• Tag Archives docents
  • Botox

    Imbolc                                                                              Bloodroot Moon

    Great line in a note from Tom Byfield, longtime docent at the MIA, recently resigned.  He writes:  For many years being a docent was the Botox I needed to ease my way into old age feeling good about myself.  This is third phase thinking, considering this next, long portion of our lives and deciding what’s necessary to keep feeling good.

    We all need some reconstructive surgery as we move away from life’s second phase, the one of work/career and family.  That is, we have to reshape, reconfigure our presence in the world.  This is different, in my mind at least, from reinventing yourself.  Not sure I’d want to do that. Not sure I could do that. But discovering new parts of myself or neglected parts that could blossom with sufficient attention, now that’s important.  And doable.

    Another way to think about this is that the first two phases of life, education and career/family are instrumental.  We see ourselves as in training for something to do, then doing it, often with a spouse and children.  Much of the angst of the first two phases of life comes in the tension between the (necessary) instrumental view of our self and the Self aching to discover its true purpose.  The lucky ones match the instrumental with Self discovery, but most aren’t so lucky.

    In the third phase of life though the instrumental drops away and the Self emerges, perhaps as out of a cocoon, with wings and the ability to fly.  After all those years of crawling along the ground.  Wow.  But, it turns out, flying is scary and leaving the ground behind also means leaving behind a lifetime of habits and learnings for the unknown.  It’s not surprising that so many fail to even spread their wings during the third phase.

    We humans often hold close pain in preference to change, being familiar with the outline and shape of our misery while ignorant of the other.  We fear those things we do not know and this is wise.  It lends that side note of caution that often keeps us safe.  But, it turns out, that same side note can keep us from growing, from spreading those new wings and heading off into the morning.

    So this is a message of encouragement if you’re stuck right now, hanging on to the job, the career, the skills that made you successful.  They’re not you; they’re things you learned.  Now you have an opportunity to learn some more.  I hope you take the chance.  Crawl out of that chrysalis and find out what life has to offer today.



  • A Stroll Down Memory’s Lane

    Lughnasa                                              Waxing Harvest Moon

    Took a stroll down St. Paul’s living museum on Monday.  That’s the way Emily Shapiro characterized Summit Avenue, the western end of it that turns sharply, avoiding Ramsey Hill and heads off toward the state capitol.

    We visited the first SPA building (complete with a bronze sculpture of a young Fitzgerald), learned about Tudorbethan architecture, found Hale park complete with a D.A.R. sponsored statue of Nathan Hale (hands tied behind his back), saw Marcia Rinek’s early home near the Louis Hill house and an August Gauden Eagle in Lookout Park.

    There is, too, a chainsaw sculpture of an ancient burr oak, right across the street from the University Club.  Emily has information identifying it as a prominent madame of early St. Paul.

    Seeing, truly seeing, is one of the gifts that close attention to art nurtures.   We all walked this familiar area, driven past many times, but this time we stopped, looked and listened.


  • A Member of the Loyal Opposition

    Lughnasa                                              Waning Honey Extraction Moon

    Today members of the guide discussion group meet with Katherine Milton at the museum.  We’ve had specific concerns around continuing education and requested this meeting to discuss them with the head of the department that includes Art Adventure, Collection in Focus and Docent programs.

    I had this in mind the other day when I wrote about complainers.  Instead of figuring out how to stamp down or stamp out complainers, organizations should welcome honest critics, often the only source of straightforward critique most institutional denizens ever get.   Too often cloaked in a self-justifying cloud of hopes and projects, all folks who work within large organizations of any kind, be they corporate or non-profit, run the risk of filtering evidence through their own biases, unintentionally slanting and weighting feedback.

    That’s not say, of course, that every outside critic has the truth, but it is to say that the probability of unbiased feedback rises if it comes from folks whose lives are not intimately entwined with the institution.

    My hope is that this process will establish clear channels for guides (all volunteers) and their representatives, that it will open the museum to the voices of that cadre of folks who most often interact with the museum’s public, and that the result will be improved education and resources to the end of excellent tours for museum patrons.

    At the Woolly meeting last night we focused on gratitude, especially for those who had touched our lives in a formative way.  I admitted, as I’ve written here before, that I’ve held at a distance folks who would mentor me. (with one unsuccessful exception, Phil Johnson) “I have an oppositional personality,” I said, “Though none of you may have noticed that.”  Everyone chuckled.

    It’s not a surprise to me that I’m involved with this effort.  My ear hears the frustrated, the unheard, the fearful and my heart always aches to make them heard and felt.  Mom and Dad, in different ways, both reached out to the avoided, the uncared about and did it in spite of considerable institutionalized opposition.  I suppose that’s why this feeling has an instinctive feel, something taught before language and learning.

