Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

West Campus open journals: student connects with strangers through public art

Angelica Ruzanova
Sam Berg’s open journal, a collection of diary page entries, on display at Book People on Sep. 21, 2023.

On a West Campus lamp post facing 24th Street hangs a scan of a diary entry. Handwritten, scattered and covered with sketches and crossed-out words, the taped scan reads: “There’s some deep underlying force of attraction that compels us to want closeness with others.” Bypassers pause to read it, connecting with the anonymous writer.

Radio-television-film senior Sam Berg, the artist behind the @_openjournal_ username tagged on the bottom of the scan, believes art’s purpose lies in being heard. Berg said his taped diary entry is part of a personal project in which he distributes his work in public spaces. 

“The beauty of expression is the ability to know yourself and to be able to show other people what you feel,” Berg said. “If someone can see the page and see what it is, then you can connect more with that person.”

Berg said he posts illustrations on social media and sells art prints in cafes with hopes of making the project a career. Most recently, he displayed his work on the walls of Cherrywood Coffeehouse and BookPeople, he said. 

Local artists can reserve a space to put up their artwork months in advance, according to Emily Klenk, BookPeople cafe’s Assistant Manager. Klenk said artists usually have to wait a year before they see their work on the wall.

“When I first started here, 13 years ago, (the art wall) was already in progress,” Klenk said. “It’s good for community and for people to have an outlet for other people to be able to other people’s views and passions. Whether it’s writing, art, drawing, paint, whatever it is, it created a spark in somebody else, a total stranger.”

The Rio Grande Street market on Saturday evenings makes for another art hub that features Berg’s pen etches next to homemade jewelry and craft vendors. Berg’s friend, biochemistry senior Brinkley Morse, bought two of Berg’s science-fiction illustrations which he said he keeps on his bedroom wall.

“He has a lot of good storytelling in how he prepares the pictures,” Morse said. “Sam explains what he’s thinking when he is drawing, and that provides a different kind of engagement. It’s not an approach I’ve seen very often, or maybe ever.”

Blurring the boundary between public and private, Morse said Berg crafts a conversation between himself and the audience.  

“It’s a dialogue,” Morse said. “You’ve got the artist, and then the art. There’s a gap between them and an even bigger gap between the art and the viewer. Sam’s setting up a pretty intimate dialogue.”

Through the interplay of cartoon and surrealist style, Berg said every time he posts a new drawing, he talks to at least one person about it. 

“It’s nothing crazy, but it is culture,” Berg said. “It’s the simplest thing ever is paper and pen … no one can really take that away from you. This relationship I have with making stuff has been something I really love.” 

Nonetheless, Berg said he embraces the intimacy of letting strangers into his mind. Online or on the streets, he connects with students and the community through art that decorates, starts dialogue and revives public spaces in Austin.  

“Whether on social media or not, it’s the same philosophy: I love doing (art) and will not be afraid about what people say about it,” Berg said. “I make something, show it to you, you feel something — and that is perfect.”

More to Discover