Big news! My MoMA-published emotion chart has been released from exclusive copyright! After releasing on my Patreon last fall, it’s now available to everyone as an individual printable PDF. Click here to download a copy.
Human brains are primed to learn emotion and empathy through looking at faces. 1
When a new parent smiles lovingly at an infant and the infant coos back, neural connections form. These connections, strengthened through a lifetime of feedback, help us read the emotion of others and name our own feeling states.
Too often, however, something breaks down in this process. A caregiver might be ill, substance-dependent, or unable to tolerate emotional closeness. Sometimes, children miss opportunities to grow these skills due to family isolation or physical issues like unaddressed vision problems, chronic illness, or prosopagnosia (a neurological condition making facial recognition harder).
Many of us need a little help to learn how to recognize, name, and empathize with emotions. Art can be a powerful tool to develop social awareness and the ability to recognize and empathize with emotions displayed through others’ faces and bodies.
The Role of Art in Helping Us Learn to Recognize Emotions Through Facial and Body Language
Many adults who find themselves in psychotherapy have trouble recognizing and naming emotions. While several of my resources were developed with this population in mind (see: Emotion Sensation Wheel & Alexithymia Comic), this new emotion chart approaches it from a different angle.
One way to use this resource is by offering a client who can’t-quite-find-words to name their emotion a menu of faces to scan and search for a visual representation of how their insides feel. For art classrooms, this chart can be a visual resource to help set expectations for how art can impact us.
This chart, originally developed through a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, contains 52 emotions represented through doodles of faces and body language. In addition to being fun art, this chart can be used as a clinical or school-counseling resource.
In this emotion chart illustration, I explore the diverse emotional experiences that often come with the experience of viewing art.
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Art has the ability to speak to us on a level that is much deeper than words alone can ever hope to achieve. It can touch us on an emotional level and even help us to connect with our own inner thoughts and feelings. For me, viewing other artists’ art is a way to connect with the world around me and to understand the world in a new and different way. It is a way to see the world through the eyes of the artist and to feel the emotions that they felt when they created their work.
What Is An Emotion Chart?
Emotions are stored and felt in our bodies. Sometimes it’s easier to describe physical sensations we are feeling in response to something before naming a specific emotion.
This emotion chart can be used as a fun and engaging way to help identify an emotional experience we may be having by providing an illustrated version of what that feeling state may appear as through outward emotional expression.
When we make space to honor and explore our emotions, we can be with them in different ways rather than assigning meaning to them. Emotions can help us learn about ourselves and how we relate to the world around us, especially because we all carry different experiences that shape our emotional reactions.
How to Use This Resource
When we experience an emotion, it is often expressed through our outward appearance. This can be seen in our facial expressions and body language. Our emotions can also be expressed through our behavior, such as how we interact with others, what we say, and what we do. This emotion chart provides a visual representation of some of the more common emotions we may experience and how they may be expressed. (It is important to note that everyone experiences and expresses emotions differently, so this is not an exhaustive list.)
This chart can be a therapeutic and conversational starting point for this process of naming and understanding expressed emotions, whether within ourselves or within another.References:
- Schmidt KL, Cohn JF. Human facial expressions as adaptations: Evolutionary questions in facial expression research. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2001;Suppl 33:3-24. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.2001. PMID: 11786989; PMCID: PMC2238342. [↩]