I drafted some pointers to aid the describers who I’m recruiting for my curated event: creative audio descriptions of items in Leeds Art Gallery’s collection. Influenced by a few particular writers / artists.
Some suggestions to help you write an audio description
‘Abandon the pretext of objectivity. It is impossible and besides the point’ (Kleege, 2018).
‘I wouldn’t worry about trying to get things right straight away, what is more important is to have a go’ (Partington, 2017).
‘We were drawn into it, they explained it, the way it was lit, the brightness, the colours, it came to life!’ (research participant, 2018).
- Don’t worry about objectivity – an interesting, enthusiastic description is much better.
- Feel free to use poetry, sound, story-telling. Tell us why you’ve chosen this piece. Evoke the senses and engage the audience.
- So long as you cover the basics, have a bit of fun!
Choose an artwork
- From the Art Gallery’s collection, not from a temporary exhibition. If in doubt, ask a member of staff.
- It might be easier to choose something you have strong feelings about, positive or negative. Something you are drawn to for whatever reason.
- A very dark paintings, where there is little difference between colours. Partially sighted people find these more difficult to interpret.
- Don’t choose works that are mounted high up on the wall. Eye level is good.
- Abstract and contemporary works are fine.
- Research the work a little so you can answer basic questions – but you don’t have be an expert.
Get the basics in early: state the obvious
- What is it? Painting, film, sculpture, installation etc.
- Artist, title of artwork, year it was created, when the artist was born and died.
- Size, either as a measurement or in comparison to a common object.
- How it is displayed: on the wall, a plinth, in a case etc.
- Describe what you see, state the obvious!
What’s the impact? What’s striking about it? Then some detail
- Describe the overall impression, the composition and the things that the eye is drawn to.
- Try to convey the impact of the work, its wow factor.
- If it’s significant, describe the media / materials, or particular techniques that the artist has used – and why.
- Describe colours, tones and light / shade.
- Does it have any tactile qualities you could describe?
- Does it evoke any other senses or particular emotions?
- Once you have set the scene, move onto the details.
- But you don’t need to describe every single thing, just the things you think are significant.
- Give some context, whatever you feel is important: historical period, artistic movement, political events, influences, period of artist’s life, relationships etc.
- Why is this in the gallery? What’s important about it?
- Move in a logical, sequential order around the artwork, don’t jump around it.
- Don’t describe something as “over there” or “as you can see here”. Say “in the top right hand corner” etc.
- But you don’t need to completely avoid words like “see” and other words rooted in vision. They are part of everyday language, used by everyone.
- Be open to questions. Or you might want to ask your own questions.
Kleege, Georgina (2018) More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Partington, Z. (2017) [Panel discussion] at Ways of Seeing Art, Tate Modern, London, 23-26 February. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/ways-seeing-art (Accessed: 27 April 2018).
Sensing Culture (2018) Audio Description. Available at: http://www.sensingculture.org.uk/resources/audio-description/ (Accessed: 30 June 2018).