is the study of the meaning and interpretations derived from the signs and
symbols in our everyday lives. Through semiotics we can investigate how meaning
is formed and how it can be communicated. Its origins lie in the academic study
of how visual and linguistic signs and symbols create an interactive
understanding. It is a way of seeing the world, and of seeing the way that the
surroundings in which we live, impact all of us daily; yet unconsciously. A
sign stands for a purpose, object or an occurrence that directs the presence. The
nature of a sign can be arbitrary and it simply has to be learned. Signs often inform
or instruct someone about something or a situation. A symbol represents the conventions
held by something visible that has attached meaning and information.

1.1 History of semiotics

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It is
commonly acknowledged that the foundations of semiotic theory can be derived
from two key theorists; these being Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders
Peirce. Saussure, a Swiss linguist, researched what he called ‘semiology’
towards the end of the 19th century. Semiology focused on the
pattern and function belonging to language itself.


in the United States, Charles Sanders Peirce was writing in the same area of
study. Pierce defined three categories of signs: Icon, Index, and Symbol, – where
Icon resembles the sign, Index links a sign to an object, and Symbol is an
allocated glyph or image, removed from the direct inference of it’s meaning –
that we learn to associate with a meaning, despite their clear abstraction.
Saussure being a linguist states that words are symbolic signs and categorizes them
comparably to Peirce in two ways: Iconic and Arbitrary, where iconic resembles Peirce’s icon, and
Arbitrary was the link between the signifier and the signified through decided
terms as Peirce’s symbol.


is the term that Peirce uses for an action or process that shows link between a
sign, an object and its meaning (the act of signifying). His way of describing
Semiosis was open with no one fixed meaning. It was a working process involving
both the reader of the sign and sign itself. And the understanding of the sign
will depend purely on the learning of the reader. Here readers learning could depend
upon upbringing, culture and practices.

areas that form support for what semiotics could be, are the signs themselves,
and the way in which they are organized into systems and the context in which
they appear. Saussure; being a linguist, viewed that thought could be
originated by understanding language if meaning could be found in language. Linguistics
was also an attempt to describe signs by seeing them as a series of gestures,
actions and perceptions. This was then processed to a relative study of the forms
of words in different languages and their evolution.


Roland Barthes, a follower of
Saussure studied Saussure’s thoughts and redefined the roles of readers and
content, and their relationship together. Semiotics for him was beyond language
and its presence in any system of signs.



Semiotics in Art


communication is an interaction through images portrayed through the conveyance
of thoughts and information that can be read or observed. Visual largely relies
vision that is either created or produced such as a sign, symbol, typography,
drawing, design, illustration, color etc. A visual message with text present is
also often a strong medium to convey, influence and educate the reader or an
audience. Signs can take the form of words, images, sounds, aromas,
tastes, acts or objects, but such things can have no natural meaning and become
signs only when we supply them with a meaning.


theory is always changing, as it is being constantly studied further and refined.
Progressed by the significance of data that has been found to nourish and
improve these concepts when they are applied to works of art. Art being such a
big term subject to change in in accordance with perspective, here we talk
about visual art.

this broader subjectivity and scope for interpretation within the visual art
world. Artists must convey their message in a pictorial language with standardised,
basic rules of picture-making. Today, in an age revolving around technology we have
become visual art consumers who interact, read, and decode signs and signals to
form meaning and extract information unconsciously all the time. Everything
surrounding us today involving us and our opinion is interacting and being
influenced by signs, words, image and sound. This interaction is a form of
thought control, that enables us to convey our messages creatively, and have
them make a point to a larger audience, who can perceive it in the way we want
them to, or the way they themselves wish to interact with. Similarly, artwork
with a conceptual message to be conveyed can engage it’s audience’s thoughts to
collect and understand the given signs that lead to meaning.