Edgar Degas (French 1834- 1917) Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, Paintings Galleries, 1879/80, Etching, aquatint, burnishing, and drypoint printed in black ink on tan wove paper, Purchase, Matthew Vassar Fund, 1963.2.2

This week we will be hearing from senior student docents before they graduate on Sunday. Today’s post comes from Claudia Sanchez.  Claudia has been a docent at the Art Center for the past year.

I have always found the experience of going to an art museum to be very personal. Even when I am in the company of friends, visiting a museum or an art collection has always translated into an intimate experience, where I find only the art and myself. I do not talk very much in museums, even though I can talk about art for hours outside of them. The truth is that when I enter an art museum, I experience something similar to when I read a book or watch a movie. I do not simply witness what lies before my eyes: I experience it and transport myself into its context. Thus, visiting a museum is a brilliant opportunity: a chance for me to enter the fabulous worlds that the works portray.

I have seen myself in dim-lit studios with troubled artists, pictured myself standing in front of the canvas and recalled the smell of wet paint. I have also stood before elegant mirrors, engraved desks and lacquer boxes, imagining what it would be like to use those objects every day. I have looked and worshipped statues, knowing that they were gods that demanded respect, or all the wrath of Olympus would befall me.  I have been humbled in front of pure beauty and elegance, astounded in the face of dream-like landscapes, and felt the horror of looking at darkness in the eye. I have kept secrets, smiled, been puzzled, but all of it I always kept inside.

Indeed, these experiences have been purely mine, intimate and quiet. Being a Student Docent at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, however, irreparably changed all of that. I had always known what visiting a museum entailed, but I never imagined that working at one would entail so much more. While I thought that the job would give me the opportunity to interact with art more often, I had not realized how much the position would push my limits. At work, I was required to engage with fellow docents and to think (and think hard) about what a work of art said, not only to me, but to others. I was similarly challenged to find the words to express my feelings, and had to keep in mind what impact these words would have on my interlocutors. Indeed, each week I felt nervous about what we would talk about.

Being a student docent pushed me, but also taught me. Not only did I have to push myself to find the right words, I was also lucky enough to be able to hear other people’ positions, their many perspectives and emotions. I feel very lucky that I had this experience, as I have learned much more than I ever expected. Visiting a museum will no longer be exclusively an experience of intimacy for me (although I will continue to enjoy this part), it will also mean prompting myself to think about what the curator is trying to say to me, discussing my views with others, and going above and beyond to take advantage of everything each art collection has to offer. I certainly know how hard the staff at the art center here work to make the art accessible to others, and I feel like I am in a better position to take advantage of those opportunities myself. My experience as a staff member has definitely made me a better visitor.