Books / Reviews

'The Grain of the Clay: Reflections on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting': Deep thoughts on the urge to gather

by Stephen Mansfield

Special To The Japan Times

The merits of imperfection were well expressed by the poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen when he wrote, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

The Grain of the Clay: Reflections on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting, by Allen S. Weiss.
224 pages

Allen S. Weiss is a relatively new but avid collector of Japanese ceramics, one who recognizes both the beauty of imperfection and the hazards of collecting. Listing some of the possible reasons for doing so, he notes the aesthetic, psychological and economic, the desire to connect with history, re-experience the wonders of childhood and interestingly, the urge “to exercise absolute control over a small portion of the world.”

Like all passions, collecting can easily turn to mania, an obsession to possess the definitive assortment of just about anything, regardless of its intrinsic material or aesthetic value. Weiss cites one instance of idiosyncratic ephemera in the world’s most comprehensive collection of airplane sickness bags.

The writer urges readers to make collections part of their lives. Weiss, who likes to test his sake cups with a drink or two, confesses that his motive for collecting revolves partially around a “pure pleasure principal, hence the occasionally inebriated content of these pages.” Collections, we might conclude, tell us more about owners, institutions, and even governments than the objects themselves, their acquisition reflecting everything from discerning taste and refinement to venality.

This book gives us the chance to ponder all these things — to make an orderly collection of our thoughts.

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