(Just keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’)
This is a blog post that will be periodically updated with additional information, as well as any thoughts/examples I may have on Visual Communication (Vis-Com) – This will include dates of editing, as well as references where applicable.
As a foreword, many people have drawn similar comparisons to the following, given, simply to the nature of Colour Theory and ‘personification’ of shapes and colours – as such, much of my work may seem copied or cloned from other sources E.G – https://simonmjli.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/compare-shapes-to-personalties/ which is near verbatim to my initial notes on shape theory.
However, I aim to expand on my initial ideas with unique ideas and commentary.
Without further adieu, the contextual studies of Vis-Com.
Generally speaking, shapes and colours are seen similarly, regardless of cultural differences around the world – some of the more general ones are as follows:
Spiky shapes are generally seen as loud and aggressive – and in many cases, masculine – Conversely, round shapes are seen as quiet, soft and effeminate. Arrows and points (within most cultures) also represent dynamic/fluidity. Height, too, represents elegance, status and authority.
Wide bases on shapes, represent solidarity and independence – a willingness that someone/thing can stand by itself, conversely a narrow base can be seen to represent almost a knife edge situation, where the shape could fall with a simple nudge.
Nowhere else is any of this more perfectly articulated then with architecture. A prime example is that of The Parthenon and it’s effects on most of the western world.
It’s solid base of steps shows the wide based rectangle – solidarity. It’s pillars stretching high, show it’s elegance, grace and ambition. It’s pointed roof, show it’s dedication – upwards, to the kingdoms of ancient gods. The simple fact it remains standing even to this day is a living testament to it’s sheer power.
Many would consider a building such as The Parthenon the ultimate testament to powerful and commanding architecture. Clearly, given it’s inspiration in powerful western buildings, this is revealed. Buildings such as Court houses and even The White House itself draw inspiration from it.
Comparatively, the seat of England’s power – The Buildings of Parliament were inspired by ancient Gothic works. Clearly seen in it’s stone masonry, as well as it’s high, cathedral inspired… spires…
While on the subject of Westminster, it is important to mention the lighting featured around the building. As seen in the image, the building is illuminated in a warm golden light. While the purpose of this is up to interpretation, I feel that the colour alone is meant to accentuate the points, arches and finer details of the building – giving it an almost ethereal/godlike glow. The lower angled lighting also provides a feeling that the building is much higher than it actually is – adding to it’s importance, power, scale and sheer awesomeness.
Turning away from real world examples momentarily, fictional architecture can provide just a big an impact as real-life. I find a good example of this is in the sheer scale of the architecture found within the Warhammer 40k universe.
The whole universe of 40K is that of intimidation, fear and faith. Nowhere else quite shows this of as within the architecture found within in – classical features, such as large – ornately constructed pillars would inspire fear and respect into those which viewed them.
Immense hooded statutes depicting featureless ancient warriors – inspiring both faith and empowerment – leaving the person behind the hood a mystery, meaning that any citizen passing it by could potentially see themselves as that great holy figure.
Departing back to reality, while shapes can effect people’s opinions and feelings, colours perform this feat far and a ways more efficiently.
Typically, colours are seen as follows:
Red is seen as: passionate, sexual, violent, dangerous and angry
Orange: Warm, fuzzy, child-like and comfort
Yellow:Hazardous – when combined with black – warmth, summer, spring, cheer and heat
Green: Balancing, nature, sinister, decay and health
Blue: Ocean, sky, distance, authority, cleanliness, depression
Purple: Sensuality, intimacy, spirituality, authority, command
Black: Class, High-end, Occult – untouchable/hidden
White: Hygene, common, purity, , virginity
Temperatures of the colours can also determine the effects on people. While a bright green may make people think of young child, a darker green may make people think of A parlour or a snooker table – often associated with the elderly.
Colours when combined with one another can also make people think of inter-twinning feelings. A prime example of this can be found when examining the outfits of the German SS soldiers. Their primary outfit colour is black, or grey. Associating the ideal of ‘untouch-ability’ with the high ranking soldiers – this combined with the red arm-band, typically associated with the officers and higher ranking Nazi officals, makes people think of them as dangerous on an almost instinctual level.
This is only furthered by the Officers. Officers of the SS – as well as almost any other army at that point in history – were always seen with a distinct, peaked cap. This of course was primarily there so soldiers could identify their leaders in combat – however, it also serves as an intimidation tactic, by the mere shape.
Designed as angular caps – their wearers would be seen as violent, masculine, potentially explosive, the sight of one of these caps within the ranks of soldiers was meant to both uplift the side they were fighting for, and de-moralise the other.
Colours and shapes can form varying opinions within the minds of people who view them. A personal example of colours and shapes affecting viewers was something I made for a map, during the 6 week holidays, inspired by this. – I designed a police station for my map – which was to be set in an alternately history 1870’s England; ruled by a tyrannical government and threatened with a second plague.
