Hiding the Instructor in Artwork – Academic Practical Joke/Tradition


“So, every single student in our major… track… thing, has this one infamous class with one infamous instructor. And so, as tradition, people would try to hide this instructor’s face or photo in their artwork, and we had students who got reported by this teacher for having them in their artwork. Like there’s somebody who made like a, room, and like hid a portrait in the corner – just that instructor on there. And we also had people who made brushes of this instructor’s face and painted art with it.”


The teller is an undergraduate student attending an art college in Southern California. Her name and her major and school are omitted for the sake of privacy, given the nature of the practical joke. She is currently in her third semester at the school. As the teller notes, this folk tradition has risen specifically within the major cohort due to the fact that every student of the major must take two classes with the specific professor in order to graduate. 


The foundation for this tradition, like many other jokes, comes from the entertainment of playing around and engaging with the taboo – in this case, specifically around the threatening of an authority figure. The level of tabooness is further increased not only by the uptight nature of the teacher, but also the real consequences of getting caught, given past records of the teacher reporting students and also the weight of the class in completing the student’s degrees. There’s an additional level of entertainment that comes from the specific power dynamics of student teacher as well; in using hiding the teacher’s likeness in their art assignments for the class, the students subvert the role of their work from something completed in subordination to a tool used to hold some influence and semblance of control over the teacher. The tradition thus demonstrates that this particular instructor’s authority is in flux in spite of the strictness that he carries himself and his class with. 

There is a certain aspect of play that comes from not only finding new, innovative ways to properly hide the teacher’s likeness in their artwork, in a manner that is undetectable to the instructor but noticeable to other students, but also from trying to find out how fellow students have managed to do so.