Introducing Social Semiotics

By Theo Van Leeuwen | Go to book overview

10

Composition

Although the term 'composition' is also used in relation to language and music, I use it here only in relation to semiotic modes that are articulated in space. Composition is about arranging elements - people, things, abstract shapes, etc. - in or on a semiotic space - for example, a page, a screen, a canvas, a shelf, a square, a city. As Arnheim (1974, 1982) has shown, it is based on our sense of balance, hence on a very physical and intuitive process, for instance the process of placing something exactly in the centre, or of getting something that is on the right and something that is on the left in perfect balance. But this process is at the same time a semiotic process: 'the function of balance can be shown only by pointing out the meaning it helps to make visible' (Arnheim, 1974:27).

The elements of a picture or page layout are balanced on the basis of their visual weight. This 'weight' derives from their perceptual salience, which, in turn, results from a complex interaction, a complex trading-off relationship between a number of factors: relative size; sharpness of focus - or, more generally, amount of detail and texture shown; tonal contrast - areas of high tonal contrast, for instance borders between black and white, have high salience; colour contrasts - for instance the contrast between highly saturated and 'soft' colours, or the contrast between red and blue; placement in the visual field - elements not only become 'heavier' as they are moved up, but also appear to be 'heavier' the further they are moved towards the left, due to an asymmetry in the visual field; perspective - foreground objects are more salient than background objects and elements that overlap other elements are more salient than the elements they overlap; and also quite specific cultural factors, such as the appearance of a human figure or a potent cultural symbol, which may override pure perceptual salience.

In symmetrical compositions left and right are evenly balanced, but balance becomes more eventful when one side is visually heavier than the other so that the balancing centre has to be shifted away from the geometrical centre of the space. Achieving and maintaining balance in unbalanced situations is a fundamental human experience, a basic given of our existence as biped creatures, and as a result our sense of balance informs all our activities including our semiotic activities. It forms an indispensable matrix for the production and reception of spatially articulated messages. It is also the source of our aesthetic pleasure in composition. The pleasure we derive from moving elements about until the result feels 'just right', orin arranging things to perfection in front of a camera lens, is directly related to the pleasure of almost losing and then regaining balance which we experience as children when we are lifted up and swung through the air, or when we swing on a swing until it moves so high that by right we should fall off, yet still hold on, a pleasure which Freud has famously related to sexuality (1977 [1905]: 121). It is even more directly related

-198-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Introducing Social Semiotics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vi
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Preface xi
  • Part I - Semiotic Principles 1
  • 1 - Semiotic Resources 3
  • 2 - Semiotic Change 26
  • 3 - Semiotic Rules 47
  • 4 - Semiotic Functions 69
  • Part II - Dimensions of Semiotic Analysis 91
  • 5 - Discourse 93
  • 6 - Genre 117
  • 7 - Style 139
  • 8 - Modality 160
  • Part III - Multimodal Cohesion 179
  • 9 - Rhythm 181
  • 10 - Composition 198
  • 11 - Information Linking 219
  • 12 - Dialogue 248
  • Recommended Reading 269
  • Glossary of Key Terms 273
  • References 289
  • Index 297
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 301

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.