Culminated by Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce, Semiotics is defined as the study of signs as elements of communicative behavior. It presents us with the ability to interpret the complex images encountered within the media. Through utilising Semiotics to interpret complexities, we are able to comprehend both Signifiers, of which, are encoded with messages, and Signifieds, which are understood, only after decoding these intended meanings.
Alternatively, this same idea can be explicated through denotation, that is, the literal meaning of something, and connotation, which is concerned with what is evoked conceptually. These methods allow for arbitrary signs to be understood through the possibility of more obscure meanings, in association with a particular image.
René Magritte’s, The Treachery of Images, is of utmost importance when attempting to exemplify the intricate proposition of Semiotics. Depicted, is, what seems, a foolproof image of a pipe, when in fact, it is merely the representation of a pipe. This is where the famous, ‘This is not a pipe”, originates. Semiotics, therefore, assists us in understanding this somewhat unsettling notion.
When attempting to make sense of an image, we frequently skip the denotations as they are often transparent , leaving us vying to discern the intended meaning. The knowledge of an individual may influence one to interpret an image quite abstractly in comparison to others. This notion is enhanced when exploring my personal interpretation of, a said, ‘complex image’.
Above is an image by Eric Drooker for The New Yorker, published on December 14th 2015, titled, ‘Shopping days’. The signifiers appear to be a man and a woman displaying merriment whilst grocery shopping, made evident by the trolley, of which, contains a carton of juice and some unexpected items, inclusive of machine guns. In the isle, the woman is selecting a gun whilst the man has one slung over his shoulder.
While the signifiers seem quite pellucid, it is when we take into account the Signifieds that complexity begins to arise.
I interpret this image to be a resounding comment on the constant controversy surrounding Americas contentious gun laws. This image, to me, represents how easy it is to purchase a gun, as if you were doing the groceries.
Whilst similar, my interpretation is not exact, to that of artist Eric Drooker’s explanation of his work. He questions, “What would it look like if I took America’s obsession with firearms to its logical extreme?” The image portrays the proliferation of guns and the too-easy access to military-grade weapons.
Thus, having varying knowledge allows individuals to produce different interpretations of any one image, and it is Semiotics that helps us to engage with complex images in a vast and meaningful way.