Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Websites & Artists Part 4 - Describing Art Online?

After getting my website live last week, an interesting thought occurred to me. When we're showcasing our art online, is it really necessary to describe that work in detail in a little text clump next to the image? Is it really necessary to talk about your inspirations, how the work came to be, etc? Does anyone really care?

I posed the question to my Facebook/Twitter/social networking groups and received some interesting feedback:

Nobody Cares...
...or rather nobody has the time to read these days. This camp believes the image says it all and that those browsing your art are really only interested in the final product. Basic information, such as medium, the program you used, the size of the image, and the purpose of creation (for a commission, for a company, etc) seem acceptable by the 'keep it simple' philosophy. From the standpoint of the artist, this is also an efficient approach if you don't have the time to sit and write descriptions about your process, or merely have nothing you're inspired to say about your pieces. Many websites for illustrators, concept artists, and industry-focused fields seem to be done in this fashion.

The More, the Better!
This attitude seems more prevalent in the fine artist crowd who believe that process is an important part of the expression. I would argue that it is also more prevalent on the sites of artists who sell a majority of their work to the general public. While Art Directors and the like have little time to read long heart-felt descriptions of a work's creation and inspirational impetus, the general public appreciates learning why that work is 'special' and worthwhile. It all links up to 'implied value', in this case, or how much worth an uninformed individual places on your work from presentation alone when they have no previous knowledge of you or your work.

Things to Think About
From the standpoint of a website designer with search engine optimization in mind, remember that meta-tags are not the most prevalent form of how search engines find a site. Nowadays, search engines like Google index the content, or text, of your pages in order to glean the most relevant results, though meta-descriptions on pages still seem relevant, if you have time to fill that field in for each page you design (meta-description being what shows on the results of any search engine's results page).

But neither should you fake a description! Personally, I think it's not worth it to ramble on about something if you really don't care about it. You only waste your own time and leave fans with a false impression of your priorities as an artist (and the more astute fans amongst us with doubts about your sincerity).

Personally..., I've invested myself as a writer and an artist, meaning there's a bit of poetry or a story behind most (but not all) of the pieces that I do. My site has barebone descriptions right now, but I hope to find a way to include text in a collapsible box so the most ADD amongst us can either skip the fluff or click a plus box to reveal a brief bit of prose.

In the end, I think an artist should consider what their site is going to do for them, who their audience is, and just how much time they have to manage writing long descriptions. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable with.

How do you showcase your art online? Do you write long or short descriptions? What value do you see in either method?

Websites & Artists Series
Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
Part 4 - Describing Art Online


  1. At least I include the medium, when there is not much to say. If there is a story, the story will be even if briefly in the description. when browsing art I like shortish descriptions, they make me feel that the artist did not just pop the image just because but there is some feeling within the process of creating. But I don't even bother reading 3 pages long descriptions. One paragraph or two should be more than enough.

  2. awesome, i can now comment w/ my twitter account!

    well, i personally like reading ppl's thoughts behind an artwork. always have. this is purely from a personal standpoint - i've always been expressing myself thru writing since my 4-yr-old fingers were able to manipulate a pencil. and this is reflected in the fact that my works are always accompanied by at least a basic description & smtimes my feelings on it - if you see a very brief, zen-esque one, it usually means i am in an atypical mood or feeling very withdrawn, very "i dont wanna have to explain myself".

    i do know plenty of ppl who don't read more than two lines without spacing out. should u censor yourself severely becoz of these ppl? i dont think so. the words are there; one can choose to ignore it. for me reading the background on the work can actually enhance the viewing experience, or add otherwise unglimpsed depth.

    even now i feel myself flowing into three healthy paragraphs - u can just tell i support descriptions! haha. like one of your guests has commented, i will likely not absorb 3 pages or a mini-thesis...but is there a black n white rule as to how long or short any one description should be? in my less-than-humble opinion, no. not unless you are constrained by say, an online portfolio website with space constraints, issues of viewer-friendliness & whatnot. it's all a matter of what is appropriate; and becoz u have a marvellously good head on your shoulders, we have no cause to doubt your common sense. :)

  3. From the viewer's perspective, and borrowing slightly from showcasing writing, I think a little bit of context is good to include if it's relevant, but it should still be kept simple. It's like pitching a novel or writing a query, no one wants to long fluffy process of what it was like to write/paint/design the piece, the heartfelt emotions that went into it, they want content.

    In terms of art, I enjoy knowing if the image is evoking (or dramatizing) a scene, if the figures are characters with more to them than just the one image, if there's symbolism to take in (but not waxing poetic about What It Means and taking away my own chance to interpret). I also enjoy knowing if there's say a few lines of poetry that inspired the piece, or a section of song lyrics. A brief sense of what the artist was trying to do is a good bit of information too, and it lets the viewer compare and judge whether or not the final product matches the intent, rather than saying "You must interpret it this way."

    For my fiction, I like to give a short bit of context (ie: if work is based in an long-standing setting, like my fire tales, or if it's a character study, etc) and maybe a short line of the premise so people can tell if they're interested or not. For my website, though, I opted to go for quotes rather than descriptions, and let the work stand on its own. The work needs to go out there and stand on its own, to be judged, adored, reviled, on its own merits, so at that point I feel it's no longer something I should be coddling and explaining and defending. If it's emulating a certain style or author, evoking a classic story, or something, that's worth noting though, and I'd take the same approach to art, personally. I think it's better to offer something brief and evocative and make someone want more and not get it, rather than throw paragraphs at them and make them turn the other way.

    As a thought as far as web design goes, any level of having to click through for more information can probably be assumed won't be done. If you include something short along with the image display, then people can read it or not. If you want to get longer, perhaps you could set it to preview the first 100 words or so alongside the image, and then if someone's interested they can hit More for the rest?