Monthly Archives: February 2011

What Images Mean

Assignment 2

For this next assignment, we were asked to find out what images mean to different people. The purpose of experimenting with images and objects I think is to try and consider how you could use this as a research method and to understand the concept of polysemy.

First I shall explain what polysemy means: with many significations or from Greek polusēmos having many meanings.

For the first part of this assignment we were advised to read Roland Barthes‘s essay ‘The Rhetoric of Image’ (essay taken from the book on right) which explores the relationship between images and text. He uses a Panzani advert, as an example, to demonstrate how from just one image can open a whole variety of underlying messages. I found this essay very tricky to read as Barthes first wrote the piece in academic French then translated it into English, but the main key points I think were conveyed well. Such as:

  • Images in advertising are purposely made to be easily understood so that the public can quickly grasp what the advertisement is trying to sell/say.
  • He sees two linguistic messages conveyed from the Panzani advertisement: the labels and captions on the produce create a denoted message. There was also a connoted message implied by the word ‘Panzani’ illustrating a cultural ethnicity, in this case, of Italianicity.
  • He then sees another underlying meaning, a symbolic message. For example, the half-open string bag portrays a come-back to the market meaning; tomatoes and peppers imply a feeling of Italianicity; the gathering of objects and vegetables signify a culinary service; the arrangement of the scene is similar to that of a still-life.
  • The third message is the literal message, the actual individual items in the image (a packet of pasta represents a packet of pasta), thus this is a message without a code.

After reading the essay and feeling confused I selected three random photographs using the website Stock.xchng and began the experiment. The pictures I chose are below, not in any specific order.

I asked different people to look at the images and tell a brief story linking all three together. Next I wrote down the key information from each story told, which were all completely different. When I had summarised all of them I selected one to be my target story. The task was to add a fourth image so that everyone I showed the images to would come up with the same target story.  The fourth image is below.

The initial story was from Kirstie, aged 23, female, studies Physiotherapy and born in Brunei Darrusalam. Her story went something like this: A couple owned a fruit and veg stall, whilst on the stall their kids are looked after by their grandma, she takes them to play ground to go on swings, this is where they find stray cat, they take it home.

The result was really surprising! 4 out of the 5 people told a similar story from the four images, without me even putting them in the correct order! Each of the 4 stories ended with kids taking the cat home. However I was determined for the last girl to follow suit. It was pretty simple, I just added one word for each image (fruit stall – couple, swings – children, cat on grass – stray, cat in bed – home). I then asked her how I could have made the target story more obvious. Her answer was possibly to have a cat with a collar on, the cat playing with children inside or the cat sleeping on someone’s lap. I also noticed in both stories that there was no suggestion the cat was a stray, her reason behind this was because she loves cats and does not want to imagine them stray and abandoned. This is interesting as now I think people’s taste can have a huge effect on image meaning.

Now from reading the essay and through experimenting with images, I have found that my understanding of polysemy has grown. That, indeed, an image can have multiple layers of meanings but can also have an affect and become misunderstood by different people, perhaps due to their cultural background, bringing up, schooling and, in Pierre Bordieu’s book I read, it could even be down to social class. So polysemy in jewellery can create problems as you may percieve your own piece in such a way but others may see it in a totally different light. Maybe you did this purposely to keep the public questioning about your piece but sometimes it is important to fix the meaning of your work (Lighting, colours used, composition etc), or else your work could be reviewed in an art newspaper for everybody to see besides the fact that what is being said about your piece may be complete nonsense.

However, the essay as a whole raises the question ‘how does this relate to my discipline’ – jewellery? Well I think it relates to me as an individual. How do I come across to other people? How do others percieve me? How can I present my work in such a way to attract clients? Because if I place my piece on, let’s say, some sand, it may detract from the true meaning of my piece. I think this plays a big role in my discipline because if a client wants to interview me and I come in with a frown on my face of shabby clothes, it will turn the client off straight away. Appearance, enthusiasm and confidence in your own work is essential in luring customers in.

Talk to Your Jewellery

I have read recently that there is a new device which can actually imprint your voice into a piece of wire. I really like the idea that you can use your own voice to create a piece of jewellery and the way it becomes very personal. In addition, I beliebe it can be a very romantic present for your lover, slyly conveying your emotions to her/him in a piece of jewellery. But in my opinion, the end product does not impress. Just pieces of bent wire, perhaps develop the shapes created into more interesting pieces? Using the line? Increasing the scale?


