It’s generally understood that the century mark defines an object as an antique. We all know, however that artistic value is not acquired by age. While most of us refer to our hobby as antique collecting, what most of us really seek is not just age, but the artistic values of an old object.
To be fair, age is an important attribute. From sophisticated New York, Boston and Philadelphia furniture to Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio folk art, age brings a personal connection to the creator of an object and the people who had known it.
That personal component, the connection of an object to its maker is one that has been lost on objects that came into being from a machine rather than through the hands of a craftsman. While many machine-made objects have weathered the hundred years it takes them to come to be defined as an antique, they are still without that very personal connection to the past. They have age and connection with a time and place, but no individual connection with the person who made them.
It’s hard to relate to a time when the artist-craftsman was the source of most of consumer goods produced. The closest we come today is having objects by a noted designer. This is the model that most people alive today relate to, and perhaps one of the reasons it’s commonly observed that younger generations are not interested in antique collecting. While it’s easy to be aware of the “old” of an object, the appreciation of the art of it is not apparent as even the process in which these objects came into being is foreign.
Mass production has existed for most of our lifetimes, our parents and even grandparents lifetimes. The would-be collector is left with no obvious way to distinguish an object with age and artistic value from one that has merely acquired age. The differentiation is a learned ability and one the modern consumer is not accustomed to investing time in.
Most of the objects in homes today were not crafted by an individual. They are not of a unique design. They say even less about the craftsman who designed them then about the consumer who bought them and are more likely to be discarded than be in the homes of future generations.
The one exception is art. Despite the influence of Andy Warhol, while mass production has almost completely infiltrated the furniture market, the process has failed to diminish an appreciation of wall art among a broad segment of the public. Those who don’t realize they can have a real painting in their home have been to a museum to appreciate art.
The task before us who would like to see more collections in homes in addition to museums is to enhance the awareness of art as something we can not only appreciate, but should aspire to have adorn our walls. More, art is not limited to the wall. It can be found in our furniture and other home décor.
The limited definition of an antique as an object that has simply accumulated a hundred years may be one that prevents the hobby from being fully appreciated by younger generations. It is the universal appreciation for art that can change that.