The Death of Semiology After Conceptual Art

Rachel Winter


“The Death of Semiology after Conceptual Art” offers an in-depth analysis of Saussure's Semiology and its validity in art history. Theorists like Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson advocate that semiology is an effective interpretative methodology in every circumstance. I argue that their thesis is flawed. While Semiology has some prominence, I argue that Semiology dies with the passing of Conceptual art. Rene Magritte (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) acts as an important precursor to the art of Joseph Kosuth and the Conceptual Artists. Magritte’s textual ideas, as seen in the Treachery of Images, can be understood through Semiology. Before Magritte, Semiology is not an effective tool, such as in the Renaissance like Bal & Bryson argue. Semiology takes prevalence through the work of the Conceptual artists, mainly Joseph Kosuth, as an applicable method of interpretation. I argue that after the Conceptual artists, Semiology dies as a methodology. As a case study, I examine the prominence of Semiology with Rene Magritte and Joseph Kosuth. I then use Tauba Auerbach, Liam Gillick & Lawrence Weiner, Glenn Ligon, Christopher Wool, & Shirin Neshat as artists who utilize common visual themes in Postmodern art as case studies for the death of semiology. Each artist and the interpretation that is being developed starts with a different facet of semiology – one with the sign, one with the signifier, and one with the signified. Looking at the equation of semiology from all angles proves that semiology is dead. My thesis is meant to be a critical analysis of the methods of critical theory, and reevaluating their purpose in Postmodern art. “The Death of Semiology after Conceptual Art” will be submitted in partial requirement to graduate with honors from the University of Iowa.


Critical Theory; Semiology; Art History; Postmodernism; Conceptual Art

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