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Visual Semiotics


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I just did my Uni exam on Visual Semiotics (1st semester and 1st Uni exam ever btw :rockon:) and was wondering what the thoughts are on the forum on the ideas behind and on Visual Semiotics and the technique of applying a linguistic ('grammatical' in a sense) framework to other modalities (Visual specifically, and others) (interrobang haha)


[plus any recommendations on the subject]




"Studies of meaning evolve from semiotics, a philosophical approach that seeks to interpret messages in terms of their signs and patterns of symbolism. The study of semiotics, or semiology in France, originated in a literary or linguistic context and has been expanding in a number of directions since the early turn-of-the century work of C.S. Pierce in the U.S. and Levi Strauss and Ferdinand Saussure in France.


A sign can be a word, a sound, or a visual image. Saussure divides a sign into two components--the signifier (the sound, image, or word) and the signified, which is the concept the signifier represents, or the meaning. As Berger points out, the problem of meaning arises from the fact that the relation between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary and conventional. In other words, signs can mean anything we agree that they mean, and they can mean different things to different people. Given the nonverbal nature of the "1984" commercial, it might be expected that the complex sign system in the commercial might produce a variety of meanings.


Pierce categorized the patterns of meaning in signs as iconic, symbolic and indexical. An iconic sign looks like what it represents--a picture of a dog, for example. The meaning of a symbol, like the flag or the Statue of Liberty, is determined by convention--in other words, its meaning is arbitrary; it is based upon agreement and learned through experience. Language uses words as symbols that have to be be learned; in Western languages there is no iconic or representational link between a word and its signified concept or meaning. An indexical sign is a clue that links or connects things in nature. Smoke, for example, is a sign of fire; icicles mean cold. Visual communication,--including video forms--uses all three types signs. Because of the essentially nonverbal nature of the "1984" commercial storyline, it is particularly rich in complex visual signification.


Most signs operate on several levels--iconic as well as symbolic and/or indexical, which suggests that visual semiotic analysis may be addressing a hierarchy of meaning in addition to categories and components of meaning. As Eco explains, "what is commonly called a 'message' is in fact a text whose content is a mutilevelled discourse. In the "1984" commercial, it would be interesting to deconstruct the visual image to determine what elements are iconic, symbolic, and indexical.


The broadening concept of text and discourse encourages additional research into how visual communication operates to create meaning. Deely explains that "at the heart of semiotics is the realization that the whole of human experience, without exception, is an interpretive structure mediated and sustained by signs." Semiotics now considers a variety oftexts, using Eco's terms, to investigate such diverse areas as movies, art, advertisements, and fashion, as well as visuals. In other words, as Berger explains, "the essential breakthrough of semiology is to take linguistics as a model and appply linguistic concepts to other phenomena--texts--and not just to language itself." Anthropologists like Grant McCracken and marketing experts like Sydney Levy have even used semiotic interpretations to analyze the rich cultural meanings of products and consumer consumption behaviors as texts.


Visual texts are an important area of analysis for semioticians and particularly for scholars working with visually intensive forms such as advertising and television because images are such a central part of our mass communication sign system. Linda Scott has deconstructed the images in perfume advertising as well as in Apple's "1984" commercial using close readings of the various messages which can be interpreted from the ads. Shay Sayre has also looked at perfume advertising images and the visual rhetoric in Hungary's first free election television advertisements using semiotic analysis. Also using semiotics, Arthur Asa Berger has deconstructed the meaning of the "1984" commercial as well as programs such as Cheers and films such as Murder on the Orient Express.


Systems of meaning, Culler and Berger tell us, is analyzed by looking at cultural and communication products and events as signs and then by looking at the relationship among these signs. The categories of signs and the relationships between them create a system. Barthes, for example, has analyzed the "fashion system," and classified the system of communication through fashion into two categories: image clothing and descriptive clothing. Likewise, an advertisement has its own system of meaning. We expect an appeal to purchase, either directly or implied, to be made and a product to be shown, for example, as part of the advertising system." - From <http://spot.colorado.edu/~moriarts/vissemiotics.html>

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