Modern Art History
The act of portraying, depicting, symbolizing, or presenting the like-ness of something. Language, the visual arts such as
painting and sculpture, and media such as photography, television, and film are systems of representation that function to
depict and symbolize aspects of the real world. Representation is often seen as distinct from simulation in that a
representation declares itself to be re-presenting some aspect of real, whereas a simulation has no necessary referent in the
A theory of signs, sometimes called semiology, concerned with the ways in which (words, images, and objects) are vehicles for
meaning. Semiotics is a tool for analyzing the signs of a particular culture and how meaning is produced within a particular
cultural context. Just as languages communicate through words organized into sentences, other practices in culture are treated
by semiotic theory as languages made up of basic elements and the rules for combining them.
For instance, wearing tennis shoes with formal menswear suit (as comedian Ellen DeGeneres has done) communicates a
different meaning for each element, tennis shoes and tuxedos, because of the expectations of the codes of fashion (which can
be thought of as a language with its own forms of correct and incorrect grammar).
A concept that originates with the Greeks that defines representation as a process of mirroring or imitating the real.
Contemporary theories such as social construction criticize mimesis for not taking into account the way in which systems of
representation, such as language and images, shape how we interpret and understand what we see, rather than merely
reflecting it back to us.
In semiotics, a term that refers to the object itself, as opposed to its representation. Semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure
referred to the referent, in the example of a horse, as “what kicks you”, meaning that whereas you could not be kicked in real
life by the representation of a horse, yo could be by a real horse. In semiotics, some theorists such as Roland Barthes use a two-
part model to explain signification (signifier, signified), whereas others, such as Charles Peirce, use a three-part system (sign,
interpretant, object), thus making a distinction between the representation (word/image) of an object and the object itself.
The term referent is helpful in explaining the difference between representation (the re-presentation of real-world objects)
and simulation (the copy that has no real equivalent or referent, ad that might in fact kick you).
Myth (of photographic truth):
Refers to the ideological meaning of a sign that is expressed through connotation. According to Barthes, myth is the hidden set
of rules, codes, and conventions through which meanings, which are in reality specific to certain groups, are rendered
universal and given for a whole society. Myth allows the connotative meaning of a particular thing or image to appear to be
denotative, hence literal or natural. In Barthes’s famous example, an image in a popular magazine of a black soldier saluting
the French flag produces the message that France is a great empire in which all young men regardless of their colour faithfully
serve under its flag. For Barthes, this image affirms the allegiance of Frenc