This recent campaign photograph contains a detail that reveals the principle behind our relating so deeply to non-literal (a.k.a “stylized”) smiles. Look at the out-of-focus crowd behind Donald Trump and his companion. Our attention is immediately drawn to the blond woman in the center, and you ignore her neighbors. What catches our eye is her beautiful, broad smile. Although that seems obvious, look again at what you are really noticing. Her face is tiny, very blurry, low-contrast, and so low-resolution that her exact identity would be hard to determine. But we have absolute certainty about her expression, and we even assign it an intensity level, and have confidence in its authenticity and warmth. (Trump’s expression is much more ambiguous, by comparison.)
Speaking of Mickey, he’s not pictured in this blog post for a reason – his smile uses an entirely different anatomical cue, another brilliant Disney innovation. More about that in my next post.
Bugs Bunny's smile is the most inventive of the three stylized examples shown here. While the other two hew fairly close to their human counterparts, the artist who created Bugs took the normal row of upper teeth and fused them into mega-teeth, then exaggerated the always-present corner voids (see photo left). This is a very good use of anatomical cues to create something very non-anatomical that still gets the message across.