Saturday, 31 July 2010

Is Provenance only for "Morons"?

Over on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts closed access discussion forum, the next victim is singled out for attack. A collector mentioned on this blog a number of times has just labelled David Knell a "moron" and illiterate (that's not against Accepted Use Policy over there on that moderated list it seems). That is because he wrote this a few weeks ago: Object-based Universe - the danger of a blinkered view . Do please take a bit of time to read it yourself and decide if what Mr Knell (who seems from what contact I have had with him to be anything but a "moron" and does seem to be quite well-read) has written makes sense to you. So why the pejorative labels? What is the matter with antiquity collectors? Who would have thought that a simple idea like it being a good idea to find out where the things one collects come from would arouse so much bad feeling and aggression among collectors? On a "responsible collectors" list as well !

UPDATE: 1st August.
Apologies for continuing this here, for reasons explained earlier as an archaeologist who talks of responsible collecting I cannot reply on Tim Haines' "Ancient Artifacts" list and Mr Hooker refuses to comment over here.

Tim Haines' "AncientArtifacts" forum hosted by Yahoo continues to develop as a venue where the collectors' mentality can be explored (I'd encourage enquiring readers to join and look for themselves). The discussion of a Canadian collector's purchase of an unreported metal detecting find allegedly from "Oxfordshire" continues to generate enlightening material.

John Hooker has just posted up there a lengthy expose of his "methods and attitudes" - though actually only attempts the latter starting off with a self-indulgent depiction of the author's "psychological type" ("My own psychological type is INFJ" with the strongest emphasis on intuition with judgement being the weakest - yeah, right, could have guessed from the collector's fanciful description of a depiction of "life and death" on a thumbnail-sized fragment of dugup copper alloy). According to Hooker his psychological type "often annoy the hell out of people who are not of our type, because we appear to get answers out of thin air -- instantly. It is even more annoying to them when we are proven right -- and we usually are". Hmmm. Well, I'll go along with the "ideas out of thin air" bit.

The message of pointing out how "special" are the mental abilities of this particular collector is to reinforce his earlier point about how much better he is suited to making intuitive pronouncements about his "Precious" than most others (because only 1% of the population he says are IFNJs). These are the ones he labels "morons" who are weighed down by lesser intellectual abilities (of other "psychological types") than his own.

Anyway after a plateful of this self-indulgent stew, he then dollops out a dessert of generous helpings of stodgy goo about how unimportant for him is knowing the provenance of the object which he has at home. All special pleading to show why, in his particular case, the very simple requirement of knowing where something came from allegedly do not apply. None of this is very convincing, and totally misses the point that the issue under discussion is not whether it is important to a single person, no matter how well endowed pychologically. It is about the responsible collector taking into account that in coveting for themselves pieces of a common resource, other interests should be satisfied and not trampled upon out of their own unethical individual greed and desire to possess something nobody else has. Jung would have had a few things to say about that, but Hooker is silent on that issue.

Confusingly, Hooker claims he has arrived at something he calls "my specific provenance data" (which are not data at all) "gathered through empirical means" which is "of a different class than declared provenances"; in other words, where an object physically came from. Yes, yes it is, quite a different concept altogether. Once again, we see an ACCG antiquities collector avoiding a relatively simple issue. In this case covering the basic idea with lashings of verbiage and set on a bed of par-boiled psychological pseudo-intellectualism.

It will be noted that in this self-justification, Hooker totally avoids the main issue which is that purchasing this item, an employee of the ACCG undercuts the ACCG's main argument that through the recording of items in schemes like the PAS the interests of the collector and conservation of and responsibilities for the archaeological resource can be satisfied. This would be the case only if collectors are firm and only buy items that have been through the system. Otherwise the system is not working. Hooker has just kicked the ladder from under the ACCG and the PAS.

Also Hooker totally avoids discussion of his "methods" for divining the meaning of the decoration on his finial, his interpretation of the "ivy scrolls" for example.

Hooker concludes a long and rambling post with the words:
I sincerely hope that the above will register with those who are not afflicted by a conscious or unconscious "world view agenda". Those who are, however, will be unable to understand most of this and will never change without considerable effort on their part and this rarely happens as they are inherently unable to abandon unworkable models.
Well, the whole point of this is that the ACCG who employs Mr Hooker to edit their newsletter does not regard PAS recording to be an "unworkable model". It is apparently part of their world-view that such systems should be extended rather than or bypassed and ignored - or is it the case that Mr Hooker has demonstrated that in reality the whole of this "if only other nations would adopt a PAS-like system" nonsense is just an ACCG smokescreen for inaction over the no-questions-asked market?


1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

Those of psychological type ITLG (I think like a goldfish) will perhaps find informative a "reply" on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Antiquities Discussion group. The rest of us need not bother with it, it adds nothing to the discussion, but goes off on a complete tangent which makes further debate futile (I suspect that was the author's intention, collectors rarely address the actual points made in such debates but simply avoid the issue).

Hooker cannot seem to grasp the idea of "provenance" (it is not a "sliding scale" nor a "religious tenet"). He clearly does not understand what is meant here by the no-questions-asked market, nor the point I was making about the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Or if he does, he is pretending not to.

This obtuse avoiding of open and face-to-face discussion is totally typical of the approach of almost the entire collecting milieu to any attempt to discuss the issues surrounding no-questions-asked collecting. Ignoring the existence of these problems as they do will not, however, make them go away.

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