    We all have our peculiarities, our deep inclinations, this happens to be mine.

  • Inverting the Pyramid of the Museum

    Beltane                                                                                          Waxing Garlic Moon

    A museum is an odd organization since it has a bifurcated purpose, one dealing with things and another dealing with people.

    As to things, it has a responsibility to the art works in its custody, a responsibility to not only exhibit them, but to care for them in such fashion that they will survive, as many already have, for centuries, even millennia.  This work of the museum is in the hands of curators, guardians or trustees from the original Latin, who both establish rules and procedures for keeping art safe, and purchase more art to enhance the museum’s collection goals.  Some see curators as taste-setting or taste-makers and they can serve that role by choosing what the public will see at any one time of a museum’s collections.  Others see them as conservators.  Others as connoisseurs.  They have all these roles and more.

    Most of the time the work of the curator and the work of the museum going public line up.  That is, the curator wants to have the best examples of particular kinds of art and wants to display it to advantage.  The public comes to see the art and wants to see in a way that makes viewing both easy and informative.  Occasionally the curator may loan out certain works or remove certain works either for conservation or on a rotation with other, similar objects.  In those instances the curators work might frustrate the public.

    As to people, though, the museum exists for its public.  Its public has certainly been defined and refined over the years.  In their origins museums served and often still do serve an educated elite who feel a particular bond with the arts and artists.  As long as museums serve this group primarily, the museum usually functions without controversy.

    If, however, as is now the case, museums seek to measure their worth by attendance numbers and also by the diversity of the audience, the museum has a new position in relation to its visitors.  Groups who have not traditionally been seen as museum visitors, school children, financially disadvantaged persons, members of any community, really, neither moneyed nor educated at the college level and beyond, require some assistance, some guidance, some initial tutoring.

    This has, traditionally, been the role of the docent whether paid or volunteer.

    As more and more first time visitors come to the museum, such things as museum etiquette must be taught.  Stay one foot away from everything.  Use inside voices.  Don’t make telephone calls in the galleries.  Visitors must also be encouraged in that most basic art museum act, the encounter with individual works.  This  requires small groups, maybe 10-15 at best, of new visitors and a specially trained guide, most often a docent though there are now many different types of guide programs.

    The vast majority of museum visitors will never see a curator, never talk to a development officer or an education staffer.  They will not even know there is a department of registration and will know the board and director only as far away figures, if at all.

    They will encounter the art in one fashion or another.  A large number, perhaps most, will, at one point or another, however, meet a guide.  Most will meet docents.  Some will meet guides from other, specialized programs that focus only on school children or that provide tours of specific museum collections.

    The docents and guides are hardly indispensable, but the museum does have two categories without which a museum does not make sense:  art and visitors.  The art needs curators, certainly, and visitors, many visitors, benefit from a guided experience, an engagement with the art designed to elicit careful looking, provide some information and enhance the possibility the art will do its radical job of confronting a visitor’s perceptions and preconceived notions.

    Seen in this light, an inverted pyramid of the organization shines its light on art and visitors, then on those who work most closely with them, the guides.

    The museum seen from this inverted perspective suggests a high degree of importance for a well-trained and continuously updated guide corps.  It also suggests a higher level of appreciation for this volunteer group that serves the most critical aspect of the museum’s mission, making art available to all.

  • Imagine a Line

    Beltane                                                               Waning Last Frost Moon

    A very interesting conversation among fellow docents over lunch.  When I reflect on it, it seems like we’re asking a potentially troublesome, certainly challenging question.  What is the role of the docent?  The museum?  Art in a museum?  What kind of experience do we want our visitors to have when on a tour?  Should it be entertaining and fun?  Should it be informative?  Should the experience include wrestling with difficult topics like rape, violence, feminism, racism, colonialism, homosexuality or are those kind of topics best left alone?

    Art, any art, whether in a museum or gallery or private collection or still resident in an artist’s studio, represents a dialogue between an individual and their interior life on the one hand and between an individual and the context of influence in which they swim, on the other.

    Museums represent a democratizing of arts role in the culture in that they preserve works over time and exhibit them to anyone willing to come and, if necessary, pay an entrance fee.  Otherwise art remains locked away behind walls of privilege, secreted in private rooms or hung in institutions of wealth and power  corporate, governmental or religious.

    Art’s intimate dialogue, a dance really, within the artist’s person expressed in the artist’s world, does not end with the finished work, rather, in one sense, it is only then that it truly begin.  Arts life, its voice, emerges only in those one-to-one moments when another individual stops, looks, wonders, connects, feels.  Imagine, if you will, the great stream of people who have seen Michelangelo’s Pieta since he finished it in 1499.  Imagine them as one long queue, standing patiently, moving slowly, each person stopping.

