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Secret Artist: Ferris Bueller – From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

ferris-bueller-secret-artistNew York, NY – Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some of our favorite characters in film may hold down day jobs.  They may be students, professors, doctors, or lawyers by trade, but secretly they are artists.  Whether they say so on screen or not, it resonates with us.  I can spot a fellow artist in a crowd, as well as in film.  Watch as Artiholics salutes some of your favorite film characters for the secret artists they really are, but would most likely never claim to be.

ferrisFerris Bueller is an artist.  A multidisciplinary artist in fact.

He made it not only cool for teenagers to like sports, dating cheerleaders, and driving flashy cars;  but also to make art, act, sing, play musical instruments, and understand computers.  On top of all that, he made it OK for teenagers to appreciate fine art, design, fashion, and architecture.

15For a generation recently becoming addicted to a new medium (Mtv, Music Videos) , he helped form a bridge between the perceived elitist fine art Museum world, and the dawning digital computer aided drawing age.

1617A high school senior in a upper-middle class Chicago suburb, Ferris Bueller is the prototypical epitome of cool. As the Dean’s secretary Grace pointed out, he’s very popular.  “The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — They all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”

Having already taken 8 sick days (day’s off) this semester, his 9th (and most likely final) day of skipping school is just beginning so he wants to make the best of it.  He’s on the verge of having to repeat the grade if he were to get caught, but as he says “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?”, after all “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you can miss it.”

[youtube width=”500″ height=”300″]HbR7axof1wk[/youtube]

So what would the coolest kid in school do on his final High School skip day before he is off to enter the real world?   You might not have really thought about it, but a lot of his day was spent pursuing artistic ventures.

Viewing and experiencing art, architecture, design, performance art, audio visual art, building art installations, hair sculpting, creating digital art, designing interactive audio art pieces, wearing various fashions (more than 15 looks in one day), performing a live on-the-fly foley art mixing, improvisationally impersonating various people, filming a “how to” YOUtube video in a pre-YOUtube world, and headlining two vocal cover songs in a large scale concert – twenty three years before Glee.

Not your typical teenager’s fantasy day off.

Let’s break this down A Day In The Life of the Artist & Art World Maven otherwise known as Ferris Bueller, shot by shot.


After his parents are convinced he’s sick Ferris sits up. “They bought it!” On the wall behind the head of his bed are some posters of slightly obscure master artworks. Interesting choices and totally above and beyond what most high school art classes ever touch upon.

Fashion #1: Blue and brown blanket.

The top black and white image is  photo of the sculpture “The Kiss” by Rodin.

The lower piece is a self portrait of French Impressionist painter Frédéric Bazille.


The film starts with Ferris Bueller tricking his parent’s into believing he’s sick with a feat of acting and slight of hand stage craft.  “Incredible, one of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second.” he says post performance, addressing the camera directly.   In this shot you also notice behind him hang a pair of boxing gloves, and what looks to be a (foreshadowing) catcher’s mask on the top of the door to his closet.  The American flag is also hung on the wall the opposite way of how it’s supposed to hang for some reason (the union is supposed to be on the left).

Fashion #2: Red & gray striped robe, white t-shirt.


As he sets up the audio for the music he wants to listen to we notice the monitor on the left is a closed-circuit camera feed shooting the chair in his room (with the horse head painted on it).  The sound system and recording / film editing equipment he’s working with is state-of-the art for the time.

19In the next shots Ferris takes a seat in front of the camera, documenting his step-by-step explanation of how to convince your parent’s you are sick, all the while he is creating a slipknot, and building what we will later see is part of an elaborate Rube Goldberg esque interactive piece of installation art.  36He loops the end of the string around a basketball trophy (thus indicating he is also good at sports, basketball, jumping, aiming a ball, etc.).

20Behind him on the left is an electric guitar on a stand, and on the right is an empty tripod, indicating that he not only also plays guitar but also is a photographer.  The window curtains also seem to be made out of a parachute which has been cut in half, probably implying that he has parachuted before and is not afraid of heights.


“The key to faking out the parents is the Clammy Hands, it’s a good non-specific symptom, I’m a big believer in it…You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over moaning and whaling, you lick your palms.  It’s a little childish and stupid, but then again, so is High School.” Ferris Bueller, in a step-by-step breaking down of description of how to create the illusion of clammy hands.


Ferris takes a shower while styling his hair into a British punk-esque faux hawk while doing a bit of foreshadow-singing Danka Shoen into the shower handle, in between talking about the European Fascism test he would be missing by skipping school.

Fashion #3: Naked with faux hawk.


It’s not that I condone fascism or any ‘ism’ for that matter. Ism’s, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an ‘ism,’ he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: ‘I don’t believe in Beatles. I just believe in me.’ A good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off of people.”

Fashion #4: Red towel, white turban.


Ferris chills by the pool, before going back inside to hack into the high school’s computer, because every 17-year-old could do that in 1986.

Fashion #5: Sunglasses in hair, shirtless with Jams Shorts, and leather strapped sandals, no socks.

