Postsecret brings community art to Whitman Campus

Sean McNulty

Credit: Carrie Sloane

On Sunday, Feb. 6, notes were posted in Stevens Gallery at Reid Campus Center. “I’m superficial,” read one. Another: “I’m not mature.” These notes were posted, but not written, by gallery curator senior Liz Hockett. They were sent to her anonymously as part of a community art project running through the end of the month entitled PostSecret.

The idea behind the PostSecret gallery is simple. If someone has a secret they want to share, they grab a blank note card from the gallery and write their thoughts down in simple script or with creative decorations. Participants then send their secrets anonymously by campus mail to Hockett, who tapes the secret up in Stevens.

Originally, the gallery was inspired by the PostSecret “community mail art project” started by Frank Warren in 2005. What started as a blog with 10 new secrets every Sunday ballooned into five published books and speaking engagements on various college campuses. A mail brochure advertising a talk by Warren inspired the Stevens installation.

The artistry of the event comes not only from the presentation of the secrets on the note card, but also the idea of publicized secrets itself. The baring of one’s soul reflects the difficult creation of honest art. PostSecret allows anyone, not just artists, to express themselves in direct and intimate ways.

“I think a secret is kind of like someone’s art,” said Hockett. “If you are an artist yourself, to put something that you created and put like love and time into onto a wall: it’s something very scary.”

The brief, modest cards evoke the casual intimacy of graffiti on a bathroom stall. Hockett, however, has never had to deal with an inappropriate submission.

“I guess because it’s such a … personal thing, and they’re all personal secrets [it has not been a problem],” she said. “I don’t think that anyone would take this as an opportunity to be obscene.”

So far, every secret that she’s received has gone up. Unlike a bathroom wall, PostSecret goes beyond simple shock value, which gives both secret-givers and viewers a cathartic experience.

“Anonymity brings truth,” said Hockett. “It takes away the fear of putting that secret up there.”

In past years secrets have covered the venue wall-to-wall. The postcards of the past are kept together in a “drawer of secrets”: a massive archive of 3 x 5 sentiments.

First-year Emma Mannheimer views many of the secrets as trite and saccharine.
“I think people just try and romanticize love through it,” she said. “One of the ones in the art gallery [states] ‘I’ve never been in love.’ Okay, you’re probably 19. How many 19-year-olds have been in love?”

It’s easy to read through the secrets and pick out the general trends that Mannheimer lampoons: many or most of the secrets deal with sexuality, insecurity and relationships: both romantic and platonic.

Hockett recalled a few secrets that stood out to her.

“The ones that are most surprising are the little funny ones,” said Hockett, “just because they’re not in that vein of frustrations or insecurities.”

One card carries its message inside a crude pencil outline of male genitalia. Another confesses a secret about boogers.

Hockett believes, however, that the overarching idea behind the PostSecret event involved the communal impact of publicized secrets rather than individual talent or particularly memorable secrets.

“Maybe individual secrets don’t stick in your mind,” she said. “I think the grander idea you get out of this is that everyone does have secrets and it’s okay to have secrets and that displaying them is kind of empowering … maybe you see people with the same issues you’re dealing with.”