We are all found objects now

Collection of geological specimens and other objects at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The debate about the significance of Pinterest (initiated in a post by Enfilade which I responded to in this post) has been continuing with a post on the blog Unmaking Things, run by students on the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum History of Design MA course.

Two pairs of shoes at Mr Straw’s House, Worksop, Nottinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

In this new post entitled ‘Digital Adornment’ Marilyn Zapf notes that Pinterest seems to echo the research of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in mapping taste and class in 1960s France. But rather than asking people to complete questionnaires about their preferences, as Bourdieu did, the present-day researcher can find in Pinterest a huge ready-made data set relating to taste (or ‘taste’).

Textile scraps probably used to plug draught gaps in the late eighteenth century, found at a farm on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/Cristian Barnett

Marilyn’s post has made me reflect on how Pinterest paradoxically increases the distance between an individual and an object, while appearing to bring them closer.

On the one hand, the choice of images available through the internet is huge and is exponentially increasing. The choice for the individual to excercise his or her taste, with the help of Pinterest’s user-friendly software, apears to be almost limitless. Objects zoom in on us from all angles.

Victorian scrap screen at Arlington Court, Devon. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

On the other hand, Marilyn notes that “Pinterest provides a way to consume without purchasing, to collect without owning.” As access increases, ownership – both physically and in the sense of commitment or knowledge –  appears to diminish, and our grasp of the object appears to be more elusive than ever.

1950s bra packaging discovered at Corfe Castle, Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/Cristian Barnett

Also, the very power of the Pinterest concept, in allowing everyone to create their own ‘art’ gallery (simultaneously private, in that it reflects the individual’s personal taste, and public, in that everyone can see it) has the effect of radically, even brutally democratising the value of images. Great works of art and everyday objects, the beautiful and the tasteless are all reduced or elevated to the level of ‘found objects’.

Military dress uniform found in the private apartments at Knole, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Myles New

This, in turn, reminds me of how Marcel Duchamp transformed mundane objects into art purely through his choice of them, most famously through the urinal that he displayed as a sculpture entitled ‘Fountain’.

Duchamp also explored the opposite strategy, by for instance transforming the Mona Lisa into something akin to a joke cartoon character. Now, in Pinterest’s democratic visual playground, life appears to be mimicking art.

Objects found under the floorboards at Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Marilyn also perceptively writes that by using Pinterest “the consumer (in the guise of a collector) is made visible. […] The networking site puts the consumer on display alongside consumption itself.”

For better or for worse, Pinterest objectifies our choices, and, through them, objectifies us. As we all become producer-consumers (or prosumers), we all turn into someone else’s found objects.

16 Responses to “We are all found objects now”

  1. mary Says:

    I have found this objectification to be true in so many areas where technology has intertwined with personal behavior and art. Art–its creation, appreciation and passion are experiences too personal to be posted to “world.”

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mary, yes I agree that certain experiences will probably always escape objectification.

    On the other hand, some people positively relish their personality and tastes being objectified – and as a blogger I suppose I am a little bit guilty of that too 🙂

  3. deana Says:

    Pinterest makes us all little curators, sharing our personal tastes. There is something rather wonderful about it. So many can share their vision of the world –– these pinterest collages are art pieces for that, aren’t they? Don’t artists ask us to look with their eyes, see the way they see?

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Deana, yes we are all curators now 🙂 I often think that blog posts, too, are like little exhibitions.

  5. style court Says:

    Regarding everyday objects vs. great works of art, what strikes me about the perfectly-chosen images in this post is how artfully composed they are. I think the skills of the photographer (and maybe also a curator stylist behind the scenes?) are really what cause us to appreciate the textures, colors etc. Elevating rags to something kind of poetic. But I’m stating the obvious — that was the point of the post 🙂 It’s just that these photos in particular make me think of another social media phenom: Instagram.

    Again, people use Istagram in different ways, but for many of us who participate, the challenge is to find something noteworthy or arresting in the mundane.

    Thought provoking post, Emile.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes isn’t it fascinating how much genuine skill and art is involved in the appreciation of the mundane 🙂 Tellingly, as I was looking for images for this post, I found myself rejecting pictures of things that were too beautiful or significant in themselves (like archeological finds), because they were somehow interfering with the subtle signal of the more anonymous found objects.

    And I think that observation of yours also applies to the work of Duchamp: ‘Fountain’ was clearly Duchamp’s answer to the question “what is the most anonymous, most humble, most unartistic object I can find?” In his readymades he seems to have been striving to capture the ineffable beauty of objects that were not intended to be beautiful.

    And of course this quality also lies at the heart of the Japanese concept of wabi, which as you know can be translated as ‘humble elegance’ or ‘the beauty of imperfection’. There, too, artifice soon crept in, as Japanese potters started to make beautiful teabowls that very cleverly and artfully imitated the artless peasant ceramics so admired by the wabi connoiseurs.