I looked at buildings of the time – as well as various other source materials set at that time, such as Dishonoured – and noticed several similarities:-
Narrow Alley ways:
High, imposing walls:
Old Shop fronts:
and finally, the ominous looking Police Station:
I made it angular specifically to over look the player – with the only real light being provided by the blinding light found at the front of the station. It was built with the express purpose to make people feel uneasy. This is furthered inside, with the main room being tinted ever so slightly, in a sickly green hue:
The prison cells are also an unnerving situation, being lit by light from the main hall, if at all:
The idea of most of the station was not taken from a prison at all, rather, mental asylums.
Back in 1920, there existed The Bauhaus – A haven and school for artists, architects and craftsmen alike. The Bauhaus was home to many a strange experiment into human perception, and ways that that perception can be altered – even going so far as one class; then dubbed ‘Mysticism’ was just taking LSD and painting whatever images you saw. The building itself also became the basis for most architecture of the 60’s and even some ot the modern day!
Now where was The Bauhaus?
Only in Germany… At the start of Hitler’s rise to power…
…So, how did The Bauhaus remain so influential, despite the Nazi party wanting to censor creativity and left-wing ideals? Well…
First, let’s look at what The Bauhaus was.
The Bauhaus was an art college and was home to some of the brightest and most forward thinking artists, craftsmen and engineers at the time and was made with the ideal that all forms of art could come together to work together and benefit from one another’s influence. It was formed with the merger of both ‘The Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts’ and the ‘Weimar Academy of Fine Art’. The name Bauhaus came from what it was, literally being translated as a ‘House of building’. It’s name was also in reference to a guild of German stonemasons known as the Bauhütte.
“…because of its similarity to the word Bauhütte, the medieval guild of builders and stonemasons out of which Freemasonry sprang.” – Whitford, Frank, ed. (1992). The Bauhaus: Masters & Students by Themselves
But to really understand The Bauhaus, it is best to look at the tutors, more so, the practises used by said tutors.
While already mentioning the Mysticism class, other tutor’s such as Wassily Kandinsky had alternate methods.
Kandinsky was a sufferer of Sythanasia – a condition where one sense bleeds into others. This often manifest’s in many forms, in fact, I even have a friend who experiences it with ‘words and colours’. Kandinsky experienced it in a ‘music to imagery ‘ form, to a very high degree.
Kandinsky utilised what many would have considered a mental illness at the time, into a powerful and limitless source of inspiration. Painting while listening to compositions, singing and mere conversation – creating surrealist and often psychedelic artwork – becoming later heralded as a pioneer of 70’s psychedelic artistry.
So, inspired by Kandinsky, another tutor at The Bauhaus experimented with Synthanasia – this time, with normal ‘un-afflicted’ people.
This man’s name was Johannes Itten and he asked his class a simple question: “What colour is this note?” and he played them a note on a flute.
Most of the class were – understandably – confused, some insisting that he must be going crazy, however, Itten convinced his students to draw what they thought of the colour – what came as a result was suprising. Almost every student had chosen the same colour for the note. Itten then repeated this, several times with different notes with near consistent results. Next, he tried both shapes and angles – both of which followed trend.
This proved to Itten that everyone experiences Synthanasia, to some extent, but some are more attune to it’s effects. Inspired by Itten’s investigations, I have drawn several pieces to several various songs –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yvy2_7d_VmI “Les Commandos”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmkHqUwa4zg “Love Bites”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXYIxJScSik “House of The Rising Sun”
While I have already touched on architecture earlier, I feel more detail would be required to understand the complexity of later projects.
Jumping right into the topic, I’ll start with Classical.
The Classical period encompasses the Ancient Greek and Roman era.
Starting with Ancient Greece,the way to tell initial buildings apart is by looking at the columns used to support them. These are broken into three main ‘categories’ or orders, known as: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.
Later on, the Romans used the Ancient Greek designs, but also combined all three, into something we now known as Composite – The far right pillar.
They also simplified the design of the Doric style used by the Greeks, into a ‘Tuscan’ pillar; which was designed to be the least ornamental, and most sturdy – the far left hand pillar .
The Romans also developed many other architectural points of merit, such as immense archways, which were later refined into viaducts, as well as domes.
A famous example of a well constructed domed structure from the Roman Era is The Pantheon – a large ‘Roman concrete’ dome, made using a technique known as Coffering.
Coffering was where weight was reduced by simply forming sections thinner than others during construction. Within the Pantheon, this served two purposes – one: to reduce the weight of the extremely heavy roof, and two: to help add to the aesthetic.
Next up, is the Gothic period.
