The Human Face

The Human Face

18 February 2024 Masha Pavlenko 214 views

An exploration of what the human face is an expression of.

This project is an exploration of what the human face is an expression of. It aims to understand how the human face is not only a physical image of the human being, but also an inner one. I chose to explore this both through a practical and theoretical way, by producing my own clay sculpture and sketches, and researching how the face is an expression of personality, and of one's Thinking, Feeling, and Willing. This text is a compilation of the results I gained through modeling with clay and drawing, and a collection of findings that I acquired about what the face expresses through reading and researching.

The reason I chose to explore this theme was because I have always been fascinated by how each human has their own distinct facial form that differs so greatly from one to another.

I began to wonder if the human face is an expression of the activity of our “I”, which was a thought that first occurred to me when I put the human in relation to the animal. I came across the idea through reading Steiner’s description of the Elementary Kingdoms (GA 98), in which he states that “All animals of the same formation share a group soul, a Group ego” , and that “the human ego, the human soul, is different from that of the animal. The human soul lives on the physical plane.”

Unlike animals, who's faces within any formation group can only be distinguished from each other by a small extent, human beings are much more strongly distinguishable by their features.

This led me to wonder what the correlation was between the presence of the “I” in the human (and lack of it in the animal), to the strongly distinguishable features of the human face (and the absence in animals). This left me with the question “How much of our “I” activity is expressed in the human face?”

Thinking, Feeling and Willing in the Face

To begin the project, I first decided to start with the practical aspect, and see how much of the face I could understand by sculpting one from scratch. I used clay as my medium, and had the intention of making a portrait of a mature male face. The first thing that became clear to me, in the forming of the front of the face, was that it had three apparent sections. From reading Steiner’s description of the human being in “Theosophy” It then became evident to me that just like the threefold- human being, the face itself, is a representation of three foldness and can be split into 3 different areas. If we take the three soul functions described by Steiner as they are in the body, and translate them to the face, we can see them as thus:

The first part, which is present in the forehead (starting from the hairline, and including the temples), represents the Thinking. The second part, which includes the nose with the cheeks and dominated by the eyes, represents the Feeling, and the third part, which includes the formation of the mouth with the lips, the chin and the lower/upper jaw represents the Willing.

Together, these three areas complete the whole image of the human being, and Steiner was the first to point out its threefold nature both from the psychological and physical point of view.

To give more context to these three soul functions and understand how they relate to the face, we can look at the way that Steiner related them to the organs:

The "head" as a whole represents the 'nerve and sense system'. This is the area where most of the sense organs are concentrated. The nervous system shows itself most strongly through the form of the brain and therefore this part of the face is considered to be the 'head' or 'Thinking'.

The organs that are located more centrally in the chest, such as the heart and lungs, can be characterized particularly by rhythm; they represent the rhythmical processes in the human. In a way, our whole life comes under the effect of rhythm through the cycle of day and night, seasonal changes and so on. According to Steiner, from the soul aspect, this 'rhythmic system' forms the foundation for our feeling, and can be seen represented in the central area of the face.

In the lower part of the human, beneath the diaphragm, lie the organs that are predominantly connected with metabolism. These organs include the stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas. The work of these organs not only enables life to be maintained, but also enables a force in the soul to resolve itself to do something. This metabolic system is therefore the basis of a person's Will power and is represented in the face through the lower area of the mouth and jaw.

Development of the face

Before trying to understand the fully formed face, I first decided to look at the progression of its development, since the face is in continual growth from birth up until about the 20th year, when it stops changing significantly and stays relatively the same right into old age. I decided to see what parts of the face were dominant in the three stages of one’s life, as an infant, a child, and an adult, and try to distinguish if any of the three soul functions were more dominant at a certain stage of life. I did this by sketching out 2 sets of 3 drawings, and trying to discern the differences between the three main areas of the face.

I found that the faces of the infants were almost indistinguishable from one another. The main feature that was dominant in these sketches was the forehead. Looking at the second set of sketches, it was evident that a significant change had occurred in the middle area of the face, particularly the nose, while the third set of sketches showed a strong development of the jaw.

These observations could be interpreted thus:

At birth, children have not yet developed their "I", resulting in a lack of individuality. In terms of facial development, this means that their individuality has not yet been able to make an appearance in their face, explaining why, at birth, infants look so similar. This could also be a sign that the child's spirit first enters the human body by way of the nerve and sense system.

