· Treachery of Images (& words) ·

‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. This is paradoxically the text right underneath a pipe in René Magritte’s painting ‘The Treachery of Images’. It might apparently seem an contradiction, yet Magritte was right because what the viewers see is in fact not a pipe but a REPRESENTATION of a pipe. This is because the word “pipe” is the signifier and the resemblance of a pipe is the signified, the mental concept one has of anything. Moreover, the signified might vary from person to person since everyone would have a different mental idea of “pipe” based on their experiences and relationships in meaning they have created.


‘Treachery of Images’ by René Magritte (1928-1929)

However, in the same way that the representation of a pipe is not a pipe, the word ‘pipe’ itself, is not a pipe either is just a word we agreed to use to designate a real thing. Thus, Magritte was directly reminding the viewer that language is smartly connected to reality but still language does not convey the real thing.

Nevertheless, Magritte was not the first one who wondered about the relation between the signifier and the signified. Ferdinand de Saussure, a French linguist (1857-1913) worked in this theory creating what is nowadays known as semiotics.

Semiotics are indeed one of the most important facts a creative, advertiser or designer should take into account before launching a campaign or a brand. This is to say that if I want to relate my brand  to certain emotions or feelings, I should find out which are the signs whose signifieds are the ones I am looking for. This is really useful to determinate the topic colour of a brand, for instance. Each colour has several signifieds and those can change due to culture. Let’s take colour RED: ‘red’ as a word is the signifier. Its signified is the idea of red that everyone would have in mind and that would probably all be different tones of red. Yet ‘love’, ‘blood’, or ‘apple’ are other signifieds of the colour red, since are intrinsically related.


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