Expressing emotion – Contempt

As part of my ‘mask’ background research, I’ve been reading about facial expressions and how we express and recognise emotion.  This included The Face by Brian Bates, the book of a BBC documentary from a few years back, The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression by Gary Faigin, and several articles quoting Paul Ekeman, the psychologist who also discovered micro expressions and is an expert on lying.  One much discussed idea is that there is a a set of innate expressions of emotion that are universally recognisable across all human cultures.

I could discuss some of the theories around the evolution of emotional  communication starting with Darwin’s clever insights, but for now, to summarise wildly . . .  while 10,000 different expressions of emotions have been allegedly been identified,  there are just a few that are unambiguously recongnisable by different people in different cultures as meaning the same thing.  These seven (Fagin argues six) universally recognised emotional expressions are said to be anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

Annnyway, I thought as an exercise I’d try illustrating each of these  universal emotions at various ages, the essential human masks.  I’ve started with the disputed universal emotion, contempt, the characteristics of which include a lopsided raising of the mouth,  a turning up of the nose.  Fagin says that that this is just a variation on disgust, but Paul Ekeman argues for its recognisably distinct characteristics, including that it is the only asymmetrical emotion.  Contempt seen as a micro expression on the face of a husband or wife is apparently a better predictor of future divorce than anything else.

On the actual making: despite having Adobe Illustrator installed at home, I’ve never done much with it.   The learning curve seemed steep, and working with the sharp lines of vectors unappealing compared with the endless possibilities of  brushing images into existence pixel by pixel in Photoshop.  However, after playing with Illustrator last week on a course, I’ve changed my mind . . .  flattening information into smooth simple shapes can be interesting too.

These little sketches were done using the pencil tool on a graphics tablet, creating filled shapes in layers.  The reference images were from the Flickr commons – thanks to people for making their images available.

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