Sadness Examples From Art

Facial Expressions

This sculpture, part of a series of remarkable self-portraits by Nancy Fried, is an excellent example of the open-mouthed cry.

Facial Expressions Mouth


Sadness is the most lingering emotion in more ways than one. Emotionally, it can take a long, long time to get over a great loss, like the death of a loved one. No other emotion can stay with us so tenaciously. Sadness can also be persistent as an expression, resting like a shadow on the face, long after other, more fleeting expressions have faded.

The eyebrows are involved in every level of sadness. In sadness, they're bent upward, in crying pulled downward. But when sadness is at its most extreme, the eyes are the key feature —how tightly they're squeezed determines the intensity we sense in the cry. Though the eyes are always squeezed shut,, only rarely do we cry outright, with mouth wide. More typical of the act of weeping is a closed mouth with tight lips pressed from below, pulled toward the sides, and lifted from above. Crying is a spasmodic action, and the mouth takes the brunt of its force.

As the cry ceases, the first thing on the face to relax is the eye-circling muscle, the oribicularis oculi. When it slackens, the forehead muscle, frontalis, contracts, and the forehead becomes creased and troubled looking, the result of the frontalis and corruga-tor pulling at the inner end of the eyebrow in the opposite directions.

For a time, the lip-stretching muscle —risorius/platysma—refuses to relax, giving the face the look of someone about to burst into tears. When wTe've calmed enough for it to lose its tension, the pout and squared upper lip remain, along with the troubled brow. The strong pull of the brow may reshape the upper eyelid, and the lower lid may be slightly raised; the narrowed lids give the eye a withdrawn, inward look. Downcast eyes are also common.

Finally, all outward signs disappear from the face except the changes in the eyebrow. The slight, sudden twist upward at its inner end is different with every face; just on its own, it can make the entire face look gloomy.

The basis of the crying code is a stretched mouth and compressed eyes; the sadness code is based on the pout and the upturned eyebrow.

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