The face of a bawling baby is the focal point for Rembrandt's Ganymede, capturing the moment when the child-god is snatched off to Olympus by Zeus in the form of an eagle. Curiously, the expression is more vivid in the sketch (below). The dark, scrawled lines around the eyes— quick notations of the wrinkling of orbicularis oculi and corrugator—and the more open mouth with front teeth bared suggest a much stronger action than that visible in the painting. Nothing is more difficult than retaining the vitality of a sketch in a finished piece.
The Open-Mouthed Cry: Adults
Only rarely do adults revert to the fierce unhappy outcry that we associate so strongly with infancy. Fortunately, daily life offers few miseries intense enough to trigger such a vehement response. For most of us, only the death of a loved one or the ending of an important relationship inspire the most fundamental sorrow.
We look the same as a baby when we cry with utter anguish. We energetically vocalize our unhappiness with our mouths widened and squared, our eyes buried under the clenching mass of the upper face.
Only if the pattern is complete does the cry come across in a static, sound less picture. The tightly closed eyes are the most crucial element, without which the element of loud, demonstrative crying is not apparent. The mouth itself may be open and stretched or closed and stretched, depending on how upset the person is, and how inhibited they are, but the eyes are always narrowed or closed. The tighter the squint, the more intense the cry appears.
Crying is a lot of work, which must be part of the reason it serves so well as an emotional release. You cannot physically stretch your mouth any wider than it stretches when you cry, and the eye squeeze is nearly as strong. We rarely put so much energy into an expression; no other state, with the exception of physical pain, puts the face under such stress. Our face reflects the tension and compression created by these actions.
Besides demonstrating the disappearance of the eye, a faithful depiction of crying renders the curving of all the surfaces of the lower half of the face. Nothing is flat or baggy; like the surface of a balloon after it's inflated, the lower face is everywhere rounded, everywhere taut. As in smiling or laughing, the mouth and its surroundings are inset by being pulled tight against the face; and the inset portion is framed by sharply rounded cheeks and thick cords alongside the chin.
Emotional distress triggers intense contraction of the eye and mouth muscles. Deep wrinkle patterns emerge, and a tightly stretched, hill-and-valley landscape arises.
1. Brows lowered, especially inner end; vertical wrinkling; smooth forehead.
2. Deep creases out from inner eye corner, across bridge. Crow's feet at outer corner; slight bag below.
3. Nose wings raised slightly. Cheeks tight and rounded.
4. Mouth wraps tightly around cylinder of teeth and ¡aw. Rope-like cord to both sides, but no dimpling.
5. Stretched lip pushed up in center by mentalis, roughening chin surface.
6. Lower teeth in extreme corner of mouth show owing to sideways pull on mouth corner.
An economical cartoon interpretation, suggesting the compressed eye (crow's feet), the widened square mouth, and the bracket fold beyond.
A. Action of risorius/platysma.
B. Action of mentalis.
C. Action of levator labii superiors.
D. Action of orbicularis oculi.
E. Action of corrugator.
The cry and the laugh_
Ironically, laughing and crying are sometimes similar in appearance. Infants and young children can pass almost instantly from tears to laughter with hardly a pause for breath. Even adults occasionally have responses where the two emotions are mixed. Whatever the psychological connection may be, the visual similarities between the two expressions are more numerous than the differences.
Two things that almost always distinguish laughing from crying are the degree of eye compression (much greater when we cry), and the way the lower lip is shaped—stretched in crying, angled upward in the laugh. Since the shape of the upper lip, the bracketing folds alongside the mouth, and the fullness of the cheeks can be very similar in laughing and crying, there are times when you simply cannot tell.
Crying: Mouth Closed_
Most adult expressions appear with at least some degree of restraint. In terms of the face, restraint shows itself in various ways. Often there is a tendency for one part of the face to act at cross-purposes to what is occurring somewhere else. One part of the face may try to undo an instinctive action in another part of the face, and all sorts of new forms appear in the tension between the opposing pulls. This tug-of-war is completely involuntary, but it leads to some fascinating expressions.
The first sign of some restraint in crying is the partly closed mouth. The second sign is the appearance of a new pattern in the upper face: the brow of grief, which is created by the contradictory actions of the frontalis (up) and the corrugator (down).
Crying is a complicated, dynamic action, and there really is no single look to crying. Some always cry with their mouths closed, perhaps unconsciously wanting to suppress the sound; others move back and forth between loud, demonstrative crying and stifled sobs, wherein the closed-mouth cry is just one stage in a continuing action. Any picture of an action such as crying is necessarily a frozen moment.
The jaw controls how open or closed the mouth is. As it rises and falls, the mouth opens and shuts. But the secondary agent in closing the crying mouth is more dramatic. One of the most visible movements in crying is the alternate contraction and relaxation of the mentalis, trembling the lower lip. This works against the pull of the risorius/platysma, which is doing its utmost to pull the mouth and lips sideways, stretching the mouth as wide as it will go and making the lip tense.
The upper lip is pulled square in the same way as in the open-mouth cry, by the middle branch of the sneering muscle. As crying becomes less intense, the outer branch, the zygomatic minor, takes over. Its effect is milder than that of the other branches—less of a sneer results.
An aspect of sadness that seems ready-made for artistic purposes is the brow of grief, and artists have interpreted it in many ways and in many forms. Perhaps part of its power is its sheer conflictedness, for it represents the opposition of anguish and restraint.
The brow of grief is the form the eyebrows take when the frontalis attempts to wrest control of their movement from the corrugator, which is pulling them downward. Frontalis is no fool about this, and in the most hysterical stages of crying, when the orbicularis oculi is contracted, and the inner brow is at its low extreme, it is nowhere to be found.
Frontalis makes its appearance only as the contraction of orbicularis oculi diminishes. The corrugator is still active, and the brows are still pulled downward; the frontalis attempts to pull the inner brow upward by the action of its fibers in the center of the forehead. The result is an unpredictable tug-of-war, which neither side ever wins. On some faces the pull of the corrugator is stronger and the eyebrows remain fairly horizontal; on others, the frontalis is stronger and the eyebrows slant dramatically upward. But on every face, there's that little kink, that subtle twist in the eyebrow a third of the way from inner corner to outer, and that's what pulls so strongly at our heartstrings.
There are other forms besides the kink that appear. The frontalis wrinkles the center of the forehead in a few short, horizontal rows, and the corrugator creates its characteristic vertical wrinkles and dimples. Together, the paired vertical wrinkles and horizontal folds make an upside down U-shape in the middle of the forehead.
The brow of grief appears on all the faces of sadness besides out-and-out crying, and occasionally on the faces of people who aren't sad at all. On miserable winter days I often see the grief pattern on faces of people struggling against a bitter wind and driving snow. Under those circumstances, it seems more the sign of distress than grief. Less frequently, the pattern will appear briefly on the face as a conversational gesture—you can see it on the face of certain television newscasters.
Tears may be a part of any sad face. Tears are a glandular reflex. Happiness as well as sadness may bring on tears. While the term "crying" refers to an audible outcry, and while tears usually go along with this, we may be tearful when we are just quietly miserable.
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