Mail-Art and Money

"Mail-Art and Money don't Mix" is what Lon Spiegelman wrote in the 80-ies. Are these views still shared by the current generation of mail-artists?

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Samples of Mail-Art for sale

Started by Ruud Janssen. Last reply by Ruud Janssen Apr 28, 2017. 4 Replies

When you discover that mail-art is being sold. Please leave a message here with a link.Continue

Cavellini for sale via Catawiki. What do you think?

Started by Heleen de Vaan. Last reply by Richard Canard Jan 30, 2017. 4 Replies

I came across…Continue

Tags: catawiki, Cavellini, mail art for profit?, money

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Comment by RJ - Moderator on November 1, 2009 at 6:13pm
(written 12 years ago - in 1997)

As some will have noticed, I do sometimes ask IRC's or money to cover printing & sending for the publications. This is out of neccesity. Too many people asked in the past for publications, and I can't finance the free sending of publications. The price I ask however is always very low, in fact I loose money on it even with the things I ask. I just have to do it like this to keep TAM-publications alive.

Also I exchange a lot of publications, and send them out to mail artists I know will appreciate them. But I too often get these simple postcards or notes in which a mail artists askes a lot of things. There has to be a balance in what you ask and what you send. e.g. If you ask for a mail-interview, than this is a booklet with 15 to 25 pages, colored cover, and that costs 2 IRC's for sending at least. If someone sends something similar, than it is exchange, and I must say I still prefer that.

Some "older" mail artists probably know the saying by Lon Spiegelman from USA: "Mail art & money don't mix". It is a discussion started in the beginning of the 80's. In the perfect exchange there is no need for the exchanging of money in the mail art network. Somehow I transferred this statement into my statement: "Mail art has to do with the exchange of energy, the more energy you send out into the network, the more you will receive back".

It has already happened often that someone did a mail art project and promissed a document to all participants, but after finishing the project he/she just sends everybody a small document about the project and mentions the possibility to order the complete catalogue of the project for a certain amount of money. If these things aren't stated in advance, than it is mis-using the mail art network. I can understand that someone wants to make a very nice catalogue, but if you want the participants to pay for this, just say so in advance. Than the mail artists can judge for themself if they wants to participate. Most mail artists probably won't.

Of course the publishing of documents is a costly undertaking, so it is better to find another way to find the money. Some examples. Some mail artists want to publish a book and ask people to order it in advance. The mail artists that write articles for the book could get a free copy, and the others who want to read it can order the book. If you want to keep the mail artists free from paying money, there is always the possibility to get subsidies. Lots of organisations (commercial and/or art- wise) out there with budgets waiting to bet spent.

But do mail art & money mix? Every mail artists I know is only spending money on this mail art. I have never met someone that is making a profit on the mail art. That is, the active mail artists. Of course it is possible to sell mail art. Some people oppose to this, others just do it to get rid of "their collection". There are examples of "archives" that have been sold. Normally then the collection gets destroyed because the buyer mostly is looking for mail from artists know in the "traditional art-world". I heard from Crackerjack kid that some early Ray Johnson letters are being offered for big money.

Well, the mail artists that sends out a lot gets back a lot. It is his burden to decide what to do with it. He/She can decide at one moment to sell his/her whole collection. Another decision could be to donate or trade the collection to an official archive/museum. Already lots of archives/museums have such collections, but they than aren't that accesible for the other mail artists. It seems that mail art gradually being seen by museums/collectors as art, with a value. There is good and bad mail art, and good mail art has a price. Like it or not, but it has happened to all the art that has been made before (just visit any museum in your own surroundings). The good things are preserved and the bad ones get into boxes untill someone decides that its time to trow it away, or suddenly finds that wonderfull piece of mail art that someone sent out before.

The essence of this is quite simple. Mail art is the exchange. After the sender and receiver are done with the piece, and it is "archived", that it is just the end of it. The mail art is a lively thing.

In the last years museums have tried to do mail art exhibitions. If they don't start a project and ask mail artists to send in their work for the exhibition it mostly fails (as a mail art exhibition that is). The exhibition of an older project, a selection from someone's archive, etc. probably looks better in a museum than the results of an actually held mail art project for the museum, but it will never capture the spirit of mail art. I have had already several questions from museums for a small selection of my "archive" for a specific exhibition, but somehow it never felt right. They only want the "good mail art" that looks nice or is from a well known person.

Mail art doesn't fit in the real art-world, because the money aspect comes in. In the real art world Good art sells, and has a value. And the best mail art is the piece of mail that makes my day start wonderful, that makes me active and lets me do things, sometimes lets me discover new things. Exhibiting mail art at places where people always come (pubs, restaurants, offices, etc.) is probably a better place than the gallery or museum.

Like always, feel free to react to these thoughts. But I hope you understand that I am not always able to answer to all those letters I get. If you think that your thoughts are interesting to read for others, why not start your own writings, and spread them into the network. TAM-Publications is nothing more like that. The need to share thoughts (mine and others) with others, to make communication possible between so many people that live on our planet.
date of printing WWW-version: 28-6-1997
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 6:02pm
You are not purist, I am not purist, almost nobody here is not purist = nothing to discuss, everybody will agree now that MAIL ART AND MONEY DO MIX.
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 5:58pm
10 hours ago You wrote: "I am wondering if I am the only purist here. " - so I decided that You are purist.

