Posted by R. John Howe on 08-26-2004 08:54 AM:

"Time" and the Pieces We Buy

Dear folks -

In his introduction to this mini-salon, Steve Price has couched the task in careful terms. He said centrally:

"I simply ask that folks present pairs of related pieces from their own collections, one of which they consider to be much better than the other, along with their reasons for thinking so."

There is no suggestion in his task that time need be implicated in any particular way in our selections.

I think this is right, that our selections reflect our taste and interests at the moment and that we are constantly exposed to the opportunities to make what we might, at some other time, consider to be a "mistake."

I raise this point because there is often in rug circles a tendency to describe, especially to newer collectors, a kind of process of development that they will go through (if they do their homework and persist in their collecting) that will have the effect of making their later collecting decisions and purchases superior in some senses than were those made earlier.

I want to dissent from this suggestion on at least two grounds.

First, one can question whether the word "development" is merited at all. It may well be that one is not "developing" in any classic sense of that term, (I am thinking of such things as Kohlberg's hierarchy of development in the ability to make moral decisions) but rather simply being socialized into the tastes of the dominant collectors with whom one comes in contact.

But even more importantly, I think, the changes in taste we experience in our collecting are not a "straight-line" thing in which the subsequent collecting decisions are necessarily better than are the earlier ones. Yes, we have more knowledge and information and a larger archive of pieces that we have seen and handled as we go along, but I think the calculus of factors that bears on each collecting decision we make is chancy and that the next collecting decision we make may sometimes turn out to be (upon later reflection) a real step back from previous ones.

All this by way of innoculating newer folks from the propogandistic view that more experienced people rarely make "mistakes" in their collecting decisions. It may be that experienced collectors make the particular mistakes that inexperienced collectors tend to make less frequently than do the latter, but I think we are constantly exposed anew in each new collecting decision to the possibility that this decision too will turn out to have been mistaken in some sense.

One of the senses in which collecting is a kind of an adventure, it seems to me, is precisely this constant exposure to the possibility of mistake.


R. John Howe