Basic Terms Around Conservation
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever…” John Keats put it oh so eloquently, what we all feel about art. Art is a joy to look at, to experience, to practice, and to live around. A collector would relate to this, even as they admire their latest acquisition, they plan a new one.
Collectors know their art and have a certain sensitivity and awareness towards keeping them in the best of condition. This entails an understanding of the terms and processes related to keeping the artworks safe and protected. An understanding of basic terms like renovation, restoration, preservation, and conservation in the context is necessary.
Renovation, in essence is the way and a combination of processes to make an object look like new. The object that is being renovated is merely a starting point for the process. The profile of the object in terms of its, history, materials, construction process or place in time are not of any significance. There is no restriction in the process of renovation in the aspects of the object itself.
Restoration is process that is employed or set in motion to bring the object in concern to its prior form or state. The whole focus and intent of the entire process and the defined requirement concerns only the final look of the object. The object especially if it is an antique might have gone through quite a few changes in its lifetime. The owner and the professional then come to consensus on a chosen period of glory in its life. Now the restorer, through a series of well-planned processes sets out to bring the object’s appearance to that time period.
Preservation is essentially a preventive, protective process with an intent to maintain the piece in the best of conditions and to make sure that the object or artwork is not irreparably altered or damaged. This term, though often used in the context of architecture or any other built environment also applies to artworks. Preserving an object has an emphasis on the materials and process employed in making the object. The final look or appearance of the object is not of precedence here, as more attention is given to retain the maximum amount of material and structure of the object. In this context, an effort is made to do minimum repairs and make as less of a change to the original material and structure as possible while using processes as close to the original ones as possible.
Conservation as a process attempts to preserve the absolute maximum of the constituent material with the least change or alteration in its condition. The repairs or any additions made to the object must be reversible and removable without making any changes to the original material. The object is prime in conservation, dictating any treatment it may be subjected to. There is no scope for material exploration or artistic choices in the process of conservation.
For owners, collectors, and professionals it is important to have a basic understanding of and distinction between all these categories. However, these lines or distinctions are sometimes overstepped in context of certain objects or antiques that are being handled.
It is the responsibility of a collector to choose an experienced and aware professional to plan the work to be done with the object only after sensitively deciding what the object needs and calls for. Likewise, it is the restorer or art professional’s prerogative to not let personal opinions of the collector to dictate the treatment of the material, but let the object dictate the plan of action.