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Semiotics I - introduction

A brief introduction to semiotics with examples from contemporary illustrators and art history.


on 7 February 2011

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Transcript of Semiotics I - introduction

Representation 1) Some notes on scheduling This Module will consist of 3 lectures:
-an introduction
-and two presentation lectures in which you will do a semiotic analysis of an artifact of your choice.

MPhil Semiotic Exercise for Tuesday 9 March

Submission of First Essay (Semiotics and Representation) due for Thursday 29 April

1) Resemblance 2. Representation is thus often confused with “realism” – the supposed lack of distortion and absence of abstraction. 3. In western philosophy it was commonly accepted that three factors need to be considered in this regard: 4. According to Plato, the essence of art was imitation – the simulation of appearances. He thus draws a distinction between reality and surface appearances. Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes. Laocoon and his sons. (c. 175-150 BC) Marble, height 242 cm (95 1/2 in). Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican Raphael. The school of Athens. 1509–1510. Fresco. 500 cm × 770 cm. Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican City Silanion. Plato. c.4th c. bc. Marble copy. Glyptothek of Munich Jackson Pollock, No. 5, 1948, oil on fiberboard, 244 x 122 cm. a thing...
e.g. a tree the image of the thing... and the mental image... Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger Brainforest. 2004. Installation at the
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (Japan) Brainstorm tree — Space collective 1. In the arts representation was often linked to the idea of “resemblance” or pictorial “imitation”. (The Greek word “mimesis” is generally translated as “imitation”). 2) Agreement 5) Traditional approaches to pictorial representation thus included the concepts of resemblance and illusion: representation implies that it deceives the viewer into believing that the imitation is the real Resemblance theory: x represents y only if x resembles y. Escher, Maurits Cornelis. Drawing Hands. 1948. Lithograph. 28.2 x 33.2 cm BUT... for example: a map with pins that represents a terrain.. David Foldvari. Self. Louise Bourgeois. Torso, Self Portrait, 1963-64. Bronze with white patina, Resemblance Illusion we know that representation does NOT necessarily require resemblance... 3) Representation 1) A certain language exists because the people who use it are in agreement about what their words refer to. 2) A society becomes accustomed to specific signs by being exposed to them every day. 3) Meaning and, the relationship between a form and that which it represents, is something that is learned. 4) We learn to understand meaning by practicing a language/dialect (includes independent, arbitrary signifiers – jargon/slang words). Under what circumstances would a person not understand this illustration? What pre-learned concepts and traditions of representation are necessary for the visual pun to be understood? Eat sleep dream design. n.d. 1) Representation is something that stands for something else (or speaks on behalf of something/someone else) and is recognised by audiences as such. 2) Imitation could thus be a subcategory of representation... 3) Representation is thus not necessarily naturalistic/realistic, but the result of acculturation. Thus: x represents y if x denotes y in accordance with some established system of conventions, not necessarily because it resembles it. 4) A sign thus points to a meaning outside of itself and that this meaning is inferred by the viewer/reader on the basis of his/her previous experience in decoding signs. BUT... something can still represent something else without looking like it.
Rene Magritte. The Treachery of Images. (1928–29). Oil on canvas. 63.5 cm × 93.98 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California. Semiotics 1) Why... “As consumers of visual art we have become highly sophisticated readers of signs and signals. We decode meaning from compositions with subconscious ease. It is important for artists and designers to have an understanding of how meaning is formed and the way that readers can be led to meaning through the juxtaposition of words and images, our visual language.”
- David Crow & 3) Who.. 2) What.. Is semiotics important ? Is semiotics? are the key theorists 1) Because it helps us to understand: 1) representation as a process 2) the mediating role of signs in constructing social realities that are not independent from human interpretation - signs are not as transparent as they seem 3) the manner in which meaning is MADE (not just transmitted) and “reality” is represented through text and media Luc Melanson. "Sunday Painter" Rob Dunlavey. "Pointy People". 2010. Ink, charcoal, watercolor. Do cities/people really look like this? Maurizio Santucci. 2010 The study of signs and the dynamics of their decoding is called... 2) The study of signs thus allows us to explore visual works as vehicles in conveying meaning Chris Turnham. "India" 3) The artwork operates like a sign: when we look at an artwork, we do not see literally “see” the meaning – it is mediated and activated in a large part by social convention Iker Ayestaran. Diario Público. In this illustration, Ayestraran evokes early 20th c art history (and not just through the titles of the"books"...) Having understood to flat rectangles to represent "books" in the first place has already involved a complex process of interpretation. Likewise every other recognizable element in this highly stylized design. The title, colour scheme and significantly the "bull" silhouette top right (yet another reference to art history) embues the design with an ethnic flavour.. Politically incorrect stereotypification, colonial conquest of the other, oriental exoticization.. yet the composition seems so innocent, and beautiful. Does the vintage aesthetic soften what's ideologically wrong here? The twitter profile portrait of street artist 45rpm. Anonymity is imperative since the graffiti artists' work is in many instances illegal - hence the pseudonym and great care to hide identity while still maintaining public visibility. 1) a study 2) of the Language structure 3) of signs assembled in texts no intrinsic meaning what are signs? 3) disambigulation 4) application Semiotics is concerned with the language structure of signs, (how signs are grouped into sign systems) therefore how meaning is constructed and understood (Resemblance & Illusion) > Hanna S. Abi-Hanna. "Men & Women" Semiotics, semiotic studies, or semiology is the study of sign processes and communication. Signs can take the form of :

and objects
Signs have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning

“Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign” (Peirce) Signs are assembled in a text that functions within a specific genre and medium of communication The collective terms for the science of signs are
Semiology (Europe)
and Semiotics (USA). Anna Welsh. Dirty dishes Dirty dishes, for example, is not intrinsically a sign that your life is falling apart. Unless you invest it with that meaning... Theories applied to the field of visual communication are grounded in the study of signs. Charles Sanders Peirce Ferdinand de Saussure Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
was a French literary theorist and semiotician. (1857–1913)
the "father" of modern linguistics, proposed a dualistic notion of signs (1839–1914)
defined semiosis as an irreducibly triadic process this presentation can be viewed/downloaded online at:
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