Docent Independent Study Program

To speak about the art at CAM you need to know about art creation, art history and movements, and artist’s motivations and lives in general especially as they apply to the early 20th Century in the art period known as Modernism. You need to apply this knowledge to art and artists important to Pacific NW. In addition, you need information specific to CAM such as the history and philosophy of CAM and the architecture of the building. The better you know this information the more comfortable you will be as a docent.  It will take time but I assume you are very interested in art and should enjoy most of this information.

PART 1: Content of a tour: Understanding art in the Pacific NW

1.WHY LOOK AT ART?: Opinions of several art critiques


There are three ways to talk about art. You can use a NARRATIVE analysis (like David Martin often uses) that focuses on the artist such as life experiences and motivations. You can use a FORMAL analysis that focuses on the visual artwork itself. You can use an HISTORICAL analysis that focuses on how the work represents cultural and historical happenings of the time in which it was created. The best descritpion of a work of art includes all three: Narrative, Formal, Historical

Formal Analysis of painting (Smarthistory)

Historical and Narrative Analysis of painting (Smarthistory)

3. FORMAL ANALYSIS: Elements and Principles of art—basics of art creation

Artworks are made up of specific elements like line, shape, and form etc. that go together to create unity, emphasis, movement etc. All artworks contain these elements and principles and you must understand them to effectively analyze and describe any work of art.

If you only want to watch one thing watch this lecture:

            Lecture covering both elements and principles of art


Other sources of information—do not go crazy about principles as there is a lot of variation on what is a principle. In the end they all cover the same things but just label them a bit differently.

Elements of art

Principles (Contrast, unity, balance, emphasis variety, movement, pattern)

Principles (Balance, rhythm emphasis, proportion, movement, contrast, unity)

Extra Practice: elements and principles as used throughout history:


3a. How to Analyze a work of art using formal elements

Now that you understand the elements and principles of art how do you apply them to better understand a work of art? Art critics and historians often follow a system called Feldman’s 4 Steps to Art Criticism to analyze a work of art. This system works for novices as well as experts and we can use it to prepare for a tour. We usually don't do the last step where we critique the effectiveness of the art but our goal is to lead viewers through the first three steps so that they, themselves, can critique a work of art:

Feldman's 4 Steps

Another view of Feldman's 4 Steps

Watch kids describe a work of art (fun)

After describing a work of art how do you analyze it?

Compare and Contrast using Feldman’s steps-two examples

4. HISTORIC ANALYSIS: What is the history of a work of art?

CAM generally covers art from 1860-1970 which covers Modernism/Antimodernism/some postmodernism. Generally CAM does not cover contemporary art. You should understand the historical and cultural context of the world when the art shown at CAM took place. This is the art history of the work of art.

4a. The PERIODS of modernism and antimodernism in the 20th century

What is a period and a movement in art

Definition of Modernism

Another Definition of Modernism

Overview of art throughout the 20th Century—The case for Abstract art


4b. The MOVEMENTS (ISMS) of the 20th Century (Modernism is the period and the isms are the movements/styles)

Styles found in the isms (some artists grouped together by their style form an ism in art such as Impressionism)

All 30 modernist art movements/isms

A song that breaks all the movements/isms into decades

Lecture on Modernist movements/isms

Lecture on Synchromism that is a relatively unknown movement expressed by Peter Camferman here in the NW

Extra Practice: BBC programs on 20th Century Art and American Art

4c. Modernism in the Pacific NW

Docent lecture by David Martin (three hours) on the important artists of this region up to Mark Tobey (get information from Janey or Nate on how to download these videos). This lecture covers the various isms and narrative information on the most important artists in the Pacific NW during the first part of the 20th century.

5. NARRATIVE ANALYSIS: Who are the artists of the Pacific NW?

Docent lecture by David Martin (three hours) on the important artists of this region up to Mark Tobey (get information from Janey or Nate on how to download these videos). All of the other walkthroughs by David on this page cover all of our exhibits from the opening of CAM. David's books are also good sources of detailed information on both historical and narrative information on artists of the Pacific NW.


Script that gives a brief description of the history and philosophy of CAM in a format you may use for a tour. You are not required to state this exactly as written. It is a suggestion of how to begin and end a tour

Handout that gives a thorough description of the history, philosophy, and architecture of CAM

Part 2: How to create a tour for adults
You will need practice to become proficient at all of this but this program will help you start to plan and execute an adult tour. Structuring a tour is similar to writing an essay with a topic (theme), supporting paragraphs (art and formal/narrative/historical information supporting the theme), transitional statements (moving around the museum), and a conclusion BUT presentations should be casual. friendly, and interactive---sort of a structured conversation with a friend.  Below are some helpful articles and outlines to help you get started. Once you have read this material shadow an existing docent on a tour and see how that docent uses (or doesn’t use) this information.  Analyze tours that you do and don’t like to find your own style.

1. What makes a good art tour

What Makes an Engaging Art Museum Experience?

How a Themed Museum Tour is Made


2. Themes (Topic) in art (our exhibits are built around a theme like "Design in the NW" or "Botannical Exuberance")

Choosing an Art Theme Suggestions for art themes used in essays--check out all of the links in this article

Other Ideas for art themes:

IB Art Themes

Themes to Explore


3. Presentation techniques:

Script for VTS and Compare Contrast---just memorize these statements and let the audience do the work!!!

3a. Compare/Contrast

Example of using Compare and Contrast to do a Formal Analysis of two paintings

3b.Visual Thinking Strategies

VTS is a very easy procedure that may be used with any age group, also you don’t need any knowledge of the image you are using.  You are just asking the audience to look and do an art analysis like you did in analyzing art. Most important is to not make any judgemental statements like “why do you say that” but rather say “What do you see that makes you say that”:

Description of a classroom lesson using VTS
Demonstration of VTS with adults


4. Sample tours

Go to David's walkthroughs on myCloud and watch David's tour on John Matsudaira. He is doing a narrative tour with a bit of formal and historical thrown in.


Tour outline for a more formal tour on John Matsudaira using compare contrast and some VTS. List with images by Elshin, Horiuchi, and Tobey. List with images for John Matsudaira



Structuring a tour for Children will not be covered here as it requires much practice.  I recommend you observe and aid others who are experienced doing this and attend docent training in the fall if you wish to guide children's tours.


Collection news

Current exhibits

Drama and Design, July 11, 2018 - September, 2018

Volunteer positions