I am surrounded by beautiful objects collected throughout my adult lifetime. I have a “good eye.” I combine texture, color and shape in a way that enhances individual pieces and lends an aura of taste and interest to the complete environment.
When I die, the first stop for these treasures? An estate sale. Nobody in my family wants an entire houseful of “things”— they have houses full already. Increasingly, museums have no use for even semi-good art unless it comes partnered with a sizable donation to store and care for extraneous objects.
So for a few bucks, you can own my “eye.” But out of context, my valued objects will lose their punch. Against your cabbage rose wallpaper, my pottery will look like crap and my paintings are far too specific for somebody else’s traditional living room.
The dregs and leftovers from the house sale will be loaded onto a donation truck and sent off to Goodwill…or Habitat for Humanity… or some church somewhere. All good. I want to help the less privileged even after I’m dead and what better way to cheer up a refugee family than with a 4’ x 6’ painting of smears of gray and black paint! Or a big beautiful ceramic pot tenuously balanced on its 2 inch foot, so fragile that the slightest breath will send it crashing into oblivion?
After tripping over that donated painting for the millionth time, a Habitat supervisor will say “Enough! Send this to…the dumpster, the trash heap.” And nobody will utter the slightest objection because like all things in this world, orphaned art eventually becomes just more disposable clutter.
The bitter truth is that only a tiny fraction of artful objects will find long lasting value…just as high school phenom basketball players will mostly fail to reach the NBA…and odds are that the super talented singer in your choir will NOT become the next Aretha Franklin.
You doubt me? Then you haven’t gone to estate sales lately. Or visited nursing homes. Or been called to help dispose of abandoned artwork left in a storage facility.
I was bereft after one such incident. My friend Nancy wrote: “You’ve come face to face with the dark side of collecting. And as with everything else, it’s as if a mirror is being held up asking ‘what about you?’”
Yikes! Has my life — my entire career — been misspent? Is collecting merely a nicer word for hoarding? Does the old adage “one man’s treasure is another man’s trash” apply to EVERYTHING, even art?
Well, yes, but along with all the warts, collecting brings along unexpected positives.
1) Collecting anything automatically opens doors into history.
2) Chasing down and finding that perfect thing gives structure to free time. 3) Collecting introduces the collector to people with similar interests.
4) The search leads to unique vacation locals and out-of-the-way shops, galleries, museums and studios.
5) The collecting crusade nearly always results in wider hands-on experience and in depth information about the physical characteristics of objects — the method and materials used in manufacturing.
6) Makers imbue their work always with their individual tales; it’s impossible to own such personal information without broadening your own curiosity about and tolerance for fellow humans.
And there it is — ultimately, collecting is a case for belonging — community. When we collect objects, we collect the stories too. It may not be obvious but we weave the thread of our being into the continuing thread of makers and the history of the things they make. It doesn’t matter what happens to these objects after we’re gone. If they find another home, good! If not, they haven’t been made — nor owned, nor loved — in vain. They served for awhile. The makers and their objects — the collectors who bought them —continued the evolutionary experience we share. That’s the best any of us can hope for.