Friday, April 23, 2021

About description

Very belatedly I’m becoming aware of the importance of image description in social media, a courtesy that allows people with sight loss to engage better, especially with image-centric platforms such as Instagram. Either one can rely on the platform’s inbuilt object recognition technology, or write a brief description of the image, which sight-impaired users will be able to access with text-to-speech software. Of course, the principle has long been used in audio-description for films, and in audio guides in art galleries and it’s certainly a good way to make such art forms more accessible, although inevitably it has its limitations; it can tell you what’s depicted but the wobbly heft of a Rubens thigh, or the wild, mad intensity of a Van Gogh yellow may be harder to put across. 

There is art, of course, where such subtleties aren’t really the point; where the whole reason for the work being there is something that can be wholly encapsulated in a paragraph. Indeed, the object itself is secondary to the idea. In fact, maybe this could be a useful rule of thumb, a sort of Turing test for art. If an image description can entirely and satisfactorily communicate a work of art to someone who can’t see said work, then that work can be categorised as a piece of conceptual art.

[image description: black-and-white photograph of a white porcelain urinal at a three-quarters angle, signed along the bottom left rim “R. MUTT 1917”, against a black background]

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