When most people think of The Gothic period, they would think of dark, dimly lit castles and monasteries. This however, isn’t the case with actual Gothic – instead being a romanticism during The Victorian eclectic, mentioned later –
Actual Gothic on the other hand was designed to be bright, and let in as much light as possible, being comparable to skyscrapers in that they were attempts at ‘glass buildings’.
Examining one of the most famous Gothic buildings – The Notre-Dame Cathedral – it’s clear to see that the building wasn’t designed to be dark.
The windows were built to form a kaleidoscope of light and colour. The large, imposing pillars all to support the heavy lead-lined glass murals, which leads me onto a second famous part of Gothic Architecture –
The Buttress – or more spesifically, the Flying Buttress
A buttress is designed to keep a wall standing and a flying buttress ‘builds’ on this, by adding further support. It does this by having a large weight – in the picture above, the towers – from which the Buttress is held. This can both support more weight and can allow for higher structures.
One final misconception about the Gothic period is that it began in Germany, however, that accolade belongs to France – specifically, Paris.
Following the Gothic, was the rise of the Renaissance…
…Which all began when one man was asked to design a summer home.
Enter Andrea Palladio, an Italian architect from the 16th century, who was commissioned to build a Summer retreat by Gian Giorgio Trissino.
Palladio dug around within ancient texts and examined architecture from ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Romans and concluded on a design. He would use Greek Pillars on every side of the structure, with a Roman dome, seated atop, all made from a faux-marble. This would be known as the Villa De Rotunda:
…Which he never lived to see complete. In 1585, it was completed by fellow architect; Vincenzo Scamozzi.
Palladio’s work however, led to many changes in popular culture of the time, leading into the creation of…
The Baroque Period, which took place during the early 1600’s, and consisted of powerful, fear, awe and even dread inspiring architecture. The Baroque style was favoured by Christians at the time, and was adopted in the construction of The Vatican, as well as many other ‘faithful’ buildings.
Aristocrats also favoured the style as it showed off wealth in a manner that clearly showed the owners status, with many gilded, ornamental patterns, as well as fanciful – typically religious – artwork being grand centrepieces.
After the Baroque Period, came the Rococo period.
The Rococo period is comparable to the Baroque period – even so far as some calling it ‘Late Baroque’-, however is more cheerful, less religious and generally more upbeat. Instead of powerful, imposing golden angels – smaller, more sprightly creatures and more pleasing embellishment. Instead of the deep array of colours used in The Baroque; pastels, and flamboyant colours are the hallmark of The Rococo period.
Quick on the heels of the Rococo period came the Neo-Classical Period, starting at almost the exact turn of the 18th century. As the name would suggest, this period was a revival of Classical ideas, ideals and aesthetics.
This is found within many buildings, including England’s own Chatsworth House
The art, as well as the busts featured on marble plinths add to the Neo-classical style, while retaining a tint of The Baroque. The materials used also allude to the Classical style.
A Major player in the revival of the Classical period was the Scottish architect: Robert Adam, creating interiors such as this:
More will be said on the art style of individual furniture and busts later on, on both the classical, as well as every other time period mentioned in this list.
Moving swiftly on to The Victorian Eclectic – The period that popularised Gothic as we know it now. This ‘Post Gothic’ style borrowed from both the scale of Baroque and Classical, with the embellishments and religious symbolism from The Gothic period.
Saint Pancras’ exterior is based heavily on The Gothic Period, simply due to the spires and points – making it seem more like a cathedral, than a railway station.
Often heralded as the figurehead of reviving the Gothic Period was Augustus Pugin, a Scottish architect who was raised by rigorous religious practise by his mother, before vacating into a more open sect which helped his creative influences.
Later, in 1880, William Morris and John Ruskin become detested by the rising reliance on industrial machinery and set out to create a new cultural revolution, leaving behind all the technological advancements – the pair went off the the country side and began crafting hand-made furniture, in small, rustic cottages.
One of the major problems with not using machinery and manufacturing all the furniture by hand is the price. Some pieces being as expensive as thousands of pounds. This led the furniture, and by extension, the houses they were in to be referred to as ‘Stockbrokers’ houses.
While never taking off here in the UK, the Art Nouveau period was an important time period to mention -1880 -, given it’s widespread influence in many other places. The Art Nouveau period was inspired by nature, in it’s many forms, ranging from tendrils of climbing plants, to the separation of cells under a microscope.
Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish architect, who rarely planned his buildings in great detail, who pioneered the unique style, by examining life around him.
Art Nouveau also played a hand in inspiring the design for The Alien’s spaceship, from Alien and Aliens.
To enter fiction for a moment, it’s safe to say that ‘Hobbit Holes’ from Lord of The Rings are a combination of both Art Nouveau and the Arts and crafts movement.
Back to reality, now in 1920 and the rise of Art Deco. Inspired by the Art Nouveau period, but flipping it on it’s head, Art Deco is designed to be built around machinery, vehicles and… vaguely Aztec temples..
