Symbol, icon or index?

Well well well, here we are posed with the simple question of ‘what is a symbol, icon or index!?’ This question can quickly become quite complicated as our ever so smart minds start trying to actually THINK a bit harder as to what objects really fit under which category…

A symbol refers to an object that resounds a certain special or abstract meaning to that of the user.

While an icon is simply an image representing the thing/idea it originated from.

An index is something that leads to another.

After uni, I went straight home to get stuck into photographing a few of my personal objects that had popped into mind whilst in class. I have chosen to analyse the following:
  • A soft toy dinosaur (1)
  • A sail boat charm (2)
  • A cross necklace (3)
  • A set of glass bottles (4)
  • A cute (and sleepy) cat called Misty (5)
(1). I think this is a symbol and icon. It is a symbol because it carries a significant meaning behind it that is dear to me, but not you. It symbolises childhood memories and there is also a story as to why my boyfriend gave it to me! It is an icon because it looks like what it is trying to represent. The signifier here would be ‘dinosaur’. The signified would be the visual image/shape which we have learnt it looks like. Therefore the sign would say: ‘This is a dinosaur’.
(2). I think this is all three! A symbol because once again, this item holds a significant and important meaning for me, but not you. The sail boat symbolises what me and my Dad loved; the sea and all of our adventures together. This item is an icon because it looks like a boat. Finally it serves as an index, because a charm needs a bracelet, and a bracelet needs a wrist. Signifier: ‘Sail boat’. Signified: The sails and hull shape of image. Sign: ‘It is a sail boat’.
(3). This necklace is also all of the above. I believe it to be so because the cross and the words ‘faith’ symbolise my faith and relationship with Christ. The cross is a typical icon in accordance to Jesus, Christianity, Death and Resurrection and so on. Lastly an index due to the fact a necklace is worn around the neck. The signifier would be ‘cross’. The signified would be the two long lines placed in what we have called a cross shape. Therefore the sign would say: ‘This is a cross’.
(4). These glass bottles serve as a symbol and an index. They are a symbol to me because I simply enjoy collecting bottles with interesting designs, graphics or shapes to them. They also lead into an index because the bottles once held drinks, and it makes me think of where they came from and the memories from that meal. I suppose that is a bit more connotative though…but still an index too! Signifier is ‘bottle’. Signified: The shape we have been trained to recognise as a bottle. Overall sign: ‘It is a bottle’.
(5). This sleepy, sassy diva of a creature is a symbol, icon. She is a symbol because to you she is a cat, but to me, she is Misty and I got her as a small grey mop of a kitten. Misty is also an icon because she literally is what she represents- a cat! The signifier is ‘cat’ and the signified is the four legged, furry creature she is. Therefore the sign would say:  ‘This is a cat’.
This activity was pretty fun really. I mean we were basically asked to become all sentimental over things that we like. But in all seriousness, this activity was a good brain teaser in regards to getting me into thinking more about how one interprets all of the ‘signs’ in our busy lives.

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