When Things Are More Than Just Objects

One of the things we try to do here is move past simply describing the objects of our (or any collector’s) affections and try to show the passions behind (or instilled within) the objects themselves. You may have thought that our blogging was all about the justification for our quirky pursuits, but that’s not so. Well, not always

One of the number one reasons for collecting is a passion for history — be it our own personal history, a sense of nostalgia for people and places just at our memory’s edge, significant world history, or some other stop along that continuum. When we collect, we do not merely posses objects and clutch them to our chests, we cultivate collections to capture moments in time, to understand people, places, moments… To understand our collective and personal selves.

Recently, in New York Magazine, Amanda Fortini wrote a piece on a series of photographs of celebrities in their homes. In it she reassures us that our adoration and curiosity of celebrities isn’t just some silly voyeuristic exercise. She wrote:

If these images reveal much about the time in which they were taken — the white shag rug of the sixties, the pro-choice poster of the seventies — they reveal more about the celebrities captured therein.

Even gawking at these celebrities is worth something, for they were the icons of their day representing something larger than just themselves; they represent a culture, a time. Many are still considered icons and so they continue to tell us something of who we are even now.

In that same article, she summed things up well with this:

“Only because history is fetishized in physical objects can one understand it,” Susan Sontag wrote. In one sense, these images are themselves fetishized objects; they are fascinating curiosities. But the physical objects they capture are also historical artifacts, a way of making history concrete.

Ultimately the objects we preserve tell us of human events and motivations, even if what we collect and conserve is not fully appreciated by others.

Viewed this way, our collections are really private museums.

Which leads me to this announcement by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

In May, 2007, the institute is hosting a major international conference called “Collecting across Cultures in the Early Modern World” which will examine aspects of collecting as “a global and transcultural phenomenon.” In preparation they have posted a call for papers on the following subjects:

– The formation and organization of collections: trajectories, networks, circulation, exchange

– The motivations and uses of collections: science, art, religion, curiosity, commerce, empire

– The interpretation, contextualization, and reinvention of early modern collections

– The transference of techniques, artistic styles, ideas, and beliefs through the circulation of objects

– The role of geography in the production, circulation, and interpretation of collections

– The usefulness of theories of center and periphery, diffussionism, transculturation, metissage, etc. in the understanding of collections

– Relationships between objects, texts, and images

While these all seem rather lofty and ambitious (not to mention specifically focused on a period of antiquity ca. 1450 to ca. 1850), these questions are relevant to nearly every collector.

Don’t let the big words fool you, these are applicable to your collection. I plan on proving this here, and I encourage all you collectors to do the same. Post your stories here, write about it at your own blog, or maybe even submit a paper to USC for the conference. You are the curator of your own museum; you know why it exists, what affects how you build it, and what it means.

Stop right now, and look at your collection; besides ‘dust me,’ what is it telling you?

And what would it tell all of us if we could see it?

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Deanna

Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

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