THE PSYCHOLOGY OF COLLECTING


“Auction fever is a byproduct of social competition, say researchers, who note that our physiological responses are diminished when we bid against computerised opponents ra-ther than human adversaries.”

Ever wondered where the impulse to collect comes from? If collectors are born or made? Whether your fine art/stamp/novelty sock collection is the product of a creative soul or an ever-so-slightly disturbed mind? The act of collecting appears to be the subject of ever-increasing interest.

Last year, The Keeper exhibition at New York’s New Museum show-cased the collections of ‘individuals who have carried out unreasonable acts of iconophil-ia’, whilst a pop-up show at Dalston’s Proud Archivist gallery trained the spotlight on ‘the collections people usually hide away’. Earlier this year, a cohort of invited collectors and artists took up residence at London’s Delfina Foundation as part of its ‘Collecting as Prac-tice’ programme.

More than half of us now consider ourselves collectors, yet only 10% cite return on investment as a primary motivator. “The value of these objects is irrelevant,” Dr. Rebecca Spelman opines. “For most of us, being a collector has nothing to do with finan-cial gain – it is an emotionally driven action.”

Let’s start at the beginning. Research suggests that collections often begin accidentally, or at least incidentally, in the absence of conscious intent. Typically, a gift or discovery incul-cates a fascination with a particular object which spirals into a quest to acquire similar items. Almost every child will compile some kind of collection, be it Pokémon, seashells or Happy Meal toys. But why?

According to Freud, the sensation of ‘loss’ we experience on opening our bowels during potty training fires up the drive to ‘possess’. His successors, however, having prised their bottoms off the toilet seat, argue that we experience our first feelings of loneliness, uncertainty and anxiety on realising that we are an individual, divisible from our mother.

The temporary comfort we experience on reaching for a toy or blanket teaches us that it is possible to forge an emotional bond with an inanimate object, and that the acquisition of material things can help to relieve uncomfortable emotions.

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