art · student

Representation and Meaning

Today I sat through a rather interesting lecture on representation and meaning, both in every day life and within art itself.

As you know, representation is something that stands in for something else. It means something else and it is us, as a person or culture, that gives it that meaning.

For example, my lecturer held up a bunch of flowers and he asked us what they meant. Responses included “I love you” or “I’m sorry” but really all they were were flowers. Without us they are only there for the purpose of reproduction. It is us that have used flowers to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” This can also go deeper, where fewer and fewer people may understand the code. Specific types of flowers mean different things due to our culture therefore lilies may mean “I’m sorry for your loss” and someone may be deeply upset at receiving these from their lover as they know what they culturally represent.

Simultaneously, 26 abstract lines on a page can represent the alphabet. It was something made by humans when, if you really think about it, it’s nothing more than a bunch of squiggles, yet we use these squiggles in order to communicate. This may then leave others unable to code as they speak a different language and their alphabet squiggles may look entirely different.

I thought this was a very interesting concept as it got me thinking about names and words. For example, why is a tree called a tree? The word “tree” somehow just looks right as the word “tree” but really it’s just some of our 26 squiggles put in a certain order. It conjures up images of a tall, thick trunk with lots of green leaves and branches that towers above us and may be stood on a hillside yet if we say the word “tree” written in a different language we may not be able to code it in the same way and it would not have the same effect.

I then, to top this all off, got thinking about how pretty much everything is a representation and not a realistic view. No matter how perfect a likeness a painting may have to the subject matter it is not realistic because it simply is not the real thing. A photo of you and your friends on a night out is a representation of you all and the night itself, it is not realistic. Only the thing itself is real. The others are a representation.

Basically my whole lecture today was one big massive mindfuck and I wanted to share it with you all in the hopes I’m really not going crazy and someone else will understand. Also, my lecturer looks like Alan Rickman which makes me unbelievably happy.

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