Making Meaning










literal meaning = taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory;
clear and unambiguous meaning


Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monrore's Lips, 1962.











The Literal Message (or denoted image)
what it is
non-coded, iconic message
signifier and signified are the same thing
  • image of tomato = tomato, NOT an apple
  • image of pepper = pepper, NOT a dog toy











The Symbolic Message (or connoted image)
what the sign points to
1. Half open bag = return from market
home cooking rather than fast food
2. Tomatoes and peppers = Italianicity
metonymy: substituting a name for something it is closely associated with, as in "Wall Street"
similie: tin of salsa is equivalent to the process of cooking food
similie: net bag reminds us of "miraculous draught of fishes" > plentitude
synecdochy: red + white + green = Italy
3. Collection of objects
Italian culinary experience
healthy, wholesome food, prepared with an "Old World," Italian sensibility
4. Overall composition = reminiscent of, and therefore signifies, the notion of a "still life"











polysemous = many meanings
images have many layers of meaning
they are composed of a "floating chain of signifiers"
Cornelis de Haem, Still Life with Basket of Fruit, c. 1654.











1. signifier
2. signified
3. denotative sign
4. connotative signifier
5. connotative signified
6. connotative sign
The denotative sign (3) is made up of a signifier (1) and a signified (2).
But the denotative sign (3) is also a connotative signifier (4).











The precise nature of each message's operation
Linguistic message:
  • images are prone to multiple meanings
  • almost all images, in all contexts, are accompanied by a linguistic message with two possible functions:

anchorage = text that fixes the floating chain of signifiers; directs the reader through the image; possibly repressive insofar as it can control the meaning of the image


relay = text adds meaning, and both text and image work together to convey intended meaning e.g. a comic strip.























Can you think of an example of a purely literal image?

How about an example of a purely literal advertisement?











literal meaning is only possible after "mentally deleting" connotative value

everyone perceives more than "just the letter"

Renee Magritte, The Treason of Images, 19
Wyland whale painting on Long Beach Sports Arena