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Are You What You Wear/Buy/Sit/ On/Sleep In/Talk To?

For this assignment we were asked to team up with a student from a different discipline who we did not know well and swap photos and contact details with one another. We were NOT allowed to discuss the photos with them. We then had to analyse them asking questions to ourselves like ‘What do they like? What are their favourite colours? Who are their influences? etc’. For my partner, I received three photos of her bedroom.

Analysis and Deduction

From looking at her pictures, I can say that perhaps she likes animal print (blanket), knitting and craft (needles on her desk and probably craft box beneath them), fashion (posters of fashion above her desk), handbags (hanging on the back of door), clothes, and tattoos (Ed Hardy book on top of her stack of books on her desk). This suggests she likes patterns, enjoys making things herself especially using fabric (and also supported by the fact she does textiles), likes to keep up with the latest trends and fashion (especially supported by the Gucci hand bags), and takes an interest in tattoo designs. There is a Cream book on her desk which probably implies she likes the band? There is an abundance of pink and black in her room, possibly colours she likes?

Her influences could be from her friends as there is a picture of her and her friend, both looking alike. They look like they take pride in their appearance and takes care of themselves. She perhaps is significantly influenced by ‘what’s hot now’ (magazines, tv, fashion) due to the amount of fashion pictures above her desk. My partner looks like an extrovert, supported by the crown symbols on her duvet which emphasises the idea that she likes feeling like a princess? Thinks highly of herself? There is alcohol next to her window suggesting she likes going out, socialising and having fun and, in addition, there is fruit suggesting she likes to keep healthy and look after herself.

She possesses a laptop, a variety of creams, hair products, alcohol, shoes, hand bags, clock, Ed Hardy book and a paisley print scarf, thus, looks like she is middle class. Everything looks new, well looked after, organised and tidy, backed up by the boxes and containers to keep everything sorted and neat and the calendar. Everything looks like a similar style but bought from different shops.

My partner has customised her space by placing nic-nacs and objects in containers: organisation and tidiness is obviously crucial to her, the space is uncluttered possibly suggesting she feels stressed when surrounded by mess. Her room is well-lit, maybe due to the needle-work and her discipline, her space is also comfortable – a sign of high conscientiousness.


After analysing the photos, we contacted each other and discussed our findings. I was pretty accurate apart from she did not like the colours pink and black and no she did not like the band ‘Cream’ at all. I got everything else right – how she takes pride in her appearance, she likes to look after herself, she loves tattoos, fashion and craft.

Her analysis of me was pretty much spot on! She said I was well-travelled, influenced by my sister and brought back objects from all over the world. She has not revealed anything new about me, I already knew I love colour and pattern and that my home is comfortable.


From this experiment, I learnt that my personality and home ambience can easily be conveyed simply through looking at pictures from my past. On the other hand, looking at my partners life, apart from feeling like an intruder, I felt very different to her. Different in personality, lifestyle and culture because in my room there are objects and trinkets from all over the world and in my partners room there were none. In the end, this saddens me because sometimes I wish I had just grown up in one place so that I would feel properly settled and feel like I properly fitted in. But in a different context, I feel fine that somebody has analysed my pictures because it would maybe give them an altered perception of life or they may just gain something from it. Who knows.


What do they like? Animal print (duvet), hand bags, knitting (craft, needles on her desk), fashion (from the posters above her desk), Ed Hardy tattoo box on desk
Who are their favourite bands or TV Stars? Cream
Favourite authors?
Favourite Colours? Pink, black
There is a picture of her and her friend, they both look like they take pride in their appearance, take care of themselves. Looks like she keeps up with the present trends due to the amount of pictures above her desk and the Gucci hand bags hanging on her door. Looks like an extravert due to the crowns on her duvet maybe thinking she’s a princess? (sorry!) Also the picture on her bedside table she’s with her friend, looks like they’re at a party or club thus likes to socialise and have fun.
What do they own? Laptop, creams, hair products, alcohol, shoes, hand bags, clock, Ed Hardy book, Cream book, paisley print scarf hanging on wall.
Are they middle class? MIDDLE
Is everything new? Looks new, well looked after, organised, tidy.
Is there a mix of styles or does everything look like it was bought at the same time or from the same shop? Everything looks the same but bought from different shops.
How have they customised the space around them? Everything’s in containers, a calendar with a pencil under it, organisation and tidiness is obviously crucial to her, the space is uncluttered, well lit, comfortable and her books are organised a sign of high concientiousness.
How have they made their own? Yes, I think she likes pattern.


