As with any good art form, graffiti, particularly that which is found throughout the studious halls of the John D. Rockefeller Library, is a constantly evolving medium. Even as tidbits of wisdom from past Brown undergraduates are invariably rubbed away by the passage of time, freshly scrawled ones appear just as quickly on the desks and walls of the library, a discourse that unites the tired, over-caffeinated students of both past and present. While some of the older works still remain, a new wave of notable Rock graffiti has since begun to sweep the building—an artistic movement of small but revolutionary proportions. Witness the current denizens of the Rock encourage, cajole, and occasionally insult one another with the following five gems of life wisdom (which mainly focus on how studying really, really sucks).
“You can do it :),” one of the more simplistic pieces on display. The encouragement feels unoriginal (albeit genuine), and the basic style of the smiley face indicates a lack of proper artistic training. Still, more than one hard-working student has undoubtedly taken solace from this message.
“You get ’em tiger!” As with the first picture, this piece is basic in both style and substance. With that said, the use of the colloquial ’em’ rather than the standard ‘them’ speaks to an awareness for current, ‘hip’ language trends that isn’t present in the previous example.
“In four years I will have forgotten everything I have learned.” While the previous two pieces highlighted what I will here call the ‘Optimist’ school of Rock graffiti artists, this picture demonstrates the opposite end of the spectrum—those Rock-goers who, in the depths of some brutal problem set or essay of incomprehensible length, abandon positivity and seek to convey the truly hopeless nature of an undergraduate education.
“I want to major in the humanities so I can write deep things on tables.” Another example of the Pessimist school of Rock graffiti. While it’s possible that this artist is being genuine in what he/she has written, it’s more likely a biting commentary on the nature of a liberal arts education, told through the very medium it claims to mock.
One might argue that this piece is ambiguous, falling into neither Optimist nor Pessimist camp, seeking merely to depict a truth rather than explicitly take a stance on it. Upon closer examination, however, the artist’s rejection of the American education system becomes more clear: the malnourished hands, fruitlessly grasping at the ‘A’ as though belonging to some beleaguered souls trapped in purgatory, represent undergraduate students in their Sisyphean quest for validation via GPA (the ‘Anderson’ addition was undoubtedly made later, a tragic vandalization of an otherwise impressive piece).
And the winner is…
“Do or do not, there is no try.” Although the artist’s decision to render this work in pencil means that it has already begun to fade, it remains an impressive addition to the Rock’s collection and stands as one of the finest surviving examples of the Optimist school of library art. The timeless quote, provided by a widely recognized alien character from the popular science fiction franchise Star Wars, is more immediately accessible to modern audiences than the grim, almost Biblical imagery in the previous Pessimist picture. It exists as a reminder—a reminder to embrace neither the cynical extreme of the Pessimists nor the idealistic extreme of the more radical Optimists, but rather to strive, to never do things by halves, to fully complete the work in front of you or abandon it altogether.
Happy studying, everyone!