Treasures and the Wunderkammer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, after interviewing 315 individuals in 82 families about the objects which were special to them, discovered that these objects (least among them were art evolved meaning by context and association. He found ‘visual values are created by social consensus, not perceptual stimulation. He concluded that:

These patterns, and many of the others that emerged from the data suggested that (at least in our culture and in the present historical period) objects do not create order in the viewer’s mind by embodying principles of visual order; they do so by helping the viewer struggle for the ordering of his or her own experience.

while fundamentalists may find this sort of fluidity confusing and ultimately threatening, it has the potential nevertheless to do as much for the icons of our material culture as it has for every aspect of human culture – to allow unlike things to exist…

Ultimately it is up to us to contextualize the paraphernalia of our environment, both natural and artificial, in order to make sense of objects as we fit them into our schemes – not the other way around. This allows for another, somewhat different role which the Wunderkammer (and its descendant – the contemporary collection) may play – not so much as a metaphor for the grand design, but as a vehicle for many particular, perhaps even contradictory designs.

Helmut Lueckenhausen (1997) ‘Theoretical and Museological Perspectives’ in ‘Craft and Contemporary Theory’ Ed. Sue Rowley. NSW: Allen & Unwin. p.36


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