24Dean of students Ed Rooney talks to Ferris’ mom about his bad attendance record, and the possibility of holding him back another year.  Ferris slips inside, changing his attendance record in real time from 9 to 2 missed days, while changing his clothes.

26Notice that the school computers are green screen, while Ferris has an IBM 5150 with a Intel 8088 processor and a color monitor.   When coding it’s amber type on black screen.

The hacking is a feat that isn’t really dwelled upon, but in reality, if the option was having a high school diploma in 1986, or flunking out (or dropping out) with the programming ability as a 17-year-old to be able to navigate complex code enough to hack computers and alter databases over the primitive internet of 1986, you would pretty much be guaranteed a job at any software engineering firm in the country.  Might as well take a few more days off.

“I asked for a car, I got a computer.  How’s that for being born under a bad sign.”

Fashion #6: Blue collared shirt, white t-shirt.


He then takes a floppy disk with the sounds of coughing and vomiting, loads that into his digital piano keyboard, connects that into his sound system converting it from playing music into a digital soundboard, and while talking to some freshman on a school payphone he plays the vomit and cough sounds by pressing various corresponding keys to simulate his sickness.

Fashion #7: Green Hawaiian shirt, black & green striped pants, green Converse “Chucks”, white tube socks.


After performing his sick sound effects to trick his fellow classmates, he plays a bit of Johann Strauss II – The Blue Danube Waltz in programmed coughs and wretches.


At this point Ferris is on the phone with Cameron again, trying to convince him that Cameron needs to man-up, get in his piece-of-shit car, and pick him up.  He also reiterates hat it’s his 9th sick day, and if he gets caught, he won’t graduate.  This is an important plot point, or they wouldn’t keep bringing it up, although Rooney pretty much bumbles his way through the film never coming near to Ferris, Sloane or Cameron, it makes for a funny & slapstick subplot.

Fashion #8: White T-shirt, blue jeans, white belt, green socks, black and red sneakers.

2He says all of this while left-handedly using a mouse and a primitive 11 swatch paint program to recreate a perfect flipped version of a Amedeo Modialiani’s Reclining Nude.

Amedeo Modigliani. Reclining Nude 1
Amedeo Modigliani. Reclining Nude 1

Creating art with the left hand is a sure sign of a right brain thinking artist.

3This has to be one of the first examples of a digital illustrator shown creating art in film history, and the fact that he’s recreating a famous old master painting in pixel form is doubly cool.

Kids watching will most likely just see that he’s haphazardly computer doodling a naked woman, thus validating that it is a stupid gizmo his parent’s got him which is only good for drawing porn and hacking, and instead should have gotten him the car he actually wanted.

4But the fact that he’s actually recreating a flipped version of a masterpiece left handed with a mouse is an artistic feat.


Although Ferris knows full well he can’t play the clarinet, he knows he can pull off the jazz musician look, he dresses up like this just to fuck around and imagine himself a jazz player.

Fashion #9: Gray hat, blue undershirt.


After putting on a nice suit and tie, Ferris and Cameron head over to Cameron’s dad’s private garage to “borrow” his vintage Ferrari.

Fashion #10: Gray Suit.


After putting on a nice suit and tie, Cameron and Ferris take Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari to the school.  Ferris throws a trench coat and fisherman’s hat over the suit to impersonate Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane’s father.  They boost Sloane from school without much effort, and what is perceived to Mr. Rooney as a quasi-incestuous kiss.

Fashion #11: Gray Suit, beige trench coat, fisherman’s hat, sunglasses.


I always thought Ferris resembled Inspector Gadget in this trench.  So did the eventual production team who made the film version of Inspector Gadget years later.



The three head to the city proper now wearing driving caps, berets and sun glasses.   Ferris has also changed from his suit (which he apparently only put on to initially sit in the Ferrari).  The others must have just sat around while he changed outfits because they are still in their same wardrobe.

Fashion #12: Black, gray, & white leather jacket, leopard print vest, white t-shirt, jeans, sunglasses, beret, black socks, white sneakers.


After warily parking the car in a garage they head for the Sears tower, to marvel at the city’s architecture.

Fashion #13: Black, gray, & white leather jacket, leopard print vest, white t-shirt, jeans, black socks, white sneakers

41Sloane: “The city looks so peaceful from up here.”

40Ferris: “Anything’s peaceful from 1,353 feet.”



32 33



Meanwhile, back at home Ferris’ mom stops in to check on him only to be tricked by the Rube Goldberg inspired art installation which mimics Ferris asleep in bed, down to the slight movement and synthetic snoring.  We saw the beginnings of him constructing this contraption when while he was giving the instructions on how to fake-out your parents in to believing you are sick.

34To the right of the door is a Renaissance era painting of what looks to be King Henry VIII.  On the far left is a black and white photo of the sculpture “Kiss” by Rodin.    We see by the Cabaret Voltaire poster, as well as the Union Jack on the door, letting us know that Ferris is into other British bands besides The Beatles and The Who.


