Writing Your Exhibition Description
The Exhibition Description acts like the entry text panel in a bricks and mortar exhibition space. It is the first piece of text visitors will see and read before they enter your exhibition and it should explain the themes, ideas, concepts and inspiration behind your exhibition.
We have compiled some pointers to help you write a compelling description and successfully introduce your exhibition to your visitors, so keep reading!
1. Include the ‘Big Idea’
The ‘big idea’ of your exhibition answers the question “What is this exhibition about?”. When writing your exhibition description it is important to make sure you include the Big Idea so your audience can understand and make sense of the themes and ideas you are presenting to them through your artwork.
It is also good practice for exhibition description writing to start with the specific and then move to the general, start with the present and work to the past.
This is the opposite to how we normally write as we like to paint the overall picture (no pun intended) before we get to the nitty gritty details. But if you introduce what you are trying to do now first, you can take your audience on a journey as you explain why you are doing this and how it fits into the big picture.
2. Don’t Repeat Your Bio
It is easy to think you have to talk about yourself and the artists being exhibited in the Description. However, this is not going to get the ‘big idea’ across to your audience and they will have to keep reading to the end before they think “Oh, this is what I’m about to see”.
Instead, on The Exhibit, the Exhibition Entry page has several prominent links to the Exhibitor profiles of the artists, curators, galleries or cultural institutions involved in the exhibition. And on each individual artwork page inside the exhibition, visitors can also read the artist’s bio information (please note this feature isn’t available for Collections Pro users). So there’s no need to feel as though you have to repeat information about yourself in the description as this information is all easily accessible to your visitors elsewhere throughout your exhibition.
3. Avoid “Artspeak”
The art world has a tendency to use lots of jargon and w*nky concepts which are particular to the discipline of art. However, not all these words and ideas will be understood by your visitors and you don’t want to write your description just for visitors who are art professionals or who have done a degree in fine art. If you make your visitors feel stupid, because they don’t grasp the language you are using or the points you are trying to make, they will disengage from your exhibition.
4. Don’t dumb it down too much
But to continue on from the point above, you don’t want to do the opposite either. You don’t want to make your exhibition writing seem like it is for dummies, by over simplifying your language and avoiding central concepts and ideas. Instead write in a direct and friendly way and as though you are talking directly to your audience in person.
5. Keep the structure short and simple
Lastly, if you keep in mind that your Exhibition Description is the same as the entry text panel in a bricks and mortar exhibition space, this will help you keep your description short and concise. You are not writing a long winded essay but instead a description introducing your exhibition concept and rationale. You want to give readers just enough information so they feel engaged and confident to click through into your exhibition and excited to start viewing the artworks.
It is also good practice to keep your overall structure clear and easy to read. This means using shorter sentences and avoiding any dense descriptions. You want to make it seem like you are talking directly to your visitors through your description.
Writing Artwork or Object Descriptions
Artwork or Object Descriptions are the blurbs which accompany each of the artworks or objects in your exhibition. They are just like the wall labels which are pinned next to each artwork or object in an offline exhibition. On The Exhibit, Artwork or Object Descriptions are automatically accompanied by the artwork’s title, manufacture date, medium, and size, as well as the artist’s name and a link to their biography. (Note: the artist’s biography information and link doesn’t appear on individual artwork/object pages for Collections Pro users)
Artwork or Object Descriptions are not required in your exhibition for each artwork/object, but when you take the time to add them, they do boost your online exhibition and give your visitors more information.
The more information you can provide, the more engaged your visitors will be with your exhibition, this is because they will grasp what you are trying to achieve and what emotions you are trying to illicit through the art and objects.
To really engage your visitors through your Artwork or Object Description copy, here are some of our tried and true tips:
1. Don’t make descriptions chronological
You have to remember that even the most diligent visitors aren’t stopping on every artwork/object and reading every description. So, we recommend making each artwork/object description stand alone and able to be read independently of any others, because as soon as visitors read a description that assumes they’ve read a previous one, they end up confused and frustrated.
2. Make it Beneficial
Visitors to your exhibition are looking to find something out when they read your descriptions. If you provide something beneficial to them, an insight into the artist’s creative practice, what the artwork imagery means, or the historical significance or story of the object, you will hook them in. And once they’re hooked, they’ll delve deeper into your exhibition, read more of the other descriptions, look closer at your images and maybe even buy a piece if you have ‘for sale’ works in your exhibition.
3. Tie in the Big Idea
The Big Idea which you introduce in your Exhibition Description can’t just appear just once in the introduction—it has to be a thread that weaves its way through the whole exhibition. This links all the artworks together and creates an overall sense of purpose. Visitors will also be able to follow and make sense of your visual narrative from the first artwork/object to the last artwork or object in your exhibition if you do this.
4. Be concise
Some of the points we have mentioned in our Exhibition Description writing tips above, also apply to your Artwork or Object Description copy. Your Artwork or Object Descriptions also need to avoid any jargon and artspeak, avoid talking down to your audience, and be structured in a simple and readable way.
With Artwork or Object Descriptions, shorter is definitely better, so make sure you get straight to any points you are making. If you’re referencing a historical period, art movement or artist, maybe add a short sentence explaining what or who this is. That way your visitors with art or historical knowledge are reminded and those new to your exhibitions are able to learn something which helps them understand your artwork and objects.
Hopefully you find these tips helpful? If you have further questions about exhibiting on The Exhibit, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.