Post Secret

In 1973, Dougles Huebler, dean of the California Institute for the Arts, published a collection of secrets recorded by random people. There were nearly 2,000 secrets recorded in his collection and it was published as part of his Variable Piece series. In 2004, Frank Warren reinvigorated this idea at the Artomatic event in Washington, D.C. His installation, a collection of post cards created by individuals with a secret scrawled on it, was a great success.

In 2005, he moved his continuing project to the Internet, and began publishing Post Secret. The is run as a page and since its launch, has provided new content every Sunday. A standard publication includes 15 to 20 scanned post cards each hand-made or designed by an artist and which includes some kind of secret written on it.

Frank Warren has submission guidelines for his site. Like with other websites we have written up which have submission guidelines like Tapped Magazine or Overclocked Remix, Post Secret asks for honesty, creativity, legibility, and brevity. This allows Warren to have extra control over what he receives, and helps cull the torrents of mail he is said to receive weekly. These guidelines also demonstrate the value placed on artistic integrity, creative talent, and ease of communication. While the vast majority of the postcards that are published are easy to read, some are difficult or have been destroyed by the postal process. This changes the message as intended by the author, but like with all art, the medium can alter than message, and that is part of the artistic process.

Community Art

The kind of secrets written on these cards range from happy declarations to shameful admissions. The secrets and designs on the cards as as wide and unique as the persons submitting them. It is clear that they come from all ages, walks of life, languages, religions, and cultures. Many cards feature Cyrillic or Chinese characters (Russian, Chinese, or Japanese text) and usually come with a translation to English.

Despite these differences, common themes emerge in the secrets. Whether this is a result of Warren’s selection or what is being submitted is unclear. Certainly it is more interesting for his readers to see post cards dealing with adultery or sex versus stealing cookies. Despite this ambiguity, some interesting patterns have emerged in the site’s offerings.

One common theme is that of schadenfreude. This is the German word for “shameful pleasure.” It is a term given to a feeling of elation or joy at the misfortune of others. Some post cards reveal how happy a person is at the death of a despised family member, the failure of a rival, or the romantic blunderings of former lovers. While people would never reveal some of these things in public, this forum allows them to air feelings they are possibly ashamed of, or proud of.

Another recurring item is that of self-image. It says something, clearly, about our culture that so many of the cards published deal with feelings of inadequacy. Many people say that they are too fat or too short. Women speak of their unsightly body hair or small breasts. Men write of their small genitals or self-declared inadequate physique. Our society, America’s in particular, places incredible emphasis on personal appearance, both consciously and subconsciously. This is nothing new or exciting, but to see it seep into the artistic consciousness of our society is compelling and thought provoking.


Most notably, Post Secret lacks any advertising. While some postcards feature brand names, and this could be considered some type of subversive advertising, Frank Warren has not included ads. Novus Literae makes use of Google’s ad service, as well as’s., which is the host for Post Secret, encourages and includes support for Google’s ad service, yet it is not taken advantage of. Other sites with non-profit motives ask for donations outright, usually by using PayPal. Post Secret, again, does not.

This may be because the site itself is a work of art and therefore ads would be inappropriate. Despite this, the site does advertise its companion book collections. Three Post Secret branded collections have been published since 2005, and most recently in 2007. Though this is certainly a form of self-promotion, this cross-promotion is advertising an extension of the original piece. Linked at the bottom of this page are details on latest Post Secret collection.


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    Novus Literae is an ongoing web publication which reexamines film, television, websites, video games, magazines, comic books, and other forms of 'new media' using the canon of literary criticism.
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