A quote from a new article I'm bookmarking:
In the 1950s, the Conceptual and Pop artist Ray Johnson pioneered the practice of mail art, in which he would send artworks to friends and acquaintances via the US Postal Service, asking the recipients to add to or alter his work and then send it to someone else. As Jeanne Marie Kusinan so aptly put it in her 2005 Contemporary Aesthetics article, “The Evolution and Revolutions of the Networked Art Aesthetic,”
[Johnson’s mail art was a reaction against] the official art world, with its institutional hierarchies and gallery elitism [representing] a fundamental move away from the paradigm of art produced to sell or own. This was art to give, send, and potentially lose or destroy by the very process of mailing.
For Johnson, the process was the art; the object was just a byproduct. As Johnson’s work shifted away from object-oriented art towards this more conceptual, collaborative form of art-making, the fact that his mail art was never supposed to be sold brought up many new questions, such as: How can one collect an object as an artwork when the work is actually a series of events taking place over time?
Compared to the problem faced by today’s digital artists, Johnson encountered the opposite: his work was not supposed to be collected in the traditional sense, but some people collected or sold the pieces created by the mail art network, regardless of his creative intention. Since physical objects existed, the official art world desired them; the allure of the art object cannot be denied, for better or worse.