The Virtual Docent

I chose to read an article from 1998 by James Berry entitled “The Virtual Docent”. I found this article interesting because it was written 18 years ago and it is proposing digital technologies to repair discrepancies in the museum world that we use today and that we have surpassed.

The article calls for some kind of virtual docent program in which docents are able to lead patrons from off site, transcending place and time.The article proposes examples where technology is used to extend the interpersonal aspects of museum docents. While I feel that many museums have not replaced docents with digital tools, I do not see that museums have incorporated them well into docent relations. Usually in museums there are either docent lead tours or self guided audio tours.I think the closest we see to the resolve that the article calls for is at the Brooklyn Museum, where they have text in docents answering questions. However, as we discussed in class, this is more of a community based outreach that does not transcend space as the “virtual docent” does.

However, I do think it is interesting that the article looks to virtual docents as a way to reach schools and interested patrons that may not be able to reach the museum. I see that this is very apparent through the digital designs and interface of museum websites. I think in a way, how museums curate their online databases is a a of virtually docenting. For example, the Getty has its collections available on line and commentary from the curators of exhibitions and walk throughs. The Hammer streams all of its art in conversations and museums like the Cooper Hewitt have virtual activities to make viewers make meaningful connections with the art. In this way, I feel that there is no real resolve in the personal aspects of docents but digital tools can still be used to make meaningful connections with the art.

3 thoughts on “The Virtual Docent”

  1. I love that you brought up the idea of the “virtual docent”- I think even audio tours might fit into this category. I agree that it’s difficult to replace the interpersonal relations that a real docent has, but at the same time the audio guide seems more convenient because I don’t need to wait for a timed tour and I can skip over parts of the discussion I am not interested in. This makes me wonder whether such virtual docents can claim to have any real advantage over real docents.

  2. Oddly enough I’m wondering if there are any uses for docents in the museum world in general. Provided with technology and wifi access, people have an unlimited amount of information at their fingertips. At the Hammer Museum on Thursday nights, there are docent lead art discussions for free. Only two people usually show up. Perhaps digital technology is replacing docents?

  3. I bet this concept of the virtual docent and virtual tours will become even furhter developed with 3D and virtual reality applications.

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