Sure, it was interesting to learn about the various pieces of art, however it would have taken a year to listen to every single recording and my feet got tired far before we reached that end. Even if I had listened to every recording, I still feel I would have had only a rudimentary understanding of nineteenth century French art. Nevertheless, we listened to quite a few of the descriptions, and still, I left only knowing tiny fragments of the bigger picture. One fragment about impressionism, one about sculptures depicting Napoleon, one about Gauguin, but nothing to weave it together. I almost wished I could have taken a class or two in the museum that would have helped me make sense of what I was seeing.
And really, that’s not a huge stretch for the museum. After all, they’ve already got thousands of functional audio guides. So why not introduce a themed audio tour? Then, instead of a fragment about impressionism, I could have listened to a twenty minute guided lecture of impressionism. Isn’t that exactly what every art history lecturer dreams of? Being able to lecture students in front of the masterpieces themselves? I would have taken away so much more than I did from my fragmentary experience, and still more than I could have hoped by sitting in a lecture hall.
For those who don’t want to take the guided tours, they could still listen to the individual recordings – they’re already on the audio guides and there’s no reason that needs to change.
All such a project requires for Musée D’Orsay is someone to write some lectures that tie together the various works, someone to translate them into the half-dozen languages supported by the audio guides of the museum, and someone to record the dialogue. For a one-time cost, the Musée D’Orsay could provide an extra dimension to the understanding their visitors come to of the collection, without the need to hope you could find a guided tour in your language, speaking about a specific topic you’re interested in, that happened to be started at the moment you arrived.