Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Brief History of Smile - Angus Trumble

There isn't a day without one seeing a quote related to smile in the social media or in your mail box, being shared by one of your friend. It is also said that one of the most used symbol in communication, these days, are the yellow circle with two dots and a curved line,  appropriately called a 'smiley'.  The flexing of the facial muscles ( apparently 12 of them) which are below the nose and above the jaw, is supposed to be one of the 'strongest non-verbal communication' in the world, transcending regional, cultural and linguistic barriers.

Amgus Trumble, an Australian, living in the US as a curator of art, discusses the topic of smile, starting from his area of expertise, moving to sculptures, religion, social , health & beauty and literary settings. Having invited to address a convention of dentist, he thought about the dentists observation of the teeth with regards to beauty. A discussion, triggered his interest in the subject of smile, resulting in this entertaining book.

Being an art curator, his immediate reaction begins with the form of his convenience and expertise. Starting his discussion with the representation of smile or smirk in the paintings of 18th century Dutch and Flemish masters ( Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier ) , the discussion moves to one of the most celebrated and discussed smile of the world: that of Monalisa. Categorizing smiles into six varieties, 'decorum, lewdness, desire,mirth,wisdom and deceit' detailing the aspect of various observations on smile, Trumble smiles his way through our mind.

Darwin's theory on the smile of the new born baby, the use of black paints on the teeth by the Geisha, the blissful smile of Buddha ( there is no mention of the 'laughing Buddha' statues), the Cambodian sculpture of Jayavarman VII the God-king,  the use of lipstick and lip liners as enhancement methods, the dental improvement to the smile, the 'need' of smile in the photography, various use of smile words for a pleasant photograph ( Cheese is the most popular, but  "lesbian" - yes photographer Cecil Beaton , "money"-in Australia,  "patata" meaning potato in Spain, fax by Czechs and the Japanese use of the English word "whisky" ), the various etymology of smile through many many languages and culture ( myle, smale, smyl, smylle, smyll, smill, smoyle , smoile ...) are covered with his characteristic humor and witty anecdotes. 

This isn't a scientific book or a sociological book in the lines of Desmond Morris',  and not necessarily the most comprehensive study on this subject. It did trigger a larger internal discussion within me, reflecting on various other representation of smile and related aspect within the eastern cultural and art forms. The facial paintings of Kathakali artists ( elaborated red colored enhancement for the lip giving a permanent  smiling expression) , the 'sad/happy dual of theatrical masks, the thin line separating a smile and a laugh, among various other things.

A quick fast read, with some interesting facts and more curious observations. From the seductive smile of a prostitute, the deceit , the smirk and the grin ( with a negative connotation to it) , with or without the display of the teeth ( with reference toThe Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility of 1703) , the upward curve of the lips ( apparently only 67% of the people curve their lips while smiling) , the changes in the eyes ( the twinkle) , the grin from animals ( cats, dogs and primates) and many more such smiley aspects makes this an informative book.
A Brief History of Smile ( 2004)

Angus Trumble

Basic Books

226 Pages
USA Today, The Age, Meta Psychology, Spirituality and Practice

No comments: