This week assignment is all about semiotics, signs, symbols, meaning, denotation, connotation, and cheesecake. Okay, maybe not the cheesecake, but I wanted to sweeten the deal because you may have rolled your eyes with all those terms in the beginning of the sentence.
NEVER FEAR! This is cool stuff! In class we talked about the multi-layered meanings of words, images, signs and symbols and how our brains deal with them. What the brain automatically does when we see an image is complex and almost instantaneous. How quickly we “get the message” from a picture and the level of meaning we derive from it is amazing. First, a bit of explaining is necessary so you will get the gist of what I talk about when explaining the various layers in the above photograph.
This section we’ll call Really deep concepts about really complex things, in a nut shell.
In the study of semiotics, we have signs (signifiers) and the signified (object). An example is the word “rose”. Yes, a word is a form of a sign or representation. What does it signify? The first thing to jump into our minds is the flower known as a rose. Therefore, the signifier is the word and the signified is the flower.
Let’s break this down one step further. The signified object can be a denotation or connotation. No big deal, these are the levels I was speaking of. The actual rose is the denotation of the word. The word DENOTES the flower. The CONNOTATION could be LOVE or ROMANCE. It’s the cultural meaning that is associated with the flower. The connotation may certainly not be universal; roses in another country may not signal the same things they do in America.
All this wraps into the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Every object in a picture has associations and layers of meaning. If an Advertiser can use the obvious level of meaning, and further still, the deeper, connotative meaning (cultural feelings associated with object) then they can create a story in your mind in just a few seconds.
This all sounds heady and esoteric, but let me walk you through the process of dissecting a picture from the above ad so you can see exactly what I’m talking about. I will show you the literal meaning (denoted), the linguistic meaning (text) and the symbolic meaning(connotation)
First we give an accurate description of the objects we see in the ad. (Literal) We see a cutaway view of a building. Like a science project, this allows us to see above and below the street level. The building is one of classical design with columns and pediments and is illuminated in a white light, centered in the middle of the frame. The other buildings , which are softly light, have a modern look to them. Grey clouds are lit by a hidden moon. The streets appear empty.
Below the street level we see a complex series of buildings stacking high on each other in a vast cavern. It looks like an excavated archaeological site. The columns from the street level building align perfectly with what’s seen under the pavement. The whole building seems to continue through the earth until it comes to rest on the roof of the next section.
The windows and columns are repeated in each level and the structure widens as it goes deeper underground. Classical statues are displayed at every level. Each Pediment has a similar Motif inscribed on it. The statue on the bottom building of a man behind four, rearing horses is also sitting atop the building on the street level.
The linguistic meaning (text) is next.
Discover the full story MA, Schusev State Museum of Architecture 5/25 Vozdvizhenka Str., Moscow
In and of itself, you can only say there must be “a story ” and you can discover it at the State Museum of Architecture in Moscow. But these few words, at the bottom right, quickly bring together the pieces of the picture into a theme.
We are not told what the story is, but that’s where connotation of the symbols comes into play.
The idea I get from the picture is the beautiful museum contains more than you can imagine. There’s something “under the surface”. You’ll find “more than meets the eye.” If one was to go to the museum, the history of architecture would be shown “in great depth” from a historical perspective. Get it? literal presentation turned into a metaphorical meaning. The DEEP history of architecture becomes physically displayed in this ad.
You get that sense of that history as you look at each descending level; familiar objects and styles of architecture are repeated. This gives me the impression that some things “stand the test of time” and remain vital and alive in today’s world. Notice again the reuse of the statue on top of the “new” building.
The scrolling line surrounding the text ends inthe outline of a ballerina. This could mean several different things. To the Russian’s who are very proud of their ballet, it could denote this pride extends to the architecture as well. It could reference “telling a story” in another sense; as ballet tells story through dance, architecture tells a story through the ages.
While we may only glance at the poster for a few moments, but we will quickly take into account all of these ideas and coalesce them into a mental story. The brain will say “Got it” and you smile and say, “awesome!”