Curiosity Meets Creativity: Why You Need a Wunderkammern

I was revisiting some of my favorite books on creativity this week in an effort to boost my inspiration, and I ran into the part in Austin Kleon’s amazing book, Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, where he talks about Wunderkammern.

Considered to be the beginning seeds of our modern museums, wunderkammern (or cabinets of curiosities) were collections of rare and unusual objects, typically valuable and historically important, compiled by Europe’s scholars and aristocrats during the Renaissance and beyond. These displayed “curiosities” were for study and entertainment, since they included things like coral and fossils, narwhal tusks (thought to be the horns of unicorns), sundials and time pieces, embalmed bones, and goblets made from ostrich eggs.

Even though your standard artist doesn’t collect objects like those anymore (and the narwhals thank you for it), creative people still gravitate toward gathering items of visual interest. For me, it’s stamps (see above for a small sampling). While I’m not a collector by any stretch, I get super excited when I find an envelope slapped with amazing stamps—even better if there are multiple, different stamps covered in postal marks…and extra, extra points if that postal mark is in another language. As an artist, and particularly someone who likes mixed media, I’m in love with how mailed stamps combine art, collage, and utility, since we rely on them to get mail from one place to another.

Austin Kleon says in his book:

“We all carry around the weird and wonderful things we’ve come across while doing our work and living our lives.”

I believe this as well, and that these wonderful things lead us to our own creativity. My stamps are a direct influence on the art I create. I’m drawn to them for a reason!

If you don’t already have a wunderkammern, consider what you might collect. Not only can it kickstart your creativity and inspiration, but it’s a fun thing to share on social media because it shows an authentic part of yourself that others can connect with. The odder the objects, the better…but leave those narwhals alone.

I urge you to ask yourself: what’s in my wunderkammern?