15 November 2007

sadness (siena)

Charcoal on Utrecht bristol, 14" x 10".

in the 1980's paul ekman of uc san francisco, following the groundbreaking book on the expression of emotions by charles darwin, developed cross cultural evidence that there is a core group of seven facial expressions that are universally recognized by adults in all cultures. these were: fear, anger, disgust, surprise, joy, sadness and contempt. ekman's former wife, a perky california blonde, modeled the example facial gestures for his early publications.

ekman codes these expressions as combinations in the contraction of the 43 facial muscles. any emotion can be explicitly described with this "facial action coding system". (ekman went on to use his facial analysis system to teach the fbi how to detect liars.) as i used to teach it to cornell undergraduates, the face has about as many muscles as a guitar fretboard has musical notes, and each expression is a distinct chord.

fortunately there are many more chords than seven in human emotional experience. individuals often have their own key, scowling even when happy. is siena sad, or merely tired, or perhaps sick? negative expressions in particular are often confused.

for the artist, the problem is transcribing the music in a way that can be recognized without hesitation.

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