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Semiotics: The Power of Symbols

A friend of mine came across a review I had posted while she was searching for accommodation on a well-known site.  She didn't see my review immediately but she recognised the avatar I use, which is a caricature someone did of me.  What's interesting about this is that people often tell me they recognise my caricature before they see my photo.  That got me thinking.

Knowing a bit about neuroscience and the way the brain has evolved over time to higher order thinking.  Our old brain patterns are still at work, sometimes to our detriment.  But in the case of language, we recognise and process symbols far easier than words.  Symbols and music were our first language.  Art is the language of symbology.

Umberto Eco, in his book "Foucault's Pendulum", references one of the main characters in the book as a professor of Semiotics.  I had to look it up too don't worry (as is often the case when reading a book by Eco; it's a lesson in language usage).  Semiotics is, "the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation."  Eco is a master of language and meaning and his books are peppered with references taken from his wide compendium of study.  But above all his words evoke symbols and he uses symbols as shorthand for meaning.

Here is where the power of symbols becomes apparent in Art.  It is really in art and images that the power of symbols emerges.  Everyone worldwide knows these symbols; peace, stop, hello, happy.  We can look at paintings and understand what the artist intended; or we take our own meaning when the art is abstract.  Art evokes a response from us that is sometimes universal or unique – depending on the artist and our own filter of experience.  

If we know that symbols are a shorthand for language and by using them we gain greater understanding – why don't we use them more? 

Particularly in business.  Why are they limited to just describing brands?  Why don't we use them as a way and means to conveying our intentions?  I'm thinking Strategic intentions and goals.  If you truly want your message understood by as many people as possible (including your workforce) – more symbols less words. 

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3 thoughts on “Semiotics: The Power of Symbols

  1. symbols have been used for communicating or passing information through stories for generations, the most common across the globe is star signs .its a story of GODs plan to redeem the world form the curse through virgin birth of messiah who will rule the world and all these star signs are same across the world in any language and it has stood the test of time . so yes i agree symbols are best way to tell a story which will stand the test of the time and technology

  2. Hi Bernice, sorry for the delay in responding. With regard to the reference to symbols and music being our first language. It’s my own reference from our ancient and prehistoric history. From cave paintings to reflect our daily lives in pictures to the sounds of drums to convey messages over vast distances – we’ve used pictures and music to express ourselves well before language developed. And when language did develop we had tribal variations that required going back to the original forms (pictures and music) to be understood.

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