We are constantly ‘reading’ things to gather meaning. There are theories about how this works.
This was developed in the 1950s and suggested that human culture can be understood through structures like language. This was challenged by the later post-structuralists who acknowledged bias and the possibility of multiple interpretations.
Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
The Treachery of Images (Magritte, 1929) was a set of images with an oil painting of an object like the pipe and the phrase “This is not a pipe” underneath. It represents a contradiction in what a painting is, it is both the object and not the object at the same time as it is only a visual representation of it. The painting ultimately reflects on the nature of language, drawing attention to the structure of signs we generally take for granted.
Semiotics is how signs are constructed and interpreted.
A sign is a signifier (the form of the sign) and the signified (the concept it represents). Many items are used symbolically to represent a concept, for example, crowns signify royalty. This is something that fascinates me as some things can be very representative of culture and may have different meanings in different communities and can change across time. For example, pigs. Pigs in ancient Celtic times represented abundance. In the Chinese zodiac, the pig represents honesty and determination, and children born under this zodiac are considered fortunate. Some cultures, however, view pigs as the opposite.
Denotation and Conotation
- Denotation describes what can be seen and its literal interpretation (e.g. a piece of fruit called an apple).
- Connotation describes the possible meanings that are suggested by the literal elements (e.g. in a Renaissance painting, an apple might symbolise temptation).