Mail Art

What is it?

So much of the time, we feel helpless in the face of what is so big…like a declaration of war or climate change or personal events in our lives. We can feel dwarfed and ineffectual.

Lately, I am asking myself a few questions:

  1. What’s going on? i.e. What’s the problem? or What’s bothering me?
  2. Is there anything that I can do about it?

An elderly friend was given notice to vacate the rental that he has occupied for over twenty-five years. He started putting the word out to his friends, acquaintances and clients. In this small community, there aren’t that many housing options for seniors. The two senior housing apartments have two-year waiting lists. He had a friend post for him on Craigslist. He also called me to be on the lookout for a room or apartment for him. As spring approaches, housing becomes even more limited with the arrival of tourists.

So to answer the first question, I could easily see the situation. My friend needed to find housing. I asked myself if there was anything that I could do. There were a few things. He is computer-illiterate. I told him that I would post his rental need on a local hub online. I also inquired at the local Community Center to see if they had any ideas or leads. I reported back to my friend what I found. Whether or not those things bear fruit is irrelevant. I could be satisfied that I did something to help a friend in need.

On a larger scale, we are faced with being witnesses to war (probably throughout human history). For me, this brings up a lot of feelings–everything from sadness, to anger, to frustration, to feeling inadequate in the face of it all. Then, I try to sit quietly with it, allowing the feelings to be fully felt. And I do what is called Focusing as drafted by Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D. in the 1950’s. I try to find a word or a few words that distill what I’m really feeling. I try to deeply describe it and go beneath the layers of my initial reactions. When I feel somewhat satisfied with what the word or words are, then I sit with them quietly.

Checking in with myself in this way, I ask if there is anything that I can do to lift myself up and feel like I have something to contribute.

That’s when I remembered Mail Art, also called Correspondence Art. Mail Art is flooding the post office with handmade or painted art in the shape and size of a postcard. The origins of mail art can be traced “back to the Dadaists and Italian Futurists in the early twentieth century. However, the New York artist, Ray Johnson, is considered to be the founder of contemporary mail art. In the 1950s, he began sending out small-scale collages he called “moticos,” some of which included simple instructions for the recipient.” (Wikipedia)

My most recent mail art below was intended to bear witness to the war in the Ukraine. As this little postcard travels to its destination through the system, others who handle it see it along the way.

photo of woman and sunflower

There was one other time when I did this. It was following “911.” When that feeling of helplessness swamped me, I bought several postcards, wrote little poems on them and sent them anonymously to family and friends. This act/action helped me and I hoped that the the recipients felt comforted like receiving the benefits of a prayer.

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I’m curious to hear how you respond to challenging things in our world. Do you have a go-to resource to guide your process in instances where you feel helpless?

Horse

This horse painting appears to be total whimsy.  However, it appeared at a time when I felt the wind had been knocked out of me, out of many of us.  It was the occasion of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.  The helplessness and shock that I felt with the election of someone whose values were so opposite to my own, to so many of us.

The one word on this mixed media piece is WISDOM.  I felt that this was what was needed more than anything.  This seemed to be lacking in the newly elected administration.  I painted and collaged this white whimsical horse as a way to cope with what was ahead.  As I prayed for a leader who loves the earth, mankind and all of our relations.

Horse1

In one sense, this could be seen as a political cartoon or a bit of satire.  After the election of 2016, things were (and continue to be) extremely serious.

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Picking up a brush, pencil, paints, clay, charcoal, pastels, watercolors–any creative tool can help you to cope with what is challenging.  It can give you a field of expression when you feel powerless or without a voice.

I have several art journals.  They are a private expression of things that seem too large to manage; the word could be unwieldy.  Words and images blend on these pages to express what I feel and have trouble sharing with others.  Or understanding myself.

What about you?  Do you have a journal for your writing and art?  Or several?  Use them.