The Signified Signifier

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Semiotic theory is often disputed. Though the relevance and logic, may be much needed in everyday life, the concepts involved in such a theory are still philosophically debated. We must learn about these key theories and arguments in order to aide our own understanding of our work, for example, why we made something look the way it does. To define semiotics would restrict it too much, however, certain aspects of it may be defined.

Thought I am not a semiotician the simplest way I can define semiotics of designs, in regards to their designers, is to describe doctors as patients too. To understand semiotics an artist must become the audience for a moment to question if any given piece they are creating will work.

Anthony Burrill famously made a piece called “Oil & Water Do Not Mix”. This piece was made using a normal printing process but the ink used was replaced with slurry from an oil spill, polluted beach. In this typographical piece he has combined the signified and signifier to create a more meaningful piece. Without the context, however, the average eye would not understand the piece to its full extent and would dismiss the idea that it was anything more than a ‘state the obvious’, grunge styled poster. Perhaps those considering semiotics, should also consider the context. This piece, however did work, due to the fact that Burrill released a video to coincide with this. The video, then became the signifier, and the poster, the signified.

Context can help define what a symbol, icon or index means. For example: the colour red has many meanings but when put into the context of it being a traffic light, we learn that this means, specifically, to stop. According to guest lecturer Dawn Mellor, sometimes you can just make your artwork as literal as possible so you won’t need a context, by making metaphors a little less subtle.

With this in mind, being a bit too literal can be damaging. However, if you are attempting to be satirical about the literal, then it may not be so bad. Surrealist artist René Magritte’s art works revolving around the idea that “This is not just a-“, are a great example of this. Her original piece ‘Ceci n’ais pas une pipe’ mocks a persons view point. The image was meant to demonstrate that by being too literal you can damage the true meaning behind something. The work was attempting to say that it was not just a pipe, it was in fact a painting of a pipe, and that we weren’t being literal enough in our thinking.

When considering our own work, we need to think about how subtle we want our points to come across. If it is a point that is important, perhaps being literal is a good thing.

Guest Lecture: Dawn Mellor

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Illustrator and contemporary artist, Dawn Mellor took time out last week to give us her insights on her industry, artwork and lifestyle. Guest lectures are very important to the development of students as it gives us some knowledge of the real world. Mellor, perhaps more than other artists, has had much life experience and reflects this in her pieces.

A side from life experience, Dawn Mellor is fascinated by and takes inspiration from people and fame. She is driven by the concept of famous people taking on different roles. On exhibition she showed us was based around Helen Mirren. Helen Mirren’s role of the queen inspired many people, so seeing Mirren in such roles such as a house made with filthy fetishes, it makes an audience question.

Moving on from her disturbing depictions of various characters, she also exploited current events. After the passing of Michael Jackson, she released a book she had made prior to this event, of her portraiture of the King of Pop. Although the ethics of this may be questionable, this has shown that exploiting a market and a given situation can often work in an artist’s favour and should be considered.

With this rebellious attitude in mind, Mellor refuses to have her artwork analysed critically with her personal history as a context. She argued that the majority of her artwork did not have meaning as such, and was made “Just ‘Cause”. The excuses for her artwork mostly involved around feminism and not her tragic past, though the fractured, defaced portraits and her attitude may have suggested otherwise.

Though this lecture may not have been helpful in the practical side of things, it certainly taught me about the criticism and scrutiny our own work will come under and how we shouldn’t react. I also learnt that although being choosy with where you work can aide in you feeling more comfortable, sometimes you need to be open and find a way to be passionate about anywhere you work. First impressions count, and having an attitude towards a certain employer or curator can cause a lot of problems in the future. Nobody would hire a person for a second time if they didn’t like that individual.

Animation Considerations

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I recalled seeing this video a few years ago at my family’s church. I think that from an animation stand point, perhaps this may be a better idea, with the time constraints we have on this project.

Whilst using digital tutors, I have slowly been learning how to use an active camera setting in Adobe After Effects. This would create a similar effect. With the ability to still use my own drawing style and combine these new lessons with the ones we are currently learning about simple animations, I could easily create an animation in this manner.

Trial and error will be the pinnacle of learning how to attempt this. With the deadline approaching, I work well under pressure, so I am excited to work until the end of this project.

Science Behind The Art

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Many people dislike the theoretical side of our course and question why we need it. When we look back to our days in primary and high school education, we see that in maths for example, we learned about trigonometry and algebra, and struggled to understand how we would use this in the real life. We argued that perhaps we should learn more practical skills like how to fill in a cheque and do our taxes.

When looking back, we see that the skills we did learn, are perhaps very crucial in real life whether we see it or not. Algebra is used more often than we believe and, especially in engineering, a knowledge of tolerances and trigonometry are crucial. With this is mind, how crucial is the science and history behind our subject?

The science behind colour, especially that of Josef Alber’s discoveries and teachings on colour theory, are very important to how we view our final outcomes. If certain colours don’t work together, we need to know why and avoid it. We see the trends and follow them, or don’t if we are attempting to be controversial or have meaning behind what we are doing.

Learning about how other cultures see our designs are also of high importance. Realising that in one culture something may be offensive, where as in the culture we are used to is deemed acceptable, could aide us from avoiding a very uncomfortable situation.

Other theorists and philosophers that seem out of date, aren’t. If we look into the philosophies of the likes of Plato and Dewey, we realise that we need to understand the development of our own practice, and see the trends in how it will develop in the future. Opinions and perceptions of theory will change as society develops, so we must consider how our work can progress in a society that has developing unwritten taxonomies to function.

The world is constantly developing, but just how we lear about history in high school, we need to understand where we have come from to understand where we are going.

Activist Art

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Influential art is perhaps the pinnacle of society. If for whatever reason, like during World War Two, famous pieces of art work were to be destroyed, there would be chaos. Art represents history and lives. Much can be learnt from the factors that surround any given piece. It could give clues as to the lifestyle at the time and the personal lives and feelings of given artists.

Art used in protests, for example graffiti, take this into a new light. Artists such as Banksy, have used art to aid in protests. His piece that he used the Berlin Wall as a canvas for caused much controversy and stirred the pot for many protesters and activists. Perhaps activist and protest art just stirs the pot but the main question is: is this a good thing?

When the conceptual activism started in regards to “This is What Democracy Looks Like” began, the pinnacle was in regards to World Trade. Conspiracy theoriests would argue that the art works in regards to these sets of ideas were the reasons behind the tragic events of 9/11. Art is perhaps the most influential part to any given protest.

When you look at any given protest, you see signs, banners and sometimes graffiti. Art is spoken about and critiqued. People act on what they interoperate from such a subjective media. Political art and controversial art can be dangerous, and unless we want to start a war, we must consider all possible outcomes.

As designers we want to break rules and move forward with design, but we must also keep in our minds that we do not wish to cause harm to society as it stands. We may want society to re-evaluate something, but we must do it in a way that causes peaceful activism.

Be careful with controversy.