What On Earth Is Mail Art?
Updated on July 27, 2010
As a rampant mail artist, I hear this question often: “What on Earth is mail art?”. Don’t over-think it; mail art describes a variety of art forms that are meant to be sent or exchanged through the mail. Generally, this includes art forms such as artistamps, envelope art, postcards, copy art, and increasingly, artist trading cards.
Mail art can be exchanged between artists, sent to random strangers, or created for a mail art call which requests all items be sent to a single location for display in exchange for documentation. Documentation can be as simple as a list of participating artists and the location where the exhibit was held, or can consist of copies of works contributed.
A few of the rules of the mail art culture:
- No money is to exchange hands.
- Mail art is freely given, with no expectation of anything in return.
- No judgements are made about the artwork. It just is what it is.
- Once the envelope is dropped into the mail, forget about it.
There are several places online where mail art is being practiced in various forms:
Postcrossing is a good place to practice random mail art. Once you’ve registered, request postcard ID, and a random name and address will appear. Mail something to that person, and eventually, someone will mail something to you.
Swap-bot has all sorts of random mail art exchanges going on, along with swaps of all types. This is a good place for beginners to get started.
In the past, Nervousness.org was perhaps the most prolific place to engage in various types of mail art exchanges. Although the site is still active through its forums, it is a shadow of what it once was. I miss the old Nervousness.
Art Forty-Two was started by some former Nervousness members. Although the site is small, it has been growing steadily. It’s relatively easy to either join a mail art swap or host one there.