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What Is Mail Art?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2014
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Mail art is artwork created specifically to travel by regular postal mail service, with the artwork often placed on either a postcard or envelope, but the medium can also include a package. A related type of contemporary art, called artistamps, is the practice of designing art in the size and shape of a postage stamp, not to replace the real stamp but to decorate an envelope alongside the real stamp. Artists who participate in mail art can create their pieces by painting, drawing, rubberstamping or printmaking. They can make a collage or employ other methods to create their artwork.

There are two different beliefs concerning when mail art was created. One camp believes the art form began with artist Marcel Duchamp, who sent off a batch of his personally created postcards in 1916. The other camp says art mail was first conceived by another artist, Ray Johnson, in the 1950s, when he mailed his artwork, including collages. Following Ray Johnson’s mailing, an informal group of artists formed to do the same with their artworks, sending them through the mail, and they were called the New York Correspondence School of Art. About two decades after Ray Johnson’s first mail art was delivered by the postal service, the art form gained popularity following a Whitney Museum of American Art exhibit. Showings and mailings of mail art grew in numbers, and magazines began to write about it, further spreading the word.

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The art form, sometimes written "mailart," is showcased in a powerful project called Post Secret, which publishes new examples on the Internet every Sunday morning. People send the site postcards with their secrets written on them in a limited number of words, accompanied by their own personal artwork. Unlike traditional mail art where the artists mail their creations to many different people, the artists who send their creations to Post Secret send them only to the site’s founder, Frank Warren, with the hope of being published. Along their postal journey, however, these small pieces of art are much like other mail art in that everyone who handles or comes in contact with the postcards gets to see and read them.

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Is there any difference between web-based e-mail or ordinary e-mail?

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