I was looking forward to going on a docent guided tour while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York City recently. The one I decided to go with was called "Old Master Paintings". It was as interesting and as entertaining as I expected it to be!
While waiting for the group to gather I enjoyed talking with both the docent (a woman of about 60), and another art-lover who said he got interested in art after seeing the film "National Gallery". I said "Oh my wife & I saw that on the big screen. That was great." Our docent mentioned that the Met took an idea from that film recently during the Sargent exhibition as they started doing entire talks in front of one painting.
Our Old Master tour included stops at about six paintings ranging from the 13th to the 16th centuries and included paintings by Bruegel, Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Early during the second stop our docent asked the group if anyone was a painter, and I was the only one to raise my hand. "What do you use she asked?" "Oil paint" I said.
After a most enjoyable sixty-plus minute tour, the group dispersed and she came over to me and asked "So did I do O.K.?" I said "Yeah, you did fine." Then, sounding almost apologetic she said, "I wish I could talk about these works on a more technical level." I answered by saying that her job is probably to just simply put these works in their proper context historically and stylistically. Then I had to say, "I would have loved to asked you a bunch of questions about technique and process, but everyone else would have probably been bored."
Then she said something I found pretty gratifying, "Last summer I took oil painting classes and of course was lousy at it, but when you try to do it, then see what these artist were able to do - it’s just amazing! Most of the other docents have never painted and cannot speak about it on that level.”
As with pretty much any endeavor in life, whether it is in the arts or anything else, you cannot fully appreciate something unless you have tried it yourself.
So that is my little manifesto to the Met and all major museums - If possible, try to use docents who have attempted to paint, sculpt, or do whatever they are speaking about. It makes for a much more enjoyable tour.