Art Deco’s movement was to embrace technology. This is evident when looking at the artwork at the time:
Pieces such as those above, feature gradients, such was the style during the Art Deco period, both in art and in Architecture.
The Gradated roofs of skyscrapers serve two purposes, one is to provide a pleasing aesthetic to Aztec pyramids of old – due to world culture at the time being intrigued by the Pyramids of Egypt, as well as the Temples of Mexico – the second purpose, is to provide practicality.
The straight Skyscrapers cause the smog to become static, akin to a valley, or a well. It also has a similar psychological effect on people on ground level, making them feel trapped. The stepped pattern negates this by allowing more sun light in.
The Embellishments featured within The Art Deco period could also be seen as ‘Faux-Aztec’
Finally, it is worth mentioning the Art Deco embellishments and motifs, used extensively within places like New York at the time – Many would compare the fan patterns used within the lower image with fans used in ancient Egyptian times.
The Bauhaus provided a large amount of inspiration for most Art Deco period pieces, as well as..
The Modern Period – A sparse setting of design, where form followed function. Starting just after The Art Deco period, Modernism came after the Second World War. This helped earn it’s Function over Form characteristic – making most of the buildings seem blocky, industrial and densely packed.
Various places did Modernism in their individual ways, however, most followed the same rules: They were Grey and Blocky, they were all designed for some purpose, not just to be aesthetically pleasing and they rarely featured curves.
There were also many different points of Modernism, such as: Constructivist, Brutalism and High-tech.
The Constructivist Period arguably started in pre-war Russia, during the Russian Revolution and was brought into being by the new Russian government, looking at it’s people’s social needs and trying to fulfil them. This was due to the civil war at the time, which caused a large drain on the resources of the Russian people.
Designers such as Moisei Ginzburg, began to create large housing structures – Such as the Narkomfin – to house state workers and their families.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world – particularly, in the west – International Modernism was beginning to take shape. International Modernism was based around the ideal that everyone can think and work together to achieve their goals, in a fair manner. As such, at this time, many of the buildings seen all reflect each other’s styles. This was also handy, as it was a simplistic way to construct cities in rapid time periods. Vertical was the new way to build, and thanks to evolutions in design and technology at the start of the century – with developments from parties such as The Bauhaus – this was easier than ever.
While previously stating that Modernism started post WW2, this isn’t strictly true for ALL creators of the movement. One such caveat to this idea was one; ‘Ludwig Miles van der Rohe’ a Bauhaus designer.
Miles van der Rohe was an important figure in the Modernism movement for a great many reasons; however, one of his arguably most influential pieces was the Barcelona Pavilion.
Despite it being completed in 1929, The Barcelona Pavilion could almost pass for ‘contemporary’ architecture, as well as being an iconic basis for many fictional works, such as Tony Stark’s mansion in the Iron Man franchise.
Typically, International Modernism was being made more and more out of glass and ‘light’ structures, such as aluminium or even plastic, however ; Brutalism was becoming to be a more adopted theme. While International Modernism never really leaves, it does – for a breif time – lose favour to Brutalism.
Brutalism, in contrast of Art Deco which followed before it, relied on strength and power, utilising hard, stiff materials such as concrete and steel in repeating and functional patterns. It was pioneered by people such as Erno Goldfinger, A Hungarian architect working in London; who introduced high-rises – like the Trellick tower – to England.
These were important as they provided places for the UK’s population to live after the devastation of WW2, again, relating to the Function over form argument of the time. An example that is closer to home is The Sheffield ‘Eggboxes’ – an extension to the City Hall, made as a flyover.
Due to it’s ugly exterior the ‘eggboxes’ received flak from near enough day 1, later being demolished in 2002…
Next, Post-modernism, and the revolt against modernism. dated anywhere between 1960 to 1980, Post-Modernism took a long look at Modernism and decided that it was based on flawed principles – such as the naivety that the world could march to the same beat. As such, it goes on to embrace quirkiness, uniqueness and can often be seen mocking modernism ‘ironically’.
A good example of this is the Lloyds Building, a traditional skyscraper – constructed inside out, designed by Richard Rogers.
Despite it’s constantly unfinished appearance, the Lloyds tower is an architectural marvel, appearing almost Art Deco in it’s design, due to it’s machinery, vents and passageways all being exposed.
Another shining example of Post-Modernism is the Pompidou Centre, another building designed by Richard Rogers, along with Renzo Piano.
The Pompidou centre is now an art installation, both internally and – at the time of it’s creation – externally. It was made as a glass and steel structure and has an almost, skeletal appearance. Like the Lloyd’s Building, this is intentional and due to a design choice, likely at the hands of Richard Rogers. It was done to show the buildings colourful pipes, hydraulics and mechanics.
