Does Artwork Come With Instruction Manuals?

By Ady Tang

Artwork is an expression of creativity that can be interpreted in many ways by different audiences. However, the artist always envisions a particular way that the artwork should be comprehended. As a result, it can be said that the author gives us “instructions” on how to interact with the artwork, especially when dealing with electronic literature, or “e-lit”.

After interacting with electronic literature for the past semester, there is still a sense of curiosity and uncertainty each time as I approach a new piece of e-lit as they each have their own set of specific instructions of how it should be accessed and the best way to interact with it for optimal results.

In the Electronic Literature Collection Volume One (ELC), just before the reader begins the exploration of the author’s artwork, the author gives a brief explanation of the attempt with the piece and directions of how to read it. It might sound weird that the author is teaching the reader how to “read” the piece, but without those instructions, the reader would be left confused and not understand how to interpret the piece of artwork.

For example, some pieces such as “All Roads” by Jon Ingold found in the ELC needs the reader to download a program called “Splatterlight” for Mac users or the program known as “Gargoyle” for Windows users. To me, this has limited the amount of pieces I can access as I did not want to download a whole new program in order to read that one piece of work. It was like learning a whole new foreign language just to read one book.

Even if the reader has downloaded the program needed to view the literature, the reader needs to know how to “read” the literature. So the author has left precise instructions in his introductory page to explain which input would yield what results such as: “Typing “inventory” or just “i” will list the objects your character is carrying, while typing “look” or “l” will provide a description of the current location”.

At first, I was reluctant to change the way I typically read and had adapt to the instructions that came with each new piece of literature because it was difficult to step outside my comfort zone to “re-learn” how to read since it is something I do as a daily natural reflex. However, e-lit provides many effects that a book just cannot offer such as the moving graphics or audio; so perhaps it is worth it to follow the author’s instructions in order to understand the author’s intention with their artwork.

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