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Doodles of Oberlin

by Ben Richman

[originally published 9/29/19]


Some say “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Others say “Take a picture it’ll last longer,” but after looking through the vast collection of doodles inscribed within the study carrels of Mudd Library, I think it is clear that art is truly what you make it, and beauty is in the eye of the pen holder. Within the labyrinth of Mudd there is a vast collection of art that goes unnoticed by most. The long second floor carrels in the back of the building serve as the Mecca of these hieroglyphs of boredom. These carrels hold years worth of messages, drawings, love notes, and conversations—all haphazardly scratched into the wood on either side of the desks. The notes and drawings are not signed or dated, their authors possibly long graduated and currently working for a non profit, or trying to make it as an unemployed artist. While I was looking through each carrel I couldn’t help but think about the first person to ever draw on the clean wood. How long ago were these drawings made? They could have been here for decades—who knows how long the furniture in Mudd has been there? And who were these bored students who left marks to be looked at for years to come?

The doodles in Mudd also serve as an opportunity for open communication. One side of the carrel could be considered a fluid art piece that is forever changing, as artists add and edit past work. On one carrel, a doodle artist wrote in a brown marker, “I like My girlfriend’s butt.” This simple, seemingly uncontroversial statement was followed up with the timid black markered-declaration, “I like my boyfriend’s butt.” This rebuttal was then edited, possibly by a third artist, who crossed off the word “boyfriend’s” and wrote “girlfriend’s” in large letters. This discourse between artists that potentially spanned years is extremely common in the Oberlin world of doodles.

This space also serves as a place for artists to air their grievances and complain about their lives. In one instance, an artist wrote, “If I find whoever stole my bike, I’m going to murder them. Seriously what kind of a bastard steals a bike on a Sunday??” This question was answered by a second artist who wrote “Someone biking to church?” These anonymous texts are in direct conversation with each other, and in many ways give a glimpse into the past values and concerns of Oberlin students.

Next to the bike text is a statement that I assume is referencing the Bezos nude scandal, which reads, “Jeff Bezos can suck my nuts.” This apt social commentary is situated near a piece reading “Hentai Lyfe,” revealing an interest of one anonymous Oberlin student—an interest that has become a motif amongst many Mudd doodles. In another carrel, an anime drawing of a girl with a speech bubble that says “Study you fucking nerd” exemplifies this such trend of anime drawings. This trend possibly reveals a common interest amongst those that choose to doodle on their desk.

There are also some very impressive, detailed drawings that show the level of procrastination that some students were able to commit to. One particularly haunting drawing of a face staring out into the distance stuck with me long after I left the library. The figure’s eyes stare right at you as you sit in the carrel. Though most people probably don’t pay attention to the doodle, the eyes will be eternally staring at unsuspecting students until Mudd is abandoned and overrun by nature, causing the desks to slowly decompose, or until the library buys new furniture. Another detailed drawing of a lion seemed very impressive to me, and employed some elements of pointillism to illustrate the majestic lion in pen.

Many of the more impressive works seemed both time consuming and unproductive. I do not have the chance to discuss most of these pieces, but I have included images of them below. Though the artists were probably procrastinating an essay or extra long reading, the doodles they left behind will continue to serve as a reminder of their struggles, triumphs, and creativity.

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