Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brad? Brad Who?

Quote of the Blog:

Mike in the Tate Modern: "Seriously? You call this Art?? I'm going to drink half a glass of water and put it on a shelf and call that art." Turns and points. "Oh wait. It's already been done."


Five years ago, just before moving to New York, I was the college advisor for the School of General Academics at Utah Valley University (then Utah Valley State College- and yes, I figure someday that will date me). I’d decorated my office with a few items including a small poster of Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl.

I fell in love with the painting Drowning Girl (1963) the first time I saw it in print – and even more when I saw the large 68” by 68” original at the MoMA in New York City. I think it’s very funny yet layered in meaning and social commentary. Lichtenstein used Ben-Day dots to create his famous comic book paintings. Drowning Girl depicts a girl about to be enveloped by waves. Her thought bubble reads, “I DON’T CARE! I’D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!”

Generally female students reacted with amusement or a knowing head-nod to the poster. Men, on the other hand, responded in one of three ways (often enough that I started to keep tally on a sheet that has since gone missing):

Reaction 1: “I don’t get it.”

Reaction 2: “I think I recognize this! Which comic is it from??”

Reaction 3: “Who’s Brad?”

While not the most common, reaction three was the most interesting, amusing, and surprising to me. I had never thought of Brad as a specific person and yet dozens of men asked about it. Some even asked, “Is that supposed to be Angelina?” Finally when a student asked, “Who is Brad?” I’d respond with, “Well. You could be someone’s Brad.” Sometimes that helped, sometimes it didn’t.

I’d talked with male and female colleagues about student reactions but none of them had witnessed a reaction first-hand…until one day when Cindy was sitting in my office during lunch. A student walked in and started to ask a question about his math class. As he spoke he saw the poster, stopped mid-sentence, and asked, “Who’s Brad?”

Cindy started giggling in delight and actually pointed her finger at him! I gave her a look and her eyes widened in self-realization - she looked at her pointing finger in horror and clapped the hand over her mouth to stiffle her (now) embarrassed laughter.

Cindy excused herself and went back to her office (which was next door to mine) and I casually tried to brush past the moment, quickly explained that “Who’s Brad?” is a common question and we aren’t exaclty sure who Brad is and isn’t it nice outside and what is it you wondered about the Math 101 course?

You know, just now I realize that students may have thought of the painting as just one frame out of a comic book set that would have provided more context. Hmmm, either way, I find the reactions interesting! If you have thoughts about it, I’d love to read them. The Drowning Girl poster is in my room and sometimes I idly wonder to myself if maybe I'm some boy's Brenda.


  1. You know, I'll have to admit I like context. But it leaves a lot to think about sans-context.

  2. I believe that exhibit in the Tate is called The Willow Tree.

    what the....

    love you and your blog, brook star!

  3. So it's late but I was scrolling through the Brook of Scrolls and here this was and I laughed so hard I cried. I do love that memory...I can't believe I/we didn't get fired. :)