Interpreting Visual Semiotics in Art Education: With the Music Video Man in the Mirror

By Hasio, Cindy; Chen, Wei | Art Education, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Interpreting Visual Semiotics in Art Education: With the Music Video Man in the Mirror


Hasio, Cindy, Chen, Wei, Art Education


In this article, we explore how the construction of meaning takes place across audio and visual elements, and how a music video, Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson,1 can be interpreted through multiple semiotic resources in art education. We also describe how multiple semiotics (visual and audio) are combined to amplify different parts of the song and to create the context for new meaning. The context of visual culture is constantly changing; thus, people can change their interpretations of any given representation (Freedman, 2003).

In this era of rapid development in multimedia and technology, there is a growing awareness of the use of multiple semiotic resources in meaning-making (Fei, 2004). Music videos specifically harbor meaning within their semiotic features of visual communication. They also exert an enormous influence on the popularity of music (Fei, 2004). Music videos have grown into a popular genre of entertainment in many cultures and societies around the world (Austerlitz, 2008). Videos are becoming more conceptual, with symbolic representations of meaning acting as a semiotic resource for the storylines and themes of a song. In art education, semiotic resources may include various types of "texts" such as written language, still images, moving images, and audio sounds (O'Halloran, 2004).

Music Videos in Relation to Teaching Art Education

Literacy is defined as seeing, interpreting, and understanding a text (Riddle, 2009). Gunther Kress (2011), a proponent of new multimodal literacies, states that the formation of understanding based on words is changing. As images now dominate, there is growing interest in teaching visual literacy. In art education, using music videos to teach about art and meaning-making can allow students to inquire, critically examine, interpret, evaluate, and identify artifacts to recreate new meanings and understanding (Keifer-Boyd, 2014). As a mainstay of today's digital culture, music videos can be used as a valuable resource for understanding and analyzing the meanings and values communicated through images when teaching art to students (Lu, 2008).

Contemporary technology has allowed music video education to become mainstream. Through reading and hearing a text in a video, students can analyze it at a high level as an interpretable form of communication. Gude (2007) argues that combining images and text can stimulate student interest and engagement in learning. Duncum (2004) suggests that text is a different communicative mode from music, gesture and motion, sounds, and pictures.

Students can construct their own knowledge out of the semiotic signs and signifiers related to those texts, thus making meaning through these different communicative modes. As art educators, we need to help motivate and scaffold deeper connections so our students can discover the relationships between symbols, meaning, associations, and themselves when analyzing visual representations. We believe art educators can help students describe, discuss, and critique what they see within their culture, thus empowering them in their learning process. Technology, specifically a music video, is one form through which meaning can be constructed, but it is up to art educators to help students create meaning through critical analysis and interpretation of that form (Freedman, 2003). This article provides a method for teaching multimodal texts to grades 6-12 using the music video Man in the Mirror. Other music videos that are age-appropriate for K-5 (such as School House Rock) also may be used for instruction.

Music Videos to Teach Art and Enhance Higher-Level Learning

When using music videos to teach art, there should be a multimodal approach to interpreting semiotics. The analysis of this music video, Man in the Mirror, was essentially multimodal, as it focused on the verbal lyrics in coherence with the visual images in the video to explore meaning within an art classroom. It also revealed how meaning was constructed in coherence and complementarily across linguistic, audio, and visual elements. …

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