splurged with 8MB of RAM and launched xfdesktop and dropped this image of the planet Mercury into my desktop, which now was a completely black screen with only Mercury on it.

Mercury, from the Wikipedia

I don’t know if Windows will allow you to work with just a black screen and a few simple keystroke combinations, but I heartily recommend giving it a try if only for the brief feeling of drifting in space.

The thrill of Linux isn’t something as trivial as merely escaping the orbit of Micro$oft Windows. It’s about forgetting all about that old planet Earth and floating through space on a Journey to Mercury.

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January 21, 2008