The next  part of their adventure takes them to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  Not to interact or learn anything,  just to observe adults in their working world, from behind glass.  Like monkeys in a zoo.  They watch life as though it was a play, or performance art.  Cameron mimics and parodies the various buying and selling gestures of the day traders.  So far this would be like a New Yorker going to the top of the Empire State Building, and then directly to the New York Stock Exchange.  Two very touristy things to do, but hey, he is the coolest kid in school, so he knows best.

The three then venture to a gourmet French Restaurant for a high class dining experience where they con their way through a series of group misdirection and improv exercises, into seats where they enjoy some pancreas at Chez Luis for a near miss with Ferris’ dad.

47Meanwhile Mr. Rooney heads to the local Pizza joint where he assumes he will run into Ferris playing video games only to get a spitball of soda from a female model who looks like Ferris from behind in one of his 10 outfits so far in this film, amazingly it happens to be the exact same outfit that appeared on camera most recently.  A smart guess for a place for Ferris to be while playing hookie, but huge coincidence on the outfit similarities.  4849

Ferris on the other hand is at a Cubs home game, and catches a foul ball.  He catches it bare handed with his right hand, which makes sense for a lefty, as lefties wear their mitt on their right hand.

50But strangely when we close in on them Ferris thinks he may have broke his left thumb.  Makes no sense.

Fashion #14: Leopard print vest, white t-shirt,jeans, black socks, white sneakers.


Ed Rooney determined to prove Ferris isn’t sick visits Ferris’ home.  Ferris has rigged (in a masterful feat of audio engineering) the doorbell to trigger a tape recorder to play a prerecorded message, designed to create the illusion that he’s too sick to answer the door.



While Rooney tries and fails to gain entry to the Bueller estate, the trio visit the Art Institute of Chicago, and a beautiful art montage unlike any other in the history of cinema plays out.  Here is the scene with voice over by the film’s writer / director the late & great John Hughes.

6 5

910We see in this scene that Ferris and friends almost revert to childhood with the wonder they experience. . . by seeing some of the greatest masterpieces of the world in living color.

sculptureThis inspired a “mimic the statue” moment from me and the other groomsmen at a wedding this summer.


ferrisThis scene also features 4 second tripod steady holds on paintings, which in movie time is insane.  Featuring the pieces below.

7In speaking of the end shot in this sequence John Hughes talks about Cameron being transfixed on George Seurat’s pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” which was the centerpiece for the Sondheim play Sunday In The Park With George.

8I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie, the pointillist style… You don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it. … The more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him, the less you see.” John Hughes

59Marc Chagall’s  “America Window, 1977”.

69Which I would imagine has since become an iconic make-out spot ever since the famous Ferris and Sloane backlit silhouetted kiss.


Ferris crashes the Von Steuben Day Parade and lip-synch croons his heart out to Danka Shoen and the Beatles version of Twist & Shout.

12He did it not a moment too soon, because his brother and sister were about to disappear from that photo.

Fashion #15 Leopard print vest, white t-shirt,jeans, hair gelled up, black socks, white sneakers.

61After being escorted away from the float Cameron and Sloane wander and talk about their futures.  They walk right under “Flamingo,” a 53-foot tall red steel sculpture by Alexander Calder.

“Flamingo” sculpture in front of the Kluczynski Federal building

After the parade they get the car out of the garage.

67Cameron soon realizes that there are almost 175 extra miles on the odometer.  Shocked he goes into a near catatonic state.  Sloane and Ferris try to get him to respond.  They encourage him to join them in the hot tub, but he just tumbles lifelessly into the deep end of the pool.  Afraid that Cameron has given up on life Ferris dives in after him.

68Ferris pulls Cameron to the surface only to find out that Cameron is alive and well, and laughing at him.  It seems Cameron has been baptized by the experiences of the day, and the dunk in the pool pushed him into his next stage of realization, that there are things in life worth living for.  Angry that Cameron made him look like an idiot, Ferris pushes Cameron and Sloane into the pool.

Fashion #16 Snow Leopard print shorts.

62They take the car back to Cameron’s dad’s garage.  For the first time Cameron and Sloane are wearing different clothes while Ferris has remained in the same outfit.  After realizing that putting the Ferrari on a jack and running it at high speeds in reverse isn’t rolling the odometer back, Cameron in pure frustration kicks the front of the car in.


What comes next, well. . .

if you haven’t seen it, you have to watch it for yourself.

And remember, if you are a student at Ferris’ school…

55Submission deadline for the Art Magazine is May 1st!

Written by Cojo “Art Juggernaut”

THIS ARTICLE WAS INSPIRED BY: I was at the gym yesterday and in the Retro Theatre they were playing the classic John Hughes1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  One of the few 80s movies I have probably seen over 10 times, so I ended up prolonging my cardio punching regime to an hour and a half, rather than the usual 38 minutes, in order to see the entire film. I realized a few things upon the dozenth viewing that I might not have otherwise caught- this forced me to really break it down. 

Written by
Cojo Art Juggernaut

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Artiholics, Art Sucks, and the soon to be launched podcast Artist In Repose, Cojo "Art Juggernaut" (Colin C. Jorgensen) is a NYC based artist, art writer, and occasional photographer.

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