Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mail Art - The Impulse to Embellish

Earlier this week I wrote about a 20th-21st century mail art exhibit at the Pasadena Armory. I love the creativity, energy and unexpectedness of mail art. In the early days of the mail art movement many of the creators were inspired by the Dadaists and had a rather provocative approach. Some were expressing an anti-gallery philosophy. They were tired of what they perceived to be the establishment dictating what was art, and perhaps their exclusion from that world. The art they created, and the art exhibited in the recent Armory show, was full of vitality and expressiveness.

There is a different category of mail art – actually my favorite – a gentler expression of I am an artist. It’s who I am: I can’t not decorate this letter, this envelope, this postcard.

There are exciting sketchbooks left by da Vinci and Toulouse-Lautrec and other great artists, but also intriguing is the art that has been preserved on the correspondence of other artists and writers. Perhaps these sketches describe the view outside a holiday rental, or what they saw before them in a café. They may have been doodling to amuse themselves, or to entertain a child. But I believe the main reason for their illustrating letters was that the paper before them was blank, they had a pen, and they were artists.

They simply had to.


  1. How interesting! Having experienced it personally, I knew about the impulse to embellish - but I never knew there was a mail art movement! Such a lovely tradition. Too bad we can't embellish email the same way.

  2. I believe there IS email mail art! But I'm more a fan of the snail-mail, get-it-in-the-mail-box, keep-it-for-posterity kind.

  3. Your explanation of the early days of the mailart movement clears up something I've been confused about. Having gotten into the world of mailart through a Japanese folk art called Etegami, I didn't even know about the Western mailart tradition until recently.

  4. Thank you, Debbie, for introducing me to Etegami. I enjoyed exploring your blogs, and I'll be back to visit again!