    As I take my time before it, I’m moved by the tenderness to pity (pieta) both Mary and the crucified Jesus.  The humanness of a mother with her dead son cradled in her lap suggests heartbreak, anguish, maybe even despair.  In my case I may reverse it, remembering my mother, dying from a stroke at the age of 46.  The emotions, the experience comparable.

    The smooth finish of the marble, the folds in Mary’s garments, the limp body pressing into her lap not as a long piece of stone, but as dead weight.  Her downcast eyes, her upturned left palm, her apparent youth.  All of these create in me a response not dictated by the material, marble, but by the marble’s transformation at the hands of a 15th century Italian, a rugged, intelligent, sensitive man.

    Michelangelo speaks directly to me, soul to soul.  The conversation is lively, profound, memorable.  Yet he’s dead, just like Jesus.

    The line moves on.  Who knows what the next person will experience?  What will their dialogue with Michelangelo be?  There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, probably millions in that line.  The Pieta is only one work of art.  Imagine the lines that have formed before Botticelli’s Primavera?  Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.  The Sphinx.  The Churning of the Sea of Milk in Angkor.   In each instance we offer ourselves up to another, at best we become vulnerable, the conversation is two way.

    Then, there is the more complex phenomena of groups encountering art.  That is, of course, the essence of touring.  How can we make that experience, that encounter with a work, intimate?  What extra do we add to the experience that makes us worthwhile?  Answering that question, it seems to me, is the journey on which this small group of docents has begun.  Sounds significant to me.

  • Uh-Oh

    Beltane                                                           Sliver Bee Hiving Moon

    Bees check this morning.  Colony 1 is queenright.  Colonies 2 and 3 were not queenright because I had improperly handled the indirect release.  The queens were in the cage still, being tended to by the colony so I direct released both of them.  At the next hive inspection, I imagine they will be queenright, too.  Pollen patties were not depleted, nor even used for that matter.  There was still honey in the frames from last year’s hives, so all looks good right now.   The bees were calm.

    Had a last hurrah with the Titian show, docent colleagues who’d toured it showed up.  We discussed how we’d handled certain paintings, noticed things we hadn’t seen before, fun to rehash.  Afterward we went over to Rinata’s and had their $20 Sunday evening meal.  Tasty.

    After that, tai chi, just down Hennepin five blocks.  Was I not ready for what happened tonight.  I positioned myself on the end of the line and, being alone, totally lost my place, forgot moves I knew well.  I’d practiced and practiced this week.

    Dropping the moves out of my consciousness created a sense of panic, one I know well.  My brain tells me:  leave, leave, leave.  It’s a sort of red klaxon at work.  A tight chest.  I don’t like to fail.  At anything.  And this is for stress relief?  Well, not for me.  Not tonight.  I calmed myself down, changed positions and tried to keep my head in the class.  It was hard.

    Afterward I talked with teacher.  She reassured me.  Told me chaos often proceeds a break through.  Told me that she was totally confused in her first ten weeks.  That she’d get me confident.  I felt flushed and embarrassed when she told me I had to concentrate on keeping my hips together.  I though I had been.  Again, I don’t like to be doing something poorly.  There is of course motivation here, yes, but there’s also fear and avoidance.

    On the drive back I just drove, listening to Wolf Hall, a very good novel about Henry the VIII, Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell.

  • Salute to the Spring Ephemeral

    Spring                                                  Waxing Bee Hiving Moon

    We have hundreds of daffodils just about ready to bloom.  A few scylla have popped up in the front and crocus, too.  Tulips have also broken through.  It’s an exciting time for a perennial lover, especially if you are, like me, a lover of the spring ephemerals, those hardy flowers that have their timing down to avoid the shade of leafy trees and shrubs, opening up and going to seed long before the darkness covers their little patch of land.  These little guys can’t wait to get out of the ground, sort of like greyhounds or whippets.

    My next favorite flowers are the lilies and they don’t show up until July.  After that, I’m ok with whoever wants to bloom.

    Lunch at Stacy Pydych’s, an Italian, Venetian theme.  Lots of good table conversation, good food and sunshine.  A perfect day with friends.  Thanks to everybody who got there.

  • Banned Art

    Winter                                                             Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

    I have now seen “A Fire in My Belly.”

