Collecting as an Art Form

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as CollectorI’ll admit it … I collect:

  • cane trays (the sort made in occupational therapy classes),
  • stones (but they have to be white and smooth),
  • fabric of every colour and texture,
  • aprons,
  • cow designed themed china,
  • retro plates,
  • lace,
  • children’s books,
  • and Hanmer-Ware Pottery.

I have had to make a room in my house for my “stuff” and it gives me endless amounts of satisfaction to go and look at it all, marvel at the variety and plan how one day I will actually put it into some semblance of order.

For some this may sound like I am in need of help or at least a guest spot on a reality TV programme, but hoarding is not my problem.  No. I am a ‘Collector’, and according to a new book Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, I am in very good company.

Peter Blake is an artist renowned for his Pop Art of the 1960s.  His studio is apparently filled with his collections, one photo featuring every imaginable form of ornamental elephant known to human kind.  All are arranged beautifully, so cute, so useless … but undeniably a feast for a collector’s eyes.  Interestingly, Blake collected miniature elephants as a way of stopping himself from bigger acquisitions.

I was becoming a bit like my grandmother.  I wasn’t quite collecting 30 mincing machines, but I was heading in that direction, over collecting and collecting madly.  I thought I would put a safety valve on myself: if I go to Portobello Road and buy a miniature elephant instead of coming home with an old bicycle or a complete kitchen or something crazy, I’ll have achieved my ambition for that day

Damien Hirst (famous for his formaldehyde Shark)  has always been fascinated with collecting.  He believes that collections say as much about the person who collects them as it does about the material that is collected.  His collections reflect his interests and passions, they include the macabre, the beautiful and reflect the relationship he feels between art and science.

This title has a collecting obsession to suit every occasion from books, taxidermy, medical instruments, posters, album covers, fabric, postcards etc.  The list is endless, the photography captivating and the interviews enlightening.

Magnificent Obsessions is like a self-help book for Collectors Anonymous.  No longer will you feel alone, ridiculed by family and friends, unable to control your addiction, you are after all in the company of the artistic and creative!

A portion of my Hanmer Ware pottery collection
A portion of my Hanmer Ware pottery collection


Men can truly be weird and I speak as a male myself. Three books that I’ve recently read provide an uncomfortable insight into the psyche of men who like to collect things. Women hoard; Men collect. This passion leads to destitution, the break up of families and social isolation. Inevitably the day comes when he has to choose between giving up the pursuit or going insane.

ErrorSimon Garfield begins his autobiography as a stamp collector on the doorstep of a counsellor’s office, with his album under his arm and a divorce pending. He charts his fascination with British stamps that have errors in printing that has has led to him spending thousands. Worst of all, as he nears completion, he starts to wonder what he will do with his life once he has succeeded. Perhaps the worse fate to give a man is to fufill his dreams.

The father in To See Every Bird doesn’t hoard things, but has an equally expensive and time involving hobby that plays havoc with his social life and sanity. He merely wants to catch a glimpse of every species of bird that currently exists. Not only does this take him around the world, over the decades he also gets to see several species that are now extinct. Again the question is asked at the end – what is it all for? We leave dad musing on beginning a new and equally enthralling subject of study: butterflies.

AchtungAchtung Schweinehund is a much more humorous look at the author’s fascination with military toys from Action Man, through Airfix fgures and the bloodthirsty novels of Sven Hassel, right up to the rigorous demands of wargaming and military modelling.

At the end he too wonders, when he calculates how much time he has spent painting and assembling model soldiers, if it has been all for nothing. Yet when one considers that the average Briton will spend ten years of their life watching television we have to ask who and what exactly is a waste of time?