Many of the things we think about aren’t really things in a physical, tactile sense. We have to give ideas some physical form. That’s because we like touching things, especially when they’re soft, warm, or smooth. We don’t like rough edges.
All human beings appreciate aesthetics to some degree. Some have a better inherent understanding of what is aesthetically pleasing than most. There is the concept of the “eye of the beholder,” which I must delve into at another time. But, for now, it’s sufficient to say that we like to touch.
A major part of human creativity is being able to put ideas to use as physical and touchable things. Some philosophers will argue that even seemingly purely physical things are only as physical and tactile as our ideas of those things are. That’s definitely true from a certain perspective.
So, what about things you can see, but can’t touch? Are they any less real? No, they aren’t. But, you only have an idea of what touching it would be like. This is where imagination comes in.
We like putting our ideas into physical things that we can touch because it gives the idea a physical existence in our world. Once we create a physical representation of it, it is now a real thing. It’s like a book; it’s just a collection of words printed on pages, right? Well, yes, and that makes it a physical thing. It exists in the realm of things that anyone can see and touch. If others can assimilate it with their tactile senses, it’s now a thing.
So, what if you only hear about an idea? It’s not really a physical thing. Sound waves are a physical thing, but our minds do not necessarily interpret those waves in the way that they were originally intended to at the source. That means the thing you think you’re understanding more about is actually a slightly different thing than the one you were told about. It doesn’t matter how similar; it’s still different. It’s the whole telephone game thing.
This is rather basic in terms of true philosophical treatise. But, it’s necessary to mention these tenets of what a thing vs. an idea really is before I continue. We seem to have this belief in our culture today that we need physical representations of everything that we value in our lives. We need something tangible to connect us to the things that make us happy when we think about them. We need to integrate our world of thoughts and ideas with our physical, tactile one.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this desire. After all, great art is a fact of this aspect of human nature. But, in modern times, this idea of turning ideas into tactile objects has become manipulated in a commercial way that actually somewhat disgusts me. It’s not so much artistic today as it has become a sort of cult of collecting.
I’ve tried to explain this phenomenon before. Now, I think I better understand why it is we collect so many things that seem to have no intrinsic value at all. Yet, these objects make us and others than value the concepts and ideas that these physical trinkets pay homage to happy.
Collectors exist purely because of the human need to connect the world of ideas to the world of things. Again, this is perfectly natural and okay; good curating is even necessary for true human development. But, collecting books and artistic works are one thing. Those are collections that represent a connection with an artist’s concepts or a writer’s work. Many things people collect today are not so meaningful.
Many of us, myself included, collect things that “connect” us to what it is we like that we cannot have in actuality. It could be a cartoon character (far more common than some of us would like to admit) or a favorite pop idol (most of us are very guilty of this). But it’s OK to have some of these things, as long as we don’t let the commercial bastards out there take all of our hard-earned cash just so we can have one more piece of paraphernalia.
Mementos are one thing. Sentimental artifacts are OK as long as we don’t get carried away. Well, even the most careful of collectors have that issue. If we can’t actually have something, we’re going to get as many physical representations of that thing as possible. There are entire industries that take advantage of this human desire.
I think what we need to do as collectors – we’re all collectors in the strictest sense, you know – is to understand what is really worth collecting. If you love something, write about it, draw about it, make something truly artistic out of it. I know many of us already do this. If you have to buy something, make sure it is something that truly connects with your idea in such a way that you’re not going to sell it on eBay later.
We need physical artifacts that connect with what is most dear to us to truly feel inspired sometimes. Just don’t go out and buy out the hobby shop just so you can say you have the whole set of whatever. Don’t go and buy every poster of your favorite singer, because there will always be one more.
It doesn’t really do anyone any good to collect obsessively just for the sake of collecting something. Make sure that it’s something that will do you good later. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable for collecting responsibly, you’ll find yourself with a collection that is simply too big or unwieldy to actually enjoy.
The best thing we can do as collectors is to focus on what we enjoy, not necessarily what others may consider valuable. Collecting should be about appreciation, dedication, and having fun. Collecting can become work, especially as you turn things over, but once it feels like work, you’ve lost sight of what’s important. Collections are more about encapsulating ideas that we enjoy and appreciate; it’s not just about the items themselves. What ideas do you want to convey with your collections?