Looking at, describing and identifying objects
Looking at, describing and identifying objects

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Looking at, describing and identifying objects

7 Writing an object biography

Towards an object biography

As the netsuke has moved through time it has changed location, visibility and ownership; it has also changed both its function (what it does or is) and its utility (what it is used for). The difference between the function of an object and its utility is subtle and reflects the difference between an object-centred approach and an object-driven approach. Essentially this is the difference between what an object was for (or what it was designed to do) and what it was actually used for by people (or what the artefact actually did itself).

Activity 8

Make a list of the various functions that our object has performed over its lifetime.


Here’s my list, and I’ll try to surprise you with my starting point. The object has functioned as:

  1. a tusk for digging, etc. (while still raw material)
  2. a netsuke – a toggle on a kimono belt, for suspending objects
  3. a chattel – an object with a monetary value
  4. a museum object.

This varied list illustrates the changing functions that the same object may perform at different points in time.


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