Saturday, September 08, 2007

Questions about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest...

A New Way of Seeing

A New Way of Seeing (2007)

…you should be asking -- asking now that Version.2006 has a year of dry paint and Version.2007 has just rolled its wet pixels off the assembly line-- asking before you start your generators and begin revving your fractals for next year’s Version.2008:

~Why is the judges' work exhibited with that of the winners? Isn't this breach of universally accepted protocol in itself enough to invalidate the entire contest? Can viewers easily know which artists were self-selected and which were juried? In other words, are distinctions between judges (who this year are semantically disguised as “panel members”) and winners thoroughly and consistently made obvious -- at the exhibition in Madrid, in every online gallery, and in all promotional materials? Who made the decision to allow the judges’ work to be shown with the winning art? Who selected the judges, and what criteria were used to make the choices? And what is one to make of the 60/40 ratio in this year’s exhibited work ( Winners: 15 / Judges: 10)? Is this whole thing really a competition at all -- or is it more of an invited exhibition where the judges walk their own work in through the delivery door and hang their art (with apparently no shame) beside the winners? How can anyone then tell the winners from the choosers? Shouldn't this competition be either a juried contest or a by-invitation-only exhibit -- but certainly not both?

~What percentage of the exhibited images (including art from the judges) from both last year and this year were created using Ultra Fractal? Over 75%? Higher? Don’t these numbers suggest the competition is just a facelift of the old Fractalus art contests dressed up in formalwear to better glitter for the press, seem more cosmopolitan to the viewers, and appear more inclusive and broad-based to the artists? But, if this actually is a retread in new duds and on steroids primarily designed to pump up UF art and artists, shouldn't all the contest’s promotional and advertising materials make that fact explicit?

~Why is the submission size for entries so large when the director surely understands that artists using programs other than UF, as well as artists who post-process heavily, would face obstacles that could easily exclude them from competing? Why, in fact, do all prints have to be made to the specifications of doors and picture windows, as clearly seen in this short video piece about last year’s contest found on YouTube? Is bigger always better to display fractal details? Do we need to blow up the Mona Lisa or The Scream to plasma TV dimensions to “improve” them? Wouldn’t an exhibition of prints of an assortment of sizes be just as elegant and even more aesthetically pleasing? Or are the titanic entry requirements intentionally mandated to insure a certain fractal program (guess which one) is emphatically privileged?

~How many of the winners, alternates, and honorable mentions are now taking or have taken classes from contest judges who teach art students at the Visual Arts Academy? Did one of the judge’s students report her two entries were recognized in the contest-- one as an alternate and the other as an honorable mention? Did another student selected for the exhibition note her his winning entry was created as a masking exercise in one of the judge’s classes? Did these judges recuse themselves from passing judgment on entries they recognized as being from their own students? Moreover, were any safeguards put in effect to insure judges refrain from making a recommendation when they recognized a friend’s work? Aren’t such reasonable guidelines commonplace protocols in literary and art contests? Here is an excerpt from the entry requirements of the annual literary contest held by the Associated Writing Programs:

To avoid conflict of interest and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, friends and former students of a judge (former students who studied with a judge in an academic degree-conferring program or its equivalent) are ineligible to enter the competition in the genre for which their former teacher is serving as judge.

How can the people responsible for the contest not see such an inherent conflict of interest? And doesn’t a situation where winners are thanking other winners for their formulas and where students are selected for inclusion by their teachers run an increased risk of presenting an exhibition showcasing a single, inbred, highly homogenized style?

~Isn’t Professor Mandelbrot generally considered to be the father of all fractals? Did he know that the work exhibited under the auspices of the "contest" that bears his name caters to the UFractalus school and is nowhere near a representational sampling of the current, multi-dimensional breadth of contemporary fractal art? Would he maybe prefer "his" contest to display more diversity in its range of fractal styles, programs, forms, and visions?

~And, in the end, isn’t the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest just a publicity stunt by the director and the judges to concoct a “prestigious” contest out of whole cloth and gild it with a veneer of juried rigor? Isn’t it both a sham and a scam that allows their own work never to risk the uncomfortable scrutiny of being judged itself -- but to instead be safely grandfathered into an exhibition of their own creation?


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Sister Starling said...

You really have one hell of a blog. I came across it looking for some beautiful pics and then I saw yours. Incredible layout and the topic really got me interested. Just wanted to say thanks for doing a great blog.

Fred Winchar
My blog

cruelanimal said...


Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to drop a note.

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