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Why Take a Docent tour?

By Stephenie Frasher, Docent Team Leader

The word "docent" in Webster's dictionary means teacher or lecturer. Today, the word docent has taken on a different meaning. A docent today is a "guide" to learning not a lecturer. Why is that important?

Over the last 10 years, museum educators have realized that having someone tell you a lot of facts about the artist and the time period is interesting but certainly not what the artist intended. There is so much more to a work of art than facts. The facts we can learn on the internet. Really looking at an artwork, standing in front of it, is a whole different experience. Nothing can replace that in person experience!

Art Speaks to Us

If an artwork can "speak to us" through its colors or brushwork, do we need anyone to help us? What draws us to one artwork in a room and not another? As viewers we all need a toolbox to explore art, to help us consider the elements and really get a sense of what the artist wants us to see and feel. Can we do this on our own? Of course!

Does having a "guide" by your side facilitate this? Yes. And this can lead to a richer and more fulfilling visit with any work of art. Are the facts and history of the time important in learning about the artwork? Yes. But two weeks after your visit, will you remember the dates the artists was born or where they went to school? Or will you remember the artwork you saw and how it moved you?

So what's in the toolbox? Place yourself in the artist's shoes…what are the choices they have made when creating an artwork? Color, light, line, composition, will it be realistic or abstract, will it be large or small? Is there a donor paying for it or is this the artist's creative outlet? So many choices.

The Docent's Role

The first thing a docent will do is invite you to look…really look at the artwork. Take in all of those choices the artist has made…line, color, composition, brushwork…. The next step is to analyze what you are seeing. How do we do that? The best tool is to describe the work. Imagine yourself on your cellphone talking to a friend and tell them what you see. If every picture tells a story, what is the story here? This step is very important because now we have a connection with the work.

Does the title give us any information? How does the artist's choice of colors affect our feelings? What mood has the artist created? What might the brushstrokes tell us? Where is the light source? Where is the artist leading our eyes to "look"? Has the artist placed the scene close up to the front of the picture plane so that we become part of the scene or have they pulled us back into the scene? How have they done this?

You can certainly enjoy a work of art on your own but sharing your discoveries about an artwork with someone else is so much more enriching. A docent will not only guide you with that "toolbox" but will weave interesting facts about the artist and what was happening in the world and the artist's life at the time…what we call the inside scoop. This makes the artwork truly come alive.

Bringing Art to Life

One of the best experiences I had as a docent at the National Gallery of Art was on a tour of our Modern Sculpture collection. One of the gentlemen in the tour told me upfront that he hated Modern Art and he was only there because his wife said he had to come along. As we progressed through the tour, and I used that toolbox of discovery, he began to look and ask questions and really became engaged.

A light bulb went on for him and he began to understand that like all art, it is the artist's creativity and choices that inspire us. He thanked me at the end of the tour for helping him to see the many possibilities and challenges for an artist. It had completely changed his feelings about Modern Art!

I invite you to discover the Sarasota Colony Artists works with our docents. The collection is a so varied in style and techniques. You will have lots to explore and discover. It is an outstanding collection.

Our Docent tours are offered to the public on the first Wednesday of the month and private tours for groups are available.To make an appointment for a tour visit Arts Advocates Docent Tours. 

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