Q&A with Docent Justina Yee

Justina Yee with students during a tour of the museum

I interviewed Justina Yee, a docent for the Indiana University Art Museum, and got answers about what exactly a docent does, how they contribute to a museum’s success, and how you can get involved:

ARTFROMALLANGLES: What is a docent?

YEE: A teacher.

Docents were popularized in the early 1900’s by Benjamin Ives Gilman, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ former director, to teach and guide the public about art.  Docents are trained volunteers who teach the public about the museum and its collections by giving tours that cover works of art through formal analysis (things like line, color, form) but also through interpretation (such as understanding narrative, connections to history, cultural context, etc.)

ARTFROMALLANGLES: Why is being a docent with the IU Art Museum an awesome job to have?

YEE: The IU Art Museum has an exploratory approach to teaching the public about its collection:

“Docents do not stand in front of a work of art and pontificate on it, nor does the docent repeat facts or ‘explain’ it.  Docents ask a lot of questions during tours and people learn about the work of art through discussion and visual discovery.  When people have questions, docents steer them to find the answer by looking and making connections to various topics in our culture, history, and life.  For me, this is a completely different way of teaching and learning.  Seeing people’s eyes light up and seeing their interest piqued by a work of art is an amazing feeling.  Art can be difficult to understand and museums can be very intimidating.  Most people are also accustomed to a rote learning style of memorization and repetitive tasks.  This style of learning really works and it’s really fun. I’m always laughing and learning something new during a tour and it’s incredibly rewarding.  Also, the museum’s encyclopedic collection is world class and one of the top university collections in the country!”

ARTFROMALLANGLES: How can I become a docent?

YEE: If you are outgoing, curious, responsible, and enthusiastic and have a love of art, teaching, learning, and interacting with people, then contact the IU Art Museum’s Education Department (headed by Ed Maxedon) to apply for the position.

After being accepted, becoming a docent requires intensive weekly training sessions for a full year.  Topics such as curriculum-structured programs, specific works of art, the building’s architecture, and the museum’s history are all covered in these intensive sessions so that the docent can be fully educated and accurately share with the public their knowledge.

Training continues throughout the fall and spring and focuses more on specific works of art, new curriculum programs, new acquisitions, special exhibitions, and much more; this type of training continues for as long as you remain a docent so that you can stay current in the ever-changing world of the museum.

Classes start September 17, 2012

Contact Ed Maxedon, Education Curator, by email at gmaxedon@indiana.edu


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