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Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art

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Beach Museum of Art
Kansas State University
701 Beach Lane,
Manhattan, KS 66506
(14th & Anderson Ave.)



Igniting the Senses: Selections from the Permanent Collection

June 6 through October 5, 2014

This exhibition explores the power of visual art to evoke other physical senses in the viewer. The works in this exhibition range from ones which may spark a single sensory reaction such as Dan Howard’s “Drip” to those like Larry Schwarm’s “ Fire, Before and After,” that demonstrate that one's sensory perceptions are often a melding of space, time, light, sound, taste, and touch with the brain as orchestra director.

The five senses as a theme in art first appeared in the Middle Ages, when sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste were often associated with vices, such as gluttony and greed. The sixteenth century saw the first artistic treatment of the senses as independent subjects, with artists creating works of art based on aesthetics (sensory properties) such as still lifes. By the seventeenth century, Dutch and Flemish painters depicted the senses as positive allegories—for example, smell as a girl holding a bouquet of flowers.

However, a more complex web of interrelationships between the senses emerges under closer examination. Despite their clear distinctions, the senses are not experienced independently and each sense has the ability to incite or enhance another. The most common example is smell influencing one’s sense of taste.  

Today, neuroscientists are delving into the mystery of synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For example, letters or numbers may be perceived as colors. Current research on visual culture includes the concept of multimodality, an approach that understands communication and representation to be about more than just language and that investigates the relationships of visual, aural, embodied, and spatial aspects of interaction and environments.

These examinations of the senses are contributing to work in Universal Accessibility, including that of Art Beyond Sight, a national organization promoting art experiences for the visually impaired. 

For your convenience, a Spanish translation and large text version of the exhibition's introductory panel are available in the gallery.

Related Programs

All programs take place at the Beach Museum of Art and are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

Summer 2014 ARTSmart Classes
In conjunction with the Manhattan Public Library summer reading theme "Fizz - Boom - Read" these youth classes explore the science of sensory perception and the experience of one sense igniting another. Read more.  


Image credit: Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1970, lithograph on paper