How An Augmented Reality Art Exhibition Changed The Way I Write
Here’s what I learned from my experience writing for art.
Writing for art is fun as hell. Recently, I had the chance to help my partner, Sarah, with her art exhibition. Held between the 18th — 24th February 2020 in Sydney, the exhibition was titled ‘Unseen: Augmented Reality Art Exhibition.’ And, you guessed it, involved patrons interacting with six distinct augmented reality art pieces.
Each augmented reality art piece was designed and developed by Sarah herself. The description that accompanied each art piece, however, was my responsibility. It was important that the patrons not only loved interacting with the augmented reality features of the art pieces, but to also understand the meaning of the art conveyed, which were concisely described on individual plaques beside each art piece.
It was an amazing experience that drew over a hundred patrons, as well as over eight hundred interactions with the art pieces. Positive feedback not only highlighted the amazing augmented reality features of each art piece, but also the descriptions that accompanied them as it tied together to create both an enjoyable moment and deeply enriching experience for the patrons.
Writing for art is a new experience for me. Most of my nascent writing career was focused on writing fiction in the form of short stories, novellas, blog posts and novels. Crafting the descriptions and commentary that accompanied such beautiful masterpieces were a challenge in itself, but I’ve learned quite a bit from this amazing experience:
Understand your subject matter.
To write is to understand, at least that’s how the saying I just coined goes. Before you can even begin product description writing for a prospective client, there is a need to understand not only what they are selling but also the perspective they are coming from. For example, you could be asked to copywrite a couple of photos. Understanding the content of the photos is important. However, you also need to know if there are any overall themes which need mentioning, the tone of each photo and — if there are multiple photos that need selling — how each of them are interconnected to the other.
Furthermore, the tone of each exhibition piece were also starkly different, from the ominous puppet string motion in the Chinese lantern piece to the fun and playful vibe of the Monopoly board piece. Each piece needed its own distinct description that did justice to the beauty of each piece — which can only be achieved by understanding.
Each piece needed its own distinct description that did justice to the beauty of each piece — which can only be achieved by understanding.
When writing for this exhibition, Sarah made it clear that her goal was to not only allow patrons to have a thrilling augmented reality experience through their phones, but to also convey a specific message — whether it was social ills, climate change or cultural expectations.
Short and to the point.
The best descriptions are those that you can look at and, in a glance, understand what it’s trying to convey. It doesn’t have to be long-winded, full of adjectives, similes or abject aliterations. Writing art piece descriptions is all about helping the reader understand the who,what, why, when and how without giving them too much rope that they could hang themselves with it. A short description is an art in itself, much like writing the blurb on the back of your novel. You need to identify and emphasise the important points of what you’re trying to sell and why the reader should take an interest in it.
The best descriptions are those that you can look at and, in a glance, understand what it’s trying to convey.
For example, one of the more challenging descriptions I had to write for this augmented reality exhibition was for a piece titled ‘Unseen Darkness’. Sarah wanted to convey, through the augmented reality filter, the darkness, depression and desolation that people feel on the inside on a regular basis, despite the ‘happy’ masks that friends, family and close colleagues see in their daily life. My efforts to encapsulate that point failed miserably, in terms of being succint and effective.
In the end, however, I stumbled across a quote by the late Robin Williams, which was:
I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone to feel like that.
It helped encapsulate the point of the piece, while bringing this pertinent and ever present quote to life through the augmented reality filter. Patrons would understand not just how beautiful the filter was but also the deeper meanings, encapsulated perfectly through this one simple, yet effective, quote.
Don’t describe, explain.
Finally, mastering the art of explaining instead of describing is key. Too often, many fall into the trap of trying to describe to audiences what they are seeing, although they already have eyes to see your description. What eludes most, however, is the message that the product, such as a visual piece of art, is trying to convey. Some will come to their own conclusions, after looking and thinking about the art piece for a considerable amount of time but most will enjoy the visual feast that the art portrays without really mentally engaging with what it truly means.
Ultimately, it is up to you to explain to the audience the themes portrayed by each piece, what it signifies, why this is important to the artist and why this should be something the audience should value and think about as well. It’s up to you to impart that message upon them and ensure that it is not only imprinted in their hearts but their minds as well.
For example, one of the pieces which I enjoyed describing was the one above, entitled ‘Unseen Stories’. The change between the real and augmented pieces are subtle and very well crafted but, for some people, it flew over their heads that each ‘window’ in the apartment changed to reflect how people in real life tend to be different from the public personas they crafted for themselves on social media.
Here is the description I wrote to accompany this piece:
Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or even LinkedIn, we see flawless images of people on social media. Perfect life, loving partner, lavish vacations, dream jobs, and ultimate luxury.
With AR, I want to show the superficiality of social media. Everyone has a story that is hidden and private, like our own places in buildings where we can truly be ourselves and show our true colours. We need to be content, not be influenced by a one-dimensional portrayal of life on social media and acknowledge that comparison is the thief of joy.
As can be seen, the description does not take anything away from the beauty of the piece and the filter. Instead, it adds to the experience, explaining to the patrons the meaning behind what they were seeing, why they were seeing it and the lessons they needed to heed from the experience.