You can see recent documents by app though the Dock without the app even running. For instance, click and hold an app icon, like for Pages or Keynote, and a menu will appear. The top items in the menu will will be the most recently opened documents.
Recent Items From the Dock
Comments: 2 Responses to “Recent Items From the Dock”
Not sure what you mean by a "faded desktop" -- it sounds like you are doing something other than clicking and holding an icon in the Dock. Or, perhaps you are doing it with an app that does something different. Which app, specifically?
Gary when I try this with an app closed I just get a faded desktop with gray and nothing is showing up. I only see this working if the app is running.