Blanton’s Latest Exhibition Introduces Symbolism to All Audiences

No art degree needed

Located on the second floor of the Blanton Museum of Art, the “Ideas In Sensuous Form: The International Symbolist Movement” exhibit combines sensory stimulation with questions of the unknown to create an experience for seasoned and novice audiences alike.

La femme aux figues (Woman With Figs) by Paul Gauguin (Courtesy of Blanton Museum)

The organizer of the exhibit, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Claire Howard, sought to create an homage to the ideas of introspection and mystique found in symbolist art. She was motivated by a desire “to introduce our audience to this movement that’s not as well-known, and draw out its conceptual and formal innovations. All these different ideas that float around in the surrealist movement use symbolism as a touchstone.”

With dark walls and velvet curtains adorning the entrance, the exhibit itself exudes the same sense of mystery paralleled in the art it’s displaying, giving attendees the chance to become submerged in the ambience of the art style.

The experience isn’t just visual. Howard created a Spotify playlist to enhance the exhibit by mimicking symbolism’s focus on multi-sensory sensations and offering an exploration of the interdisciplinary nature of symbolist art.

La Phalène des Iles de la Mer by F.M. Melchers (Courtesy of Blanton Museum)

Rather than just mention the strides made in music during the symbolist movement, Howard says she wanted to “give visitors the option of having the additional sensory experience because symbolism is so interested in the merging of the senses.”

For many novices in the art world, attending exhibits can seem daunting, especially when it’s unclear if the exhibits will be curated toward people with extensive knowledge of art history.

During the creation of the exhibit, Howard wanted to maintain a sense of accessibility for artheads and neophytes alike. Rather than use gatekeeping language and terminology, Howard provides supplemental information throughout the exhibit that can be easily digested by patrons regardless of their previous knowledge about symbolism.

“I wanted to establish what symbolism is and not assume that anyone knows,” Howard says. So for those who can’t tell their Monets from their Manets, this one’s for you.

“Ideas in Sensuous Form: The International Symbolist Movement” runs through March 10 (Tue.-Fri., 10am-5pm; Sat., 11am-5pm; and Sun., 1-5pm) at the Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. MLK Jr. Blvd. Admission is free every Thursday. For more information, visit

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Blanton Museum of Art, Ideas in Sensuous Form, Claire Howard, Symbolism

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