We can see that It takes much longer for the personality to penetrate the rhythmic system, as the central region of the face only comes fully into form around the ages of 9-10. We know very well that around this age children begin developing their emotions much more deeply, and allegedly, this is when the Feeling aspect of the soul functions comes to life. Therefore we see a strong development of the nose region.

The lower third of the face takes the longest time to develop, this is when the Will really starts making its way into the human. It continues to change throughout our adulthood, as long as our ego is continuing to learn and to liberate the Will. The lower third of the face can be in development up until almost the age of 40, or even longer, although this could also be attributed to the regressive process of aging.

Proportions of the face

Having looked at the development of the face through the different stages of life, I was interested to see how these three soul functions came together in a face that was already fully developed and was no longer going through any significant changes. I turned to my sculpture for this aspect of exploration, as my intention was to create a human face that was relatively mature.

An observation that I made while sculpting my portrait, was that I was naturally drawn to creating even proportions in the three parts of the face, making each section roughly the same size. Although this was done subconsciously, I think I was trying to form a face that felt equal and balanced to me.

In hindsight, with what I had discovered about the forces of Thinking, Feeling and Willing, this made sense not just from a physically aesthetic point of view.

If we look at the face as an expression of all three soul functions, then we can assume that even proportions of the face indicate a sense of harmony not only physically, but also between the three systems of organs and therefore the three soul functions of Thinking, Feeling, and Willing. An excessive elaboration of one of the three parts of the face, can therefore be attributed to the following: an increased development in the forehead points to a strongly formed head system, people with this feature are particularly open to the upper forces forming the nervous system. People whose face is strongly accentuated in the middle region show an over development of the rhythmic system. A powerful development of the nose can often be seen in the faces of artists and musicians who work deeply with the feeling life of the soul. And lastly, people with a pronounced lower third of the face, which exceeds the size of either of the two other areas, show a strong development of the Will, which we could consider as the strongest component of their character. It is in their nature to have an urge to be driven, active, and assert their Will.

The Ear

One particular organ in the face that I was intrigued by, appeared to be a feature of the face that although grows during the different stages of life, does not go through any significant changes in form since birth; and that organ is the ear. At birth, our ear already holds the form that it will have for the rest of its life.

I found sculpting the ear incredibly difficult, as there were so many elaborate parts that seemed to interweave with each other, but which came together as a unity. I felt as though this organ was very complex, and wondered what exactly it could express. I felt as though I could not understand the full extent of this organ without doing more research. That is when I came across a book called “Reading the Face” by Norbert Glass, whose work was heavily influenced by Anthroposophy.

Through reading this book, I was able to understand the ear much better and found a lot of interesting facts. One of these was that the outer ear can actually be regarded as a picture of our past life.

This would make sense because if the ear is not changing, it cannot be a representation of our current inner “I” activity, but would rather show what people bring into this life concerning their capacities acquired in the past. Therefore, the ear does not tell us about any new achievements, or how people have changed in their inner being. The presence of the ear could almost be considered a memorial to the existence of preceding life.

While sculpting and drawing the ear, I found that just like the face, it seemed to consist of three parts, each part being proportionate. The upper part, we can call the 'Head', the middle area, we can call the ‘Body’, and the bottom, we can call the ‘Limbs’. These three parts we can once again associate with Thinking, Feeling, and Willing.

Through reading this book, I found that a proportionate ear is located level with the nose. An ear that is situated too low, indicates that a person has too strong a connection to the Earth forces, and In contrast, people with ears that are situated too high have a certain reluctance to getting involved in earthly matters.

I decided to draw the ear and its different parts, and try to understand more specifically how the three soul functions worked their way in the ear by reading the same book.

My findings:
The ‘head’ of the ear consists of the ‘helix’ and the ‘crus helis’ (refer to image 7), and is also split into three different sections (Image 7, a,b,c). These corresponding areas show our capacity to be upright and our sense perceptions (a), our power of mental imagery (b), and the powers of our speech (c ). According to Steiner, these are the three most important achievements of children up until their 3rd year of life. Through these means, our ego comes to particular expression and stamps our individuality upon our bodily nature. When this process comes to a conclusion, the human being can address itself as “I”.

The middle section is made up of two parts, the anti helix, and the cavity which forms the entrance of the ear. These two structures can be taken as an image of the rhythmic organism, made up of breathing and circulation. The collaboration of breathing and circulation in the middle organism reflect the part of the soul that lives in the Feeling. These two components, although forming a unity in the physiognomy of the ear, can be distinguished in their two fold nature, no matter how strongly they play into each other.

