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Semiotics in Visual Art

By:   |   Jul 08, 2018   |   Views: 13   |   Comments: 0

Semiotics is the science of sign: any thing which functions in the communication. Semiotics is extremely flexible tool which is used in wide  range of academic field

l      Semiotics provides the translator of advertisements with a means to manipulate and manage language (linguistic sign system) and non-verbal sign systems.

l      It is a sign system, which works in conjunction with images to promote or to sell or to persuade consumers into changing their behavior.

l      In 1989 the first Marketing and Semiotics Symposium was held in Copenhagen.

l       It was arranged by the Marketing Institute of the Copenhagen Business School and attended by various people from universities and business schools.

Over all successful of an add depends upon image,text, colour and other signs

Semiotics do the following:

l      Read the text.

l      (ii)  Read the culture.

l      (iii) Make connections between the two.

The use of semiotics varies with the kind of product being advertised

Knowledge of semiotics gives the translator a better understanding of the intrinsic appeal of an advertisement

l      In cases where cultural elements play an important role in persuasive advertisements, semiotics acts as a tool or measure to gauge the cultural elements

l      Semioticians drag the unconscious messages being transmitted into consciousness by isolating and identifying the signs to constitute the message. 

Persuasive advertisements can (and should be) translated in terms of semiotic guidelines, if cultural codes are at work and as such evident. Some advertisements strive towards a state of no-cultural categorization: in other words the advertisement focuses on emotions rather than objects or ideas

Visual Semiotics

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.

Semiotics: Language and Culture

Linguistic and Cultural Semiotics is a branch of communication theory that investigates sign systems and the modes of representation that humans use to convey feelings, thoughts, ideas, and ideologies. Semiotic analysis is rarely considered a field of study in its own right, but is used in a broad range of disciplines, including art, literature, anthropology, sociology, and the mass media. Semiotic analysis looks for the cultural and psychological patterns that underlie language, art and other cultural expressions. Umberto Eco jokingly suggests that semiotics is a discipline for studying everything which can be used in order to lie." (1976, p7). Whether used as a tool for representing phenomena or for interpreting it, the value of semiotic analysis becomes most pronounced in highly mediated, postmodern environments where encounters with manufactured reality shift our grounding senses of normalcy


In conclusion, this study demonstrates that a semiotic analysis of visuals can be tested against viewer responses to identify patterns of meaning construction. It also found that visuals carrying different types of semiotic meanings elicit different levels of response from viewers. In general, more viewers note iconic message elements than symbolic or indexical elements. In terms of sheer frequency of mention, there were more iconic message elements on the list than symbolic, at least in terms of this particular commercial--and it should be remembered that this advertisement has generally been described as being a highly symbolic commercial. However, those elements with symbolic meaning--fewer though they may be--can create great impact. In other words, several of the elements with high levels of symbolic meaning were referred to more frequently than other elements that were higher in iconic meanings, perhaps attesting to the power of ambiguity to create interest.


Barthes, Roland, (1957). Mythologies, translation 1972 by Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang.

Baudrillard, Jean (1988). Selected Writings (Ed. Mark Poster). Sanford: Stanford University Press.

Chandler, Daniel (2002). Semiotics: the Basics. London: Routledge

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