Now, we’re into contemporary architecture, or post-post modernism, as some would dub it. Modern architecture appears to mostly seem CG, made up of bizarre and confusing patterns, typically featuring curves.
One notable architect of the modern world is Zaha Hadid, a British-Iraqi who designs surreal curved structures, such as the Glasgow Art Museum.
These builds draw inspiration from both Art Deco and Art Nouveau and include a sense of ‘kinetica’.
After last weeks mentioning – see: Rambling – of architecture and it’s history, it’d be a logical step to next move onto the more transient part of any time period, it’s art, furniture and sculpture.
Let’s dive right in, wit the Classical period.
The general idea for most Greeks – and Romans – at the time was that ‘If you look good, you are good’. As such, sculptures depict power looking, strong, often naked heroes, gods and great leaders. This period was heavily driven by anatomy, physical perfection and anatomical correction.
Examples of this can be found in countless forms, however, one of the best surviving and well documented pieces is that of Laocoon and His Sons
while now sustaining damage, as is expected of a statue older than most civilisations, the anatomical correctness is clear to see. Another worthwhile point is that these statues would likely have been painted fleshtones during the time they were produced, as evidenced in many various sources. This was discovered after the statues were exposed to UV light.
Moving on to art, a near perfectly preserved example of this can be found within the grounds of the Pompei ruins, in a building called ‘The House of Mystery’
Lining the walls of the Villa are art-pieces -Frescos, to be precise – that depict a scene within ancient society. The scene in question however, is most perplexing, with many believing that the acts depicted are someone’s initiation to a cult or sect of some form.
Moving on from one villa, to an entire city, The Herculaneum is one of the most well preserved cities of the ancient world. The first thing worthy of note is the level of technology on display within the city, with the populace understanding working sewer systems.
Discoveries found within ruins such as those above, provided important knowledge for several western discoveries.
Next, onto the renaissance –
A collective to follow within the Renaissance is that everyone tried to do what the romans did, but better…
…with varying levels of success.
This is also the part when many now famous – commonly known and spoofed artistic pieces were made – including The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa and The Sistine Chapel’s roof. This was clearly a time of faith and devotion. Art reflecting biblical scenes – which will be commented on later, with pieces such as:
The creation of Adam, by Michael Angelo.
The mentality of The Renaissance was much the same of The Classic era, albeit leaning more to pictures depicting faith in their work
…Enter The Gothic Period – with stained glass depictions of the lord everywhere.
Not just that, but also the art shifted.
Even in the above image, it’s clear to see that the focus is less on proportion, what with the baby looking more like a tiny man, than an actual baby. Another example can be found in ‘The Angel Of Mercy’.
Which is a clear violation of of all proportionality laws. Either the nun’s under the angels cloak are tiny, or the angel is a giant.
However, this is obviously painted this way for a reason – the reason being that the larger the subject in the image, the more prominent a figure he/she is.
Where as Classical art was – beauty within is beauty without
Gothic art is – Beauty is the size of the soul, the bigger the person, the larger their soul.
Next, onto The Baroque;
Popular culture is a fickle thing, however, with practise it can be read, using a technique know as Semiotics, as well as studies by Ferdinard Saussure, Roland Barthes and Charles Peirce.
But first, what is Semiotics?
Semiotics is a study of signs and meaning, as well as an interpretation that ANYTHING can be some form of sign. An example of this is – if someone is wearing a smart suit, driving a posh car and in possesion of flashy pieces of jewellery, it’d be simple to see that that person would be wealthy.
Another example of this is how people think, for example, if I was to type the word: “Christianity” the first thing in most people’s minds would be the image of The Cross – despite this being a method of execution long before it was a religious symbol.
This is because cultural stimulus and association of symbols. It’s a simple way that the human brain processes information in order for it to take up less room.
“But what does this have to do with graphics?” I hear you ask, well hypothetical question man, I’ll tell you.
Association is one of the main ways that advertising works. Catchphrases, such as “I’m loving it”, “Who you gonna call?” and even things in other languages like “Vorsprung Durch Technik”.
This all relates back to Ferdinand Saussure, a Swiss linguist and often seen as the founder of Semiotics. He initially laid out the idea that language can be affected by numerous factors, this then inspired Charles Peirce.
Charles Peirce came up with a theory that thoughts and signs come in three categories: Icon, Casual and Cultural.
Icon: refers to things that are symbolic of other things, for example, scientific warnings – like Corrosive – provide a simple, universal and understandable indication.
Causal: Where a direct physical representation is shown, for example, the temperature on a thermometer or a speedometer on a car.
Cultural: A Cultural tie is something where an image is tied to an idea or a way of thinking, for example, the image of The Cross, often makes people think of Christianity.
Semiotics is found commonly within popular culture. Such as in film posters, shots and angles.
