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Text and Texture in ASCII Art at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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Behold: part of the dust jacket of Nick Montfort’s monograph on IF, “Twisty Little Passages,” as rendered by the Text-Image.com HTML Convert.

Now, my question: is this ASCII art?

A good first answer would seem to be “yes and no,” and I’ll go ahead and indicate that using a similar technique to the one above:


YESYESYESYES
YESYESYESYES
YESYESYESYES
YESYESYESYES
YESYESYESYES


YESYESYESYES
Y
ESYESYESYES
Y
ESYESYESYES
Y
ESYESYESYES
YESYESYESYES

These images are YES in texture, but NO in composition. The shape of the texture is composition-independent, however the color in the first example highlights the path of the NO, a simpler version of the book cover in which each letter served as a color pixel. In the second example, it is the bold-italic density which serves the same purpose - any text treatment method that is independant of shape will suffice.

Compared to traditional black-and-white, unformatted ASCII art, in which shape is the primary conveyer of information, this technique is a total reversal. Traditional ASCII art conveys composition through shape density, and letters are shapes - using a different letter changes the composition. With color or formatting, however, the composition is basically independent of the underlying text texture. Using a low density characters such as a punctuation mark will register a small difference in the image, but almost any lettershape will do.


PEANUTDRIVEN
LASERWEASELS
JUMPONXEROXM
ACHINESEARLY
FORASNAFUJAM

While YES is gone from the above, we can still read NO, and I think no is our answer - compositions created out of text formatting treatments such as bold or color may be text art, but they are not truly ASCII art because the composition exists independently of the ASCII content. In ASCCII art, each individual character contributes to the image in its difference from other characters, in the specificity of its density and/or shape - an X will not do the work of an L. But with text treatments, the underlying units are simply oddly shaped pixels - because their shapes cannot matter, their role as characters cannot matter.


@@@@@@@@@@@@
@@@@@@@@@@@@
@@@@@@@@@@@@
@@@@@@@@@@@@
@@@@@@@@@@@@

This is not to say that there aren’t intersting things about compositions that use text as pure surface. One of my favorite examples is the one-offset method of filling a surface with repeating text, creating vertical and horizontal lines of message like the warp and woof of a canvas.

I also enjoy the wrapping effect at the upper right and lower left corners, where the title seems to bend to follow the edge. Of course, any path of similar zigs and zags across the text surface will render the title uninterrupted - twisty little passages, indeed….

Another powerful example of a text treatment which is character-independent is Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Camille Utterback, and Clilly Castiglia’s “Talking Cure“, in which the camera image corresponds to three light levels, each of which is filled from a different text. “Talking Cure” does not have a compositional relationship between the actual shape of the performer and the representative letters used, however it is more affecting for it - the characters employed are not individual tokens, but passages whose literary sense is the message of the work.

Must character art be decoupled from the shape of the individual character in order to convey some larger sense, to become ASCII literature? I’m currently searching for counter-examples….




3 Responses to “Text and Texture in ASCII Art”

  1. 1 Jeremy Douglass

    Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/writerresponse/writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/wp-includes/functions-formatting.php on line 76

    Addendum - for examples of shape-based ASCII art (to which these are counter-examples), consider the BBS Ads Collection v1.0 by Dipswitch/DCS^BM - for example, examples using characters for their line style or their fill texture.

  2. 2 kozou

    Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/writerresponse/writerresponsetheory.org/wordpress/wp-includes/functions-formatting.php on line 76

    It is a homepage where it introduces ASCII art of Japan.

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Digital Lightwriting

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