The initial concept for this exhibit was not secrets. Well, not really. Wilson, the ECI instructor, told us that our concept had to be well-developed, simple enough to remember, and powerful enough to make people interested. I originally started this project wanting to highlight the work of graphic storytellers like Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, and Ellen Forney.
I liked the way that they each used an art form that is often disregarded as childish (cartoons and graphic novels) to discuss heavier topics. I’ve always been drawn to graphic novels and online webcomics as I love illustrative art forms. I believe that illustration lends itself well to telling “hard” stories. I wonder if the medium softens the blow? Or if it reminds us of a time when our stories were simpler? Illustrated memoirs evoke feelings of empathy within me. They also evoke appreciation for the brave storyteller.
Wilson had me drill down the concept from “graphic artists telling personal stories” to “storytelling” and “bringing stories into the light.” I started my rough concept proposal with this:
It is not easy for us to discuss what we find dark or difficult in our lives. It takes a brave soul to admit they feel weak. When we bring our truth and our stories out of the darkness and into the light, we take a risk in sharing them with others. However, the reward for taking that risk can be great. Our story may reflect another person’s experiences. Our stories may cause people to stop and think. When we share our stories courageously, we ask (and hope) that others will treat us with kindness. In turn, we also learn from the stories of the people living around us. We can become better people by listening to what they have to say, seeing what they do with their story, and feeling for them as they have felt for us.
Wilson and Anna gave me great feedback and asked me to drill down even further to the center of the concept. What was it? Why did I find this topic so compelling? I did a lot of soul searching and I started identifying artwork that spoke to me. I noticed the theme of “secrets” emerge and I rolled it around in my head like an anxious person might worry a stone in their hand. Once I found the art that fit the theme, I needed to refine the concept and I kept coming up short. Nothing was sitting with me just right.
I started drawing idea webs and trying to find common threads among words popping up for me. I printed the artwork, pasted it on to 3’ x 5’ cards and carried them around with me. I taped them to the walls, color coded them, and made tape lines between any pieces that correlated to me. I found myself saying this often: “Secrets can Transform You” and “Secrets can Connect You” or “Secrets can Isolate You” and I changed my perspective. Instead of focusing on what the outcome or end-result of having a secret is, I’d focus on “Secrets Can…”
I know people are torn on ellipses. I tend to use them a lot in my own writing because I write in a way that mimics my speaking voice and a sentence will often trail off as my brain considers something new before the old thought was fully developed. I like it for the title and concept of the exhibit because it is almost like a “fill in the blank.” Secrets - and the act of sharing or keeping them - mean different things to different people.
Some of the art is of individuals clearly stifling something. Some of it is of people being changed. Some of it is of people being released. Some of it is of a group where all share a secret or just one has the secret. I’m interested in the human experience of secrets. I’m also hoping that the message people leave with is: we’ve all experienced them, we all have them, and we’re each dealing with our own struggles on a daily basis.
It comes back to the graphic novels I like and how I feel about storytelling. Everyone is working through something in their lives. Sometimes we need to keep that in mind when we get frustrated with people who cut us off in traffic or don’t come through on a project or cancel plans at the last minute. So for me, Secrets Can… is like a reminder to be empathetic and means: Secrets Can Connect Us. What does Secrets Can… mean for you?
Until next time,