On Collecting

The Indo-European root of the word ‘art’ is ‘to arrange’ or ‘fit together’ (join). In this light, art can be pared down to its most simplistic form. We begin by collecting, then playing with the materials or objects, organizing them in a variety of ways, making them new combinations, trying things, then observing the arrangements we have made.

—Keri Smith, How to be an Explorer of the World


The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

— Umberto Eco, interviewed by Der Spiegel on his residency at the Louvre


Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.

— Walter Benjamin


I perceive value, I confer value, I create value, I even create — or guarantee — existence. Hence, my compulsion to make “lists.” The things (Beethoven’s music, movies, business firms) won’t exist unless I signify my interest in them by at least noting down their names.

Nothing exists unless I maintain it (by my interest, or my potential interest). This is an ultimate, mostly subliminal anxiety. Hence, I must remain always, both in principle + actively, interested in everything. Taking all of knowledge as my province.

— Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh:
Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980


By looking and choosing and acquiring, collectors learn about the world they want to fashion in their own work.

— Rick Poynor, Spin: 360º


To collect is to gather your thoughts through things.

— Patrick Pound


The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same
enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and the museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snapshots, makes notes and records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.

— Paul Rand, A Designer’s Art