What is Fractal Art?

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Fractals are unique and complicated mathematical forms of art. In this lesson, explore how fractals occur in nature, and how mathematical fractals were discovered with computers.

What Exactly Is a Fractal?

Think about the last time you were working on a computer. After a few minutes, did the screen change and become a strange geometric design that looked like a piece of art? You may have been looking at a fractal.

So what exactly are these strange designs? Fractals are patterns, and they continue forever. Repeating these simple patterns over and over is what makes them become more complicated. There are different types of fractals, and you can actually find fractals in nature and not just on your computer screen.

Fractals are created by repeating simple patterns, and when combined with art they can be very beautiful.
geometric art

Fractals in Nature

Hundreds of years ago, computer screens didn't create fractals, but nature did. Scientists and artists alike have noticed patterns that were repeated in elements of weather and wildlife. For example, flowers have layers and layers of petals that are arranged in a specific pattern. Leaves have veins that branch out into different patterns. Snowflakes are excellent examples of patterns in nature, but you have to examine them under a microscope to see the crystal formation.

Snowflakes are ice crystals that are formed in geometric patterns.
geometry in nature

Mr. Mandelbrot

Many artists throughout the years have appreciated the way nature and geometry have repeating patterns. In fact, artist M.C. Escher actually focused most of his drawings on geometric patterns. But it wasn't until a man named Benoit Mandelbrot came along that the word 'fractal' was used.

Fractal art
art patterns

Mr. Mandelbrot was a scientist who worked for a company in New York in the 1960s. He noticed something strange one day when he put lots of numbers into a computer, and out came an interesting design. When he looked at it even further, he noticed that it was a pattern that kept on repeating.

He first used the word fractal in 1975, and wrote a book about his discoveries. Many people read this book and realized that this was a newly found art form and mathematical idea. In fact, a few years later a brand new area of math called fractal geometry was created thanks to Mr. Mandelbrot!

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