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The Sculptor

by Yakoub Mousli

Experimental, Self-Reflection, Echoes of Life
2023

(based on 12 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

Sways of an artist's delicate spirit. An 82 year old sculptor with no achievements to his name or a penny in his pocket now seeks to make the masterpiece of his dreams before his life fades.

Content warning: Occasional profanity


Game Details


Awards

63rd Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

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Number of Reviews: 3
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
What's the point of not selling out at this age..., November 22, 2023

The Sculptor is a pretty short interactive story about the artistic dilemma of creating for the sake of creating and essentially selling out, through the lens of an older man yearning to create his Magnum Opus before it is too late. Through a fairly poetic prose, the man reflect on his gifts, the process to get to the finished state, and that dilemma.

With a focus on touch-related imagery, the entry does a fairly good job at describing the tedious, and often painful, but fulfilling process of creating art. Its poetic prose engages to see creative endeavour as more than the final product, but all the acts, the efforts, the sweat, the tears that made it happen. I was particularly touched by the yearning of the old man to accomplish one last piece, fulfilling his dream, before meeting the inevitable.

Though it is a major point of the story, I did not find the dilemma quite satisfying. The question itself of creating for the sake of creating or to be able to survive has been debated almost ad nauseam, without much of a new or fresh angle to it. It also felt like the Sculptorís position was clear: not preserving the art from being sullied through transaction would tear his soul.

Another thing that felt strange was placing the time period of the piece. The cover art and starting prose suggest a Baroque or maybe Romantic period, while the dialogue from other characters would place it in a more modern time. It would not be too surprising to learn that the sculptorís sensibilities were tuned to older periods, being maybe even detached from reality due to his age or current state. An angle like this could have helped bridge the gap, I think.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Brief, intense Texture game about a sculptor's work, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a Texture game, one of several in IFComp. Itís a game system where you drag actions onto nouns, with different actions having different nouns. Hovering over the nouns can add more info, as well. Itís a character study of the main character, a sculptor who has given up everything to buy one final marble block and carve a sculpture.

The man is deeply invested in this. He focuses on his work despite the loss of things like family, friends, and good health. The writing is highly dramatic, with unusual positioning across the screen and extensive use of metaphor. Hereís a sample sentence: ĎHer words were cascaded venom, and you, their subject.í

It also changes between tenses from time to time, in a way thatís hard to know if itís intentional or not. I found at least one important typo. In general, the text is ambitious but I was confused from time to time.

What works best for me here is the effort put into descriptiveness. I can feel the authorís enthusiasm for the story and that gives me enthusiasm for the story. But for me, it was hard to sustain that emotion; the whole story was at the peak of intensity, but I think it could have benefitted from having more contrast between high-intensity and low-intensity. But thatís a personal choice.

There is some intermittent strong profanity in the story that, for me, doesnít fit the abstract and metaphorical text very much, but it may be intended as an earthy contrast to the heights of the rest of the game.

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A visionary statue, October 6, 2023
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

The best moment in The Sculptor is the description of the final statue. This is a hard moment for any artist. When you're writing about a fictional masterwork, you need to describe a masterwork in terms that make it believable for the reader -- but of course, without having to actually make that masterwork yourself. Here's what Yakoub gives us: an old nude man, wrestling down a falcon that attempts to peck his heart, raising a scythe with which to kill the falcon; meanwhile, the old man is being strangled by his own beard, and water flows around his feet, washing the shame away.

What I love about this is how it audaciously combines several motifs from European art into a single vision. The man is, clearly, Old Man Time, or Death, with his scythe. But he's also Saint Michael fighting the dragon, as well as Prometheus, his innards being pecked at by a bird. And being strangled by his own beard, well, this cannot help but remind one of LaocoŲn being strangled by the snakes. As for the water, I heard these lines of Elliot in my mind:

A painter of the Umbrian school
Designed upon a gesso ground
The nimbus of the Baptized God.
The wilderness is cracked and browned
But through the water pale and thin
Still shine the unoffending feet
And there above the painter set
The Father and the Paraclete.

Which would make the man also Christ. Death, the angel, Prometheus, LaocoŲn and Christ, all rolled into one -- yes, that makes sense as the masterwork that this sculptor has wanted to make, and we accept on faith that the statue does justice to the idea.

To be fair, much of The Sculptor doesn't quite live up to this standard. The basic idea and setting are fine: it's an interesting protagonist, this very old artist in dire financial circumstances with one last chance of achieving his ambitions. The thematic development is more problematic. Other reviewers (Mike Russo, Brad Buchanan) have already pointed out that the game's final choice, between destroying your work of art to keep it pure and selling it even though this sullies you, is simplistic. I'd go further and say that it comes close to a fundamental misunderstanding of art. There's nothing pure about keeping your art for yourself. Something isn't art if it doesn't aspire, at least in principle if not in practice, to universal recognition; a work of art is a bond between humans. Destroying it so others cannot see it not l'art pour l'art, but the anti-artistic gesture par excellence. Perhaps the point is that the sculptor is too embittered to embrace art himself, but if so, the point doesn't come out clearly.

The writing, while it has it moment, is also frequently marred by errors ("they certainly knows your name"; "She in informs you"; a choice labelled "Sand" that I think should have been "Stand"; people who want to buy your "sculptor" when "sculpture" is meant). And it sometimes loses itself in a language that's a bit too flowery for its own good. Or maybe not flowery; I suppose the problem is that it sometimes becomes imprecise, exactly at the moments when it tries to be metaphorical, which are the moments when precision becomes most crucial. An example:
On the marble's waves ran the memories of your lost days.
And through them shimmered back the reflection of tears, now held up by your thirsty, wrinkled lids.

I'm not totally sold on the memoires running on the waves, though I guess it might be possible to express oneself that way. But then the word 'them' generates instant confusion. Who's the them? The waves, the memories, or the lost days? It's something through which the reflection of tears shimmers back. Hmm... if it's a reflection, then it's probably not going through something? And my thirsty lids, are they drinking the tears? That's weird. Also, if the tears are held up, how can they shimmer back? Lots of questions, and the point is, I shouldn't have any questions. I should be surprised and possibly delighted by the metaphor. But for that, it needs to be made more precise. This would work a lot better for me:
On the marble's waves danced the memories of lost days, shimmering and distorted as one, two, three tears squeezed past your wrinkled lids.

And of course there are a million other ways to rewrite it.

The Sculptor didn't quite convince me, then, but there's some real artistic vision going on here, and a desire to talk about stuff that matters. I'm here for the author's next game.

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The Sculptor on IFDB

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The following polls include votes for The Sculptor:

Games with detailed descriptions of art works by Greg Frost
I am looking for games which use the literary technique of ekphrasis: "a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined" (Wikipedia).




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