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On Collecting: Breaking the Borderlands of Function

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Djinnaya Stroud‘s recent profile of three collectors whose acquisitions include functional works. Stroud explains, “The need to understand an object through its use drives many people who would never have been art collectors to amass functional work.” This essay was originally published on December 10, 2014.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 in. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

The term “non-functional art” isn’t satisfying as an antonym for functional art. All art serves a function, even if that function is solely aesthetic. In 1790, Immanuel Kant declared in Critique of Judgment that opinions of taste are disinterested, in that they have no bearing on actual human needs. From that statement, a whole category of objects was relegated to the realm of functional art, or, even worse, not art. Public opinion has developed quite a bit since then, but the divide between functional art and disinterested art remains.

One way to understand an object is to understand its place in the world. So what happens when those objects enter a collection? Art collecting is driven by investment and/or preservation. Some people collect art for financial reasons, hoping that it will appreciate in value, and others collect art to ensure that it remains in good care for the future. Most collectors are a mix of both. Functional artworks, if in use, do not adhere to either of those missions because, in their use, they risk devaluation or destruction. The collector of functional art makes a decision about whether to use a piece or to keep it merely as an aesthetic object.

Read the full article here.