Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Rhetoric of the Image - Roland Barthes

Reading Roland Barthes' essay 'The Rhetoric of the Image', has allowed me to understand the many ways in which images can be read. An image can be an extremely successful means of projecting an idea, lifestyle or product. Barthes studies how we can communicate by means of signs and symbols collectively known as semiotics. He uses an advertisement from the Italian food company Panzani to illustrate that we automatically associate elements such as colour and symbols with a certain culture/ lifestyle. The tri-coloured hues and Mediterranean vegetables immediately evoke thoughts of the Italian culture - 'Italianicity'. Individually, we interpret images in different ways as our understanding is based on previous life experience and background. Polysemy, as Barthes explains, is the term used to describe a sign with multiple meanings. He explains within his text that there are three separate types of messages within an image. The first is the linguistic message which is the language and text. Text can in many circumstances enhance an image by increasing our level of understanding of the designers message. For example, clever use of text within textile designs, produced to raise awareness for a certain cause, may clarify the issue which the designer set out to highlight. The second message is the denoted message which is non-coded and iconic. This includes our basic knowledge which is fixed within us from a young age and is understood by most without much thought. Finally the coded-icon or connoted image is elements which could indeed be interpreted in many different ways. Depending on how knowledgeable an individual is, any image can be read into mainly to uncover elements which evoke feelings or connections to another known source.
To relate this to textiles, I feel it is important to be aware of the differing interpretations people have of symbols depending on their background and culture. To project a particular idea you must understand how to help the viewer see your work as you intended. Composition can have a huge impact within textile designs as it can either enhance or take away from the overall success of a piece. Researching before creating textile designs is important so that your designs are not likely to be offensive to a certain group of people or an individual. Colours are also key in attracting attention as they are associated with many emotions, organisations, religions, etc. The visual is extremely important to designers in general as it is what their audience or client see and interpret. So in order to engage your desired customer you must understand how they view the world and present yourself and your business in a manner which they can relate to.