One Docent's Thoughts from the Solitude of a Pandemic

Bill Sitzer, Docent, Saint Louis Art Museum; NDSC Midwest Regional Director (Summer 2020)

I've been thinking about being away from the Saint Louis Art Museum, where I am a docent, and the current circumstances of not being able to travel, as I had previously planned, to regional museums for the NDSC in my new role as a regional director. This has been a time for reflection, a time of unexpected solitude. I feel like a character in one of Edward Hopper's famous paintings in which solitary individuals are lost in thought, maybe his Automat, 1927, in the collection of the Des Moines Art Center, or Nighthawks, 1942, at the Art Institute of Chicago, or Morning Sun, 1952, at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Current circumstances have given me time to muse about what I can do as a docent in spite of our current limitations, and how I might do things differently than I had previously thought as those limitations are relaxed. The solitude created by the 2020 pandemic has certainly led me to more fully appreciate the value of being a part of a docent community. Perhaps more importantly, it has afforded me a renewed opportunity to consider the importance of art from a new point of view.

Why is art important? Why is art important right now? Civilizations come and go, but what remains is what was created by artists. If a whole civilization is gone, sometimes all we have is a poem, or a beautiful urn. It is art that tells us the stories and suggests what was known and believed by those that came before us, and how they found meaning in their lives. It is art that helps us to find our place in the continuum of humanity, and to cultivate knowledge, wisdom and faith in our own lives and times.

NDSC Hopper image

Morning Sun,  1952, Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), Columbus Museum of Art

Artists are the story tellers that bring the times in which they lived to life. If you want your experiences of the world to be remembered, be an artist, support other artists, and help others discover and learn to engage with and interpret the arts. The stories artists tell may not tell the whole story, but it is the stories that those artists did tell and that were somehow preserved that will provide a lens to the world in which they lived. It is in this manner that artists create an important understanding of recorded history and the legacy of cultures that came before us as we understand them.

There is power in the actor's gestures, the poet's words, the composer's notes, the artist's brush strokes. Learning how others before us found meaning helps us recognize universal truths that humanity has always struggled to find. It helps us to understand the differences between that which is revealed and that which remains hidden from our view. There is an opportunity for real joy in experiencing and studying the world through the vision of artists and in playing a part in the development of knowledge and wisdom through artistic curiosity and awe. Art provides a window to the soul.

As a member of your National Docent Symposium Council, it is my sincere desire to retain the rich wisdom and standards of our past leaders while also exploring new and meaningful paths which promote communication among and education of all of us as docents and guides in our current times. I look forward to seeking and identifying constructive ways for all of us to continue to share our ever-evolving understanding and love of art in our many diverse museums and other cultural institutions.



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