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A Matter of Taste

Theories of Good Design

In this lecture we discussed people’s tastes in things and the reason why they like them.

Ipod’s have taken the world by storm. Now when you walk down the street you see more white wires than sunglasses. When Apple introduced the Ipod on October 21, 2001, it unexpectedly became a huge success. There has already been over 200 million Ipod’s sold worldwide and rising. But the question is – why have they been so successful? Simple, they give what the customers want. Apple have given the customers not just one type of Ipod, but a variety to fit all tastes.  It is the perfect device for music fans – you can arrange your music into playlists, genres, artists, etc. It accesses the user.


Do you like this piece of jewellery? Where do you think you could purchase this? Argos? Personally I would not buy this for myself, I find it too mature and elegant for my taste. Maybe something my mum would like. However, perhaps it is wrong to ask a jeweller, like myself, as we are used to eccentric pieces due to the nature of our course. I think you should really ask the person who bought it as it might be extremely personal to them, or it maybe was handed down from their grandmother. The value of the jewellery can be highly significant if you find out why the person owns it.

The Science Behind Beauty

Sunsets, for me, are beautiful. But why? The colours perhaps and they fact they last for only a few minutes. Perhaps because they have no function at all. Just pure pleasure for the eyes. So what do we find beautiful about other things? Like people, for example. Well through reading articles, it seems that symmetry, balanced, familiar patterns and shapes appeal for most of us because they are simple for the brain to process. Actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow are examples of symmetrical faces. Easy for the eye, thus, may be considered as beautiful.

It’s a Matter of Status

Maybe people’s taste’s are determined by their status like Cawdor Castle in Aberdeenshire, for example. Why was it really built? Perhaps to scare enemies away? To emphasise the point they have lots of money? Maybe so. Common people today do exactly the same but use different items to convey this same point. Could be the car they drive; flash wheels, loud engine; price – just to say “yeah look at me I’ve got money to spend”. I really find this ridiculous but hey that’s myopinion.

Mr & Mrs Experiment

In our lecture we carried out a small experiment involving one female and one male living in the same flat. They were asked a series of questions by themselves, then we compared the results.

Questions asked to the Female

Question 1: ‘Describe your living room’

Answer: ‘Walls are cream, black sofas, large room, big TV, table for eating’

Question 2: ‘What was the last thing you bought for youself?’

Answer: ‘A blue checkered shirt from New Look’

Question 3: ‘What taste in fashion do you think is ugly?’

Answer: ‘Lady Gaga’s meat dress’

Question 4: ‘What behaviour do you not like?’

Answer: ‘I don’t know, my male flatmates’

Question 5: ‘What behaviour do you like?’

Answer: ‘I don’t know’

Question 6: ‘If you won £50,000 what would you buy?’

Answer: ‘A car’

Question 7: ‘What would you wear to a bad-taste- fancy-dress party?’

Answer: ‘I don’t know’

Questions asked to the Male

Question 1: ‘Describe your living room’

Answer: ‘2 black sofas, coffee table, rug under table, shuddy TV’

Question 2: ‘What was the last thing you bought for youself?’

Answer: ‘2 polo shirts, jeans’

Question 3: ‘What taste in fashion do you think is ugly?’

Answer: ‘Massive hair, dress on trackies’

Question 4: ‘What behaviour do you not like?’

Answer: ‘loads of opinions, annoying’

Question 5: ‘What behaviour do you like?

Answer: ‘Banter, person who has fun, does things they want to do’

Question 6: ‘If you won £50,000 what would you buy?’

Answer: ‘A car’

Question 7: ‘What would you wear to a bad-taste- fancy-dress party?’

Answer: ‘Neddy, trackies’

From the results, we can see that the female seems much more positive when she talked about her living room and described everything in colours, but found it difficult when describing taste she did not like or like, she was scared that she’d offend someone. However, the male negatively and vaguely described his living, and found it easy to describe fashion taste he did not like. But usually, the male specifies the car model he wants if he won £50,000.