Introducing Postkard Art and Its Terminologies

[This thread may appeal more to art theorists, art historians, and aestheticians (in the sense of philosophers of art), because most (visual) artists I know HATE theory, analysis and scholarly research. However, in order to communicate our work with the rest of the world, some people have to come up with the terminologies. So, if you are someone who likes to think, please do feel invited to join this discussion.]

/----- Introduction -----/

First of all, I should briefly introduce myself. My name is Linda. I was majoring in pure mathematics before switching to arts and design in university. Having a penchant for the theoretical / logical aspect of all things, during my very long undergraduate studies, I have audited many philosophy classes, including aesthetics from which I learned a bit of the history of western art (can one really philosophise about art without knowing its history?). At that time, the course focused more on modern art (of the early 20th century, like Duchamp’s readymade), not postmodern art or contemporary art. In my spare time, I like to read about art in general and my native Asian background allows me to have basic knowledge of Eastern art (its history and philosophy) as well. But I wouldn’t venture to consider myself so well versed in art history/theory especially if we consider the more contemporary trends; I am just an amateur who likes to think.

Now about my project. Since circa 2013, I have been creating a series of philately-inspired artworks (mostly graphite drawings), which I shall temporarily call X, that aim at matching the design of the work with the theme of the postage stamp(s) used. Sometimes even the postmark(s) matter. Here are some examples:


[A postally used perfect X]


[A perfect X]


[A perfect X]

[For more visual examples, please see my website – please kindly ignore the terminologies that I am trying to change.]

People who know what maximum cards (‘maxicards’ for short) are may get a feeling of familiarity at seeing my works. Indeed, for a long time, even though I had started this project before learning about the existence of maxicards, I thought the traditions of maxicards and illustrated covers – which all require some degree of concordance between the philatelic elements – suffice to develop a body of language to talk about my project. However, the more I think about it, the more difficulties I encounter in using the pre-existing terminologies.

For instance, the obvious differences between the support of a ‘traditional’ maxicard (which is a picture postcard) and X as the support are:

  • the former cannot be a drawn / painted artwork and must be a commercialised mass product;
  • the former can have only one stamp / postmark fixed on its image side, whereas the latter can have multiple stamps / postmarks;
  • the former has shape and size constraints set by different countries, whereas in theory, the latter doesn’t.
  • etc.

/----- How should X be named? -----/

There are 3 elements in this project, X is one of them:

(1) the support (‘X’);

(2) the postage stamp;

(3) the postmark.

There are strict regulations about the last 2 elements, which I think people on this forum are familiar with, so I will leave them out of this discussion.

Let’s see the characteristics of X and the goal of the project as I envisage it:

(A) X is an artwork which was created with artistic intention. For X to be considered an artwork (or part of an edition of an artwork, in the case of printmaking or photography), the unique original must exist. Traditional artworks aside, the original can also be a piece of digital art.

For instance, Dorothy Knapp’s hand-painted covers based on her original design is an X, whereas the printed version of these covers (also based on her original design) are mass-products carrying no artistic intention.

(B) X must be related to at least one postage stamp which will be fixed on its image side (we can discuss further details like: Must the stamp be issued before the creation of X or can it be a future release? Does a personalised stamp count? etc.).

Ideally, X is inspired by this stamp or has incorporated part of the (typically visual) elements of this stamp into the design of the work, but I don’t want to rule out abstract or expressive works whose connection with the source of inspiration can be hard to discern.

(C) The postage stamp on X’s image side must be hand-postmarked. It can take years before X is postmarked, but getting a postmark bearing the date and the location of the cancellation imprinted on this artwork is the final goal. This way, the artwork is spatio-temporally (or geo-historically) constrained and unique (even in the case of a print, because every postmark is different).

I would like to ask the community how this X should be named. Here are the suggestions my philatelist friends on The Stamp Forum came up with:

  • philagraph / filagraph (the leading choice)

  • philaview / filaview

  • philapix / filapix

  • postograph

  • postoview

  • postopix

  • stampograph

  • stampoview

  • stampix

Or do you have other suggestions?

In 2021, it was once upon the time called ‘linover’ – driven from ‘Linda’s cover’ – at the time I wrongly thought a cover was the front page of an envelope or a shipping label on a parcel. I didn’t know the cover had to entirely contain the content of the mail. In the proper philatelic sense, envelopes and shipping boxes are covers; a piece of paper cut off these objects is not exactly a cover.

Moreover, I feel really awkward that my namesake is associated with an object, even though the choice was a democratic result (I asked people to choose between ‘linover’ = LINda’s cOVER and ‘hanover’ = HANd-crafted cOVER on my social media, and less than 5 people voted.) This time, I want to go with a name as generic as possible.

I have also designated a scheme to call the franked / postmarked result of X. According to the following naming scheme which I took from the number theorists, the end goal is for X to become at least ‘quasiperfect’:

  • X, a new coined word = an artwork for which at least one stamp of corresponding theme exists (the stamp is not yet fixed on the artwork);

  • semiperfect X = a X on the image side of which at least one corresponding stamp is fixed;

  • quasiperfect X = a semiperfect X for which the stamp is cancelled but neither the location nor the date of the cancellation corresponds to the theme of X (it can be because such correspondence doesn’t exist);

  • perfect X = a semiperfect X on which a corresponding postmark is fixed (be it by date or by location);

  • superperfect X = a perfect X for which the other element of the postmark (date or location) also corresponds to the theme of X.

Sometimes X is used as a shipping label and the stamps on it are used as actual postage in mailing an item. At the time of mailing, X would get a postmark, but the postmark may simply indicate the place from which the item is mailed, without any relation to the whole theme. In this case, I will say the end result is a postally used quasiperfect X. It would be a postally used perfect X if it’s mailed from a location that is related to the theme of the work.

