Uvluulluataq (Good Afternoon), I have struggled a bit with this question, I’m not sure if it’s meant to question the technical aspects of why particular museum types collect or the larger philosophical question of why I think museums collect. So I will try to answer both.
My understanding of why museums collect is that it depends on the mission of the museum, the materials being collected and the people doing the research/collecting and curating. A Natural History museum might collect specimens to gain more information about a specific species/environment or to preserve information that might be collected later. A Fine Art museum might collect a piece of artwork that reflects a unique event or shared experience within the context of a particular perspective, timeframe or culture. While I could go on with specific examples of reasons why that particular museum collected that object, it really is about the particular place, time, thing and people. I have not worked for a museum in a collections capacity but I have had my work collected. I did not ask why at the time but my understanding is that the art piece had a particular value at that moment to the curator that they felt needed to be preserved and shared by their institution. Was that value the ideas behind the work? The craftsmanship? The aesthetic? Was it because of me, the artist, that the work was valued and worthwhile to collect? I’m not sure, I did not ask. I only know that there was some sort of connection and that it had a value they felt was worth collecting. So that is why I think that museums collect, because of a connection. Whether it is to search for that connection, to covet a found connection or to preserve a connection, it is based in the need to connect with what is around us and to share that, with community or with future generations.
Why individuals collect is based on the same concept; connection. These connections have factors that can be place based, time based, type based or style based among many others that are dependent on the particular field of study and the key factors of differentiation or similarity in that field. When I collect things or make things they typically have two different modes that lead to the collecting or creation of an object and those two modes are: Process based or product based. Some things are collected because of the process that leads to the object, an art exhibition, an archaeological dig, collections field work maybe, all these events lead and create processes for things to be collected, these ones in particular have a direct connection to museum practices. Another example of a process based collection is the act of collecting souvenirs, something that most of us do I think. The other mode of collection/creation is product based and with this one comes intention. For this one the focus is very much on the object itself and direct factors relating to that. I’m not sure if these answer the question directly or just lead to more questions but I feel that these are all part of why museums collect and why we all do too.
Q: Do you have a favorite museum object, collection, exhibit or artifact type? -(I really love ivory harpoon rests like the one pictured that is at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology)