© 2018 Site created by Hayoung Lee with Wix.com

Art in EHS Life

What elements of art can be found in our daily lives? Read more to find about different places of our lives at EHS where art can be seen.

By Hayoung Lee

Published 11/6/2018

Every year, for most people, it is the time of dread and anxiety when the frames in front of the dining hall get replaced. These frames depict every student’s and every faculty’s new portrait for the year. We all stand in front of these frames, staring at our own portraits, condemning our muscle’s inability to perform the perfect smile.

The Perfect Smile

But, it may actually be the case that we cannot see our smiles due to our perception. One of the most famous smiles in the history of mankind, the Mona Lisa is a prime example where an image manipulates our perception. Mona Lisa may be a painting we are all too familiar with. Her enigmatic smile is one of the reasons for her fame. Depending on what our eyes focus on of the painting, we see her smile in different ways. We either see her mysterious, melancholic smile or her wide, happy smile. Dr. Margaret Livingstone’s, a Harvard neuroscientist, provides her research and evidence as to the Monalisa’s ambiguous smile.

Dr. Livingstone's research is based on differences in spatial frequency perception within the eye.

Spatial frequency is a measure of how detailed an image is. The higher the spatial frequency, the more detailed and clear the image seems. That does not mean an object has a different spatial frequency to another object that makes it seem more clear and visible.

Anything we look at has both high and low spatial frequency patterns. Our eyes just see objects with varying amounts of focus on each one, seeing some with high spatial frequency, and some with low spatial frequency.

To go through a quick demonstration of our eyes seeing varying levels of spatial frequencies, hold an apple about 10cm in front of you. Now, look at it with the corner of your eye, marking your focus at the background with your peripheral vision. 



 The apple will seem rather blurry. Then, change your focus to be on the apple. It will suddenly seem more defined and clear. This is because your central vision allows you to only capture high spatial frequencies, but not low spatial frequencies.




Thus, while we perceive Monalisa’s smile to be enigmatic when we directly look towards her mouth, when we focus our gaze towards her eyes, our peripheral vision sees her smile, combined with the shadows of her cheekbone, which enhance the curvature of her smile. Her happy smile can only be seen when one examines her entire face, instead of simply examining her mouth.These three images show her face filtered to show selectively lowest (left) low (middle) and high (right) spatial frequencies.

Dr. Livingstone claims that viewing one’s smile in real life may be similar to the painting of Monalisa. We will be able to see an individual’s joyful smile if we examine their whole face. 

She claims that viewing one’s smile in real life may be similar to the painting of Monalisa. We will be able to see an individual’s joyful smile if we examine their whole face. So, instead of concerning on how much time to spend on practicing smiles for next year’s portraits, it may be a better option to simply re-visit your picture and its smile you absolutely detest, and view its face entirely, as one, rather than focusing on how your lips look, or how your teeth look. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful your expression truly is, as every image could have an enigmatic smile like Monalisa, depending on what the viewer sees.

Cite sourced: "Publications." Department Of Psychiatry - Harvard Medical School - Education & Training. Accessed November 27, 2018. http://www.hms.harvard.edu/dms/neuroscience/fac/livingstone.php.


"Mona Lisa's Smile." Science NetLinks. Accessed November 27, 2018. http://sciencenetlinks.com/science-news/science-updates/mona-lisas-smile/.


Blakeslee, Sandra. "What Is It With Mona Lisa's Smile? It's You!" The New York Times. November 21, 2000. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/21/science/what-is-it-with-mona-lisa-s-smile-it-s-you.html.