GD 303 Lecture 2: The Nature of Representation

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GD303 Graphic Design Theory and Practice
Week 2, Lecture 2: The Nature of Representation, p34-42
January 2017
Formatting Note: Textbook info is in black, while lecture additions are in grey. The BIG IDEAS section
always comes from the beginning of the lectures, and summarizes the content of the lecture. The
Vocabulary comes exclusively from the textbook, Graphic Design Theory by Meredith Davis.
BIG IDEAS:
Meaning is constructed in the mind of the interpreter
Representation is a process through which we make something that expresses an
interest in something else and that is motivated by context and intent
A sign is the smallest unit of representation and the relationship between most signs
and what they stand for is arbitrary, a matter of cultural agreement
One task of the graphic designer is to choose the appropriate sign.
Vocabulary
Sign: The most basic unit of representation.
o Aordig to Ferdiad de “aussure’s liguisti odel, a sig onsists of a
signifier and a signified.
o According to Charles Sanders Peirce, a sign is something that means something
to someone in some respect.
Arbitrariness: Ferdinand de Saussure suggested that the relationship between a sign and
what it stands for is arbitrary. In visual and verbal language, the correspondence
between the sign and its meaning is a matter of cultural agreement, not an inherent
property of the sign itself.
Reflective Approach: A view of representation in which the meaning of something is
inherent in the person, object, place, or event itself and the representation simply
mirrors what is already there. A term used by Stuart Hall.
Intentional Approach: A view of representation in which the meaning of something is
imposed on the representation by its author or maker. A term used by Stuart Hall.
Constructionist Approach: A view of representation in which the meaning of something
is shaped partially by the social practices that surround it. A term used by Stuart Hall.
See- constructionism.
Semantic Network: The field of related meanings or connotations that are affiliated with
a perso, thig, plae, or eet. It is through suh affiliatio ojets a e read
ulturall. A ter used by Stuart Hall.
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Connotation: An idea or feeling that a representation invokes in addition to its literal
meaning. Because such meanings are not explicit, objective descriptions of fact, they
generally arise from cultural and social experiences in which people, things, places, and
events become associated with particular abstract ideas, emotions, or behaviors.
Sometimes referred to as second-level meaning.
Denotation: The literal or surface meaning of a sign. Denotative meaning is explicit and
direct and usually avoids metaphors. Sometimes referred to as first-level meaning.
Categorization: The act of identifying stimuli in the environment and grouping them in
memory as members of a category, similar to others in that category but different from
members of other categories. Categorization allows us to think and communicate
metaphorically. Eleanor Rosch and George Lakeoff use the concept of categorization in
their work.
Prototype: A member so central to a category that it contains most or all of the
characteristics that define the category, unlike other members that might be more
peripheral ad likel to ioke other ategories. The est eaple of a ategor,
according to Eleanor Rosch.
Analogous: A representation that is natural or that physically resembles what it stands
for, according to Roland Barthes. A photographic representation is analogous to the
subject being photographed, whereas a gesture drawing may be less so.
People
Stuart Hall (1997): A sociologist and author with a series of studies on signifying
practices in culture. Cites three different theoretical approaches to explaining
representation- the Reflective Approach, the Intentional Approach, and the
Constructionist Approach.
Eleanor Rosch: A psychologist at the University of California who studies the mental
process of categorization.
The Nature of Representation
Represetatio is a proess through hih people ake soethig that epresses a
interest in some particular aspect of something else and that is motivated by both
context and itet.
o For example, a map that a friend draws for you to show how to get from A to B is
a representation of both: the physical way to get from A to B, moving yourself
from A to B by walking or driving or etcetera; and the mental concept of getting
from A to B, thinking about how to get from A to B or using recognizable
landmarks to move from A to B.
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