Semiotics – Part One

I was really interested in today’s lecture at Bath Spa. In a similar way to Graham McLaren’s Ethics lecture last week, I thought that Robin Marriner very eloquently put into words a lot of concepts and theories that we probably all thought we tacitly knew something about but could not quite make explicit. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Robert Frank’s photograph of the American movie star (below) or, more accurately, of the American movie star’s fans – the literal point of focus being on them rather than on the Star herself.

frank15

The following section on specific and non-specific signs in visual culture really provoked a great deal of thought – that some semiotics derive from the specific medium used to make a piece or an object (in photography the point of focus, film stock, lens choice etc), and some are more generic and could be used as signifiers in different media (hairstyles, clothing, branding etc). I have recently discovered the writings of Marshall McLuhan, and in particular his maxim ‘the medium is the message’ – that the means by which something is expressed is indeed more inherently important than that which is expressed. This is particularly true in my research into the medium of film photography. I’ve also been looking at (rediscovering) the work of John Hilliard (below top); a photographer whose work I have admired for a long time because of its investigation into the nature and philosophy of photographic processes. His work is, in a sense, similar to Donald Judd‘s, whose work was also discussed today (below bottom) in that it is essentially self-referential, speaking more about its own nature than about anything external.

'Facade' and 'Flight of Happiness' 1982 by John Hilliard born 1945

dj-p-131-sc

But this all has set me thinking – is art (or ‘Art’) a bit like the ‘tree falling in a forest’ conundrum – i.e. does it make a sound if there is no-one around to hear it? I’ve always thought that, if a tree falls and there is no-one around to hear then it still gives rise to the phenomenon that allows us to hear it (i.e. it still creates vibrations in the air), but the notion of ‘sound’ is a subjective one dependent upon perception. So, if we make ‘art’ and there is no-one around to see it, and, moreover to analyse and represent it, is it still art? Or Art?

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