Art, context and moose
They say “One picture is worth a thousand words”. However, you only need a few words to radically change the way an image will be perceived and interpreted by a spectator, the public and even a… moose hunter.
Images are considered as reflection of the world and “natural” signs (objects, things): they can be seen without attracting our attention or motivating an interpretation. Like this, somebody who walks in the forest will not notice the blade of grass along the path. Though, if the walker is a hunter looking for a moose, he will examine the soil and the grass to see if he finds traces of an animal. Moreover, he will “read” these signs through his past experiences. This mental context, which includes everything he knows about moose and their lives in the forest, will allow him to find a trail of a moose in a place where another walker would have seen only flattened grass or flipped soil. Therefore, an object will not become a sign until it is grasped through an interpretative context. This is what the great American Charles Sanders Peirce calls the “interpretant”. According to this model, meaning results from a complex interplay of links between the object, the sign and the context.
In sum, the hunter is a “semio-logist” (“semio” = sign) : he wonders about the meaning of signs that he discovers in his world. In fact, the questions he ask himself correspond to those motivated by semiotic research: 1) What does this or that object mean? 2) In which way this object represents its meaning? 3) Why does this object means what it means?
The wave of understanding or interpretation starts then at the moment where an object is perceived as a “sign” in itself which deserves attention. Let’s take for example the title of a work of art. At least, a title placed beside a work suggests that the latter is art. Often, the title indicates what is to be seen in a work of art. Let’s take such as the work below by Magritte entitled The treachery of images (This is not a pipe). It is NOT a pipe, but a painting.