I’ll start by using Blade Runner as an example:
Specifically, Rachael, smoking.
Starting with the obvious, the lipstick. Typically associated with sexuality, beauty and attractiveness, however – can also be seen as a mask – as to be expected from her character, being an android, trying to hide from her hunters-.
Smoke, could be a visual reference to ‘Smoke and mirrors’, an old deception technique. It also draws the eye, due to the lighting falling on it. Smoke is also seen as a form of elegance, and can cloud thoughts, again, leading to a deceptive idea.
Her pose is neutral, however, does have a slight lean forward, as dictated by the way the light falls on her face, showing interest.
Her eyes are what gives her away, however, as the way the light falls on them seems unnatural and incorrect – this is also what tips Deckard, the main character, off to her being something other than what she seems.
Now, from a Dystopian future, to a war flick. About a catastrophe. Immediately.
Standing defiant, amongst a field of napalm, smoke and flattened trees? That’s a badass. Doing it all with his shirt off as everyone else stares up at him in awe? That’s a REAL badass.
Doing it all while haloed by angelic golden-yellow? That’s a damned god.
The whole scene is designed to set up the sergeant as a powerful figure, standing over everyone else, looking down at them, a clear figurehead even among all the chaos of a warzone.
Finally, in pop-culture, Sherlock Holmes
As seen above being played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
While not really being a typical example of semiotics, it is used frequently within the modern BBC show. Sherlock himself examines people’s clothes, stances, physiological abnormalities and property, and uses it to determine if the person in question is hiding clues.
Semiotics can also rely on stereotypes, even to a comical degree, as shown in the ‘meme’ – memetic online phenomenon – ‘X Starter pack’ – where simple images are shown to reveal someone’s personality, likes or dislikes, examples of such being:
All the indications of the phrase are explained with the images, much like how certain clothes, vehicles, surroundings or actions can be shown to be indicative of a certain person/type of people.
Building on what was written last week with semiotics, today I’ll discuss how to read a photograph.
First and most importantly, Photographs are almost always immediately and mentally believable, this is because – while prose, hand-drawn images and scripture all seem believable, they always seem off – photographs are to be trusted, as the image is quite literally, before your very eyes.
However, in the same respect, they could be seen as a form of deceit, as it was probably not just chance; that a camera happened to take an image of a hummingbird, mid-flight, fighting with a second humming bird the MOMENT the camera shutter closed.
…and yet there it is! (source)
This image was taken after the photograph was waiting and waiting for just the right opportunity.
Photographs, and images in general, can be deviated upon in 5 forms; these forms being: ‘Homage, Reference, Plagiarism, Pastiche and Forgeries’.
A good example of Homage is Tom Hunter’s work. Tom Hunter reads the paper and finds a story, then goes off to his local gallery and finds an image that would work well with the image, then re-appropriates the image to suit the story – for example
Reading into the image is required with this, so bear with me.
First off, where are they? In the middle of a field, with powerlines and other mechanical structures in the background.
Next, looking at the people, their actions suggest that the pair of them are together in a relationship, however, the ladies face is that of disgust, or, confusion, looking at her lover.
The man is offering the lady a white item, possibly a cigarette, likely a joint of marijuana, possibly the source of the ladies disgust.
Their clothes and hairstyles lead them to belonging to a hippy, peace-loving ideal, coupled with the idea of drug-culture often tied with such crowds.
Now, however, looking at the source image.
This image, known as The Hireling Shepard is a comment on religious leaders not leading their congregations correctly.
This is seen in the idea that the while the Shepard is busy with other affairs, his flock are all running astray – one even gazing off into the wheat field to its potential demise. This image relies on the spectator knowing the phrase “A Shepard and His Flock”.
Looking back at the first image, it is perhaps clearer to see what image stands for.
These people are protestors, against the industrialisation of farming/of the wild lands, however, instead of being off, protesting, the pair of them are – much like the Shepard – distracted with other affairs tied to the their way of life, allowing the industry to run rampant.
A man called Richard Prince can provide examples of both reference and plagiarism. He did this by taking photographs from cigarette packets and blowing them up, then fooling people into believing that the images were his. He later announced that the images were just old cigarette packets.
Pastiche, known commonly as ‘parody’ is a mockery or humorous retake of an originally, generally serious piece. Parody is found almost everywhere, in one form or another, for example, The Simpsons have parodied countless things – Below: The Simpson’s take on ‘The Last Supper’, as well as the original image below that.
People perform analysis on film posters, game posters and box art for the pair. A great example of this is Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s series: ‘Judging By The Cover’, where Mr Croshaw goes into great detail about tropes, inconsistencies and various other points of interest on an image, making dry, snarky comments throughout, with purposely pretentious sounding music playing in the background.
