“Post-“: unlimited interpretants

Jackendoff’s parallel architecture is described as maintaining variations of structures that refer to a semiotic process involving different ways of interpreting phonetics and syntax, “The parallel constraint-based architecture is logically non-directional” (Jackendoff).  “The person who has acquired knowledge of a language has internalized a system of rules that relate sound and meaning in a particular way” (Chomsky). Generatively, Peirce’s developed a theory of “seeing the meaning process as a nexus of relations and mediation that enable thought to be productive of new meanings.” This parallel or non-linear process can also be borrowed to explain Postmodernism trend in art.

For instance, Sherrie Levine painted After Joan Miro (1984) in which she was mimicking Miro’s Triptych Bleu. Levine’s work maintains different interpretants of semiosis in generative memories. Viewers who are familiar with art would find this painting quite alike Miro’s masterpiece and would read this painting from a critical perspective. Kuspit described postmodernism as, “It constructed absurdity supposedly piques the reader’s interest or draws his attention, an exercise in curiosity that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile, or at least intellectually justifies it. In fact, it is a kind of intellectualization of the already intellectualized — the already known, historical, thematized, conceptualized and thus categorically the case.” However, for people who have no experience in art history and Miro is not in their lexicon, they would read the work as a tranquilizing abstract painting. “This icon can have a different object from that of the interpretant found by the viewer, and it could be understood through different grounds for different interpretants (Peirce).”

after miro-Sherrie Levine


(Sherrie Levine, After Joan Miro, 1984)



(Joan Miró, Blue I, Blue II, and Blue III, 1961)

Kuspit explained that, “The artist becomes a cunning manipulator of the linguistically given, and the viewer an educated reader, rather than a person who has a certain complex, sometimes unexpected, not always immediately intelligible experience of the art.

Like language, art cannot be understood without the culture environment. In Barthes’s words, embedded in Sherrie Levine’s 1982 “Statement,” art is “a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture…. A multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”

Artists used parody, remix and collage made semiosis an unlimited meaning making process. Art, like language, is based off of cultural and personal grounds, because everyone’s generated grammar is different from another’s, an interpretation of art could be different from person to person. The example is to show that there’s no defined lexicon and both human language and other similar cognitive world such as art and film. In order to communicate with others, a continuous learning process is necessary.

Donald Kuspit, The Semiotic Anti-SubjectArtnet, 4.20.2001. [Essay on the postmodernisms (plural) in recent art.]

Signs, Symbols, Cognition, Artefacts: A Reader of Key Texts (Google Doc). 

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics.”