Term of Art: Semiotics

“Semiotics: An argument for the construction of meaning through structures of symbols that began with early-20th-century linguistics. In it the ‘signifier’ (a written or spoken word) and the ‘signified’ (the actual object of concept referred to) together form a ‘sign.’ It became useful for examining other cultural products as codes, including art. Magritte’s The Uses of Words I takes a semiotic approach to art-making. By painting the words Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe) under the image of a pipe, he questioned pictorial representation. It is not actually a pipe, merely its image. The broader impact of semiotics has been in postmodern art and criticism in studies of the power of cultural signs that are examined, reexamined, and deconstructed.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

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