David Crow’s lessons on reading signs

Chapter three in “Visible Signs” by David Crow, teaches us about the reading of signs. In this blog entry, I would like to focus on some of the concepts covered in that chapter, including denotation, connotation, and motivation.

I have attached three photos with representations of trees. At the denotative level, the meaning of all three photographs is the same, because they all picture the same physical object – trees.

The connotation, however, is different for all three photos. The photo with two trees can be read by the viewer as a landscape photograph for a calendar, because it shows a wider view of the surrounding area. The photo of a tree trunk can be read as texture photography for graphic design purposes, because it zooms in on the trunk and the ground around it. The photo of the tree drawing can be recognized by the viewer as such, because of the texture, the abstraction of the object, and the fact that the photo includes the drawing paper edges.

Motivation, according to Crow, denotes “how much the signifier denotes the signified”. The tree drawing photo is the only one of the three that has low motivation, also called unmotivated. It is an abstracted tree image that relies on the reader for recognition. The other two photographs directly represent a tree. They are very easily recognized as such by the reader.

As you are probably able to tell – I love trees! 🙂 I stare at them, I photograph them, I draw them, and use them as inspiration for other artwork of mine. I hope that in addition to learning something about sign reading, you were also able to enjoy these images of trees, and the serenity they bring.


Crow, David. Visible Signs (Advanced Level). Grand Rapids: AVA, 2003. Print.


About Elena Nikolaeva

I explore, I design, I make things. Let's cuban motion together.

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