Often doctors are collectors. In fact, some diversify their financial portfolios with fine art, wine or cars. This begs the question, what are collectors aside from sometimes being dentists or physicians? Two philosophers, John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), tackled this issue.
Many dentists diversify their financial portfolios with art, wine or cars.
Often doctors are collectors. In fact, some diversify their financial portfolios with fine art, wine or cars. This begs the question, what are collectors aside from sometimes being dentists or physicians?
Two philosophers, John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), tackled this issue. Dewey was an American, Baudrillard a Frenchman. Both were seminal thinkers in the twentieth century. But, there the similarities end, at least in their concept of what collectors are and are not.
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Baudrillard claimed that it was only the desire to acquire that defined the act of collecting. This obsession, per Baudrillard, led to the repetitive seeking and then buying of objects, which the philosopher claimed released tension. Any satisfaction, though, was only temporary and the cycle had to be repeated. Baudrillard called this a neurosis, normally a psychiatrist’s or psychologists diagnosis rather than one in a philosopher’s toolkit.
Dewey, however, had a different take. He raised collecting to a higher sphere. He saw the pleasure gained from it as “adventurous.” Additionally, he linked collecting to the museum concept of art where it is elevated above the everyday. Dewy believed this perception contributed to the placement of collector’s objects not only in museums but also in mansions and warehouses.
Certainly, the well-known collector, Albert Barnes (1872-1951), Dewey’s friend, had a mansion. This is the Barnes who was a millionaire by age 35 due to his discovery of a silver nitrate antiseptic solution marketed as Argonyl. Barnes assembled artworks in his Merion, Pennsylvania home that later were moved to Philadelphia and became the Barnes Foundation. The association of the two men, Dewey and Barnes, may have been what led the former to remark, “the typical collector is the typical capitalist.”
So, neither philosopher, Baudrillard or Dewey, had a particularly flattering concept of collectors and collecting. For the former, the motivation was a neurosis; for the latter, it was capitalist behavior.
Kevin Melchionne, a living philosopher, reviews these concepts in his paper titled Collecting as an Art published in Philosophy and Literature. In it, Melchionne extends the ideas of Baudrillard and Dewey to something more. He advances the earlier philosopher’s concept of collecting.
Melchionne says, “Collecting is a means of the aesthetic cultivation of the individual.” He then goes on to examine the meaning of cultivation as, “the practice of taking care of one’s self … essentially a process: We do or make things in order to have experiences which then, internalized through habit and reorganized and redirected upon reflection, serve as the basis for further doing or making and still more refined experiences.”
I daresay Marchionni’s philosophical definition of collectors is the one those who collect want to preserve. It dignifies the pastime and gives it respect. It also carries the motive past that of simple portfolio diversification to a higher plane — almost that of the sublime.