Decorating Rooms: The Frosh Experiment

“Let me see the walls of your room, and I will tell you who you are,” a museum curator once told me. With this in mind, I decided to see the walls in frosh dorms, trying to tell who the members of the class of 2004 are, or at least who they want to be.

The task was easy at first: first-years were apt to cover the walls of their rooms with pictures of their families, friends, pets and, not too rarely, almost poster-size pictures of themselves. My friend the curator was right, I thought. After all, people love displaying themselves on their walls. Or, at least, they display what they looked at a certain moment in time.

Yet this was not quite the picture I was hoping to see. So I waited for the first-years to unpack further and there, emerging out of endless piles of suitcases and boxes, came the familiar, cherished urban landscapes and “Got Milk?” ads, along with posters of Brad Pitt, baseball teams and, much to my joy, Winnie the Pooh. Looking at these images helped me get an idea of who it was that people wanted to look like, yet most of the time (especially in the case of Winnie the Pooh) did not resemble even vaguely. Walls were still a little empty but you could already see who put up what in any given double room. Given the size of doubles in the College, Eminem and Christina Aguilera did often end up hanging pretty close to each other, along with maps of states or countries that are quite far apart geographically.

There were free posters available at the Williams College Museum of Art and these quickly became a common presence in many frosh dorms. What does it say about individual identity showing on the walls, I thought, if people keep putting the same posters there? However, having the same poster as someone you have just met is quite advantageous when you are trying to start a conversation. After all, saying, “Oh, you have that poster, too!” is a little less risky than praising the way someone looked on a picture and being told that it was actually their cousin.

Just as everyone was getting used to all the rooms appearing more or less the same, the poster sale in Baxter introduced some artistic variety. Of course, by that time Brad Pitt and the baseball teams had taken up their share of space, but there was fortunately some left for art, too. After the poster sale, a few distinctive types of frosh art collections could be identified. Of these, my favorite is the room of the Monet-Dali fan. This is a room that has many other things on its walls as well, Monet and Dali only making the overall picture more colorful. Placing posters of these two artists together is not exactly bold, but it certainly is a little unexpected. I could not help thinking that one of the two was brought in just to cover “that white spot there” but whether it was Monet or Dali, I would not venture to guess. Perhaps it could be that both do belong next to each other, if we suppose that Dali would illustrate the strangeness and the confusion of one’s first week in college and Monet would represent some of the blissful moments that occur during at the same time.

The room of the Van Gogh-Monet fan does not inspire such interesting interpretations. It is not as colorful and its walls could be seen if one bothered to look. Starry Night by Van Gogh is a very popular choice, and often times has the well-deserved honor of occupying a wall by itself, while elsewhere it is accompanied by a Monet or a Klimt. There is a general feeling of harmony and appreciation for art in such rooms.

Often times, the light tones and the repetitive patterns of Monet’s ever-popular works seem to infuse more space and light into a living space. There are also rooms that reveal a penchant for more abstract art, with some of Kandinsky’s paintings being among the favorites. However, such rooms do not feature more than two posters, as these are hard to place next to Brad Pitt or even close to some cartoon characters.

It’s nice to see that painting has a privileged position in frosh living quarters. Some rooms, on the other hand, reveal a taste for black and white photography, usually accompanied by posters with special messages, like the one with the “Legalize it!” slogan. Other rooms exhibit aliens and smiley/frowning faces that undoubtedly are meant to cheer up your roommate when he or she is about to fall asleep and you are a slave to the urge to make yet another phone call.

Freshmen seem to be doing an intriguing job of revealing their colorful and often contradictory personalities on the walls of their rooms. Perhaps, after a while, the map of their home states or that picture of an ex-boyfriend will disappear to make room for the photograph of a newly-joined team. Or there might even be more blank spots on the wall to show there’s always room for experimentation.