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The fine art of hoarding by Robert Genn

The fine art of hoarding
by Robert Genn

The next edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is going to include the new category of "Hoarding"--no longer just a branch of OCD, it seems, but a distinct malaise. We all know of someone whose home is clogged with old newspapers and other unusable detritus. We may also know of people with a buildup of clothes, books, animals, dolls or empty liquor bottles. Others we know suffer from the hoarding of stamps, old vehicles, money, information, and art. What I want to talk about here are artists who hoard their own artwork.

Without disclosing the names of friends and associates, some among us have a hard time letting go of work. Some have accumulated so much of their own art that they've built separate buildings to house it.

Psychiatrists suggest that even mild hoarding may be the result of a childhood trauma or a threatening event. In my case, I can identify the time and place. At age about four I was at the seashore playing with a box of chestnuts when they were all swept away by a rogue wave. I screamed my best primal scream and my mom had to swim out and rescue every last nut.

Since that day I've feared losing my stuff. However, with calculated self-delusion, I've been able to rationalize that while my work may be on someone else's wall, it's still mine.

Attitudes of preciousness and unwillingness to release are fairly common among artists, and this knowledge has helped me deal with my own problem. I'd appreciate if you didn't mention my problem. My question is to what degree it may be a beneficial problem.

When we begin to see our work as the main currency of our lives, it becomes important that it be half-decent work--as high in quality as we are, at the time, capable. We may even feel the need to keep replacing our lesser work with what we perceive as better work. While we may forever be aware of our work's shortcomings, we allow ourselves to fall just a bit in love with it. This commitment may go some distance in reconfirming self-love. "I am not a loser." Is this a bad thing?

Best regards,


PS: "When a loss is significant, the person feels a stronger, deeper need to replace." (Elaine Birchell, social worker)

Esoterica: There are several conditions that accompany hoarding in many, but not all, afflicted artists. One is a protective wall of self-importance and exceptionalism--a risky sentiment which, in some cases, is only modestly deserved. Another is blindness to possibilities of self-improvement. Growth atrophies as the artist operates from an ivory tower protected by a moat of his own fears. Another condition is the constant and perennial need to perfect the work. This can be simply an excuse not to let go of it. Thus, work is never delivered, and the relieved artist is never in any danger of loss.


Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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