Art. Most people will say art is subjective. For the most point, these people are entirely correct – however, this doesn’t stop people from making a subconscious decision on what they see.
This is known as Aesthetic Theory and encompasses a wide range of ideas about art and peoples views of it – however, there is a set few which most -if not all- pieces of art fall into in some form:
Conformity to convention
Everyone of the above categories can be found in every art piece in the world.
Worthy of note, is that some of these categories rely on nature, physics and humanity as a whole – how? Well, lets start with Skillcraft.
Commonly associated with great historical art pieces is the idea of the ‘Golden Ratio’ and the ‘Fibonacci Spiral’. The Fibonacci Spiral is a conic circle, with measured lines branching from it at every 90* angle on the spiral.
This pattern is found everywhere within nature, including in physics – with the above being a prime example of centrifugal force – found within Spiral Armed Galaxies (below, right). It is also found within the growth pattern of many shelled creatures here on earth.
The importance of the Fibonacci Spiral within art – and by extension, graphic design – is to direct the viewers gaze to the centre of the Spiral. This holds true to both Renaissance Art – but is also found within more convention events, simply by chance.
Left- Samson by Solomon Joseph Solomon – 1887
Right- an image of the Ukrainian Parliament engaging in classical pugilism
Images which conform to the Fibonacci Spiral are naturally seen as beautiful, simply because they subconsciously remind us of nature
The Golden Ratio refers to a sizing ratio – the numbers within the first Fibonacci Spiral image in this section – that is the previous two digits added together to form the next digit – which will in turn cause an exponentially expanding shape. However, this is used to judge the scale of elements within an image.
Another closely related idea is that of Aesthetic beauty. A simple way to imagine this concept is to think of an ideal holiday location. Most people would say sandy beaches, water, a nice warm sun, maybe a palm tree? While this is likely engrained into most people as a generic idea of leasure, it runs much deeper than that.
It’s about instinctual survival.
This is because if you were placed on a beach, with a few trees around – you could survive without much assistance. it’s also why the desert and the Arctic would likely NOT be good resting locations.
Finally, I believe that ‘ugly’ needs an explanation – ugly is rarely ugly for ugliness sake, especially not in art. If something is ugly in art it is generally because it was designed to be so – this is typically seen in 20th century photo’s and art, reflecting on the tough wars and hardships of the time.
Art can also be broken down into many specific ideals, such as:
All of these ideals encompass one or more of the above traits, but let’s move straight on to examining them.
Intentionalism – To sum up intentionalism in a sentence would be simple. ‘Tight briefs are good’. Intentionalism is a given idea/intent and sticking to that idea/intent.
Intentionalism covers most types of professional work, ranging from commissioned work, to technical drawings. It is often prescribed, by the book and some would argue limiting.
Conversely, it could be seen as a good method for some to be channeled down a certain path – where as otherwise, they could have ventured off on a path of their own.
Expressionism – Expressionism is it’s simplest term – is a method for the psyche to vent it’s current emotional state. To either forget, to cope, to explain or to remember – expressionism is all about the creators feelings at the time of making the piece. Expressionism requires empathy.
However, due to it both requiring Empathy and it’s inherent nature – being a psyche projected onto a page/canvas/screen – it can be easy to understand the tone of the image, even if not the subject of the image.
To simply sum it up – ‘Other people are as f**ked as you are’
Formalism – Formalism is preaching to the choir. Talking about subjects using subject-spesific terms that people wouldn’t understand, unless they were in the know about them prior.
An example: “The Adeptus Mechanicus Magos stood, staring at the monolithic C’tan Tesseract, as the heretical xeno’s device ravaged column after column of Chimeras.”
However, despite not many people likely understanding the above sentence, there will likely be many words that will be universally recognised – which once known, would make deciphering the passage simpler, for example – Xeno’s referring to Alien, monolithic referring to large and if the prior knowledge was there – knowing that Chimera’s are a tank, it’d be easier to piece together that the above is a passage about a war against aliens who’ve unleashed a powerful device.
This is just one example of Formalism – however it’s fair to say that all types of formalism require esoteric knowledge on a certain subject matter.
Instrumentalism – Instrumental art is revealing something – usually, an atrocity, to the world at large. Instrumentalism is a piece which causes change. Be it revealing corruption, causing the corrupted to be held accountable, or be it showing the world a revelation and having it acted upon, the piece will be ‘instrumental’ in the action being taken.
Examples of this include the now famous ‘napalm’ picture.
which revealed to the world what America was actually doing in Vietnam – showing a group of civilians fleeing from their recently Napalmed village.
Intervention – Intervening art is comparable to Instrumental art – albeit, in a much more subtle way. A prime example of Intervention work is when the Russians occupied Prague in 1968 – after they pulled out of the city, they left behind a T-34 battle tank. This was then painted over night by David Černý.
