icon/iconic. Type of sign in which there is a marked physical or perceptual resemblance between the signifier and that for which it stands. Thus the black pictorial element of some road signs depicting rocks falling, deer, or a man with a shovel—may be said to be iconic. But the use of a red border or a blue background on road signs is not iconic because there is no necessary relation between the blue or the red and what the colours signify. In the latter case the relationship is purely arbitrary and conventional; in the former case it is motivated. Representational painting—traditional portrait painting, for example—may be considered iconic, as are most forms of photographic reproduction. Cinema and television, in particular, rely in their visual dimension principally upon iconic modes of signification. This ensures a more easy intelligibility than written prose (where the mode of signification is purely arbitrary); but conventions do none the less play their part even in these most natural-looking of media. One has only to considcr how styles or genres of television and cinema have shifted so much over time for this to be evident. The term is particularly useful in communication studies precisely as a way of distinguishing between the types of signification predominant in thc differing media.

Religious icons—images of Christ, for example, or of one of the saints—provide an interesting special case of the iconic: to some believers they have the spiritual power of the person depicted, who is thus 'present' by virtue of the depiction in a particularly compelling fashion. [from: O'Sullivan]