    What did I think of it?  Much of the movie disturbed me:  scenes of lucha masked wrestlers throwing each other to the mat, a grainy clip of bull fighting, occasional interpositions of an Aztec priest lifting the heart out of a sacrificial victim, gamecocks fighting to the death, legless beggars walking a city street and panhandling in traffic, a man’s mouth being sewn closed, young boys breathing fire on Mexican city streets to make a few coins.  Frankly, the ants crawling across the crucifix, I didn’t see them biting the ivory figure but maybe the Catholic League paid closer attention, didn’t have near the shock value I anticipated from the news releases and very little compared to the much more violent or voyeuristic images I’ve already mentioned.

    I’ve added some material below from the Catholic League and the Walker.  The Catholic League’s argument is a farce from a logical perspective.  It suggests, for example, that because the first amendment prohibits the state’s establishment of religion that it should not be able to fund things that “bash” another.   Whether or not this is bashing may lie in the eye of the beholder, but the argument that prohibiting establishment somehow contains a negative constraint against critiquing religion just doesn’t follow.  At all.

    As a work, I found “A Fire In My  Belly” obscure as to meaning and intent, though with some powerful images that display the underlying violence of Mexican culture.  Just why he chose the savagery of Mexican cockfighting, wrestling, bull-fighting and human sacrifice, I don’t know, but linking it to the kind of brutality that could crucify a god on earth seems like a powerful pro-religious statement.

    Images of Coatlicue, She of the Serpent Skirt, show up frequently in the film and may provide an interpretive key.  Among other things, she is the birth giver from whom all life comes and to whom all life must return in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. An art historian familiar with this sculpture from the Mueso de Antropologica in Mexico city, says:  “In effect she symbolizes the earth, but also the sun, moon, spring, rain, light, life , death, the necessity of human sacrifice, humanity, the gods, the heavens, and the supreme creator:  the dual principle.”  (material quoted from The Flayed God, pp 220-223)

    Thus, her presence signals the deeper mythic significance of the individual images from Mexican culture and places the crucifix, certainly bound up in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, in an artistic context.

    This is not an easy piece, either viscerally or art historically, and may be as much a cry of pain as anything else.  The more I think about it, the more powerful it becomes.  So there, Catholic League.

    Continue reading  Post ID 19051

  • Representative

    Fall                                                     Waxing Harvest Moon

    Spent much of the day with stars in my eyes.  Literally.  After those damned dilating drops at the ophthalmologist.  However, my pressures are still below glaucoma level and the photographs of my retina show insignificant change.  The technician photographing my retinas kept saying, “Watch the green dot.  Your eye’s moving.  Watch the green dot.”  Well, geez.  I thought I was doing a damned good job of keeping my eye from doing its normal task, checking out those flashing lights to the left.  Apparently not good enough.  Anyhow.

    Over to Cafe Ena, a Latin fusion restaurant, at the intersection of 46th and Grand for lunch with the docent outing crew.  I had mofongoed Yucca.  This involves pounding and cooking it in some way according to our waiter.

    After lunch I walked with Allison and Jane MacKenzie from the Cafe to the Weinstein gallery.  Martin Weinstein, the gallery owner, introduced the current show of Robert Mapplethorpe, Alec Sloth and August Sanders portraits.  He represents Alec, a local boy now part of Magnum, and Robert Mapplethorpe’s estate.

    Curious about the business side of gallery work, I asked Martin how representing an artist worked.  Turns out he ships art, packing and insuring it, both incoming and outgoing.  He frames all the pieces or arranges for them to be mounted.  He manages the three buildings that constitute his modest, spare gallery space, pays a woman to assist in the complex logistics of the business.  He also collaborates with museums to mount shows of his artists, mostly on his nickel.  In addition he mounts several shows a year with all the attendant costs, including a reception with wine and cheese, plus boarding and expenses for the artist.  This is all sunk cost, paid out long before any commissions come in from sales.

    It is, he emphasized, “A very stressful business.  Always this coming, that going.”  Martin is a tall, slightly stooped man with a shock of white hair and round architect type glasses, thick ones.

    The photographs were elegant, Martin was entertaining and there was a good turn out.  A fine afternoon.  Thanks, Allison.

  • And some more misc.

    Beltane                                    Waning Planting Moon

    A fine tribute to Michele Yates.  Merritt did a tour of various galleries and played music appropriate to the era.  Plain chant in the medieval and renaissance gallery, madrigals and recorder music in the Tudor Room, a movement from a Mozart concerto next to Ganymede and the Eagle, romantic music by Mendelssohn  in the large gallery with Theseus and the Centaur, Delacroix’s Fanatics of Tangiers and Silenus, ending with Debussy in the impressionist gallery.

    Merritt is a musicologist by profession, now retired, and has a keen appreciation for the interplay between the musical and visual arts.

    Today’s a bit fragmented in that I took my nap at 11:00 am.  Now I’m going to go work on some more Ovid.