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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
63rd Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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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.
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.
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.
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.
On the marble's waves danced the memories of lost days, shimmering and distorted as one, two, three tears squeezed past your wrinkled lids.