Johnson, Galen [faculty advisor, Department of Philosophy
philosophy; art; expressive; experiment; secrets
In November 2004, as a whimsical break from his monotonous job, Frank Warren decided he would start a small art project in his community. This idea, which he entitled “PostSecret,” involved leaving blank post cards in various public locations that simply asked to “Share a Secret” and listed a few guidelines. Frank’s goal was to “create this non-judgmental, safe place where people could feel comfortable sharing parts of their lives that they've never told a soul.” What he expected to be a small result became a weekly blog, five published books, a traveling art gallery, and a lecture series given at various colleges. What sort of characteristics could this unique project possess that would create such exponential growth?
One reason for such a large following seems to be related to the cathartic nature of PostSecret. According to numerous emails that Frank posts on his blog, this healing process affects both the maker of the cards and the follower of the project. Could this positive result stem from a traditional mode of therapy, namely psychoanalysis? This model seems dis-analogous, in part, because psychoanalysis requires an experienced therapist to uncover unconscious conflict, yet those who reveal secrets are conscious of what is causing them pain and are able to decipher it as such. PostSecret requires a theory that recognizes individual awareness and self-realization, and one such theory can be found in existential psychotherapy. Some of the main theorists of interest are Jean-Paul Sartre, Viktor Frankl, Emmy van Deurzen, and Irvin Yalom. After analyzing the current literature on the implications of revealing secrets in a social context, it is evident that sending cards into PostSecret appeals to the self-realizing process that existential psychotherapy identifies, and this might help explain why what was once a community art project has transformed into a worldwide phenomenon.
In addition to this paper, I have also recreated Frank Warren’s original project using a grant from the Undergraduate Research Initiative, jointly sponsored by the Honors Program and the URI Vice President for Research. With the help of the Union Express mailroom along with some friends, over 1500 blank postcards (similar to what Frank Warren used as an original template) were distributed in random mailboxes and across “high traffic” areas on campus. To this date, about 50 highly artistic and creative cards have been collected by the mailroom with a few still coming in each week. The cards have touched on topics concerning dissatisfaction with life choices in college, body image, sex, and relationship fracture.