Using a Fashion Image, Explore the Strengths and Limitations of a Semiotic Analysis.

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Using a fashion image, explore the strengths and limitations of a semiotic analysis.


This essay will aim to elucidate the use of semiotic analysis using fashion iconography and imagery as its primary medium. We will aim to explore the strengths and limitations of semiotic analysis through a process of dissection; where we will explain how imagery has been layered to give voice to what the artist has chosen to communicate, without the use of syntax.

“We live in an image filled world. Whether they are encountered in galleries, the internet or elsewhere, images challenge us. They cause us to reflect and to question our assumptions about ourselves and others. Diversity lies in the fact that we each experience and understand works of art through our own perspectives” (Cybermuse, 2010).

The use of images can be and effective method of communication and allows for the author to convey levels of message to the audience that they have chosen to target; a method that is used to break down the underpinnings of an image is semiotic analysis. It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance (Saussure in Chandler, 2009). Hence, the most elementary explanation of semiotic analysis would be; a consequence of the thesis that the composition is structured, that is a functionalised whole in which relationships are more important than material. Is a coherent system in which the elements are interrelated, each has its place and serves a specific function.

Semiotics was first used in English by Henry Stubbes in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs, though it is the American philosopher Charles Peirce and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure that are considered to be the founders of the science of semiotics. As Saussure (1966: 66-67) argued,

“The linguistic sign unites not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image... I call the combination of a concept and a sound image a sign, but in current usage the term generally designates only a sound-image”.

Saussure (1966) suggested that our knowledge and perception of reality is contrived and affected by the signs that we use in everyday social contexts, where signs are divided into two components; the signifier (or “sound-image”), usually something which exists in the physical world, and the signified or (“concept”), the idea or notion which the signifier evokes for the viewer to see and understand. He suggested that the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary, where a distinction is made between meanings; a connotative signified and a denotative signified. Saussure’s entire thesis had a crucial impact upon the development of semiotics.

Peirce, on the other hand, focused on three aspects of signs: their iconic, indexical, and symbolic dimensions, which are called "doctrine of signs". Peirce argued that interpreters have to supply part of the meanings of signs. In his view the word ‘signs’ indicates anything that "stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity" (Peirce 1958: 228 in Danesi 1994:4).

Peirce argued that it would always be attainable to find new connotations for different signs, regardless of how common the sign’s usage may have become. The signs and the referents’ relations have potentially endless possibilities.

However, to gain a clear understanding, all signs must be read alongside other conjugant signs or with those that have been omitted in order to present a meaning. The meaning of a sign is strictly dependant upon its...
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