Spotlight - The Art Collector

Thirty three percent of people collect one thing or another.

Collecting art is a common human interest,

Why do we do it? Why does it make us feel so good?

Why do we feel a compulsion to always be searching for the next great find?

The answer is that the physiology of our brain engineers our "need" to collect. 

Sometimes, don't you jokingly call your art collection your "addiction"? You are actually very close to the truth.

Physician Dr. Shirley Mueller has dedicated her career to understanding why humans collect things. She explains the phenomenon in her 2019 article, "Why We Collect" and her 2020 book "Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play". 

So. Why do we collect art?

Simple. It makes us happy. And humans are driven by the desire to experience pleasure.

"Collecting isn't a job, it isn't a hobby.  It's better.  It's a passion. When we collect, we seek pleasure in a very specific manner".

The pride we feel when we acquire a special object (like that very first Inuit carving), is a "psychological reinforcer". The reinforcer feeds our brains' pleasure centre.  When our pleasure centre is stimulated we feel great!

Our pleasure centre then sparks our desire to collect another Inuit carving (our object of desire).

But wait!

When you gather a group of like items together for the first time ( ie 2 or 3 dancing bears)  the group actually heightens your sense of pride which then more strongly stimulates your pleasure centre. Your excitement for your collection escalates. 

So you see, there are many psychological reinforcers (pride, a sense of belonging to an group)  that creates a sense of pleasure (via your brain) that pushes you to collect more and more carvings!

AND when you search for that perfect rare Nuna dancing bear, the one that sets you apart from your peers by bringing you recognition and admiration from other collectors?

YES! Your pleasure centre becomes super stimulated by all the complex dimensions of your collecting activities. All the multilayered psychological reinforcers bombard your pleasure centre.

This is why you feel that compulsion to find the next best carving! Your brain wants you to collect, to feel that pleasure again and again and again.


Next month....The Art Collector Part 2