The Internet has made it possible for artists to spread their work to huge, world wide audiences like never before in human history. Site’s like DeviantArt and Flickr have collected billions of — mostly digital — art works that have without a doubt enriched the Internet experience. But at the same time, there’s still something very alluring about analog.
The best way to experience analog art, of course, is to visit a museum or gallery. But below are five in a unique class of web sites that marry digital distribution with analog creation — and specifically, with artistic creation by snail mail (postal mail).
PostSecret is easily the most well-known site on this list. The most succinct description comes from the site’s creator, Frank Warren: “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”
Each postcard is a work of art that exposes someone’s inner thoughts — sometimes silly, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, often times just a bit disturbing. The site has spawned four print books, and a thriving fan community. Since opening in 2005, PostSecret has been visited over 200 million times according to a counter on the site.
Twitter famously asks, “What are you doing?” By which they mean: right now. Dawdlr, on the other hand, asks, “what are you doing, you know, more generally?” They slow things way down, too. Rather than enter your answer into a form on the web and having it broadcast out to your friends, Dawdlr would rather you write out your answer on a postcard and send it via postal mail.
Like PostSecret, Dawdlr submissions are often works of art. Unlike PostSecret, unfortunately Dawdlr is on hiatus. The next update is planned for May 21st, 2009. There’s still a great archive on the site for you to spend some time looking through, though.
When I was in high school I used to subscribe to a magazine that encouraged readers to decorate their envelopes when they wrote in, then the best of which would be published with the letters column each month. Mail art like that is still alive and well on the Internet, and one of the best places to find it is the Mail Art Postcard Exhibition, of blog of mailed art that posts some truly amazing pieces.
Based in Pennsylvania, USA, the Mail Art Postcard Exhibition displays art sent in from all over the world. Even though it accepts art by email as well, most seems to come via traditional snail mail.
Real Snail Mail is an art installation that goes in a completely different direction as the other sites on this list. Rather than accept submissions via snail mail and then post them on the web, Real Snail Mail accepts submissions via the web and then sends them out via email. So where does the snail mail part come in? Well, between you pressing “send” on your submission, and it reaching its final email destination, the message is carried across physical space by a snail. A real, living snail.
Here’s how it works: first, you submit a message via an online form. That message is then collected by a snail that is equipped with a miniaturized electronic circuit and antenna at one end of an indoor snail enclosure. When the snail reaches the other end of the habitat — which could take weeks — the message is beamed to a second computer and dispatched to its final location. You can’t get much more true to the name “snail mail” than that.
Tweet by Snail Mail is a new site that just opened this week. The idea is simple: send in your message by mail on a postcard, and have it tweeted back out anonymously via the @SnailMailTweet account. Since it is so new, nothing has actually been mailed and tweeted yet, but once the tweet mails start rolling in, we hope that the service will be as addictive to watch as PostSecret has been.
Bonus #1: RedBubble Snail Mail Group
Photo and illustration sharing site Red Bubble has a group in which members post submissions — photos, illustrations, writing — related to the concept of “snail mail.” As you might guess, that means a lot of photos of mail boxes.
Bonus #2: Google Snail Mail Search Project
A couple of years ago blogger Joe Schmidt started the Google Snail Mail Search Project. The GSMSP is basically a printable version of Google that you can fill out and mail to Mountain View. If anyone actually receives a response from Google to their snail mail search queries, let us know!