What are some famous works of obsession?
January 22, 2013 12:31 AM   Subscribe

What are some famous works of obsession? Things like the guy who kept a detailed diary for decades, or extreme collectors, or people who have strived to do everything on a list, or perhaps some mammoth cataloging or organising effort.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Artist Tehching Hsieh, one of my favorites!
posted by dottiechang at 12:38 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dear Mr Brain Sander
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 AM on January 22, 2013

Henry Darger, and The Story of the Vivian Girls, maybe?
posted by hades at 12:46 AM on January 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

anyone checking off this list of 8000m peaks might be a tad obsessive (e.g. Reinhold Messner, who did it first)
posted by j_curiouser at 1:24 AM on January 22, 2013

Arthur Stace, who walked around Sydney writing the word "Eternity" on the sidewalk every day for 35 years.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:31 AM on January 22, 2013

The Watts Towers in Los Angeles- Simon Rodia built them out of what was basically garbage in his free time over the course of more than 30 years.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:36 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

The chewing gum art guy in North London?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:38 AM on January 22, 2013

Coral Castle.
Toynbee tiles:

The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of unknown origin found embedded in asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American capitals.[1][2] Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate (roughly 30 cm by 15 cm), but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation on the following inscription:

IN MOViE `2001
posted by Surprised By Bees at 1:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Topiary artist Pearl Fryar.
posted by drlith at 2:17 AM on January 22, 2013

Stanley Kubrick's boxes.
posted by hot soup girl at 2:28 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Toothpick Lusitania

Via MetaFilter, some memorable ones:
Magnificent obsessions, Herb and Dorothy, John Peel's Record Collection.
posted by knile at 2:31 AM on January 22, 2013

The dollhouse miniatures of Sara Ploos van Amstel.
posted by tel3path at 2:44 AM on January 22, 2013

For obsessive diarists with long spans, look at Samuel Pepys (1600s London), Samuel Sewell (1700s Boston) and George Templeton Strong (1800s NYC).
posted by LarryC at 3:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Winchester House.
posted by easily confused at 3:36 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think Rothamsted Research in the UK (formerly The Rothamsted Experimental Station) qualifies. It was founded by John Bennet Lawes, an early fertiliser entrepreneur who started what are now known as the Classical Field Experiments.

His obsession with scientific rigour and managing a data set with integrity means that many see him as father of modern statistical theory. With collaborator Joseph Gilbert his continuous experiments on the impact of organic and inorganic fertilisers on crop yields lasted from 1843 until his death in 1900. He left money so that work could continue after his death. As a result of this obsession - in a good way - his legacy is a peerless body of experimental data that is more than 150 years old, unbroken.

Lawes and Gilbert each year retained samples of the harvested produce for chemical analysis. Sampling and storing has continued without interruption for 150 years.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:39 AM on January 22, 2013

Less exciting but probably also Beazley and Dressel, who developed immense catalogs and categorizations of different types of ancient pottery.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:41 AM on January 22, 2013

The artist Wharton Esherick spent 40 years building his home and studio, outfitting them with elaborate handmade details.
posted by orme at 5:23 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stuttgart in N scale
posted by Abinadab at 5:29 AM on January 22, 2013

The Orange Show in Houston: a monument to a letter-carrier's life-long obsession with oranges (and street junk).
posted by ubiquity at 5:34 AM on January 22, 2013

another model builder - Erick Navas has built closing on 500 model ships.
posted by Abinadab at 5:53 AM on January 22, 2013

Forty-one years and nearly 1200 pages of chemists' autographs and scribbles.
posted by knile at 6:11 AM on January 22, 2013

Cataloguing spider genitalia.
posted by and so but then, we at 6:14 AM on January 22, 2013

Will Steacy's The Beast. I saw it in person and wow was it killer. Decades of collection and who knows how many hours to put it all together.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 6:53 AM on January 22, 2013

On Kawara has a bunch of conceptual art that is about this kind of obsession. He made books listing everyone he ever met, etc.
posted by OmieWise at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2013

Wilson Bentley spent 40 years documenting snowflakes. He died from catching pneumonia in a blizzard.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 7:34 AM on January 22, 2013

Mark Hogancamp's Marwencol
posted by like_a_friend at 8:08 AM on January 22, 2013

All-time favorite, since I was a kid: Louis Wain and his cats.
James Hampton (linked above by jetlagaddict) and his secretly-built religious altars made from salvaged materials and trash.
Allan McCollum and his exploration of the facets of mass production.
Ferdinand Cheval and the Le Palais idéal.
And, of course, the Collyer brothers, who were killed by their own creation.

This article and this Pinterest board may also be of interest to you.
posted by divined by radio at 8:24 AM on January 22, 2013

Alexander Shulgin synthesized a few hundred psychedelic drugs and tried them himself. He's known as the godfather of psychedelics. Nobody else has made so many (or tried them).
posted by kellybird at 8:28 AM on January 22, 2013

The book series The Art of Computer Programming by Donald_Knuth.
posted by willem at 9:02 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This maze and Rocaterrania
posted by knile at 9:36 AM on January 22, 2013

Gay Talese's scrapbooks
posted by neroli at 9:37 AM on January 22, 2013

Jure Robič was an ultra-endurance cyclist. Seems pretty obsessive to me.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:43 AM on January 22, 2013

Stephen Wolfram has been collecting copious amounts of data about his daily life and patterns as possible since 1989. This blog post shows some of his findings. That guy is a) nuts, b) amazing, c) all of the above?
posted by nosila at 12:11 PM on January 22, 2013

The Professor and the Madman
posted by Violet Hour at 12:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Birding on Borrowed Time by Pheobe Snetsinger
posted by Jode at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2013

The painstakingly researched, conspiratorial artwork of Mark Lombardi.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:51 PM on January 22, 2013

Taj Mahal
posted by theora55 at 7:04 PM on January 23, 2013

I'd recommend Sound Portrait's documentary radio work about characters like these. The few I can think of off the top of my head are Northlandz, the story of the world's largest model railroad, Stephen Fybish, who memorized 130 years of New York City weather, Jim Bishop, who built a medieval castle stone by stone in Colorado, and Robert Shields, author of the world's longest diary.
posted by orange_square at 11:25 AM on January 24, 2013

I think Babbage's analytical engine qualifies.
posted by rjs at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2013

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