By Carrie Patterson, University of Pennsylvania
Generally, the same characteristics are found in the creative process of artists and designers. They are able to observe, to explore, and to seek. Curating and collecting is an essential skill and process for all artists and designers. Also, collecting experiences is one way that artists and designers find ideas. They then document their experiences in some way or another.
Characteristics of a Collector
Having the ability to select and acquire objects and then remove those objects from their intended use or function so that someone else sees a pattern or admires their form requires visual acumen. And having the ability to choose objects that reflect, hope, sorrow, or inspiration and then present those objects to someone else in a way that evokes the same emotions is a characteristic of an excellent collector. The same distinctive quality is found in the creative process of artists and designers.
Most of the articles one would find online about collecting focus on what to buy and why. However, collecting does not necessarily mean buying something. Artists and designers have to think in terms of gathering ideas, experiences, and things that might come in handy in the future as inspiration or source material. Some of the most amazing collections have little monetary value.
Artists and Their Collections
There was an artist in Maryland who was an amazing scavenger. Her house was filled to the rim with different types of collections. She had a tie collection, a Barbie collection, an electronic parts collection. She was collecting source material for her work. The objects had no monetary value. They were not kept separate in their original boxes. She appropriated all the parts of objects that she collected in her artwork.
Similarly, the artist Vija Celmins has talked about her walks on the beach and her collections of the objects she finds. Every object that she chooses to pick up is because of its beauty, its unique form. She reveres the object, takes care of it, raising its level of importance and putting it up on a pedestal, even if it’s just a small stone.
Sue Johnson is an artist who collects objects, specifically toys, memorabilia, and other plastics of consumer culture from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Her Ready-Made Dream installation is essentially an installation of her collection of found objects in print and in 3-dimensions. It’s printed on large-scale vinyl. The effect of viewing Ready-Made Dream is as if you were walking into an enchanted dollhouse of mismatched memories. Johnson creates small gouache paintings as the background of each room. The paintings are scanned and she digitally inserts objects into the room. So, they are constructed fictions of her actual collection.
This is a transcript from the video series Visual Literacy Skills: How to See. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Ideas to Display Collections
Collections can be an endless source of inspiration. If you have a collection, try using it as source material for your next visual art project.
Here are some ideas: If your collection is huge and has little monetary value, consider using the actual objects in an assemblage. But do be careful with this. Consider the object’s utilitarian, historical, or emotional value before you use it for another purpose. You wouldn’t want to do something irreversible that you might later regret.
Draw or paint objects in your collection. Try to convey your attachment to the object in the drawing or painting. Else, photograph the objects and digitally collage a wonder room for your objects.
Collecting art is like building any other type of collection. Although most people think of wealthy individuals, corporations, or religious or government institutions as collectors, literally anyone can be an art collector. So here are a few things to consider before building an art collection.
Establish a reason you want to buy that art. It could be as simple as you like what you see. It may be that you start because you have a blank wall or empty corner in your home. Maybe you only want to buy art from a particular time-period or in a particular medium. Maybe you decide to purchase work from a particular group of artists.
Do some basic research. Get to know the artist you are supporting. Go to their studio, or if they have passed, read up on them at the library. If you can’t find any book about the artist, find out if they had a website or a gallery.
Curate your collection. Well long-term art collectors don’t care about wall space or floor space because they do not have to display all of their collection at once.
Caring for the Collection
Take care of your collection. Make sure you know how to properly care for what you purchase.
If you are collecting items made from paper, make sure you store them in a climate controlled space, away from bugs and dust. Investing in archival covers or covering the surface of a paper piece with glassine is a great way to start.
If you are collecting pottery, make sure you know how to wash it. If you are collecting jewelry, make sure you know how to clean it. Sunlight and moisture can be the enemy of many works of art so make sure you have a space that works for your pieces.
Common Questions about Collecting, Displaying, and Caring of Artifacts
Having the ability to choose objects that reflect, hope, sorrow, or inspiration and then present those objects to someone else in a way that evokes the same emotions is a characteristic of an excellent collector.
Sue Johnson is an artist who collects objects, specifically toys, memorabilia, and other plastics of consumer culture from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
If one is collecting items made from paper, they should store them in a climate controlled space, away from bugs and dust. They can even invest in archival covers or cover the surface of the paper piece with glassine.