Mixing it Up, Paying it Forward
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Mixing it Up, Paying it ForwardHealthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
Once in a while, a natural (and oftentimes economic as well as political) catastrophe increases the public awareness of the inequalities that exist in the world. There are artists who are aware perhaps all the time, and base their work on subjects that they feel deserve more attention, like slave labor, corporate exploitation, and political prisoners, for just a few examples. But whatever the painting subject, or styles, theme, or media, the aim of any art remains: to connect. It's admirable when it manages to connect across cultures, time, income levels, and distance.
With the Internet, art now connects over distances more than ever. A literal world of art is accesible at one's desk, at any time of the day, no traveling required. While there is plenty of art that isn't on the Internet, what is online could satiate anyone's curiosity for a long time!
Online art surfing, like online shopping, does save greenhouse gases and fuel needed to travel to look at art. But art (except for digital art) can also lose its physical power when viewed on our screens. For one, an art piece's size becomes limited by its digital representation and the size of the viewer's screen. Color and brightness of the screen can vary. Online, you do not get to touch tactile works that invite touching, or explore the space and presence of 3-dimensional sculptures. And sometimes, the art you want to experience just isn't for sale, and may be too far away.
Enter mail art. I was participating in mail art for fun before the Internet, and before I knew it had a name!
What is mail art?
It's art (usually small) made to be sent through the postal service. Postal stamps and postmarks sometimes become part of the art. In some mail-art campaigns, the results look like a stamp collector, scrapbook enthusiast, historian, and art collector got together to create the ultimate artifact! Sometimes the art travels on and on, passed from artist to artist leaving their mark on one piece. Sometimes the mail art from one artist just has one destination. Who gets to finally keep it? Usually, the person who started the campaign. Some mail art campaigns are run by galleries setting up a show on mail art. Some are run by charities and hospitals either soliciting art for fundraising, or to decorate children's wards, or to present to young and underprivileged, sometimes to terminally-ill persons, as gifts. It's art, physical art, connecting the way it used to be!
What mail art isn't: Art that's being delivered to a buyer, an agent, a publisher, or anyone promising to pay you for it. The receiver does not know in advance what exactly you're sending, or at least, what it looks like. It may sounds a little like an Artist Trading Card, except an ATC (with no money changing hands) would actually just be a small part that falls under the mail art umbrella. Anyone can start a mail-art campaign, and it's up to an artist to choose which they would like to participate in, if any. While there are campaigns in which you don't get to see where your mail art goes, and what other mail art reached the campaign, there are increasingly more campaigns that will scan all entries/donations and put them online. Link backs are given when possible.
How mail art is green: While posting art takes more fuel than running a computer, mail delivery of goods even over 1,000 miles uses as little as 1/10th of the fuel it would take you to go to a mall 20 minutes away and back. That makes a real impact, considering transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of world energy use and 95 percent of global oil consumption. (Keep this in mind when getting your art supplies!) Some mail-art campaigns are also specifically for raising awareness of environmental causes, and may present artist challenges, like using only reused materials to create the artwork.
And mail art is just cool. It's a mind-broadening and educational experience exchanging letters and art with people who may not even speak your language. Mail-art.org actually provides translations because so many mail-art calls are in languages other than English. (In the early 1990s, I had up to 10 international penpals from Europe, Africa, North America, and South America before I had the Internet. Letters, art, gifts, and music tapes were exchanged freely. All that sensory experience from my mailbox still beats the Internet!)
Craftivism, art and activism
Combine crafting and activism and you get... craftivism. Art/craft activism and mail art aren't really in the same circles online, which is a bit of a shame especially when it's obvious where they often overlap. Craftivism can in many cases be less frivolous than some "for fun" mail art campaigns (A Fishy Requisite being my favorite). Blankets and clothing are necessities in parts of the world, and some craftivist causes, like Afghans for Afghans are specific in what they need and where the donations are going. If knitting, sewing, or crocheting aren't in your skill set, you can still find organizations soliciting art donations either online or your local newspaper.
There is also the more autonomous route of just donating to your favorite causes as you like (without tying it to your art work), or using online tools like Missionfish to list your art on eBay and donate the sale money straight to the charity of your choice. Etsy.com has also in the past accepted art donations to raise funds for the Red Cross right after Hurricane Katrina.
Art donations, like normal donations, are eligible for tax deductions. However, don't ever try to claim tax deductions on a painting you sold as being worth more than $5,000. That kind of claim needs to be accompanied by an appraiser's confirmation of its worth!
So if there's art you'd like to pay forward, or art you'd like to share for fun, just think: New worlds and new people can be touched with your art right from your mailbox! Keep your artwork safe, green, and friendly, and share the love!
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