Aspects of ‘physiognomic depiction’ in pictures : from macchia to microgenesis

Göran Sonesson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“Figurativity”, roughly paraphrased as that which is not accounted for by the system, is a residue concept of both Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and of Greimasean semiotics. In the latter case, however, figurativity has been related to the second, so-called plastic layer of the picture, which is opposed to the pictorial layer, by means of which the picture is doing its job of depicting something in the world. The plastic layer of any picture is, according to the same conception, like a specimen of abstract arts: it consists of mere spots and lines organized in a particular pattern. A classical art historical term for this vague first-hand view is macchia: but this could also be seen as an anticipation of the microgenetic method, normally credited to Werner. Although the discussion of pictures in Werner and Kaplan’s Symbol Formation (Werner & Kaplan, 1963) is rather limited in scope, the idea of physiognomic meaning, which plays such an important part in that book, and which has precursors in earlier Ganzheitzpsychologie, may hold the key to understanding the nature of plastic language – to grasp in what way the picture is not only less, but at the same time more, than the real thing. It may also give a clue to the establishment of a developmental psycho-semiotics of plastic language and, beyond that, of figurativity in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-547
JournalCulture & Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature

Free keywords

  • pictures
  • Semiotics
  • physiognomics
  • structure
  • configuration


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