Visual Representation of Emotions

Obviously any visual piece that we see whether it’s a photograph, art piece, advertisement, or even a movie still can tell a story. However, the good ones can really evoke some kind of emotion through the colors, facial expression, any details that are shown throughout the visual, or even the overall look and feel of the piece. Robert Plutchik, an academic psychologist, introduced his wheel of emotions that shows the different types of emotions and it’s intensity compared to others as well as those that display similar types of emotions. Below are three intensity of emotions found in different kinds visuals.


Apprehension can be described as anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen. Throughout this painting this emotion is conveyed through the details, colors, and through the Gestalt theory of simplicity. The girl’s expression along with the body language shows that she is afraid of something. Then with the colors that are very prominent in the painting, red and black, adds to the emotion of apprehension. The color red in this case represents danger and then the black in the background represents the bad in the world, the unknown that life brings, evil,and even fear itself. Having the black surround her on all sides shows the fear that she is surrounded by and how much she may fear that something bad will happen eventually and she can’t stop it. The simplicity theory is shown in the painting because we can clearly see that it is a scared girl and based on the black surrounding her we know that something bad has or will happen.


The Maze Runner is all about a group of boys and one girl stuck in the middle of a maze with the necessary supplies looking for a way out. Towards the end of the film something goes wrong and numerous creatures they call, the Grievers, are let loose in where they have lived for so long destroying everything in site. In this still from the film we see the emotion fear being expressed. The principle of simplicity is shown again because we can clearly see and comprehend what’s going in in this visual as well as the colors are very simple in being a dark and nuetural color pallete. Expanding on the color scheme of this visual adds to the emotion of fear because whenever we think of fear we think of a dark neutural color pallete, with blacks and browns being prominent colors. Also, with the only light source being fire somewhere in the background, out of sight, lighting the visual the way it does makes the emotion of fear come to the forefront and be noticed way more. Since that is the only light source the entire visual is more on the darker side and whenever fear is being shown, it’s usually in the dark with little to no ligh in order to envoke the same feeling in the audience. In addition, the characters add to this emotion because of their facial expressions and being all sweaty in a way that we can tell they are scared and something is about to happen that isn’t good in any way.


Terror is another emotion that is different for everyone, but is the one of the most intense feeling that an artist of any kind can evoke from an audience. Looking at this visual, it looks like something from a nightmare (a really bad one). The artist used Gestalt’s figure-ground principle in order to bring the emotion of terror to the forefront for the audience. There are not only many hands that are designed very creepily, but there are also two scary looking creatures with sharp teeth that are clearly shown. Along, with the hands and creatures, the colors black and white adds to the terror emotion. White and black represents good and evil or even light and dark. Terror is where everything is the scariest it can be and having the hands be scary in both colors adds to the intensity of the emotion because even though white usually represents good and light, in this case it doesn’t. Instead they both add to the emotion of terror.

While there are many visuals that can tell a story or multiple stories within the same visual, they can also evoke different emotions with different intensities. Saul McLeod even states that since a lot of the information is lost by the time it reaches the brain, the brain has to guess what the person sees based on the person’s past experiences. So these experiences can intensify the emotions we feel when we look at the visuals. What emotion do you feel?




2 thoughts on “Visual Representation of Emotions

  1. Michaela,

    I think overall this is an extremely strong post! I loved the images you used and I think they describe the three emotions you picked perfectly. In particular, I really liked the one who had to represent anxiety and fear to come. For all of us, being anxious and fearful is something we can relate too and I thought the image was relatable; how she has her hands covering her face and a dark pit seems to be engulfing her when she experiences anxiety. I like how you also linked clearly what you learned from the readings that week and applied them to the art. Overall, like I said I think this is a very well-written post!


  2. Hi Michaela! I think this post is really well done! You do a great job showing all three emotion intensities and the examples you used to make sense as to why you chose each image for each emotion. I’m not gonna lie, though, I feel more fear from the Apprehension image than I do with The Maze Runner image, but I understand your reasoning for including The Maze Runner in there. Maybe there is another still from the movie of the Grievers encountering the kids (haven’t seen the movie in years so not sure I that must’ve happened)? Either way though, your explanations for each image made a lot of sense and I appreciate your effort in connecting the images back to the story to make your points, which were really effective. Nice work!


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