I thought up the idea for this mission somewhat by accident. I was in an art class in college and assigned to “walk around drawing people.” I wanted to see how I could push the assignment in interesting ways. I began by walking up to perfect strangers and asking them if I could draw them. That evolved into not asking people if I could draw them–I started this with people who were talking to my friends, then started not asking strangers, then I began to literally follow people who were walking down the street and drawing them as I walked. I got some fascinating drawings of the moment in someone’s eye when they first begin to suspect they were being followed. Every person I drew and every approach I took yielded fascinating human and artistic insights, but it also didn’t really feel right to “pick” on people who were just going about their daily lives and didn’t necessarily want the scrutiny.
Wanting to change things up, I wandered into Brown University’s venerable “University Hall” where the Deans and the College President reside. I sat down in the waiting area outside an office belonging to one of the senior college Deans. In front of me were two Professors, I think in Political Science, having a discussion while they waited to talk to the Dean, and it immediately occurred to me that these men, who were so used to judging students and other academics would be the perfect studies for my “without permission” sketches. The one of the two I selected is below:
This man did not like to be drawn, in fact. He kept going back and forth between being mildly agitated that I was sitting there drawing him and putting on a bold show of being unaware of my existence. He turned his head and tried to carry on his conversation while showing me as little of his eyes as possible. My quick rendering of him perhaps didn’t do his expression justice, but the feelings I had sitting there of intruding on this authority figure’s day were very visceral in a way that I didn’t feel when drawing the tourists. Maybe it was my imagination, but I had a very strong sense that this man felt very uncomfortable in the role reversal and wanted to do something to get out of it. For a moment, I even experienced a slight fear that he would call me out on it, but he did not. After not too long the men were called in to their appointment by the Dean’s secretary and the experience ended.