What Is Fractal Art?
by Tiffany McFarlane
Math and Art have always been closely connected. There is a hidden layer of beauty in the world of mathematical formulas. Fractal art can be looked at as a fusion of the two. When exploring the visual side of math, order can be found in what seems to be total chaos. It can be used to produce forms of elegant symmetry as well as familiar structures in nature. These patterns provide the foundation for many artists to create beautiful works of art and the source of their inspiration.
In order to fully understand fractal art, we should start by explaining what a fractal actually is. A fractal is a mathematical set that is represented as an infinitely repeating pattern that is self-similar across all of its scales. These complex patterns can be created on a computer with fractal generating software, but they can also be found in nature, from clouds, to trees, to mountains and even seashells. The term "fractal" was first used by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1970s. Mandelbrot based it on the Latin word fractus, meaning "broken" or "fractured", and used it to describe these geometric forms in nature. In his book, “Fractals: Forms, Chance and Dimensions” published in 1977, he explained that you can create a fractal by taking a smooth shape and breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces of that same shape. The forms are repeated over and over again in an endless repetition. This process is called iteration. It is a defining characteristic in fractal geometry. When these complex entities are magnified, you will see that you are able to zoom in infinitely, and the smaller images will have the same properties as the overall structure. This self-similarity is another main characteristic of fractals. The iconic image of the Mandelbrot set is the perfect example of this phenomenon. You can truly zoom in forever, seeing increasing detail as you go along.
When it comes to using fractals to create art, the possibilities are truly endless. Working with fractal generating software, such as Apophysis, Mandelbulb 3d, Ultra Fractal, Chaotica, Incendia, and many others, one can produce a variety of fractal-like images that range from spirals and other geometric patterns, like flower blooms, to unique landscapes. They can be turned into prints and framed for display. Artists have also displayed their designs on T-Shirts, greeting cards, cell phone cases, and varieties of other merchandise. 3d printed fractals have even been attempted. Artists can design different fractal shapes and print them out as real life models using a combination of 3d and fractal generating software with the new technology of 3d printers. Boundaries are pushed every day by artists and the future is being imagined. The mysteriousness of fractals seem to add to their commercial appeal.
While it is still a fairly new art form, there have been artists that have displayed fractal elements in their work before. After careful analysis, it was found that the abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings were indeed made up of fractal designs. He used a seemingly random chaotic motion in his painting process and surprisingly ended up producing creations with an underlying self-symmetry. Artist, M.C. Escher, born in 1898, integrated mathematics into his art with tessellations, which have properties very similar to fractals in that they both use geometric shapes to produce never-ending, repeating patterns. He used the concept of infinity as a base to create some of his most famous works.
There are many galleries online that display countless amounts of fractal art, as well as exhibitions at museums and galleries all over the map. In 2014, The International Fractal Art Symposium was held in San Sebastian, Spain. Fractal artists were brought together from around the world and talked about fractal artistry and history, had presentations on the different programs that are currently being used in the art community, and discussed the future and potential of the art form.
With the rise of computer technology, the interest in fractal art has been rapidly growing. You do not need to be a professional in math to experiment with it or to understand the principles in which fractals are based. Whether you are a traditional artist, mathematician, or just an art lover in general, an admiration can be found in the symmetry of nature. As we go into the future, expect this form of expression to be pushed to the forefront of the art world.
1. Nova, “Fractals - Hunting the Hidden Dimension”, 2008
2. Arthur C. Clarke, “Fractals - The Colors Of Infinity”, 1995
3. “What Are Fractals?” Seattle Fractals Digital Art, 15 Jul. 2015
4. “About Escher.” The Official M.C. Escher Website, 15 Jul. 2015
5. “Art Tessellations.” The Incredible Art Department, 15 Jul. 2015
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Copyright © 2013-2015, Tiffany McFarlane All Rights Reserved.
A.) Life Is A Circus, 2015
B.) Swirls And Roundabouts, 2015
C.) Lily Pad Garden, 2013
D.) Discostar, 2015
E.) Discobones Coffee Mug, 2013