Essay on Semiotics in Art History

2513 Words Apr 2nd, 2012 11 Pages
The Oxford English Dictionary defines semiotics as ‘’[the] science of communication studied through interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, especially language.” Semiology is characterized as ‘’the science of signs which studies the life of signs within society.’’ Signs include, among others, sounds, images, words, odors, objects; they are concepts that stand for something else in a system of signification. They allow us to communicate a concept or an idea while it is physically absent.
In art history, the simplest description of semiology consists of the translation of an image into words. Two prominent founders of the contemporary sign theories are Peirce and Saussure. Although they focus on the same
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As it is explained in the article, ‘’in its ‘’structuralist’’ era semiotics frequently operated on the assumption that the meanings of signs were determined by sets of internal oppositions and differences mapped out within a static system’’(p. 176).
Although most art historical methodologies don’t argue that there is a clear and intrinsic meaning and context to a work, this idea somewhat challenges formalism. Riegl’s perception of formalism, in simple terms, argues that one should identify the form of an artwork, then develop an idea of what the work is, beyond it’s time and history. When doing so, one may come up with their interpretation of the work, and this interpretation wouldn’t be considered as ‘’biased’’ by the time and place the viewer is set in. We have seen in class the quote by Whitney Davis, who states that ‘’[f]ormality is not an inherent property of artifacts or works of art. Rather, formality is an aspect of an object recognized by the human subjects who perceive it.’’ Contrarily to semiotics, subjectivity is allowed in this method; thus subjectivity of the context is in order. People of different cultures and backgrounds are expected to see and understand different things, thus interpret a different context to the work, when analyzing the forms, colors, and other visual aspects of an artwork. According to Riegl, artwork is a manifestation of vision, and art is a

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