Category Archives: semiotics

Ray Johnson: Correspondences

Ray Johnson: CorrespondencesBy Donna De Salvo and Catherine Gudis (1999)

In 1995, the resolutely reclusive Ray Johnson reemerged into the spotlight when he died in a mysterious and spectacular way, leading to the discovery of thousands of works of art in his house. Drawing upon this vast trove, Donna De Salvo, the Wexner Center’s Curator at Large, has organized Ray Johnson: Correspondences, the first comprehensive exhibition to be mounted (with the complete cooperation of the artist’s estate).

Like Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, and later Andy Warhol and Jim Rosenquist, Johnson combined the signs and symbols of contemporary culture with the lessons of abstraction to develop a new lexicon of forms. A pioneer in the use of ‘found’ images and techniques of mechanical reproduction, Johnson created in 1955 what may have been the first informal happening.

Johnson first created ‘mail art’ in the fifties. These were part collage, part manifesto, part parody; he often instructed recipients to ‘add to’, ‘return to’, or ‘send to’, spawning an interactive art form, a continuous happening, that pre-figured electronic mail. Johnson was the nerve center of this pre-digital netscape that spread around the nation and, eventually, the world, which continues to flourish today.

By the eighties, Johnson was a legend in the artistic community. Ray Johnson: correspondences, offers the first opportunity for in-depth examination of the work of an artist who reflected and dissected many of the aesthetic, cultural, and theoretical preoccupations of the last forty years; a figure whose impact and influence will finally be made known.

Posted in art, biography, culture, design, exhibition, language, media, semiotics, typography

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image WorldBy Rick Poyner (2001)
Design critic Rick Poynor explores the thinking behind contemporary visual culture – intriguing and fascinating appraisal. In the twenty-first century, commerce and culture are ever more closely entwined. This new collection of essays by design critic Rick Poynor takes a searching look at visual culture to discover the reality beneath the ultra-seductive surfaces. Poynor explores the thinking behind the emerging resistance to commercial rhetoric among designers, and offers critical insights into the changing dialogue between advertising and design. Other essays address the topics of visual journalism; brands as religion; the new solipsism; graphic memes; the pleasures of imperfect design; and the poverty of “cool”. Around the world, many are now waking up to the dominance of huge corporations – invariably expressed by visual means. This pointed and provocative counterblast arrives at a moment when critical responses are vital if this mono-culture is to be challenged. It offers inspirational evidence of alternative ways of engaging with design, and it will appeal to any reader with a questioning interest in design, advertising, cultural studies, media studies, and the visual arts.

Posted in art, culture, design, media, semiotics

Cranbrook Design: The New Discourse

Cranbrook DesignBy Katherine and Michael McCoy (1990)
A book that documents Cranbrook’s Design Department faculty, student, and alumni work from 1980-1990. Although not defined by a style, the Cranbrook design philosophy has been influential in product, graphic and furniture design. Products have been treated as sensual objects to be interpreted. “We’ve tried to recognize that products carry the mythology of the culture,” said Michael McCoy, chairman of the design department with his wife, Katherine.

Posted in art, Cranbrook, design, education, media, semiotics, theory, typography

Mixing Messages

Mixing MessagesBy Ellen Lupton (1996)
How do we disseminate information? And what does it look like? Ellen Kupton answers that in her new book, Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture. Lupton looks at the mission of design through discussions about publishing, signage, typography, corporate identity and the use of design in public places. Mixing Messages will fascinate fans of design, culture or social history.

Posted in art, culture, design, media, semiotics, typography

Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising

Sign Wars: Cluttered Landscape of Advertising, TheBy Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson (1996)
Contemporary ads are a symbol of competition as much as a bid for new customers: that’s the contention of authors who suggest that the “sign wars” represent a consequence of a disjoined media culture. Insights on media, advertising strategy, and business blend in a strong consideration which uses signs and symbols from recent campaigns to provide a critical view of ad culture results.

Posted in culture, language, media, semiotics, theory

Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television SeriesBy John Berger (1972)
John Berger’s, The Ways of Seeing, based on the groundbreaking BBC television series of the same name, challenges us to rethink the ways in which we view the world and the many images that surround it. Every image that confronts us embodies a way of seeing (i.e. the photographer’s, the painter’s, etc) but it is the way in which we see that image – the perspective of the beholder – that is of especial interest to Berger. Before the invention of the camera, which ushered in an “age of reproduction,” the spectator’s perspective in relation to the work of art was dominant. Now, instead of the “spectator traveling to the image” the “image travels to the spectator.” Through the means of reproduction, the meaning of art was indelibly changed.

Posted in art, culture, media, semiotics, theory

Mythologies

MythologiesBy Roland Barthes (1975)
Mythologies illustrates the beautiful generosity of Barthes’s progressive interest in the meaning (his word is signification) of practically everything around him, not only the books and paintings of high art, but also the slogans, trivia, toys, food, and popular rituals (cruises, striptease, eating, wrestling matches) of contemporary life . . . For Barthes, words and objects have in common the organized capacity to say something; at the same time, since they are signs, words and objects have the bad faith always to appear natural to their consumer, as if what they say is eternal, true, necessary, instead of arbitrary, made, contingent. Each of the little essays in this book wrenches a definition out of a common but constructed object, making the object speak its hidden, but ever-so-present, reservoir of manufactured sense.

Posted in culture, language, semiotics, theory

Image, Music, Text

Image, Music, TextBy Roland Barthes (1978)
Roland Barthes, the French critic and semiotician, was one of the most important critics and essayists of this century. His work continues to influence contemporary literary theory and cultural studies. Image-Music-Text collects Barthes’s best writings on photography and the cinema, as well as fascinating articles on the relationship between images and sound. Two of Barthes’s most important essays, “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative” and “The Death of the Author” are also included in this fine anthology, an excellent introduction to his thought.

Posted in art, culture, language, media, photography, semiotics, theory

Forest Of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation

Forest Of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representationby Ann Goldstein, Mary Jane Jacob, Anne Rorimer, Howard Singerman, and Richard Koshalek (1989)The thread of representation ties together the work of the 30 artists included in the book, encompassing such issues as allegory, appropriation, and commodification, the role of the artist, and the functions of authorship and originality in vesting meaning in art. Much of the work is provocative, challenging the way we look at art, the way we talk about it, where we see it, and how we buy it.

Posted in art, culture, exhibition, history, language, photography, semiotics, theory

Literary Theory

Literary Theory: An Introduction Second EditionBy Terry Eagleton (1983/1996)
This classic work, whose first edition sold more than 120,000 copies, is designed to cover all of the major movements in literary studies in this century. The second edition contains a major new survey chapter that addresses developments since the book’s original publication in 1983, including feminist theory, postmodernism, poststructuralism-what is broadly referred to as cultural theory.

Posted in culture, feminism, language, philosophy, semiotics, theory