/----- Other theoretical ramifications -----/

(1) I am well aware of the Mail Art movement but judging from what I understand of the movement, the artwork and the postage stamp don’t need to be in concordance. So my concept is more specific. If a piece of Mail Art satisfies the concordance condition and gets postmarked, it is an (postally used) X.

(2) Condition #C implies that X must be presented in some kind of physical medium on which postmarking is as neat as possible. So a highly textured surface (such as some painting surfaces) may not be ideal. Sculptures too, unless there is a flat spot to place the postmark.

(3) Note that I am mostly talking about X as a piece of visual art, because postage stamps and postmarks are usually visual objects, but if you should like to challenge this condition, you are welcome to do so. (Is there such a thing as ‘auditory stamp’ or ‘tactile stamp’? Surprise me!)

(4) The trickiest thing, I think, in coming up with a body of language to describe this project is when dealing with reproduction, which has been rendered more sophisticated by new technologies and new ways of trading. Earlier, I gave an example by comparing a commercialised postcard with an original artwork – the presence and the absence of ‘artistic intention’ may sound clear in this case, but what if we are dealing with a certificated giclée print of this original artwork?

According to my art-specialist friend, a giclée print that comes with a signature, a number, a certificate of authenticity, or whatever that comes with the work to justify that the reproduction has been fully endorsed by the artist, is considered to be part of an often limited edition of the artwork. However, the customer who had purchased an authentic giclée may not be allowed to claim he/she has created a new perfect X (which is an artwork) by adding a postage stamp and postmark on it – unless he/she has been authorised by the artist to make a secondary derived work out of this authentic giclée.

Similarly, a Zazzle customer who had purchased a postcard featuring the same image endorsed by the artist to be made into diverse products by Zazzle cannot claim he/she has created a new perfect X by adding a postage stamp and a postmark to it. Because X needs to be an artwork in the first place, but the postcard purchased from Zazzle is a mass product. However, he/she can claim to be making a (traditional or non-traditional) maxicard.

Now the complicated thing is when it comes to readymade – What if this Zazzle customer uses the postcard he/she purchased – which is a mass product – to produce a derived work by adding his/her touch of personality (such as pairing it with a postage stamp and postmark) and claims the result to be a readymade? My take in this case is that theoretically this claim is valid, but my art-specialist friend thinks that it will be hard for this Zazzle customer to come up today with a background theory for his/her result to be accepted as an artwork by the artworld. Most likely, this Zazzle customer will be considered violating the first artist’s copyright.

Complicated huh?

(5) One special characteristic about art is that the more it is reproduced, the less valuable it becomes. Whereas for a commercially available mass product, the more it is produced, the more sale income it can generate.

(6) A passing note to contemporary art theorists: if I may be allowed to borrow from the concept of happening, can I say that going to a post office or mailing in items to a philatelic centre to ask for a postmark is like a performance? And the action of postmarking done (in theory) by an authority is like a participation that adds an element of randomness to the work? I don’t know this part of (performance) art theory very well, but when an art history student said that there’s almost a performance aspect to my visiting the world’s post offices with my drawings, I found it very tempting.

/----- Last words -----/

Lastly, I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I am developing this body of language / theory in part for it to be applied to my Stamp Out War project. If you decide to join the discussion on this public forum and years later complain that my application of these concepts ‘too political’ – Well, you didn’t read my post till the end. For those who did, thank you for reading!

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By the way, I don’t mean to exert ‘monopoly’ about this project. I am quite convinced that somewhere in the world someone has been or is doing similar thing, independently of my endeavour. It’s just that in my philatelic circle, I appear to be the only one doing this, and I was led into thinking that no similar thing has been discussed so I created this thread. Pray forgive my ignorance if someone has thought about it before. In that case, I would like to know how you call your ‘thing’.

Oops, I forgot to attach the ‘perfectness’ scheme. The following image is now in the original post.

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Also, a renaming of this project is overdue, since the X is not necessarily a regular-sized ‘card’. AI and my philatelic friends on another forum suggested:

  • Philatelic Art
  • PhilArt
  • PhilArtelica

Anything else?

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The poll has closed and 5 out of 10 people voted to rename X ‘philagraph’. So this will be the linguistic label associated with this kind of philately-inspired artwork. I hope the generic nature of this name will draw more artistic people into creating philagraphs!

Now, I shall proceed to define several types of philagraphs:

  1. philagraph = a philately-inspired artwork for which at least one stamp of corresponding theme exists (the stamp is not yet fixed on the artwork);
  2. semiperfect philagraph = a philagraph on which at least one corresponding stamp is fixed;
  3. quasiperfect philagraph = a semiperfect philagraph for which the stamp is cancelled but neither the location nor the date of the cancellation corresponds to the theme of the philagraph (it can be because such correspondence doesn’t exist);
  4. perfect philagraph = a semiperfect philagraph on which a corresponding postmark is fixed (be it by date or by location);
  5. superperfect philagraph = a perfect philagraph for which the other element of the postmark (date or location) also corresponds to the theme of the philagraph.

As for the name of the project, we are trying to go with

  • Philagraphic Chronicles
  • Philagraphic Impressions
  • Philagraphic Art
  • Philatelic Art
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Per your question, yes, at least one country, Bhutan, has issued “auditory stamps.” You can hear one on this attachment. And as for the “performance” aspect of mailing a letter, and if the “action of postmarking done by an authority is like a participation that adds an element of randomness”…you can see, on the internet, quite a few examples of U.S. postmasters of the past who added their own artistic efforts (usually called “fancy cancels”) to the letter postmarking process via their hand-carved cancellation devices, usually made from cork. I believe an example of one of the more famous cancellations, called the “running chicken” (pictured) recently was sold at auction for $264,000.00

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