the philosophy of toys

“The toy is the child’s earliest initiation to art, or rather for him it is the first concrete example of art, and when mature age comes, the perfected examples will not give his mind the same feelings of warmth, nor the same enthusiasms, nor the same sense of conviction.”

Baudelaire The Philosophy of Toys

Aside from being interested in history, storytelling and culture, I’m also very interested in the way children experience the world; everything is new, so everything is potentially interesting and odd. I have tried to rediscover this way of seeing. The starting point was using the toy as a sort of time machine, hoping it would transport me back to a more original mindset.

I used to have a very sentimental longing for something lost, a childhood innocence probably, dating back to some preschool age that I don’t remember. At university I read Baudelaires essay The Philosophy of Toys with great interest for that same reason.

Toys are for investigating, learning, and understanding in a non-verbal way. And they are objects we tend to grow very attached to, even if our consumer society has taught us to always want something new, and to toss things away as soon as they’ve lost their mystery.

“All Children talk to their toys; the toys become actors in the great drama of life, reduced in size by the camera obscura of their little brains.”

Baudelaire begins his essay with a story from his childhood: a wealthy lady shows him a special room filled with toys – her children’s treasury – and lets him choose a toy to remember her by. First of all, the toy has sentimental value, it reminds of us of people, places, a time long gone, the wonderland of childhood, like fragments of the fleeting modern culture.

“For any modernity to be worthy of one day taking its place as antiquity, it is necessary for the mysterious beauty which human life accidentally puts into it to be destilled from it.”

From The Painter of Modern Life. Beauty or the divine was what art was to aspire to; a beauty, part of which was eternal, the soul of art – and part of which was relative and decided by the surroundings – the age, the fashion, the moral, the feelings – this was the body of art.


Toys are a miniature version of life, more colourful and ideal than reality. In the toyshop you’ll find our entire culture and the dreams it’s built upon. Baudelaire also talks about the child’s need to dominate or control their toys, to tear them apart and find their essence, the soul, as Baudelaire calls it. This is also the beginning of melancholy – the discovery of the void – since the magic of the toy vanishes once it’s destroyed.

One thought on “the philosophy of toys

  1. Pingback: Does part of you still look at the world like you did as a child? « John the toy shop guy

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