Belinda's Bash

Belinda Naylor-Stables

Let’s face it…

This month I thought I’d talk about a part of  social media that nobody ever mentions - the face. I  also take in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (Tuesday 5 June 2012)  by  mentioning  Tracey Emin’s portrait of the Queen. And I invite you to do something special for yourself during the up and coming Herts Visual Arts AGM (Wednesday 6 June 2012).

Facing the challenge…

Getting a true likeness, for some is a gift, for others it's a necessary and ongoing struggle. But that’s not all there is to faces…

Inside-out faces…

Studying for my Art degree I remember a case study in Viktor Lowenfeld’s, ‘Creative and Mental Growth’ (Prentice Hall, 1987). It involved a blind child asked to create a self-portrait from clay. When you think about it, your tongue’s exploration of teeth and palate tells you something about the structure of your head – and this is what the child created first. Another inside-out approach, this time using paint, can be seen in the prize winning You Tube video of The Who’s ‘5:15’.

Working inside-out was also an approach used by Leonardo daVinci. We know he took what he learnt about muscles and bones from his human dissections and converted that information into levers and pulleys – resulting in his futuristic war machines and other inventions.  Recent theories about The Mona Lisa are that it is, in effect, an engineering drawing. (Apologies, I can’t remember the reference here.) Mona Lisa’s face tells us that the muscles, working as pulleys, lift the corners of the lips and eyes to create that enigmatic smile. How the brain processes emotions as instructions for muscles to reveal or hide our emotions is what is fascinating. And thinking about it, that’s what we see and interpret when we look at a face.

Built in recognition…

I remember years ago (2007) watching a documentary on Channel 5 called ‘My Brilliant Brain’ about especially gifted people. A father, László Polgar, believed that every child has the potential for genius – it was just a matter of training. He decided that his daughter Susan was going to be a chess champion. Everyday from an early age she had to memorise the layouts of chess boards. A psychology expert commented that what enabled this extraordinary feat was the part of the brain usually reserved for remembering faces. So in our brains a special hardwired app we are all born with catalogues all the faces we come across in our lifetime. By the way, Susan became a chess Grandmaster – a very rare achievement.

What faces represent…

Doing research for this article I was amazed to find the different uses a face has - evident from as early as the 15th Century - probably earlier. It’s used as an expression of beauty, or to show emotion, or to illustrate a true likeness for historical records or for arranging marriages. What I’d forgotten was that faces were also used to represent brands as early as that too. Artists working on behalf of patrons or donors were very aware of controlling how the brand (their family name) was portrayed - for example, the donors appearing in religious paintings.

So it was interesting to read that Tracey Emin’s approach to her portrait of the Queen was based on her perception of the Queen’s brand. She said, ‘I called the drawing ‘HRH Royal Britania’: I wanted the image to have a romantic title and also be strong and sexy and strident, and this is what Britannia represents to me.’ See the FT Magazine article 'Tracey Emin draws the Queen' by Tracey Emin.

How eyes behave…

You might not be as famous as the Queen – or have your head printed on coins and bank notes – but with social media you have the chance for your features to be catalogued in people’s brains just the same. In studies showing how eyes wander around screens – eyes return to faces time and time again – more than any other part of the screen. So whether you like the idea or not your image will be the most looked-at item. It’s fun to see the different images people attach to their social media. Some pose, some are natural, some turn or twist, some frame their faces with one or two hands or add a gesture. Some position themselves to show what they do so that picture shouts 'I’m a portrait artist', 'I’m a thinker', 'I’m a photographer'. Designers tend to be more aware of the play of light or the space around their head and find this particularly effective in black and white photos. Some people choose a background that supports their brand – nature or art for example.

Facing Facebook…

Talking of faces, if you have not joined Facebook yet, now is a good time to consider it. On 17 May Facebook floated shares at  $38 a share, valuing the company at a record breaking $104bn (£65.8bn). (I'm not recommending buying or not buying these shares - they have gone up and down drastically ever since.) I just mention the fact because it says something about this media’s popularity and potential. My recommendation, from first hand experience, is to find a friend who is already on Facebook and get together for a couple of hours a week to support each other’s social networking. It saves time and makes social networking even more sociable. For those who cannot be persuaded I recommend spending that hour a week ringing friends up instead!

Talking of friends, the Herts Visual Arts AGM is a great opportunity to find your social media friend, or catch up in other ways.  This year it’s also a brilliant opportunity to see the latest of Hertfordshire University’s art graduation show. A truly spectacular event on Wednesday 6 June 2012.

If there are any members out there who would like to comment on faces  in art or social media, we’d be really interested. Also if any members would like to share their social media links let us know…

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