This occurred, time and time again – even after David’s arrest. Eventually, the Russians took the tank away, removing the symbol of oppression. Now, Prague has it’s own monument to the Pink Tank – a sinking tank, also painted pink – in memorium to the original.
Now, from one act of surreal-ality..? To another: ‘CIRCA’…
or as most prefer to be known – The Rebel Clown Army.
The Rebel Clown army stand for Anti-war, Anti-Authoritarianism.
Their dress is typically that of camouflage gear, with clown faceprint, wigs and other ‘clowny’ items, such as balloon swords and waterpistols.
They act as a contrast to ‘typical’ activist movements – by being completely non-threatning, which aids them getting their point heard. The Clown guise also protects the anonymity of the members, gathers press attention, and would make it so any violent action taken against them would be seen as over-reactionary.
They started in the G8 summit in Scotland, but have since spread around the world – to places as far as Israel and Denmark.
Shock Art is art designed – by definition – to: “Shock art is contemporary art that incorporates disturbing imagery, sound or scents to create a shocking experience. It is a way to disturb “smug, complacent and hypocritical” people.” – Wikipedia – Shock Art
Shock Art will be my point of investigation for my further studies, along with the general idea of Subversion, due to the pair of them often coming hand in hand – this will also tie into my ideals about anti-censorship and freespeech, found within ‘My Manifesto’ elsewhere on this site.
One of my personal favourite pieces of shock art is ‘Helena’ by Marco Evaristti, in which people were presented with goldfish in food blenders and invited to press the button. I think my interest in this spans from the examination of a persons psyche that could come from performing this as a ‘social experiment’ as well as general audience participation.
Personally, if I were to do the same – or similar – stunt, I would have it so that there would be a row of blenders, with only one working one, being unlabelled, just to test if people would press the buttons.
Another, more original idea was something that a close friend and I came up with back in 2008 – where the pair of us would dress up in hazmat suits, carry ziplock bags, and fake Geiger counters and film the public’s reaction to us walking up to random things, scanning them, then grabbing the thing and placing it in the ziplock bag.
This leads me onto another idea that interests me greatly – The idea of Censorship – hence the name of the blog.
Censorship comes in innumerable forms and affects almost everyone on earth in one way or another, and is often tied closely with controversy.
While numerous topics can be thought of almost instantly from this idea, for the sake of this entry, I will focus it more on the art world – that being said, relevant political and cultural alignments will be discussed in more detail as necessary.
So, where to begin?
Why not with someone with an unprecedented level of access to near enough everywhere, legally.
Taryn Simon is an American Photographer who has written to many different places through-out the world and managed to gain access to many ‘top secret’ places – as said in the video.
However, the mystery surrounding how she gets access, let alone how she is allowed to take footage/images of these supposedly secret places remains.
A second person worth a note is Chinese artist; Ai WeiWei.
A man that flipped off a building. The Imperial Palace, to be precise. Then got beaten by Chinese police. Here he is still showing his defiance.
These are two of the many ways that people expose Censorship and Controversy, with Taryn’s method being more secretive and sly, whereas Ai’s being blunt and sledgehammer-like.
Culture can affect people’s perception of controversy, too.
During the wiki-leaks fiasco, it was revealed that the NSA was spying on a majority of the world. The reactions from too similar nations, The UK and US couldn’t have been more wildly different.
In the UK, people couldn’t really care. They trusted that their security forces – MI6 – wouldn’t spy on their populace.
In the US however, people went ballistic. Even now, fallout from the incident crops up now and then. This could be due to the idea of being spied on by their government being a directly oppositional ideal to The American Dream – the idea that anyone, no matter their place in society can be free, and from their build up to being successful.
This idea is also supported by America’s very founding, when persecuted religious settlers first touched land in The America’s, they welcomed the idea that people here could beleive what they wanted, with freedom.
Further more, the more modern culture effect’s opinions of the people towards their government. In England, and the UK in general, the view of The MI6 and MI5 are that of James Bond, a classy and charismatic spy – completing his missions in the name of Her Majesty, The Queen and the betterment of The United Kingdom.
Where as in American Culture, their spy forces are often seen as wet-works operatives, secretive heavily armed neo-mercenaries that solve problems, not with charm or tact, but with fire-power and an almost zealous belief in freedom, if not, then secretive, faceless: G-men. Examples of this can be found in countless places
So, how does this effect my work?
Tying in with my ideas – is the idea of Dadaism.
Dadaism, simply put, was art that was created in reaction to The Great War, during 1916 to 1923, that was defined by producing works that seemed to be utter nonsense and incongruity.
Things such as pointless machines, and absurd paintings like those shown below are all examples of Dadaism art:
To be a Dadalist artist is to be akin to a Nihilist. However – Dadaism is living today, in a much more unique form.