Some further thoughts on audio-description

In trawling the internet it is very hard to find material on the principles of audio-description for the Visual Arts. Audio Description is the detailed narration techniques used to assist blind and partially sighted people, both young and mature, to enjoy art and other visual media.

A lot of audio-description I’ve listened to at various art exhibitions tries hard to be objective and in the process comes across as literal and lacking in engagement. A lot of blind and visually impaired people I’ve talked to over the years have said they often find audio-description to be boring.

The RNIBs Opening Up Creative Culture programme made an attempt to talk about description as a creative process. Spoken word artist Evoke in talking about his passion for audio-description says: “A picture tells a thousand words. I wanted to take those thousand words and create a picture.” [You can hear the ten videos made by Zoe Partington for the programme by clicking on this link.]

I think there is a lack of audio-description within the visual arts that gives the artists’ perspective and thereby truly takes you into the image being described. So often it’s purely about surface rather than the layers of meaning that any image can evoke. Rarely within audio-description do you get any clues as to why the artist has created that particular image.

It is partly because Art School education has long encouraged the idea that visual artworks, should by definition ‘speak for themselves’ – and so any written or spoken text interpreting a painting or a photograph is frowned upon. The usual argument is that interpretation ‘gets in the way’ of the viewer’s imagination.

Personally I think that words, when used creatively, and in an accessible way add layers enhancing the viewer’s experience of the artwork. Rather than being about telling people what to see it’s about adding another way of perceiving the image. Rather than ‘doing all the work’ for the viewer, it’s actually challenging the viewer to think more deeply and creatively about what they are looking at.

And so in my creative audio-descriptions for Knitting Time I’ve attempted to embellish the literal interpretation with stories about the process of making the artwork as well as telling life experiences that put the image into context. Click on this link and have a listen and see what you think?

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F2MN2MT and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at] btinternet.com
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One Response to Some further thoughts on audio-description

  1. Debz says:

    I enjoyed the audio. It provided an extra dimension to the whole experience. I found it a lot easier and more accessible than reading printed text, of the kind often seen at art exhibitions.
    I’ve also struggled with the notion that pictures should ‘speak for themselves’ and shouldn’t need any further explanation or description. This is rubbish, of course. Look how many art books are published; and they’re full of words.

    However, there is clearly an art to audio guide / description and you certainly possess the necessary skills.

    l wonder if you might have invented something new and entirely different.
    Aside from the audio commentary/about accompanying the pictures, I would have loved to have heard you narrate the poems as well. Having listened to your (lovely) voice, it was a bit of a come-down (and strain) to then have to read the poem, which also wasn’t very accessible to be honest.

    I’ve been very lazy about creating alt text for my pictures on my DAO blog. It feels like an entirely other (and extra) creative process; it uses a different part of the brain to talk about a picture, to find verbal equivalents of visual language and terminology. I’d like to try it though. I think it will help me understand what I’m doing in my work. On the other hand, maybe I’m afraid I won’t have anything interesting to say, that it will sound completely banal and /or pretentious, something of which you are most definitely not guilty.

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