English 165

Special Topics: The Art of Writing: The Visible Made Verbal

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2019 Kleege, Georgina
W 3-6 note new location: 140 Barrows

Other Readings and Media

All readings will be available on bCourses.


Audio Description is a set of practices that seeks to make visual media—the fine arts, theatrical performance, dance, film and video—accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired.  In theater and film, brief descriptions of performers' actions and expressions are timed to fit in pauses in dialogue and delivered to audience members via headsets or on a separate audio track.  At art museums Audio Description may involve docent-led tours or recorded audio guides on hand-held devices or smart phone apps.  Although Audio Description has been around at least since the 1980s, it has received little critical scrutiny.  Rules and standards have been codified over the years which are often based on a very reductive notion of what blind people can understand about the visible world. 

This course will address the question: is it possible to describe visual media to people who cannot see?  But ultimately it will lead to broader questions: are descriptions of visual media written for blind people fundamentally different from descriptions produced for a general audience?  How might Audio Description enhance aesthetic experience for everyone? For example, now that audio description is available on popular streaming platforms such as Netflix, consumers who are not blind find it an aid when screening media “eyes-free,” as when driving.

The course will give students interested in writing about art the opportunity to explore what amounts to an unacknowledged new interpretative literary genre.  We will spend the first few weeks of the semester surveying and critiquing the current standards of audio description.  In addition to reading instructional texts, comparing them to traditional art criticism, we will critique examples from film, television and museums.  We will also perform group exercises in class. I will invite practitioners from local museums and theaters to describe their programs.  We will make group visits to local museums and theaters.  Students will produce three short writing exercises, such as response pieces to readings or screenings.  Students will then design and execute a project to work on for the rest of the semester.  Drafts will be rigorously workshopped during class time and the instructors will provide one-to-one feedback in writing and conferences. 

Depending on their interests, students might undertake to produce an audio description for a theater or dance production on campus.  They might produce an audio tour for an art exhibit on campus or elsewhere in the area.  They might produce audio description for videos on YouTube .They might produce an audio descriptive walking tour of a park or architectural site.  They might compose their own play or screenplay where the audio description is incorporated into the script rather than added on in post-production.  

The goal of the course is not to train students for careers as professional audio describers.  Rather, it will help students develop critical thinking skills regarding visual media and hone their skills at descriptive writing.  They will develop an awareness of the ways audience, context and the concision of the form dictates diction, tone and other facets of writing.  They will also learn how to use the feedback they will receive from the instructors and their classmates to produce substantive revisions of their work.  All these are skills that are transferable to other writing situations.  There is also a social justice component to the course in the way that it will help students analyze how a service or policy meant to aid a marginalized group can in fact contribute to that marginalization.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List