A lot of interesting details.
You write: "I was in contact with John Held dring that period and know better how that went. " Yes, it was not mail art project, agree. I asked John about this and heard from him that there were problems I wrote. And I know at least one mail artist (Michael Lumb, real purist) who was against selling this book by John. This are facts.

I did not want discuss Your life. I'm sure You have job and have different kids of activities (as me and any other normal human of our age). No problem in writing books or paintings for money, it's not theme of discussion here.

Yes, I agree that mail art projects have rules, one of them is NO PROFIT (nothing to sell). But mail art network consists from not only mail art projects. You already agree that mail art exhibitions are part of mail art (network). I don't understand why books about mail art then are out of mail art (not project, but network), it's at least strange.

Mail art and money do mix, in fact, it's not my only opinion, it's fact, I wrote about last Minden. I have no problem to sell my artistamps or disks or printed matters, but have big problems with buyers (they are almost absent), so my sales of mail art related matters are insignificant. But for me important principle itself.
Comment by RJ - Moderator on November 1, 2009 at 4:49pm
Gik, You called me the purist. I never claimed to be one. I could be a purist and sell books. Nothing wrong with that. Being a mail-artist doesn't mean that I can't do other things as well. When I call something mail-art, a mail-art exhibition and a mail-art catalogue, then no money is envolved. My books are no mal-art projects. They have to do with other undertakings.

I was in contact with John Held dring that period and know better how that went. He didn't have problems like you descibed them. Only mail-artists didn't liked the idea of a book that had to be bought because they rather would have it for free.But his book was no mail-art project either.

Mail-Art is a conceptual artform. Not only communication. So my definition goes further. I never said that a mail-art exhibition is not mail-art. But when for a so called mail-art exhibition a fee is requested and participants can buy a catalogue, then I consider that the wrong term for such a project or exhibition. It is like the artworld would work, and they would even select which works they want to show or not.

Besides mail-art I also paint. I do not send my paintings out for free. And I do enter juried shows with them. In mail-art I paint sometimes envelopes. i send them out for free to the ones I want them to have.

Somehow with your last sentence you wanted to place me in a box. I don't fit into boxes. Just accept that.

Why do you want mail-art and money to be mixed? That is my question to you. Should I ask each user of the IUOMA-platform for an entrance fee for the hours I invest in moderating this site? Do you want your mail-art collection to be woth something? (most old-time mail-artists have the problem of what to do with their archives. Sell them or donate them to a larger museum...?).

I have nothing against money. I work hard to earn mine. But when I call something mail-art no money is envolved. Writing books with historic material for others to read is not a mail-art project, and I am unable to send out something like that for free. I just sell for what it costs to print, so from an economical point of view I don't make a profit (normally I even don't get back what I invested).

So I am not convinced that a purist can't sell books. He just can't do it and integrate it with a mail-art activity. I know the bounderies are changing. Some ask money for catalogues, etc. That has been done for decades already. The Internet hasn't changed that a bit. What has changed is that newcomers in mail-art haven't heard about what has been done in the past. every mail-artist has to discover all again. Nothing wrong with that. It is worth the ride.
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 3:51pm
Yes, John Held Jr. sold his books about mail art and had a lot of problems with this fact from purists of mail art, it's fact. So, for purist - mail artist can not sell books about mail art, he must distribute them in the mail art network for free.
OK! Publishing of mail art books is not mail art. Mail art exhibitions are not mail art. Festivals of mail art are not mail art. Mail art performance is not mail art. Right? It's Your vision of mail art, mail art is only communication. It's right?
Certainly, simple communication not required money (while people has no intention to sell communication immediately), here is no space for discussion about mail art and money then.

I can repeat only that for me (and almost for all my mail art friends) mail art includes not only communication, it involves mail art books, mail art performances, mail art exhibitions and Festivals of mail art. If to understand mail art this way we'll have this problem of mail art and money and possible different points of view on this problem.

If You are purist - You must not sell books. Otherwise You are not purist. Mail art and money don't mix!
Comment by RJ - Moderator on November 1, 2009 at 3:13pm
Gik, You are being a bit strange..... John Held Jr was selling books on Mail-art in the 90-ies. In the 80-ies Michael Crane was selling books about mail-art. In 80-ies and 90-ies crackerjack kid was selling books on mail-art. Just some examples that the purists in mailart always did something like this but valued the mail-art rules when they were doing mail-art. The publishing of a mail-art book is NOT MAIL-ART as I told before. What level of discussion is it when you mention facts that are not true.
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 12:51pm
Such level of discussion "I am purist, but I am selling books about mail art" is good illustration of degradation in the mail art network now.
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 10:37am
You must define entities first. Especially important relations between mail art and mail art books/exhibitions/festivals (mail art includes them or not). From answer on this question You'll define permissions, what You can and cannot.
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 10:32am
Making mail art means getting more in return than giving (trading/exchange principle)
Comment by Gik Juri on November 1, 2009 at 10:31am
You are selling book about mail art. It's commercial activity, no doubt.
If "selling mail art book" belongs "mail art" then
"it's commercial activity, no doubt"
else "continue discussion"

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