Attraction and profanity of abstract art and its role in creating lifelike virtual reality

There have always been people who hated abstract imagery, condemned it profane, degenerate, chaotic or inexpressive – so did Hitler for example -, but abstract has had a great deal of fans as well. Beyond coloured playfulness and the appeal to novelty, the secret of its popularity is that depicting unearthly spaces and dimensions gives some artworks a spiritual power of expression. The abstract art provides opportunity to create eye-catching fractal patterns, which can be found in nature, in art or in virtual space.


Inimitable artwork painted drunken 

DSC_0192.JPGBefore the artistic revolution of the 20th century, many artists were disappointed in traditional art, which led them to experimentations with new painting techniques different from the usual methods radically. One of them was Jackson Pollock, who broke with depicting objects and came out with a completely new method; he replaced the classic painting techniques with spattering paint – drunken, according to anecdotes -, and repeated it several times after drying. These eccentric artworks were so successful among art experts and other people interested in arts that Life magazine called him the artist of the century, while others derided and derogated him, calling him a drunken lunatic. His artwork is mysterious because many artist tried to copy this eye-catching, enchanting effect by creating similar paintings or forging the original ones, but they did not succeed.

Mysterious appeal

DSC_0136.jpgThe cause of the inimitable characteristic of Pollock’s artwork remained a mystery for a long time, until artist physicist Richard Taylor and his colleagues made fractal analysis on Pollock’s artwork. They found that it contains repeating pattern elements in different sizes, so called fractals. Taylor invented a strange machine called Pollockiser as well: a kicked pendulum fixed on a colour-box that was able to imitate the chaotic motion of Pollock’s hand movements.

According to Taylor, the special appeal of Pollock’s works – besides the fractal patterns – is hidden in the fact that they repeat the same level of complexity as it can be seen in nature. Thus his artwork, despite being abstract ostensibly, mirrors the wildness of the world. As fractals appear in nature, they can be found in other artistic trends too. In 1997, Nyikos and his colleagues made fractal analyses on famous artists’ paintings like Dürer, Rembrandt, Picasso and Munch. During their research, they found some that showed fractal characteristics among the paintings with more complex structures.

Virtual reality from fractals

DSCF9640.JPGMany fractal patterns can be observed in nature: in clouds, leafy trees, forests, fern leaves, mountains, shells, etc. The idea that the frequent patterns in nature are actually fractals came from the French mathematician Benwell Mandelbrot, whose famous work from 1970 was about the system of circles and vortices that repeats itself in decreasing sizes. Mandelbrot created this infinite complexity by a simple mathematic function.

Mandelbrot’s invention (and the animations introducing it) points to the fact that simple mathematical codes, similar to this pattern, are hidden not only in leafy trees but also behind many forms in nature, which seem to be random at first sight. The maths of fractals for example, consists of a simple repetition of rule in case of trees: a tree grows and branches; and this process can be described mathematically.

In the 1980s, Loren Carpenter (a founder of Pixar Animation Film Studio) got the idea that Mandelbrot’s fractal maths might be suitable for creating lifelike virtual scenery. The method has developed a lot since then, but it is still the fractal mathematics – the secret code behind natural patterns – that enables the creation of more and more realistic virtual reality in animated films.

War of perceptions or the splotch speaking about you

But why is abstract art lovable? – you could ask from lovers of this art branch. The answer is in the artistic freedom among others; abstract art gives much bigger artistic freedom to creators than traditional painting does, allowing greater artistic playfulness. Kollr_Gyrgy_86219.jpgAbstract paintings often create the atmosphere of childlike playfulness, archness, novelty attraction, surprise and serenity. They involve viewers into interpretation more than figurative representation does. What you can see in these artworks is much more about you and your impressions than about the creator.

That is the reason why viewers often interpret paintings seen at exhibitions very differently. Instead of falling out with others whether a painting depicts a goat, a turkey or a haystack, you had better think about why the brain works like that and why do people “see in” different things in artworks. The reason is hidden in the perceptual processes of your brain. According to neurologists’ estimations, mental functions can process about 200 bits per second at one go from the 11 million bits of information arriving into the human brain.

The blinder and the novelty detector

DSC_0955.JPGIn order that the brain can manage incoming flow of information, it expounds the information in the light of earlier knowledge. If it has difficulties in finding familiar patterns, it gives a challenge to your thinking. If your brain cannot connect the experience to existing knowledge, it identifies it as an unknown novelty and (according to neurologist researchers) the so-called “novelty detector” is activated – the Locus coeruleus field of the brain – which results in increasing attention. You can feel this as a cumulative attention-drawing effect and a novelty attraction, which can be intensive especially in case of bright-colour paintings. You all know what it is like seeing something for the first time. The colourful cheerfulness is often typical in abstract artworks, and beyond the intensive power of vivacity and the eye-catching effect of fractality, this electrifying novelty attraction effect can explain partly the appeal and popularity of abstract art.

Károly Erdélyi

Translated by Zita Aknai



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