Smile For Me, Baby

Can you fake a smile?  Maybe because I paint so much portraiture of one kind or another and stare at so many faces for so long, I’m endlessly fascinated by this kind of thing.  Conventional wisdom has always held that you can’t fake a real smile — the neuroanatomist Duchenne de Boulogne said that a genuine smile can only be lit by “the sweet emotions of the soul.” Which is why we have the term “Duchenne smile” — your cheeks lifting up and eyes narrowing as the corners, as your lips pull into a smile.  Those are supposed to be the signals of a real, true smile, signifying actual pleasure. But researchers wanted to find out if the Duchenne muscles were automatic or could be used by choice and guess what? People can fake it quite easily. (That said, you’ll still spot those terrible faux smiles from time to time, where the eyes stay dead like a flounder at the fish market.)

In a slightly related area, most people think that if you’re looking them in the eye it means you’re telling the truth — so if you look away you must be lying.  Well researchers have news for them too — turns out that piece of info is so well known that liars make a real point of looking directly into your eyes when they’re lying to your face. Plus humans just naturally break eye contact and look around — it helps us focus while we’re talking. But liars may try extra hard to sustaining eye contact in their efforts to prove their sincerity.

And while everyone is obsessed with Mona Lisa’s smile (I’m assuming you already recognized her), have you ever noticed that she doesn’t really have any eyebrows?  Apparently in an early and particularly aggressive restoration they didn’t just take off the varnish to clean the painting — they removed her brows!  Detailed digital scans show that Mona used to have brows and probably eye lashes as well; in fact Vasari wrote that she had “uncommonly thick eyebrows”.  (I think I’d like to have seen that.) Meanwhile debates rage about whether or not to “restore” the painting again, taking off 500 years of grunge so that her cheeks are rosy and the sky bright blue, but at the possible cost of more lost details.

They probably wont clean her — x-rays show there are three different versions of the Mona Lisa under this one, one of which had a bigger smile!

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3 responses to “Smile For Me, Baby

  1. Love this topic!
    I remember a number of years ago I was at the Safeway checkout stand, + got the distinct impression that the girl behind the counter, uh, liked me. ‘
    Turns out, I was not the only one.
    Safeway was implementing a new customer service regime, and had instructed check-out people to hold eye contact for 15 seconds, without realizing that sustained eye contact longer than about 10 seconds, will read as “sexshull attraction”.
    Sadly, Safeway did away with this aspect of their new service plan…I miss the attention, frankly

  2. Great article. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to forward this to my pal Muldoon Elder with the suggestion that he include your email address in his art missives. I suspect you’ll enjoy his writing. He’s a terrible flirt and worse but you’re a big girl. fondly, fred

  3. Dear (I’m assuming that your name is) Isabel,

    Our mutual friend Fred sent this on to me I think for me to make a comment.

    I have at least ten comments in mind and will be pleased to share them with you if you’d care to give me a call. I’m in the SF phone book.

    In the meantime I’m wondering about when the Italians will remove Vasari’s mural (or is it a fresco?) that sits in front of (with a three inch gap) the unfinished mural of “The Battle of Angiari”?

    Any thoughts on this?

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