Chandler & Semiotics

Semiotics is the study of signs. Applied to artistic practices such as photography or painting, it is the relationship between the work and the meaning derived from it (Semiotics for Beginners, Daniel Chandler). It seems there can be no meaning given to art without considering its semantics.

Chandler writes: “We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely Homo significans – meaning-makers. Distinctively, we make meanings through our creation and interpretation of ‘signs’.”

Chandler seems to assert than individuals think in terms of signs – receive and decipher information in the form of signs and deduce outcome in the form of signs. the theory seems to complicate what seems like a rather simple matter: people look, think, understand and react.

But in applying his theory to artistic practice, the study of signs adds a different dimension to understanding art. Looking at signs coming out of a certain image or painting highlights the unique experience each individual is bound to have when confronting the same work. In my opinion, this theory in itself gives art the credit it deserves because it highlights individual art pieces as unique experiences rather than objects awaiting a temporary or quick gaze by passersby.

Outside of the relam of art, I found it particularly interesting how semiotics can be applied to the simplest matters — much of which are ones that I would normally not pay attention to (Figure 1).


"Color-coding hot- and cold-water faucets is common in many cultures but, as this example shows, the coding may be rendered meaningless because of context. The two faucets were probably sold as a coded set, but the code is unusable (and ignored) as there is a single water supply".


About leltant

Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian documentary artist based in London, UK. She studied journalism & political science at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (USA) & started her career as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). Her work has been exhibited in the US, Europe and Asia. She exclusively works on self-initiated projects. Laura lives between the UK, her country of birth, and Egypt, where she associates most of her childhood memories. She is currently completing a masters degree at the University of Westminster in London where she is studying mixed media, with emphasis on film-making. She is working on producing a short film about farmer suicides in India.
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