Re: Are better rugs peferentially preserved?

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Posted by Michael Wendorf on June 21, 1999 at 11:20:03:

In Reply to: Are better rugs peferentially preserved? posted by Steve Price on June 21, 1999 at 06:44:00:

: Dear Yon,

: You note that the position that better rugs are preserved preferentially is not rigorously proven. That's true. In fact, it cannot be rigorously proven. Nor can most of the other things we routinely take to be true (not just in Rugdom, by the way).

: I've made that assertion fairly often and publicly, so I thought my rationale might be of some interest. Here it is.

: 1. I assume that some broad criteria for what is "good" are the same now as they were in the past. In general, the skill needed to create a piece, the amount of time it took to do so, and the expense of the materials involved are and have been significant elements in the judgment of whether something is good or bad. These are not the only factors, obviously, but they are significant.
: 2. I further assume that people are more likely to discard something bad than something good, and are more likely to take steps to preserve something good than something bad. There will be individual exceptions, of course, but if we deal with large numbers of items I think this can be taken as axiomatic.
: 3. It follows from this that over time the better pieces will have been preserved to a greater extent, and the worse pieces will have been discarded to a greater extent. That is, over time the average quality of the surviving pieces of a cohort of items will become higher than that of the original cohort, and the longer the time, the greater the average quality of the surviving pieces will become.
: 4. The issue of whether there are excellent new pieces is related, but not identical. Of course there are excellent new items, but selection has not yet weeded out very many of the worst. Furthermore, to the extent that new production is influenced by the surviving examples of old production, the newer cohorts will gradually improve so the average quality of new weavings may be expected to be better than the average quality of old pieces at the time the old ones were made TO THE EXTENT THAT THE NEW PRODUCTION IS INFLUENCED BY THE SURVIVING EXAMPLES OF OLD PRODUCTION. I do not know how great that influence is, although I do not think it is major.

: I hope this is not so longwinded as to be boring.

: Steve Price


The issue of whether what we call or think of as great or consider good was preferentially preserved because it was also seen by its makers and previous owners as great or good is an intriguing one. The answer may be as simple as something that was useful was great or good and taken care of because it was useful and not necessarily easy to replace. Of course, it seems logical that no rational weaver would intentionally create something that was not useful and therefore good in the first place. Few things it would seem would be woven just for decoration, much less just for fun or even as "art" for its own sake or value. It seems to me that weavings were made to serve a functional purpose, even if the purpose was commerce. Steve's analysis seems to assume that weavers did make weavings that were bad, i.e. not good or not useful.
That said, I think we can all recall weavings that appeared to be unusually old and well cared for, both rugs and smaller objects. These items appear to have received preferential care and a place of honor but it also be they just were not very "good" or very useful and, having been made, were just put away and forgotten only to be discovered and revered today. I think Wendel for one can relate a story of a Yatak that stayed in a Chicago dealer's stack for over 50 years before it was snatched up with its original inventory card and today good pass for a preferentially treated tribal weaving of great importance when in fact, it couldn't have been given away for most of the 20th century. Does that make it bad or great? I wonder?
Regards, Michael

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