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Posted on September 23rd, 2012, by

Traditionally, art and design were characterized by the wide implementation of sings which had symbolic meaning and implications. At the same time, views of specialists on signs and symbols differed consistently. In fact, it is hardly possible to find a universal view on sign and symbol, since these concepts are highly individual and each specialist can have his or her own, unique view on the concept of sign and symbol. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it is impossible to ignore the symbolic power of visual signs and images, which affect the consciousness and perception of the audience, to the extent that images have the power of electoral appeal and can transform ordinary as well as unusual objects into fashionable commodities which become popular among the mass audience.

In order to reveal the power and full potential of visual images and signs and their symbolic meaning, it is possible to refer to the article written by Richard Porch, “The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society”[1]. Basically, the author stands on the ground that the digital watch is a symbol of the modern society. To put it more precisely, through the image of the digital watch, the author depicts the vista of the modern, highly technological society. In fact, Richard Porch estimates that, today, digital watch has already become a commodity available to all people and used by the overwhelming majority of modern people[2]. In this regard, the author seems to be quite nostalgic in relation to the conventional Swiss timepieces[3], which he closely associates with the past epoch. In such a way, the author uses two symbolic images to convey the dramatic change that has occurred in the modern society. On the one hand, there is the digital watch as a symbol of the technological advancement of the modern society, while, on the other hand, there are Swiss timepieces, which are out-of-date, but they are sill reliable and as accurate as modern technologies. The use of signs and symbols by Porch is apparently intentional to convey his vision of the modern society using simple and comprehensible images.

Another author, who is particularly concerned with the correlation between sign and symbol, is Fred Davis. F. Davis researches the history of jeans and their symbolic meaning in the article entitled “Blue Jeans”[4]. At first glance, the subject of the study of the author is very simple, but, Davis has managed to reveal a huge symbolic meaning of blue jeans and their evolution in the course of time. To put it more precisely, on analyzing the history of the blue jeans, the author reveals how the symbolism of the jeans evolved in the course of time. For instance, originally, blue jeans were associated with the working clothes of representatives of the lower classes, while later, jeans were associated as democratic clothes[5]. At the same time, the author underlines that, today, blue jeans are so popular that they can be viewed as a symbol of America[6]. In such a way, the author proves that even the most conventional things people use in their daily life can bear a profound symbolic meaning.

However, images can have multiple layers of meaning, which are often hidden from the audience and which people can often omit or perceive at the unconscious level. At this point, it is worth mentioning the article written by Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image”[7], in which the author attempts to reveal the complexity of image and wide opportunities of its interpretation. To put it more precisely, the author points out that, along with obvious meaning which lays on surface, the image has hidden meanings, which the audience needs to understand[8]. Basically, he distinguishes three types of messages which can be conveyed via image: the linguistic message, the coded iconic and the non-coded iconic messages[9]. In such a way, it is possible to speak about different levels of interpretation of symbolic meaning of images. At the same time, the existence of coded and non-coded iconic messages indicates to the influential power of visual images on the audience’s perception since people can have certain biases and stereotypes which can be used by artists to convey their messages through their images.

In this respect, the influential power of visual images is fully revealed in another article written by R. Barthes, “Photography and Electoral Appeal”[10]. The author argues that photography is a powerful visual tool with the help of which photographers can create a desirable image of an individual they make photos of. In actuality, the author argues that with the help of photography that can be use in electoral campaigns candidates can reveal their internal world and their background by means of photography[11]. The author estimates that subjects and people depicted in a photo have their own profound meaning. As the matter of fact, every detail does matter and can affect the public perception of a candidate. Therefore, candidates can use the electoral power of photography to gain the public support, while, on the contrary, the ignorance of the electoral power of photography can undermine the electoral campaign of a candidate. At the same time, the author points out that people perceive visual images and symbols encoded within photography at an unconscious level. The author even attempts to distinguish several types of images of politicians which can be created with the help of photography, such as a politician-intellectual, for instance[12]. In addition, the author distinguishes various signs which bear a profound symbolic meaning, such as signs conveying the social status of an individual, respectability, patriotism, etc. In such a way, photographs and signs in the photographs can contribute to the formation of desirable moral values, through the use of such signs as family, army, country, etc[13].

In the article, “The Great Family of Man” by R. Barthes, the author focuses his attention on the traditional representation of men and family in visual works. In fact, the author attempted to show that the representation of humans was traditionally extremely biased. To put it more precisely, he argues that humans were always depicted as social beings living in the community and the concept of human as a social being is extremely biased. At the same time, this bias remains practically unchallengeable in the visual images involving humans and in the perception of such images by people[14]. In his article, the author attempts to critically evaluate what he defines as the myth of human ”˜community’[15]. Basically, he stands on the ground that such a view on humans is imposed on people, while they may have different view on human if they were absolutely unbiased and free of the impact of visual images. In such a way, the author reveals a significant power and influence of visual signs which can have a profound symbolic meaning and, what is more, which can shape the perception of basic concepts people develop under the impact of visual images and signs.

Furthermore, in the article “Operation Margarine”[16], R. Barthes develops his idea concerning the impact of visual images and their symbolic meaning on human consciousness. To put it more precisely, the author argues that by means of visual representation it is possible to form the individual identity and perception of specific concepts. For instance, he often refers to the example of army to prove that the actual entity of the army differs consistently from the public image of the army which was created by means of visual representation and use of signs to create a specific public image of the army[17]. The same may be said about religious institutions.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that visual images and signs can have a profound impact on the audience. This is why visual images and signs can be applied in different fields, including electoral campaigns to influence the public opinion and shape a desirable image of politicians and other individual by means of their symbolic visual representation. At the same time, it is very important to research the impact of visual images on human perception because they can influence an individual’s identity and, what is more, they can be used to manipulate with public opinion through the creation of images of people which have nothing in common with the real character of people depicted on photos and images.



[1] Porch, R. 1989. The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society. In Design Discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 115-118.

[2] Porch, R. 1989. The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society. In Design Discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 115

[3] Porch, R. 1989. The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society. In Design Discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 116

[4] Davis, F. 2006. Blue Jeans. In Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 102-108.

[5] Davis, F. 2006. Blue Jeans. In Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 103.

[6] Davis, F. 2006. Blue Jeans. In Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 101.

[7] Barthes, R.1977. Rhetoric of Image. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 32-51.

[8] Barthes, R.1977. Rhetoric of Image. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 32.

[9] Barthes, R.1977. Rhetoric of Image. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 36

[10] Barthes, R.1972. Photography An Electoral Appeal. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 91-93.

[11] Barthes, R.1972. Photography An Electoral Appeal. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 91.

[12] Barthes, R.1972. Photography An Electoral Appeal. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 92.

[13] Barthes, R.1972. Photography An Electoral Appeal. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 92.

[14] Barthes, R.1972. Great Family of Man. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 100.

[15] Barthes, R.1972. Great Family of Man. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 100.

[16] Barthes, R.1972. Operation Margarine. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 41-42.

[17] Barthes, R.1972. Operation Margarine. In Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 42.

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