Minimalism, Hobbies, and Collections
There are a lot of blog posts and comments concerning minimalism, hobbies, and collections. It’s a common problem when the bits pile up and start taking over the room, the house, the basement. Collections grow out of control, or never make it out of storage after moving house. Hobbies are started with gusto then abandoned, collectors get bored and move on to something else. There’s a lot of conflict, guilt and sentimentality invoked by pastimes in which we were once heavily invested. There is no one right solution for everyone, though, other than to be honest about what is truly meaningful and relevant, and to accept that aesthetic or emotional relevance can sometimes supercede the practical.
This is my own case study.
I have been an artist for most of my life, mostly painting and pastels, but some three-dimensional work as well, including papier-maiche and sculptural assemblages. On the collecting side, I’ve always had a thing for rabbit iconography, starting in early childhood with Bugs Bunny, Peter Rabbit, and of course the Easter Bunny. The latter is probably at the root of my similar penchant for baskets. I started a collection of both rabbits and baskets in childhood without thinking I was collecting. Acquisitions became more frequent as an adult, and my “rabbit fetish” was the subject of much good-natured teasing and gift-giving. I also seldom met a basket I didn’t like, and thought nothing of buying one if the price was right.
I brought all my baskets and rabbit things-several boxes worth–when we moved to this much smaller house. Many of the larger baskets found a decorative home atop the bank of kitchen wall cabinets, in contrast to their previous life as useful storage pieces. Most of the rabbits stayed in storage until a few months ago when I created a shelf for them in the small room I previously used for a studio. This was intended as an act of uncluttering the basement, of getting things out of storage to be enjoyed.
It was fun at first to get them out of their boxes and set them up on the shelf all in one place, something I hadn’t done before, even in my previous house, where they were just here and there in different rooms. But as the weeks went by, I realized that they were little more than cute dust-collecting remnants of the past, and some of them had unhappy stories as well. I also realized I wasn’t actually a collector, just an acquirer and a keeper, which is a much shallower thing. The shelf of cute rabbit whatnots was nothing more than clutter.
I went through my collection of rabbitry and weeded out any pieces which were not of particular value to me, or whose stories were not ones I wanted to have around me anymore. What remained was the best of the best, at least to me. Then I turned to other personal items and assessed them in the same way. The large basket collection had to come down from the cabinets because of my kitchen remodeling, and had no where to go but back to the basement, so I just kept the one most valuable to me, plus just a few smaller ones of particular personal value, such as my grandmother’s picnic basket and the very first basket I ever owned. As a result the remaining pieces are easier to see and enjoy. I defined my collection, as opposed to having it define or burden me. And I’ve no desire to acquire more.
But then there was the rabbit I’d actually made, which has been gathering dust in the basement since we moved here four years ago.
The rabbit is a papier-maiche sculpture I made in the summer of 1988. I’ve schlepped it around over several moves and several remodelings. It often had a place of honor in my living room or gallery, intriguing in it’s raw state of layers of newspaper strips. I’m now living back in the town I was living in when I made it, and it was interesting to read bits of local news and advertising from that long ago, seeing which businesses were still in operation, which had closed or moved, what the prices were like back then, etc.
Time, however, was having its way with the paper and the rabbit was in danger of losing its feet and one of its ears. During the cleanout of my art and assemblage supplies I planned on throwing it out, maybe with a ceremonial cremation. It’s three feet high, and the base, comprised of its substantial haunches, is roughly 16″ x 16″, so it takes up some serious real estate in our little house. I set it aside on a bookcase in my studio, to await a pleasant evening with no wind, so we could get out the fire pit and some beers and (literally) toast the old thing on to that great gallery in the sky.
But it grew on me all over again, sitting there in the studio like a mascot or a muse. It was going to need some serious work, though, if I was going to keep it. There was a tub of spackle left over from a home repair project; I decided I would keep the rabbit if it would hold up to being “finished.” I repaired the ear and the feet, then gradually layered the spackle, and the whole thing got stronger instead of weaker. This means that it only took me 22 years to finish this piece of goofy art. Today it gets the first coat of gloss medium, which will seal the spackle and make it easier to keep clean, as a lone nod to practicality. But it earns its keep: I find the simple lines of the White Rabbit appealing and it makes me smile every time I go into the studio.
After all, it’s a Minimalist Rabbit, of sorts. ;D