The Meaning of Text as Image: A Semiotic Analysis of Text as Language and Image

By Esther Dudley.

Published by The International Journal of Visual Design

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

David Crow’s “Left to Right” (AVA, 2006) exemplifies how contemporary society reads images in place of words. We are able to accept this cultural shift with ease as we are skilled in instantaneous semiotic analysis, without necessarily being aware of its existence. For my selection of artists, however, the semiotic analysis of text communicating pictorially is very consciously applied and is rich with layers of significance. My recently published articles on text as image (“Varoom” issue14, December 2010 and issue15, April 2011) will be referred to in this paper, with particular emphasis on the work of artist Sam Winston, whose energised and original approach produces such surprising artistic outcomes, such as his piece, “Romeo and Juliet,” where a counting exercise sorts phrases and words into three categories: passion, rage and solace. Some of the most moving language ever written becomes an aesthetic representation of printed text, grey blocks that illustrate the weight of emotion within the original writing. Ellen Bell is an artist who describes herself as a communicator consumed by curiosity into the mysteries of conversations and interaction within intimate relationships. In her work complex overlaying of themes recur, always driven by the same curiosity. Cut words illustrate the broken, fragmented nature of an overheard conversation. There is as much significance in absence as in presence, within the structure of the composition. Her latest exhibition is entitled “Camera Obscura & Other Stories.” A third artist’s work takes concrete form: “The Comedy Carpet,” created by Gordon Young with Why Not Associates, to be the new seafront promenade in Blackpool and homage, on a huge scale, to the tradition of performance and entertainment, formed entirely of catch phrases and punchlines. My analysis will reflect on the instantaneity of recognition, through these well-chosen snippets of text, which brings us up close to our cultural past. Overall, my paper advances the point that text can be read as the image, as well as for its textual meaning.

Keywords: Text as Image, Aesthetic Representation of Language, Significance of Presence and Absence of Text, Semiotic, Reading of Text in Commemoration of Comedy

The International Journal of Visual Design, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.27-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 669.273KB).

Esther Dudley

Design Research Coordinator, Communication Arts, Faculty of Arts, Plymouth University, Plymouth, Devon, UK

Esther Dudley has been the Design Research Co-ordinator for Communication Arts within the Faculty of Arts at Plymouth University, since 1995, teaching across a range of subjects at both undergraduate and masters levels. She has published articles, reviews and interviews and she has been the guest editor on a number of journals for the Association of lIlustrators, as well as contributing to a BBC regional cultural programme. She has presented papers and participated at conferences in Los Angeles, Portland, Stockholm, Frankfurt, London, Bristol and Plymouth. She is a member of the Association for Publishing Education committee. She was co-organiser of the very successful text+image=message symposium (April 2011) hosted by the Message Research Group, of which she is an active member.