Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Things I don't know the answer to - facial expressions in history / history of emotion

I've just seen a tweet and blog post from the Public Domain Review with self-portraits from 1790 showing the artist (Joseph Ducreux) pulling a series of unusual faces.


It reminded me that I don't seem to have drawn together (in blog post form) the notions I occasionally have about Facial Expressions through History. I think this concept popped into my head after seeing an Emma Stone gif in my timeline in which she pulls quite a face. It turns out there are quite a few gifs of her being facially expressive :) 

It struck me that I couldn't imagine someone making such a face in the 1500s. That might just be a failure of my own imagination and of course those expressions might not have been included in any art that survives. Facial expressions are an outward sign of what's going on in our heads and it seems reasonable to assume that a case could be made in either direction - either we're not that different from people living hundreds of years ago, so we'd pull the same faces, or the environment in which modern people and previous people lived isn't comparable and the facial expressions 'available' to people would differ (and difficult to prove).

Having seen Ducreux's paintings (perhaps 1790 is not that long ago) I'm moving towards 'failure of my imagination', but it still feels as if people would have conducted themselves, and what their faces were doing, very differently in the past. A lot of reaction gifs are reasonably performative, I wonder if people bothered with that sort of thing as much in the 1500s. 

Coincidentally where I work, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), has its very own Centre for the History of the Emotions, so every so often I see if they have anything on facial expressions of yore ;)






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