a-machine-to-return-the-songs-to-the-land focuses on articulating the experience connected to cultural practice in-relation to Tahltan Nation systems for organizing knowledge. I acknowledge that the creative process connected to indigenous-based object, and knowledge structure, tells the history of our communities. Indigenous artists become the historians of these ways of knowing. The piece that is hard is the piece about identifying and organizing how we know.
Stop it. Just stop. Do you have a business card? Read it. Does it say “Curator” under your name? No? You are not a curator.
Harold Koda: Actual Curator
If anything has ever moved me to punch my fist through my computer screen, it is the recent gross misappropriation of the word CURATE, most particularly by a certain type of blogger. The flagrant misuse of this sacred (to me, and I assume to other curators) word has spread like wildfire through the precious world of home, craft and decor blogging and is infecting the internet like a virus.
The very meaning of the word is starting to change, and that makes me crazy.
What makes a curator? This seems to be up for interpretation. I have a masters degree in art history. I worked as an intern, as an assistant curator, at an auction house, as an art history instructor, and, finally, as a curator. I did not sit at my computer and passively click on images that appeal to me. I did not flip through a stack of shelter magazines and fold down the corners of pages that caught my eye. I did not write a blog post entitled “Things I want to buy!!!1!!” and include a list of links. The phrase “carefully curated” — oh yes, I understand the appeal of alliteration, for I was also an English major — makes every inch of my skin crawl. “Carefully curated” is redundant and implies there is such a thing as sloppy curating, which is ridiculous. Curating, by its very definition, is done carefully. Care is implied. MAKING A LIST IS NOT CURATING. Nor is it is filling your bookshelves with color-coded paperbacks and animal bones and jars of feathers you found at a thrift store. Oh my days, don’t even get me started on “curated thrift stores.”
Before we go any further I think we should back up and establish the true definition of curating. This excellent blog post by Elizabeth Brown establishes that definition better than I could, so I urge you to click through and have a read (the comments are spot-on, too). Ms. Brown manages to approach this issue with a genuine curious circumspection. I felt that way a few months ago, but lately my rage has started bubbling over into lunacy.
Will Kelly and I are on the same page. He writes, “I am all for changes in the English language as long as they are for the positive. What I am not in favor of is the hijacking of words to make something sound more important that it actually is.”
This article from 2010 makes a feeble stab at defending the word’s application in the fashion industry, but also includes this gem: “Harold Koda runs the Costume Institute at the Met, so he’s allowed to describe himself as a curator—it’s his professional title. For everyone else, though, it’s just a highbrow way of saying “one who picks things out,” which describes all style bloggers, retail buyers, and people who get dressed in the morning.“
The comments on that article include this apt reply from a textile historian: “I think the thing that annoys me about the use of this word is that the way it is used leaves off half of its job description. To curate doesn’t just mean to carefully select items, but also to look after and care for them. One who curates an exhibition is responsible for the preservation of the objects used while they are on exhibition and after (very few real curators would “curate” an exhibition in a window because of the effects of light). Someone dressing a store window is not charged with the same level of care.” Love it.
If you’ve read this far and still don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve selected (CURATED?!) a list of the top offenders:
Pinterest: Oh, pinterest. The vessel for my fury. Pinterest is a way to collect the images you see online into one virtual “pin-board.” Each pin board you create has a title and a line that proudly announces: THIS BOARD CURATED BY ____. The site is host to millions of images, and at least fifty thousand of those are of hipster interiors. If I see one more pin board of cavernous concrete rooms punctuated by one mournful shell chair I will pull all of my hair out. I just… can’t. Anyways, all these collections are curated by somebody and they are usually named Xander or something.
Etsy: The Etsy Treasury is particularly vexing. Click through to view the “member-curated shopping gallery” where you can buy, and this is verbatim, “PURPLE GIFTS FOR HER BECAUSE EVERYONE LOVES PURPLE!!!” [Side note: one exclamation point will suffice, forever. But that is another post entirely.]
And finally, this post on younghouselove.com. You might say it was the final straw. The concept of “curating” an online sale is just the worst. THE WORST!
They seem like nice people, so… I don’t know. The whole thing makes my head hurt.
In sum: bandaging a wound doesn’t make you a doctor. Snapping non-digital photos of empty train tracks doesn’t make you a photographer. So, guess what? Assembling a group of tangentially related things and publishing them online does not make you a curator. So what does it make you? A blogger? A list-maker? An arbiter of taste? Sure, I’ll take any one of those. Just stop calling yourself a curator.
I understand the ways in which the internet has democratized art and design, and I applaud the application of new media to staid cultural institutions (i.e. museums and galleries). What I vehemently reject is the cheapening of a word that carries much more weight in the museum, gallery and library science fields.
I believe curating is the passing of a torch. It is the care and protection of cultural property. It is something not to be undertaken lightly, and it does not happen with the click of a mouse.
Now that you know (emphatically) where I stand, I would love to know your thoughts on this. What does curating mean to you?
Edited to add: I am happy to post comments that include an email address and/or a website. I will not approve comments posted anonymously.