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An Introduction to Visual Communication

From Cave Art to Second Life (2nd edition)


Susan B. Barnes

Technological changes have radically altered the ways in which people use visual images. Since the invention of photography, imagery has increasingly been used for entertainment, journalism, information, medical diagnostics, instruction, branding and communication. These functions move the image beyond aesthetic issues associated with art and into the realm of communication studies.

This introductory textbook introduces students to the terminology of visual literacy, methods for analyzing visual media, and theories on the relationship between visual communication and culture. Exploring the meanings associated with visual symbols and the relationship of visual communication to culture, this book provides students with a better understanding of the visually oriented world in which they live. From cave art to virtual reality, all visual media are discussed with methods for evaluation. Student-friendly features such as boxed topics, key terms, web resources, and suggestions for exercises are provided throughout.

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Chapter 4: Language of Images: Signs, Symbols, and Semiotics


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Language of Images

Signs, Symbols, and Semiotics

We use signs and symbols everyday as we navigate through the world. In contemporary society, professional designers and scholars place signs and symbols into cultural classifications. These classifications can be different for professions and academics. For instance, professionals categorize visual symbols as either pictorial or graphic. In contrast, academics use terms from semiotics—signified and signifier. Additionally, linguistic concepts such as connotation, denotation, metaphor, and the semantic differential can also be applied to the process of understanding visual signs and symbols.

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