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SEMIOTICS

VISUAL SIGNS
Visual
Semiotic

Visual signs can be defined simply as signs


that are constructed with a visual signifier,
that is, with a signifier that can be seen
(rather than heard, touched, tasted, or
smelled).

Types:

Iconically
Indexically
Symbolically
Mental
Imagery
Mental images are substitutes for real things, allowing a
person to plan and predict things.

People living in the same culture would come up with


very similar mental pictures of the two referents, known
as “cultural prototypes.”

Image Schemas (Lakoff & Johnson) are defined as


largely unconscious mental outlines of recurrent shapes;
actions; dimensions, ect.,

Incidentally, images have been shown by psychologists to


aid memory and recall.
Color
The ability to perceive color in various forms is the
basis of many sign-malung and sign-using activities
across the world. At a denotative level, we interpret
colors as gradations of hue on the light spectrum. Hue
is the property that leads us to give a color its name-
for example, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet.

Experts estimate that we can distinguish perhaps as


many as 10 million colors. The restrictions imposed on
color perception by color vocabularies is the reason
why people often have difficulty trying to describe or
match a certain color.

To overcome problems in describing and matching


colors, experts have developed various systems of
classifying colors. Two widely used ones are:

(1) the Munsell Color System, and (2) the CIE System
of Color Specification.
Color
1. It was developed in the early 1900s by Albert H.
Munsell, an American portrait painter. It classifies
colors according to basic characteristics of hue. To
match a particular color, one must find that color
among the samples provided.

2. The CIE System of Color Specification is used by


manufacturers of such products as foods, paints,
paper, plastics, and textiles who must often match
colors precisely. But because of the nature of color, all
such systems turn out to be highly limited. The CIE
System simply provides a more refined color
nomenclature by using metaphorical expressions
(“sea green,” “sky blue”).

CIE stands for Commission Internationale de


1’Eclairage (International Commission on
Illumination), an international organization that
establishes standards for measuring color.
Color
In this case, “reality” is exactly what different
people “say” that it is. But this does not
mean that the use of a specific set of color
terms blocks people from seeing reality as
others do. The specific color categories one
has acquired in cultural context in no way
preclude the ability to perceive the color
categories used in other cultures.
Throughout the
world colors are
used for
connotative
purposes.
Campbell’s soup can by Andy Warhol
Such expressions reveal that we perceive color as
much more than a phenomenon involving pure
visual perception. In all societies, colors play a
critical function in the realm of symbolism. The
Navajo of North America, for instance, allocate to
colors a herarchy of symbolic importance-blue is
“good” and red “bad”; nation societies perceive
great significance in the colors of flags and national
emblems, and the list could go on and on.
VISUAL REPRESENTATION

 Visual representation is so common and all-encompassing that we hardly


ever realize what it involves.

To grasp how it unfolds, draw a happy face with pen or pencil on a piece
of paper.
You drew the face, of course, with points, lines, and
shapes. These are the visual signifiers, or minimal forms
of visual representation, that can be combined in
various ways to represent the human face. They can be
straight,round, curved, etc., and used in various
combinations.
 Virtually everything we see can be represented by a combination of lies
and shapes: for example, a cloud is a shape, a horizon is a line.
 Other elements include value, color, and texture.
 Observe how differently you react when loolung at wavy lines vs. angular
zigzag lines:
 It is amazing to contemplate how a simple visual signifier such as a zigzag
line can evoke a tactile sensation.
 This is strong evidence that semiosis is intermodal, involving more than one
sensory modality at once. The term that is used to characterize this
phenomenon is synesthesia.
 Lines and shapes can also be combined to create an illusion of depth. The
way they are put together, however, makes us believe that they represent
a three-dimensional box:
 Elemental visual signifiers can be found in virtually all domains of
representation and communication. Consider, for instance, the use of so-
called emoticons (literally icons that convey emotions) in computer
communication.
 These are strings of text characters that, when viewed sideways, form a
face expressing a particular emotion. An emoticon is often used in an e-
mail message or newsgroup post as a comment on the text that precedes
it. Common ernoticons include the smiley :-) or :), the winkey ;-) , :-(, :-7 ,:D
or :-D, and :-0.
 In an e-mail message or newsgroup article, a letter, word, or phrase that is
encased in angle brackets, and that, like an emoticon, indicates the
attitude the writer takes toward what he or she has written is called an
emotag.
 Visual signifiers are also used commonly in the drawing of such useful
devices as diagrams and charts. These are used, incidentally, in science to
represent unseeable things. The diagram of the atom as a miniature solar
system with a nucleus and orbiting particles is, ipso facto, a theory of the
atom, allowing us to envision it in a particular way.
 Such diagrams reveal that sight is a basic analogue for understanding
intellectual processes.
 The science of geometry too is a product of this linkage. Geometry is
allabout “ideal visual forms” such as triangles, circles, and squares.
Amazingly, such forms have allowed us to draw inferences about reahty
and about ourselves. This is perhaps why the basic geometric figures are
imbued with symbolism in cultures across the world. Here are a few
examples:
MAPS

