When Speaking of Pictures; Semiotic Distinctions in Teenagers’ Picture Conversations

Using artistic texts and art in learning activities is knowledge-development in action; the practise of engaging with artistic processes or texts is creating knowledge, and simultaneously making sense of it (Lotman, 2009, 1977a). Semiotic study is concerned with texts, meaning-making, and communication in broad perspectives. In the general study of semiotic systems, such as language, literature, and pictures, the Saussurean tradition has developed conceptual pairs to pursue meaning-making in context. In this study, it was analysed whether some of these distinctions emerged in young students' spontaneous conversations about pictures.

In this research an aesthetic turn in general didactics is suggested. The aim of the investigation was to contribute knowledge of teenagers’ engagement with visual texts. Specifically, their engagement with potential artistic texts (Lotman, 1977) and what types of semiotic layers/dimensions/levels they engaged with when interacting with pictures they had chosen and brought to the picture conversation. 

A prism-model was designed to guide the analysis of the potential elicitation of the following distinctions in the teenagers’ conversation on pictures: utterances that indicated sign relations (distinctions of expression and content); contextualisation in meaning by connotation and denotation, and distinctions between plastic and pictorial organisation in pictures. In addition to these structuralist conceptual pairs the prism-model also incorporated intersubjectivity. Departing from the semiotic distinctions, twelve categories for speaking of pictures were discerned. These will be discussed in the presentation.

Due to intensified digital communication, the boundaries between consumer and producer of pictures are blurred. In the proposal we assume that there is an increased need for knowledge-development of how visual texts are perceived and communicated, and how educators can support young people’s awareness of pictures in aim to enrich their use and explorations in engaging with pictures.

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Dewey, J., Art as Experience, New York: Penguin books, 2005.
Floch, J.-M., Visual Identities, London: Cassell, 2000.

Annette Persson

Kristianstad University, Sweden, Department of Education

Lecturer on art and aesthetics at the department of education at Kristianstad University., M.A. in Education, B.A. Hons. In Fine Art.

Sara Lenninger

Kristianstad University, Sweden, Department of Education

Senior Lecturer and head of aesthetics at the department of education at Kristianstad University. Associate professor of cognitive semiotics, Lund University.

artistic text
semiotic conceptual pairs