    This kind of beauty is a bit like Proust’s concept of involuntary memory: if you try too hard to capture it, you lose it, but if you don’t focus on it directly it might suddenly come to you, with all its vividness and insight.

    And that, I suppose, is where the skill comes in: by forgetting about ‘beauty’ and just focusing on the making of a thing, whatever that may be, you may suddenly, almost involuntarily, capture something unexpected.

    I must check out Instagram, thanks for mentioning it.

  7. Simply Grand Says:

    Well, yes, Pinterest makes all of us a curator these days, but only in the way that typewriters suddenly made everybody a writer.

    Emile makes a good pount, so let’s be honest: blog posts (and, yes, blog comments) are no less cries for attention–Look at ME!–than are collages of images that people find & pin, so it’s not people’s setting themselves up as self-aggrandizing Pinterest “curators” that bugs me. After all, some of my best friends are media whores.

    No, it’s the way that so much of what’s on Pinteret is uncredited that bother me–big time. A great image without any atttribution is still a great image, but like a looted artifact, without a context, its value is diminished. It could be anything. It could mean anything.

    A while back, my apartment was published in a national magazine. One of the shots that didn’t make the cut–a shot of winter coats hanging from the shower rod in an Art Deco bath–showed up on the photographer’s website. Somebody saw it and Pinned it without attribution. Somebody else re-Pinned it, aklso with no credit line. Somebody else saw that un-credited re-Pin, stuck the photo on her own blog and commented on how clever I was to use my shower rod to display my coats instead of a curtain.

    But it wasn’t a “display” at all. In fact, although it was my bathroom, I had nothing to do with the coats hanging there. They belonged to the six-person editorial crew that came to shoot my place and they were hanging there because there was nowhere else to hang them, The photographer just happened to like the way the light from a stained-glass window fell on the coats and took a photo. Three years later, I get credit for an art installation that wasn’t. All thanks to Pinterest’s value-free way of equalizing (or, as Emile, notes, devaluing) every image, and presenting every image free of all context, stripped of any meaning and ready for a brand new meaning–any meaning–to be attached to it.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes lack of image cediting is a problem, as is lack of context. But it is interesting how quickly social media etiquette about crediting and linking to sources of images has sprung up, with social pressure (and sometimes legal pressure as well) on people to do the right thing. Social media also provide unprecedented opportunities to present things in a meaningful context, and to provide links to related contexts. Some people will always take things out of context and copy without crediting. But their activities represent dead ends, whereas respectful and collaborative blogging and pinning generates communication and creativity.

  9. Simply Grand Says:

    Emile, your last sentence touches on the one aspect of Pinterest that really does interest me: the idea that we–you & I–can be be the links that connect the Past (i.e, stuff–old ideas, old buildings, old things) with the Future (i.e. people who are all over the latest technology but who aren’t all that into actual books, and who likely would never discover such things on their own). We ourselves can resurrect stuff that was once part of our common cultural currency, but which has already dropped from popular memory.

    Most people don’t know where the treasure is buried, but we do, and these days, thanks to Google Books, we even have a way to get at it from a long way away. Then, all we have to do is upload the sifted data into a format others can access. They’ll find it when it’s time: Virginia Woolf’s bedroom is the perfect example. Obviously, thanks to Pinterest, people who will never read a thing she wrote (and who will never make it to England) are still captivated by its homely charm.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I agree: social media have the potential for us to reconstruct meaning, to preserve meaning, to create meaning and to allow others to reconstruct, preserve and create meaning. To paraphrase the title of this post (yet again): we are all networks now 🙂

  11. style court Says:

    Emile, you’ve given me more to ponder. I hadn’t thought about Proust and memory but you’re so right: his idea (about not forcing it etc.) ties in perfectly. And I have to add, I continue to become much more aware of wabi because of Treasure Hunt. That brings me to Bart’s (Simply Grand) last point. Whether through text or, maybe more abstractly, just through images, on its better days online media really can expand our awareness. In a not-so-forced way, I mean. Essentially help generate creativity, as you said. It can be the spark.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Courtney. Yes I do go on about wabi, don’t I 🙂 Wabi is sometime defined as a uniquely Japanese concept and experience, and in some of its more specific expressions I suppose that is true, but I think it can also be a useful ‘universal’ tool to try to analyse and define certain types of beauty.

  13. visitinghousesandgardens Says:

    I just became a Pinterest convert!

  14. Beth Katleman Says:

    I really enjoyed this post, especially the Victorian Scrap Screen, which calls to mind sampling, or appropriation as we say.

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, Beth, and some of these ‘strategies’ are similar to your practice, it would seem.

  16. imogen88 Says:

    Really good reading, thank you, and observations on the Pinterest phenomenon! Most of all I love the found objects, I wish they would tell their story!

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