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What Do Your Hobbies Reveal About You?

Alex Watson
A common activity to fill up free time is the classic "paint by number" kits. Rather than thinking of the kit as a simple time consumer, it can be an invitation to artistic practice.

Gardening, scrap booking, knitting, wood-working, bird-watching, golf. We've all got hobbies - some we're prouder to admit to than others. But what do these activities - and the supplies required - signify about our lives? What does what we do in our leisure time say about who we are?

Credit Gianofer Fields
Historian Stephen Knott

Historian Steven Knott is trying to answer some of these classic questions of material culture, which is the study of people's relationship with objects. As a researcher, Knott came to Material Culture when it dawned on him that history is more than just facts and dates. He says history, in the form of the objects that populate our lives, became a commodity to be bought and sold in Middle class markets.

He finds this is especially true when applied to how we spend our leisure time - the hobbies we take up and the objects we create become signs of our status within our communities.

Knott, who is from the United Kingdom, recently spoke with Lake Effect contributor Gianofer Fields at a recent conference about how art historians and material culturalists justify what they do in their spare time.

He explains that many of today's hobbyists who consider themselves as part of a new and popular "do-it-yourself movement" - are actually continuing an age old tradition of using leisure activities - like even the lowly paint-by-number system - as a symbol of status:

Gianofer Fields studies material culture at UW-Madison and is the curator of "It's a Material World" - a project funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.

Original air date: 04/26/13

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.