Art through a Different Lens

Imagine your life as a blank canvas. As time passes, more colors and designs combine—some bad, some good—but in the end a beautiful masterpiece is created that is unique to every person.

When most people think about art, their first thought is not usually about camouflage, but for Roy Behrens, a professor of art and distinguished scholar, it is a different story. He has a long-term interest in the relationship between art, design and “fooling the eye.”

Roy Behrens
"By studying camouflage, we might get better at knowing when someone is lying to us, whether politics or marketing. In a democracy, it’s critical for us to know when we are being bamboozled."

“My research of camouflage grew out of my interest in art and design, but it has practical origins too. Our society is increasingly vulnerable to sinister misinformation. Through old and new technologies, we are hopelessly bombarded with falsehoods and deceptions. By studying camouflage, we might get better at knowing when someone is lying to us, whether politics or marketing,” Behrens said. “In a democracy, it’s critical for us to know when we are being bamboozled.”

Behrens first came to UNI in 1964, when he won an art scholarship for his undergraduate degree. After completing his degree, he taught high school briefly, but was drafted in to the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Once out of the service, he entered graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, and following that taught graphic design, illustration and design history at art schools and universities across the country. But he jumped at the chance to come back to UNI in 1990 when he learned about the opportunity to revitalize the graphic design program in the Department of Art.

“I’ve taught for more than 45 years, but I’ve had the best years of my life at UNI. I especially enjoy working with beginning students because I love to introduce them to the breathtaking smartness of graphic design,” Behrens said. “The process begins with a blank page, but it turns into a complex ingenious result. It’s unforgettable to watch a beginning student, in his or her first graphic design class, create an astonishing, magical form.”

In addition to teaching, Behrens has published numerous books, essays and blog articles, and frequently gives lectures all around the U.S., and in the U.K., Canada and Australia. He has also designed books, and illustrated short stories and poetry. His latest book, titled “Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie,” has ranked among the Top Ten Best Selling Books on Frank Lloyd Wright on Amazon for more than a year.

Behrens will be retiring and teaching his last semester next December, but he will continue to write, design and lecture daily. “After retirement,” he added, “I may be better able to help beliefs and causes I admire. Research, writing and design are always difficult (painfully so), and yet they rarely feel like work because of the pleasurable feeling that comes from doing them well.”

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