Readings, and Related Inspirations

Semiotics and the “Bogus Religiosity” of Art


It is difficult to decide where to approach our two readings for the week. And though I’ve thought a lot about starting with advertisements, or with ‘religious’ ideology given to ‘art’, I keep coming back to the notion of authenticity we began speaking about in class last week.

Key Terms under Semiotics:

Denoted = that which represents

Connoted = meanings that are represented

Anchorage = keeps us linked to the word in an image saturated culture -> tags, labels, etc.

Relay = relaying the message as in a comic strip bubble

Key Terms under Berger:

Bogus Religiosity = the sense we get when in the presence of a piece of art our culture tells us is ‘great’.


All of these concepts can relate back to the idea of authenticity that we began discussing with Benjamin and Flusser. In Benjamin’s piece, we are told that with the invention of mechanical reproduction, art is taken out of its original space and time and can be placed anywhere. We see this repeated in the first chapters of Berger’s book Ways of Seeing: “The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided” (19). This ‘uniqueness’ gives us the ‘authenticity’, the ‘religiosity’ of the work of art. And because we have this cultural notion of authenticity, we are then able to be led into Berger’s final chapter about advertisements, which Barthes also spends a lot of time talking about, but in a much different context.

According to Barthes, in his article “Rhetoric of the Image,” “the image is re-presentation, which is to say ultimately resurrection, and, as we know, the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to lived experience” (269). Barthes then leads us through the ways that messages are conveyed to us: denotational and connotational, which are both based in the linguistic. Again, according to Barthes, the images we see are only meaningful in relation to their linguistic “symbolic messages”. This ides, however, was not sitting right with me. So I did some outside reading and I came across an interpretation of Barthess ideas of the linguistic message presented by Gunter Kress and Theo van Leeuwen in 1996: “Barthes’ account misses an important point: the visual component of a text is an independently organized and structured message, connected with the verbal text, but in no way dependent on it – and similarly the other way around” (18). This sounded closer to what I understand about images, so I had a friend send me a meme – something I don’t go looking for myself, but know all the kids love.











Here, you can see that the very familiar image has been altered by the text attached to it. It has a new time (now), a new space (on a screen near you), and a totally new meaning that alters the ‘authenticity’ of the piece into something new, yet arguably authentic in a new way.

But then I begin to re-question: who is more correct? Barthes, or Kress and van Leeuwen? Is the above meme independent of the text, or anchored in the text? Does it simultaneously denote and connote a message? If the purpose of the internet meme is to be humorous, how does this fit into the reproduction of the Mona Lisa as Benjamin might argue it? What does linguistic anchorage do for the nude, if we turn her into a meme? The following is apparently a very popular meme about Manet. I found a lot of them of different Manet paintings, nudes and otherwise:

Manet Meme

The idea behind the meme, anchored in this linguistic idea, makes us laugh because we know, not just from reading Berger, that the display of ‘high art’ gives the person who chooses that piece of art to display a higher sense of cultural capital – even if it just a print. This then, reinforces the argument that publicity (or what we would call an advertisement) is often successfully reminiscent of recognized pieces of art, which these memes also successfully prey upon.

I’ll leave it there in the interest of time – but I’m very excited to see what all of you are doing with this information, especially about the theory of the gaze, which Berger never labels as such.


3 thoughts on “Semiotics and the “Bogus Religiosity” of Art

  1. Nice use of memes!

    I think it does get a little presumptuous to proclaim what is better. One is the original yes, but does an altered copy have to be considered lesser because of that?

  2. Gunter Kress and Theo van Leeuwen’s project at that time was to define a “visual grammar” that had its own structures, analogous to linguistic structures but still with its own visual logic. They are still making a structuralist argument here but have since added to these ideas in later books. Just fyi!

  3. Hello Valerie: I would like to use the image you have posted here on your blog site to write my own essay for my Art History course this semester. I hope you do not mind and I certainly will give you credit for where I obtained the photo here.

    I am originally from California and then spent three years in Georgia when I graduated high school – it certainly was a culture-shock! I loved it though and still have a friend there I speak to on occasion.

    Thanks for your blog site – it is quite insightful.

    Thanks, Laura

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