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From Cave Art to Post Modernism: Thinking in Curlicues

“Most of my life I’ve thought in straight lines. It seems to me that artists think outside the box and in curlicues," Rebecca Barton, DDS, on what being a Brooks docent taught her.

Miscellaneous March 2011 307

What a treat it’s been to be involved with the Brooks Docent Program. After having retired from a career in dentistry I was actively seeking some “fun” projects in which to engage.  I’ve always enjoyed art but was quite unsophisticated in the history and techniques involved therein.  The well-organized and well-taught docent training class was, to me, like getting a Master’s degree in art history and art appreciation.  In addition, the Memphis Brooks Museum becomes “Yours.”  As you learn about the founders and major contributors to the museum and its collections, you gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation not only of the art, but also about the history of Memphis and its people.  In fact, with each new exhibit you learn more about our world history and receive in-depth information about the individual artists and their work. After having gone from Cave Art to Post Modernism in class, you then have the opportunity to share some of that insight with children and adults in an attempt to enhance their experiences while here at the Brooks…and also enjoy and learn from them.

One of my more entertaining experiences involved working with a group of first graders who had come to the Brooks to learn about the Elements of Art…what makes up a picture.  I asked them if they had talked with their art teacher about things that make a picture…like lines, shapes, colors, texture, etc.  In their unbounded enthusiasm they were shaking their heads yes and many hands were waving.  I said,

“Great…Who can tell me about texture?” 

One bright-eyed little girl said, rather condescendingly, I might add,

“Well, it’s REAL easy, you know.  You just take a cell phone…and you use your thumbs…and that’s texter!” 

The docent learned something that day in that children do learn on the basis of their prior experiences and it’s important to be sure that we’re all on the same page in our communications.  Having said that, art is subject to individual interpretation and the things that one person notices and interprets and enjoys in a piece of art may be totally different from what I may glean from a piece and that is very OK.  Emphasis at the Brooks is on allowing the individual to have a positive experience with the works regardless of age or artistic sophistication. (We DID get the difference between “texter” and “texture” by the end of the visit.)

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Docent Program to me personally has been the extraordinary people with whom I’ve been involved.  From the extremely accomplished and dedicated staff to the remarkably creative, clever, friendly, and altruistic docents, it truly has been a wonderfully broadening and learning and enjoyable experience.  You ought to try it!

Rebecca Barton, DDS

Visit to be on your way to becoming a Brooks docent today!