chapter  7
14 Pages


ByBen Burt

The explicit meanings and implicit connotations of images can be read and explained by those versed in particular art traditions, such as official and religious iconography. In the 1960s, Roland Barthes introduced a further distinction between the concepts a sign “denotes” at the obvious level of description, and its “connotation” of other symbolic meanings within the wider cultural system. When artefacts are made to denote other objects by resembling them as images or “iconic” signs, it is symbolic connotations that communicate the less obvious meanings. Paula Ben-Amos found that the meanings of animal images helped define the Benin view of the world and the nature of human society. Insofar as an iconographic system can be explained in so many words, it operates at a fairly simple and obvious level, but the symbolic connotations that people find easiest to explain may not reveal all the significant meanings of the images.