Mad In Pursuit Notebook

The Collector, 2


4.18.2013. Yesterday when I was reflecting on Fred Baekeland's* analysis of art collectors, I found myself skipping through the passages that sounded too psychoanalytic. They felt old-fashioned and based on a deficit model. (What's your problem that you collect art? What neediness are you compensating for?) So I went searching for something a little more anthropological and/or philosophical. What's going on between the collector and his things? And what might be going on even for the collector's apprentice (me), when the most pedestrian effort to document an old artifact can result in a "sparkly moment" of insight and connection?

I found Evocative Obects: Things We Think With by Sherry Turkle (2011), a collection of essays by various authors on the way we interact with our things. In her introductory article, Turkle points out that Western devotion to the high calling of formal abstract thinking prevented acknowledging the power of concrete objects in sophisticated adults till the 1980's.

Turkle suggests that in the 21st century we can now be more comfortable talking about our relationship to things as "companions to our emotional lives" and as "provocations to thought." And of course, the two are inseparable: "We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with."

Dr. Baekeland observed this connection in his study: his collectors' collections engendered both scholarly activity (avid reading) and emotional states (willingness to sacrifice anything to add an item they'd fallen in love with to their holdings).

So my conclusion is that being a collector (discriminating, organized, enthusiastic) is an incredibly enriching experience. It add layers and dimensions to our practical, workaday lives, much like religious practice does. It appeals to our whole selves: brain, heart, gut... I wonder if children should be encouraged and coached to start collections -- it might be one of those "character-building" activities, like team sports and scouting.

*"Psychological Aspects of Art Collecting" by Frederick Baekeland (J. of Psychiatry, Vol 44, No. 1, Feb 1981)