 Maps are remarkable examples of how the link between knowledge and
visual signs is an intrinsic one-with one implying the other in tandem.
 A map can be defined, semiotically, as a text involving all three basic types
of signification processes-indexicality, iconicity, and symbolism
 The first known maps were made by the Babylonians around 2300 BC.
Carved on clay tablets, they consisted largely of land surveys made for the
purposes of taxation.
 Throughout the twentieth century, advances in aerial and satellite
photography, and in computer modeling of topographic surfaces, have
greatly enhanced the versatility, functionality, accuracy, and fidelity of
map-making.
 As a final comment on map-making, it is relevant to note that maps have
facilitated exploration of the world. In the same way that the sciences of
geometry and trigonometry have allowed human beings to solve
engineering problems since ancient times, the science of cartography has
allowed explorers to solve travel problems with amazing accuracy.
The Visual
Arts

The question of the function of visual arts


in human life has become part of a
personal social debate, as contemporary
art galleries routinely put controversial
“abstract” paintings and sculptures on
display in many societies.

Campbell’s soup can by Andy Warhol


Photography is an art form conceived as an alternative to
drawing and painting for greater fidelity.

The photographer inevitably makes a selection of what is Louis Daguerre’s


to be recorded. photograph on record
Photography constitutes one of the mementos to
remember people, events, and things.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander’s painting


form of camera
George Eastman and Camera
Cinema
An art form to which most people today
respond most strongly and to which they
look for recreation, inspiration, and insight.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie masterpiece


A Trip to The Moon (1902)
The Great Train Robbery
by Edwin S. Porter
The theatrical fantasies of Melies
influenced Edwin S. Porter, often called
the father of the silent film, when he
produced the first major American silent
film.

Between 1915 and 1920 the film industry


moved gradually to Hollywood. In the
1920s movies starring the comedian
Charlie Chaplin ushered in the golden age
of silent film.

The Birth of a Nation by D. W.


Charlie Chaplin Griffith
The transition from silent to sound films
was so rapid. Silent films hastily turned
into sound films or “talkies” as they were
called, to meet the growing demand.

Gone With The Wind (1939)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)


In 1940 American filmmaker Orson Welles
experimented with new camera angles and
sound effects that greatly extended the
representational power of film.

Italian cinema also achieved an intimacy


and depth of emotion that transformed to
cinematic art.
Sweden’s director Ingmar Bergman who
emerged in post-World War II brought an
intense philosophical and intellectual
depth to his films.

He excoriated the futile penchant in the


human species to search for meaning in
existence.
In the 1950s and 1960s colour movies
gradually replaced black-and-white film, but
some filmmakers still prefer the latter, striving
for “naked” realism.

In the last 20th century no one has been


as successful at exploiting the film
medium as a versatile art form as has
Steven Spielberg.
Cinema talks to the modern psyche in ways
that perhaps theatre cannot. Some kinds of
narratives, moreover, can only be envisioned
as cinema.

Eyesight constitutes an important source of


message and meaning making. There’s no
culture without some form of visual
signification.