The third part is formed by the Tragus, the antitragus and the earlobe. The tragus and the antitragus are an image of the functioning of the glandular and lymph node system. From the way they are formed, we can see the dynamic of a person's fluid organization. Between the two areas, there should be a certain distance that is not too close and not too far apart. In the narrowing, we see a tendency towards having a phlegmatic temperament, and with the opposite, an exaggerated sanguine temperament, ruled unconsciously by the metabolism. The last area, which is the earlobe, has its own significance. It is the living expression which builds up the human organism, its ability for constant regeneration; and the ability to reproduce also belongs here. Earlobes that are harmoniously rounded are roughly a third of the size of the whole ear. We can also mention that the earlobes have a slight point at the bottom, and these emphasize the forces of sexual reproduction. The custom of wearing earrings has to do with this side of the metabolic system; it is intended to increase awareness of the power of procreation! The shape of the lobe shows whether or not we have a predisposition for a strong will or not, a lobe that has a loose bit hanging down shows the push to be free, it is the force of free will, while the lobe that is a continuity of the ear is a sign of a weakly disposed will system.

While the ear is a window into our past, the rest of the face is an expression of our current development, and shows the progress that we have made so far in this current life. In reading Glas’ book I came to the realization that almost every aspect and feature of our face expresses something different within us, from the vertical and horizontal lines that form on our forehead and show us the kind of thinking we tend to lean towards, to the shape of our nose, and the formation of our lips and chin. Reflecting back on my time modeling my sculpture, I would say that it was clear to me from the start that making a face felt like arranging an elaborate road map of the human being, each line, each furrow having its own significance and meaning.


Through all the practical and theoretical research that I conducted, I began to realize that the human face is almost like a book in which we may read something about a person’s past, present and future striving. The unraveling of the face shows a deep connection to the three soul functions of Thinking, Feeling, and Willing and allows us to see on the physical plane, the development of these functions in the face of our fellow human beings. I was fascinated at how much I was able to deduct, just by using my own hands to form a face out of clay, and find the underlying reasons for why I chose to form the face in the way I did. Just by modeling the features of the face, I was able not only to begin to see the threefold nature of the face, but also begin to comprehend the extent to which it exposed the Inner activity of the human “I”.

As humans, I think it is in our very nature to try and understand the things around us, including ourselves and the people we share this planet with. Only through knowing ourselves, and the people around us are we able to begin to understand the reason behind our actions, and the things we do. To me, this was already a justifying reason in researching the human face, as it has become evident to me that through the investigation of facial forms, we can come to understand the human in a way that explains their nature of being not just through a physical level. I realized that each part of our face tells us something different about ourselves, and shows the unique qualities which we possess within us.

In the wake of this realization, I began to think about the modern world and the sudden increase in cosmetic surgery and its rise in popularity.

Today, we see many people (especially young girls) who are going under the knife to change their appearance. Before conducting this research project, I had only assumed that these procedures changed the way the face looked, but didn’t look deeper into what that could actually mean. After having discovered what the human face is actually an expression of, I realized that not only are these surgeries dangerous and masking the true physical appearance of the face, but also hiding away something within us; our own individuality and its desire to show itself. This has brought about many questions for me, such as “does this artificial way of changing and influencing the face have an effect on the Human “I” and its intention to express itself ?”

With the push of a certain beauty standard which we are seeing today, people are all trying to fit into one specific category, and changing their features accordingly. We are now seeing more and more people who are all coming out of surgeries looking the same as each other, with the goal of attaining the features of the ‘perfect face’. Through this process, we are not only losing the unique and distinct features of our face, but also, even if it is not done unintentionally, masking away and losing the expression of our inner individuality. We as humans are somewhat capable of reading the face, even if it is subconsciously (as I myself have realized during this project), and the popularity of cosmetic surgery nowadays is taking that capacity away from us.

Coming out of this project, this is definitely an area of interest that I would like to research further into, in order to understand what implications this has for the human “I”, as we have now discovered that the Human face, is in fact, an expression of our Thinking, Feeling, and Willing.

Masha Pavlenko, Auckland, New Zealand - Alumni Anthroposophy Studies on Campus 2022-2023


Glas, N. (2008). Reading the face. Temple Lodge Publishing.
Steiner, R.(2018). Theosophy. Wilder Publications.
Steiner, R. The Elementary kingdom (GA 98).