Blanton tour explores symbolism behind paintings

Natalie Sullivan

As part of its weekend tour schedule, the Blanton Museum of Art hosted a public tour of its permanent collection Sunday afternoon, titled “Persuasion: Messages and Meanings in Art.”

The tour, led by docent Connie Shortes, explored the symbolism behind a variety of artistic works, ranging from 14th century religious paintings to more modern, abstract compositions by artists such as Ben Shahn and Adolph Gottlieb. 

Shortes said art often serves a purpose other than just aesthetics.

“Art has always been used to propagate ideas and to persuade,” Shortes said. “There’s this whole story unfolding in the paintings; there’s message, there’s meaning.”

The museum hosts themed tours each weekend at 3 p.m., designed to explore different aspects of the Blanton’s collection. The “Persuasion” tour especially focused on how historical events and trends impacted artists’ styles.

“Many artists, like Ben Shahn, were influenced by socialism and communism and were sympathetic to [those] ideas,” Shortes said. “You can see the emotion coming out in their paintings. [That] period in American history [was] just so interesting, when America was so powerful in the world. The art is big. It’s bold. It’s brash. It’s different.”

Ray Williams, director of education and academic affairs for the museum, said one feature of the tour isits ability to allow people to confront abstract ideas through art. 

“It’s about putting issues of the day in front of viewers for their contemplation and things that are maybe a little uncomfortable,” Williams said.

English sophomore Deborah Seow said learning about the hidden meanings behind the paintings helped her understand them better. 

“It made me appreciate [the paintings] more, knowing their backgrounds,” Seow said. 

Psychology sophomore Paula Horstman agreed.

“I thought [the tour] was very informative and eye-opening,” Horstman said. “It brought out a bunch of different perspectives on the same paintings. I never really thought about it much before, but it’s very cool, the fact that you can extract meaning from all the different symbols in art.”