I talk to myself a lot. Full-blown conversations. Before you think I have forayed into unlicensed madness, consider this: what do you not know about those around you? Secrets are powerful. Big or small, bad or good, they all represent an integral part of our identities. For one man, accidental artist Frank Warren, what began as an inspired idea to be shown in a small-town exhibition spiralled into the iconic 21st century phenomenon that we know today as PostSecret.
Warren himself is vague about where his inspiration for such a project came from. He began leaving blank postcards in books, on benches, indeed anywhere he could, tentatively hoping for enough responses to fill the exhibit. But, sure enough, being something that everyone has, the secrets just kept on coming. On January 1st 2005, a website, stark in its rejection of advertising, became a home for these newly hatched secrets. Book compilations of some of the most notable entries have brought them to an even wider audience, and Warren himself has invested significant amounts of time, money and emotion into furthering and managing the project. Helping as they did him to confront a secret of his from his youth, Warren has used PostSecret to increase awareness of mental health issues. That said, he certainly doesn’t believe that our secrets are demonstrative of our mental fragility; he notes that they “unite us with others … They’re sometimes the most humanistic part of us”.
There are just two rules: the secret must be true, and one you have never told before. Those depicted vary from humourously misanthropic observations about modern life through to those of a far more revelatory, dramatic nature. No subject is taboo, a quality which has led many to scribble down even their darkest, illegal secrets, revelling in the anonymity and catharsis provided by pen and postcard. Aesthetically speaking, the pieces submitted reflect the diverse, cross-societal nature of their authors – a wide range of artistic influences can be observed, from kitschy, pop culture references to original compositions. Many often incorporate (or even more often desecrate) icons we see throughout our daily lives; contributors find their only limits being the size of the card, this even being overcome in the well-noted, “I give decaf to customers who are rude to me,” written on that great paean to consumer culture – the Starbucks cupholder.
So just think, the next time you curse someone who has wronged you under your breath, or even just the next time it was really you who drank the last of the milk, pop it down on a piece of paper. As Picasso said, “there’s an artist in all of us”. And as Warren, the master of the secrets himself said “courage is the best colour on the palate”.