‘You Are Beautiful’ artist tells students not to fear failure


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Designer Matthew Hoffman began the “You Are Beautiful” project in 2002, which has since  spread to every continent. 

By Campus Reporter

Matthew Hoffman, creator of the “You Are Beautiful” project, visited Columbia’s Design Department  in the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building on Nov. 5 for his talk, titled “Putting Yourself Out There.”

Students, faculty and staff heard Hoffman talk about the career he has built from “You Are Beautiful.”

Hoffman has a connection with Columbia. He worked with the school on a project in the Papermaker’s Garden, located at  Wabash Avenue and 8th Street, in February 2014 called “Let’s Be Human To Each Other,” and spoke at the college’s TEDx event in April 2015. 

Hoffman started his work as the “custodian” of the “You Are Beautiful” project in 2002, anonymously posting stickers with the message, “You Are Beautiful” on them throughout his neighborhood. 

Since 2002, Hoffman’s project has generated the posting of 2.5 million stickers on every continent, and the message has been translated into 81 languages, he told the audience. 

Hoffman said the first stickers were printed in the wrong color and the lettering was pixelated. They were not waterproof and did not adhere to where they were stuck.

“There will be things that fail,” Hoffman told students. “You can let these setbacks crush you, or you can learn so much from them. If you stay focused, you will see that each failure is an opportunity.”

Hoffman has also created many public art pieces, including his two latest “You Are Beautiful” pieces in the Chinatown and Englewood neighborhoods.

“There is an adrenaline rush with doing something some might call illegal—I call it sneakingly positive,” Hoffman said. “Each of these pieces has the opportunity to change someone’s world.”

Meg Duguid, the director of Exhibitions and Programming for the School of Fine & Performing Arts, said the committee of faculty members that selects lecture speakers chose Hoffman because his experience as a self-made artist is valuable for students.

“[Hoffman] has made 10 years out of the ‘You Are Beautiful’ campaign, and that is a significant time period for such a simple statement,” Duguid said. “Things do not have to be complicated to be good, and there is value in spending a lot of time with something.” 

Maggie O’Brien, a junior design major who attended the talk, said she learned of Hoffman’s work after seeing one of his stickers on a mailbox a couple years ago.

“I liked how down-to-earth he was,” O’Brien said. “He seemed like a regular guy who wanted to do some good in the world, and I thought that was nice.”

The work Hoffman showed at the talk was interesting and inspiring, said Sophia Bravo, a junior art & art history major.

“I liked that he showed a lot of his pieces,” Bravo said. “I think the concept [of his work] is very nice.”

Hoffman ended by discussing what he called his “biggest accomplishment to date.” At the end of 2014, 44 billboards reading “You Are Beautiful” were put up in Buffalo, New York, for three months.

“I hope I have shown that you never know what will happen when you put yourself out there,” Hoffman said to students. “The key is getting your ideas out of your head and out of your sketchbook and out of that documents folder and getting them into the world.”