Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

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Posted by Steve Price on December 01, 1998 at 14:27:39:

Dear Co-Ruminators,

The popularity of ethnographic weavings, even when we're not sure precisely what we mean by the term, raises some very interesting issues.

Why do collectors prefer ethnographic stuff? Jerry points out some characteristics that ethnographic rugs tend to have, but there is real reason to wonder whether we find ethnographic rugs attractive because they possess those characteristics, or if we find those characteristics attractive because they occur in ethnographic rugs. This might seem like a silly question. Most people believe that it is obviously the physical characteristics of the item (color, form, texture, etc.) that dictate our aesthetic response to it. But how can we account for the following on that basis?
1. Tastes change, even among rug collectors. Sometimes rather suddenly, and sometimes just because we become aware of the fact that rugs of a certain type are not as ethnographic as we thought they were. Caucasian rugs are a perfect example. The lust of many collectors prior to about 1990, a number of types have fallen from favor as we discover that those types were made to specifications to please Europeans. Their physical characteristics haven't changed, but they are seen as less beautiful because the cultural context in which we place them has.
2. Dealers know that many prefer rugs with culturally significant stories attached to them. If a plausible case can be made that a rug was part of a bride's dowry, or used in religious devotions, or was an important appurtenance to some exotic (to us) practice, the customer sees it as more beautiful.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? The answer to this rhetorical question is less cut and dried than is usually thought.

Steve Price

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