The forces that make us want to have and to keep objects are complex and deeply rooted. They cannot be explained in a simple way, any more than the artistic capacity of a small brown bird can be explained or dismissed as a courtship ritual. With the possible exception of St. Francis of Assisi and a few others, nearly all people like to acquire and hold onto objects of various kinds, although these objects are not always chosen for practical reasons.
As with the Bowerbirds there may be an aesthetic motivation, or a connection to a place we visited, an event or an experience. A favoured toy from childhood perhaps, or a gift received from a cherished friend. Perhaps something earned through hard work. All these things are personal treasures that are meaningful to the individual, but their importance may not be evident to others without explanation. This sentiment is beautifully expressed in the song Step Inside This House, written by Guy Clark and performed by Lyle Lovett on his double-album of the same name. Here is how it begins:
“That picture hangin’ on the wall
Was painted by a friend
He gave it to me all down and out
When he owed me ten
It doesn’t look like much I guess
But it’s all that’s left of him
It sure is nice from right over here
When the light’s a little dim
Step inside this house girl
I’ll sing for you a song
I’ll tell you ’bout just where I’ve been
It shouldn’t take too long
I’ll show you all the things that I own
My treasures you might say
It couldn’t be more than ten dollars worth
They brighten up my day…”
Each successive verse illuminates the way in which the simplest things can have great personal meaning. You can find the full lyrics here.
As an aside, if you are a fan of acoustic music, I highly recommend the album. Step Inside This House is a compelling introduction to the lyrics of some of the great Texas singer-songwriters, and is also one of Lyle Lovett’s best studio recordings.
Giotto di Bondone
Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis (2) Renunciation of Worldly Goods (detail)
Fresco, 280cm x 450cm, Bardi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence, 1325