The Faces That Have Charmed Us The Most Escape Us The Soonest

“American Woman” Graphite & Watercolor by Randy Elrod

These words by Sir Walter Scott, one of my dearest and most loved authors, raise a fascinating discussion…and my own scattered thoughts that follow.

Why do we have such deficits in our emotional receptivity?

Why do we not truly get to know those charming faces?

Why do we tend to read people’s mouths and bodies and not their eyes?

Why do we prefer masturbation over sexual intimacy?

Why is love blind?

In his thought provoking book, The Master and His Emissary, Dr. Ian McGilchrist, shows convincingly that the degeneracy of empathy springs from our failure to manage the two sides of our brain. He persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative “master”, the right hemisphere.

A well-respected friend, whose name you probably know, told me recently about a friend that he felt had made several bad decisions, in recounting the story, he said, “He makes crucial decisions with his emotions rather than his commitments.” At first blush, that sounds logical and true, but upon deeper study, I wonder…is that left-brained thinking?

Do our emotions count? Or should we do as many Christians and religions teach, bury them under the guise of self-denial?

It is the right hemisphere of our brain that identifies emotional expression, says McGilchrist.

Could it be that we have been taught to be wary of “charmers” and guard the deepest layers of our hearts from them?

A snake charmer looks into the eyes of the snake in order to “know” it and charm it.

Interestingly, the left hemisphere of the brain reads emotions by interpreting the lower part of the face. And though the left hemisphere can understand emotional display, it looks not at the eyes, even when directed to do so, but at the mouth.

The right hemisphere alone seems to be capable of understanding the more subtle information that comes from the eyes.

Empathy (a word that is possibly the most important word of the decade to me—perhaps the most important word of my life) is not something one reads in the lower face, where realitively blunt messages—friend or foe—tend to be conveyed.

When it comes to the understanding (and expression) of emotion in language, despite left-hemisphere prepondernace for language, the right hemisphere is superior.

The face is the common mediator of two of the most significant aspects of the right hemisphere’s world: the uniqueness of the individual and the communication of feeling.

For instance, in my paintings, I have been criticized for depicting the female body, but, hopefully, if one looks truly and deeply at the layers of my art—not from a typical left-hemispheric Western viewpoint—but as a whole…one might indeed see the eyes, the face and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the emotion within.

Perhaps, we let the outward beauty of the female (or male) body charm and seduce us or worse—intimidate us or limit our perception—because of our contemporary addiction to pornography—and we miss the real inner meaning. That is, the portrayal of both the layers of  body and soul.

Question: Why do you think we have we let an over-dominant left hemisphere lose touch with its natural regulative “master”, the right hemisphere? 

7 Responses to “The Faces That Have Charmed Us The Most Escape Us The Soonest”

  1. Very interesting insights, Randy. I personally have enjoyed your paintings, and see in them not an exploitation of the female figure, but a vulnerability of their soul, even in their strength of expression. But that’s just me.

    On a personal note, I believe you have given me an answer to a question I’ve had about myself. I do tend to see into a person’s soul by looking them in the eyes. You can see a person’s pain in their eyes.

    Conversely, there have been many times when I’ve avoided looking into someone’s eyes and have instead focused on their mouth/chin area, wondering later why I had done it. It just occurred to me that I was afraid they would see my pain, which is why I didn’t look them in the eye. I didn’t want to show my own vulnerability at the time. Perhaps I fooled no one in doing so.

    • Wow!! First, thanks for your observations about my paintings. Observations that describe the truest intent of this artist. And yes, I find your personal note true of myself as well…. Thanks, Lori, for enriching this conversation..

  2. perhaps we prefer keeping score to keeping company (of others).

  3. Profound. I find this very true. Also, I think when the desire is to “know” rather than “observe” this seems to happen. Science observes. Friends want to know.

  4. Looking into someone’s eyes has been the most vulnerable thing I can do; it allows the possibility of the other person really seeing who I am. What if they don’t like what they see? What if what they see frightens them or angers them? Do I risk rejection or censure or, worse yet, dismissal?

    Is it any wonder that so many times, I allow my gaze to slide to one side? It frightens me to be seen. It makes me “open” to another and heaven help me if I happen to encounter someone who is seeking that vulnerability. The truth is we’ve been hiding from God and from one another ever since the expulsion from the Garden . Can you think of a more socially acceptable way of avoiding each other than refusing to see?

    Thank you, Randy, for such a thought-provoking post.

Created by Randy Elrod

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