I began giving tours last summer, and love my position as a docent at The Blanton. I originally started because I wanted to learn more about art and couldn’t wait to begin the educational training program. I worried about the actual tours – that I would have performance anxiety or wouldn’t have enough to say for an entire fifty minutes.
Luckily, I learned that I liked the challenge, and I’m not sure why I ever doubted my ability to talk incessantly. Tour groups can range from a university class to a group of five year olds. This makes me fully prepare for all types of situations, and the constantly changing audience keeps it new and interesting to me. Being a docent has increased my desire to continue to learn about art (I’ll be an art education grad student in the fall!) and it has strengthened my dedication to The Blanton. I feel the best way for me to describe this would be to share a few incidents that have occurred in the past year.
My tours very much depend on audience participation. Often the basic questions I throw out to get a group “warmed up” lead the conversation down a completely different path than I anticipate. I was giving a tour to a kindergarten class, and we were discussing Hans Hoffman’s Elysium. The title can mean “paradise,” so I asked the class if heaven was a happy or sad place. One girl immediately said “SAD.” I paused for a second, as this was obviously not the answer I was expecting, and asked why she thought that. “Because it’s full of dead people.” Well…yes, I can see the logic in that. I had a few of her classmates offer alternate opinions, we had a little discussion, and moved on.
Like most people, speaking in front of any group can make me nervous, but it can be even harder when I don’t know my audience. After talking to an individual about a work of art, he said to me, “Oh, you like this one? My mom is the artist. She’s over here, do you want to meet her?” I would have been significantly more nervous if I had known that little piece of information before I began talking.
Honestly, I learn something with almost every group. I had to give a tour to a class that included junior high and high school students, and was apprehensive about the dynamic. I pictured prepubescent boys being derided by the varsity football players, or worse. Instead, I ended up getting annoyed with myself because the kids had so many good ideas, and I didn’t have a pen to write them down. Which painting evoked such lively discussion from this group? A Dutch still life from the seventeenth century, of course.
I thought that being a docent at The Blanton would be an intellectual exercise for me (check), that it would make public speaking easier for me (check) and that I would enjoy it (double check – it’s one of the best parts of my week).
– Beth Bokros, Blanton Docent
Image: Abraham Van Beyeren
A Roemer with Grapes, a Pewter Plate and a Roll, c. 1680