Michelle Blake, assistant director of educational services, walked into the Math Tutoring Center recently to find a portrait of philosophy professor Daniel Bloom drawn on the whiteboard. A speech bubble was also included, with the quote: “Why do you even get out of bed in the morning?” The quality of the portrait, especially when considering the difficult medium of white-board and marker, impressed her and she quickly shared the artwork with her coworkers and on her social media.
The artist, senior engineering student Matthew Day, remained mostly anonymous at first, and drew another portrait, this time of assistant professor of mathematics, William ‘Bill’ Ambrose, with another speech bubble containing the quote: “Well, you see it’s easy. You should have an A in my class.”
“I just walked in there, like, ‘what the heck?’” Blake said. “I just absolutely loved it. Because I just saw the connection there with the professors… When I saw it there, I was just impressed. Truly impressed.”
Her astonishment compounded when she found out that it had been an engineering student who had drawn it. Although most people who have mathematically inclined friends know how their eye for detail and precision can make them natural artists, one tends to forget the fundamentally mathematical principles inherent in art and graphic design, and write off people more interested in equations than the impressionist art movement as ineffectual illustrators. How easily the intricate mathematics of the golden ratio is forgotten. Blake was not surprised for long.
“They’re so talented and skilled,” she said, on the subject of engineering and math students and their relationship with creative arts. “We really, truly have wonderful tutors. They’re not only smart, intelligent, but creative… It doesn’t surprise me, because… engineer majors are quite creative… They not only make great math tutors, but they’re well rounded students.”
She was happy to see a student display such a wide array of skills in multiple fields. “So he has a future,” Blake said. “Not only in, maybe, engineering, but he could probably draw and tell stories about professors here. That would be great!”
Matthew himself has little aspirations when art is concerned. “I was bored,” he said, when asked for the reasoning behind his artwork. “I guess as a senior, I kind of have this nostalgia about, like, all the professors I’ve ever had. I don’t really know. I don’t really have any other reason.”
As to the origin of his talents, Matthew explained that he has had little formal training. “I guess just messing around,” he said, searching for the source of his artistic talent. “I, as a kid, drew a lot… I’ve taken classes here and there.”
In between engineering projects and his studies, Matthew produces a lot of art, and specializes in realistic portraits, experimenting with different mediums.
Bloom was sent an email with a picture of the portrait and the quote, “which is, I don’t think, a question I’ve ever asked my class,” he said. “But I guess it is in the spirit of some things we do in class.” But overall, he found the portrait to be flattering. “It was sweet.”
Matthew is encouraged to do more and is most likely mainly bemused by the attention his boredom-inspired activity has garnered.