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The Collector's Journey: Experiencing 'Flow' Through Art

"Flow," when collecting, enhances well-being and life satisfaction.

Key points

  • While in flow, a person performing an activity is fully immersed.
  • This engenders a feeling of energized focus, complete involvement, and enjoyment in the activity process.
  • In turn, flow leads to enhanced well-being and life satisfaction.
Thomas M. Mueller Photography
Porcelain is reflected in the mirror to the left and beyond on the shelves
Source: Thomas M. Mueller Photography

My husband went to a bachelor party, leaving me home alone. It was a Friday night, and with nothing planned, I turned to my porcelain collection. It needed arranging and then, when arranged, rearranging. The display had to be suitable to me and appealing to others. That was my goal.

This task on that Friday night took a lot of time, from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. the next morning when my husband finally arrived home from his bachelor event. But I hardly noticed. My mind was absorbed in selecting pieces that needed to be moved around to show them to the best effect. As a result, the time went quickly. I didn’t know it then, but I was in “the flow,” hitherto referred to as flow. Though this concept applies to many tasks we enjoy in life, it importantly relates to collectors who can and do lose themselves in their collection in a variety of ways.

What Is Flow?

Flow is defined as a mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, complete involvement, and enjoyment in the activity process. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes flow as occurring when there is a balance between the task's challenge and the individual's skill. This state is often associated with creative activities (such as collecting art) where human beings lose track of time and self-consciousness fades.

The Characteristics of Flow

The process itself involves certain consistent characteristics. Among them are intense concentration on the present task, awareness, and loss of reflective self-consciousness. There is also a sense of control over the activity or situation while losing track of time. The activity that is engaged in is experienced as intrinsically rewarding. Certainly, this description must ring true with many collectors who read this blog. I believe it is a universal enjoyment among us and one of the benefits of collecting. It lifts us out of ourselves to a higher state.

Why Do Collectors Experience Flow?

Art collecting can be deeply engaging and fulfilling, making it a prime candidate for experiencing flow. For example, research and discovery lead to the acquisition of a special piece. The latter involves the thrill of the chase, which can be intense, thrilling, and time-consuming, and the collector can easily become lost in the process. Then, as my introduction indicates, the piece has to be curated into the existing collection, another opportunity for flow. Finally, there is interaction with other collectors, which adds a social dimension to collecting. This can lead to moments of flow through collaboration and communal activities.

Psychological Benefits of Flow When Collecting Art

When in the state of flow, collectors lose themselves. The worries of everyday life are lost, even if only momentarily. This relief provides a respite from day-to-day stress. It gives the collector a mental break, so she is refreshed when another day rolls around with its usual challenges.

At the same time, controlling one’s collection while in the state of flow provides a sense of achievement that permeates everyday life. It suggests to the collector that we are more than a machine or high-functioning person at work; we have a life outside of that sphere that also gives us meaning.


The psychological concept of flow offers a valuable perspective regarding the collection of art. This hobby, often a passion, is rich with opportunities for appreciation of beauty, organization, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction. These characteristics align with the traits of flow, which overall enhance well-being and life satisfaction.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990): The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row.

Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). The concept of flow. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 89-105). Oxford University Press.

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