The Expression Of Anger

Anger is a flash emotion, one that can arise and depart suddenly. It often requires a physical outlet, some action to serve as an energy release, even if it is just letting loose verbally. No other emotion is so closely tied to strong physical action, and no other emotion, in its extreme form, is so potentially dangerous.

Surprisingly, for such a blatant, physical emotion, the look of anger in the face depends on a tiny detail—the wideness of the eye. There is a direct, simple relationship between the lifting of the upper lid and the perception of anger: the higher the lid is raised, the angrier we look. When seen with the lowered brow, the eye acquires a penetrating, intense look—the glare. No other aspect of anger has anywhere near as much control over the intensity we see on the face, but the glaring eye alone won't do it; it must be combined with an angry mouth for anger to be evident.

Suppressing Anger_

It is entirely possible to be angry without it being evident in our face. In our society, there are very complicated rules for when it is and is not appropriate to express anger. Factors like sex, social class, temperament, relationship to the object of anger, and fear of retaliation, all act to inhibit the free expression of our angry feelings. There are far fewer restrictions inhibiting the expression of many other emotions, like surprise, laughter, or sorrow.

As a result, many people, even when enraged, rarely if ever show "full-face" anger. If anger is partly suppressed, it may be evident only in part of the face or not at all.

What Parts of the Face Can Show

When a person is angry, someone who knows that person well will certainly be aware of it, no matter what shows on the face. The first sign of anger is often a change in tone of voice. Actions may be more abrupt, posture more tense. Clear signs of anger in the face may appear only when someone is really angry.

Subtle anger can be shown in a picture if the action and context is very clear; that is, if we expect to see anger, we will read anger into a face in which we observe only part of the pattern—a lowered brow, a raised eyelid. In a portrait, however, just a lowered brow, just a firmly set mouth, or just widened eyes may be interpreted in a variety of ways, anger being low on the list of possibilities. Even if several anger cues are present, portraits of subtle anger are often seen more as a description of personality rather than expression; we see someone who is ill-tempered, grim, or very serious. When the anger signs are visible in only part of the face, interpretations range even further afield. An otherwise neutral face with lowered brows might be seen as thoughtful, perplexed, or intense— all states of mind well removed from the realm of emotion.

It's All in the Timing

In looking at photographs of people in clearly hot-tempered situations, it is striking how often there are few faces with clear signs of anger. Considering that such signs, particularly the widened, glaring eye, are often instantaneous events, it makes sense. It is chance whether or not the photographer captures the most telling mo ment; the painter, of course, can choose to capture it. Timing is an area where the painter has a clear advantage over the photographer.

The Face of Rage: Open-Mouthed Anger_

You can be shouting mad, and you can be tight-lipped mad. The most fearsome angry faces are those with the mouth open in a snarl or shaped around a scream of fury.

Rage—anger at its peak—seems almost inseparable from the action of expressing it, either verbally, physically, or both. The impulse to do something, to lash out, is likely a throwback to more primitive times, when anger may have led to physical struggle more often than now.

Because being enraged is such an energetic state, the expression of it is never static. The features are in constant motion, particularly when the angered person is shouting. This creates a situation where the pictorial artist must choose the most telling moment out of a succession of moments, each one somewhat different in appearance. When speaking or shouting, the mouth takes on a variety of positions. The various positions of the mouth have certain things in common, -particularly the tenseness of the lips and the exposure of the teeth.

The upper face also goes through many changes in the course of, say, an angry tirade. At times it may be tightened in by the eye-clenching muscle and the lowered brow; at other times the eye may be open wide and glaring. Artists most often choose the face of rage with wide, glaring eyes and a square, shouting mouth.

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