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.