Face Value: The Phenomenology of Physiognomy

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Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


The concern of this article is to establish the difference between physiognomy and expression as it may be understood phenomenologically. The work of Merleau-Ponty founds the phenomenological appreciation of physiognomy, and Gestalt psychological studies on perceptual organization elaborate the specifics of physiognomic structure despite the naturalist assumptions of that school of psychology. Physiognomy is the organized structural specification of expression in the phenomenon that presents itself. This view is an alternative to conventional topical but nonthematic considerations on physiognomy (e.g., “face value,” visual inspection, physiognomy in language perception, and facial expressiveness). Art therapy with its use of various media is a venue in which the physiognomy of clients’ art products is a display of integralness or pathology. It is an immediate access to the world of the patient. The work of the Gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim and of the art therapist Mala Betensky are associated with the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty in order to advance understanding of the significance of physiognomy in experience, in behavior, and in art therapy.

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APA Citation: Cloonan, T. F. (2005). Face value: The phenomenology of physiognomy. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 36(2), 219-245. doi: 10.1163/156916205774651087