I was looking at the International Herald Tribune for the first time in what must have been close to ten years and ran across an article entitled East and West part ways in test of facial expressions. Oddly enough, the origin of the research came not one kilometer from where I was sitting -from a building I had once been quite familiar with, the Bio-Psych Building at the University of Alberta.
If one extrapolates from this study, people in the West will find it sufficient to only look at a person’s face to gauge their mood while people in the East will also take the expressions of those around the person into arriving at a judgment. It was also found that if asked to take a portrait, the Western photographs would have the subject taking up much more of the frame than in the Eastern ones. It was also said that generally in Eastern art, subjects tended to be smaller than those in Western art, and to blend in with other figures.
Though you might be able to generalize somewhat in this manner the latest art coming out of China appears to be becoming more individualistic.
And if you go back to artists like Breughel you have a sort of communitarian approach to the image.
In fact, just now for the first time I see the Breughel as looking rather Japanese.
And I have noticed that though Japanese films seem to have a little more of an individualistic bent than Chinese, the films of the last few years, especially out of Hong Kong, are breaking away somewhat from the power of the crowd. I had always found it odd, from my Western perspective, how vulnerable the strong Chinese hero was to the finicky influence of the masses. But the films now seem to more often have stand alone characters. (There is still a remarkable number of innocent bystanders still sacrificed to little regret and great wailing if one of the main characters stubs a toe but that too will probably change).
But back to the study. What is really interesting about this from an information gathering standpoint is that it implies that you could determine the mood of the subject even if they were not available to you, as long as you could see the people standing around them. Unless of course you were dealing with a Western subject.
I guess the problem would be if you were a Westerner you wouldn’t pick up the clues from the friends so you could not perform that trick, and if you were Eastern you might be slightly at a loss trying to read a Westerner standing alone in the middle of a room.