This isn’t going to be a post related to art as such, but it is related to something I became interested in during my last college art project (the absence as presence project) and something that influenced the art I created for that project.
A large part of this project involved me looking at things, more specifically, our relationship to things.
By ‘things’ I mean the ‘things’ around us, whether it be where we live (the actual bricks and mortar), the cat, the dog, the budgie, a laptop, the TV, the Dr Who DVD collection, ceramic cats with hats on the mantlepiece, the Dr Marten boots, books, hats, clutter, post, paper, or even the lack of ‘things’.
I recently read a book by Daniel Miller on this very subject called The Comfort of Things. In order to write this book, Miller spend around 18 months interviewing people who lived in a particular street in London about their lives and their things. The purpose was to study their personalities and individual histories through the things that they held dear to them and to ascertain how important things are to us. The book presents 30 portraits of a variety of colourful characters from all ethnic backgrounds and ages. Some of the stories are quite poignant, some uplifting, yet all are very moving.
For the absence as presence art project I studied the things that are important to my children (as it turns out Lego, the Beano and a rather grey scraggly Upsy Daisy doll) and the things that are important to us all (through my collections of mantlepieces and bedside tables).
Then I read an interesting article today about people and their things which painted a very different picture to the one I had been painting through my art. This article’s take on the subject is quite dark and gloomy. It equates the accumulation of things with a desperation to find happiness or a lack of self-esteem, which may be a symptom of depression. It cites research that suggests that when we forge relationships with things (in this case, in the form of a desire to own and show off more things) we are compensating for inability to have good relationships with people.
I think that, counter to what this article argues, the relationship between a desire to own things and our view of ourselves or ability to forge relationships with others is less clear cut. I agree that a desire to accumulate things for accumulation’s sake and as a compensation for a lack of self-worth might be a symptom of deeper issues, but a desire to own things and a happy and fulfilled life are not necessarily mutually exclusive as the article believes. This is something that Daniel Miller also talks about. Proust would also approve of this blog entry I think.
My personal ‘materialism’ manifests itself in a desire to have more books, more boots and more coats (and more cats with hats). I don’t think that this reflects an underlying depression or a failure with human relationships on my part. I think it reflect my personality and in facts enhances my ability to forge relationships with people. I like cats, boots and reading. I have always had a book in my hand and my accumulation of books comes from an ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ type issue I have with books. I don’t have enough time to read all that I want to read but I keep finding more books that I want to read.
As for the cats in hats, that speaks volumes for my mental state, which is not good.
Miller, D. (2009) The Comfort of Things Polity Press, London
Monboit, G. (2013) ‘Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out’ The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/materialism-system-eats-us-from-inside-out?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2 [last accessed 10 December 2013]