Talking About Art: Guidelines

You can find finished examples on the Gateway to Art website:


The things you will need to put together for a talk are

 1. Audio File

The key is to design a short talk (about 5-7 minutes seems to work well) that will deal in an engaging way with a single object/building/painting/graphic work. If you are planning to write a script, 500 words spoken at a regular pace will take a little under 5 minutes, so aim at anything from 500-800 words. How you approach the talk itself is up to you, though it’s a good idea to have some central questions that you want to address. Also provide the sort of historical or cultural context that will be required to understand the importance of the topic. Get across what makes your chosen object interesting, and what messages might be conveyed by its physical and/or visual qualities. It might also be that you want to contextualize the piece in political or cultural terms, or in relation to the life of the artist/creator. Remember to explain any specialized terminology and provide dates and locations, where appropriate. You can give further information of this type in the captions (see below).

Format: Start the talk with ‘Talking about art’ and the title of your talk before starting in on the talk itself. If you are recording with Quicktime or something similar, it’s a good idea to leave a gap of 3 or 4 seconds at the beginning. This will allow Mike to edit out any noise as the program is activated. It’s often a good idea to do a few ‘takes’ of your talk, listen to each one, and make a selection.

An audio file of 7 minutes or so should be 12-14 MB, so it should be easy enough to send as an email attachment.

2. Images

The idea of these short talks is to focus around one or two objects, buildings, or photographs. It will be easier for the user to concentrate on one central image as the audio is being played, though you may wish to employ supporting images if these help to explain points you want to make. The digital files need to be screen quality and sufficiently sharp to show whatever details you want to highlight in your talk (anything from 500KB to 3MB should be fine). Don’t choose photos of paintings or objects for which copyright is required, unless you want to pay for these yourself prior to the talk and images being placed online. Contemporary artworks will require the permission of the artist, and be aware of the fact that artist’s trusts also sometimes control the reproduction rights on images and objects in galleries and museums.

Buildings and public statuary are good potential sources for talks if you are using your own photographs or others that are in the public domain (such as Wikimedia). Some major museums also make selected artworks available without copyright, and these are also a useful potential avenue.

 3. Title, Captions, and supporting Information

I’ve given two samples of the type of information I give to Mike Huston for the entry on the website. In the first example, I used some images and information from online sources, and decided to include them. I haven’t done this in most cases, however, as the objects are held in private collections and no further information has been required. For the captions, make sure that they have an appropriate credit to the person or institution who owns the rights over the art object. For the tagline, I have tried to start with a question for the reader. However, it’s up to you how to do this. Try to keep it down to two sentences, however.

Example 1:

Talking about Art: A Silver Trade Coin

Tagline: Can we always trust the date we see on a coin? This talk examines one of the most famous coins ever minted, the Maria Theresa Thaler, and asks why it became so popular in countries like the Yemen.

For more on the history and circulation of the Maria Theresa Thaler, see:



Figure 1. Obverse of a Maria Theresa Thaler, purchased in Aden, Yemen, in the 1960s. Private Collection, Victora.

Figure 2. Obverse and Reverse of a Maria Theresa Thaler minted in London.

Figure 3. Maria Theresa Thaler carrying counterstrike reading ‘al-Hijaz’

Figure 4. Maria Theresa Thaler carrying counterstrike reading ‘Najd’

Figure 1
Figure 3

Example 2:


Talking about Art: Pipe Smoking in Ottoman Egypt

Tagline: Why is it important that a shadow puppet shows a figure smoking a pipe? This talk examines the story about a puppet found in a town in northern Egypt, and questions what substances were smoked during the Ottoman period.

Caption: Leather and textile puppet discovered in Manzala, Egypt. Reproduced in Paul Kahle, “Das islamische Schattentheater” Orientalisches Archiv 3.3 (1912)


Once you have the audio, the images, and the text file completed, the next stage is to send it to Mike Huston ( He will check it through, and get back to you about any issues that need attention.

Thanks for thinking about contributing to this series!