When did we all become 'curators'?
August 27, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

 
The word curate is this year's version of the word artisinal.
posted by djeo at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I curate artisinal memes.
posted by meinvt at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2015 [33 favorites]


I curate dank memes.
posted by I-baLL at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pony: replace the favorite button with a curate button.
posted by idiopath at 7:56 AM on August 27, 2015 [19 favorites]


"Curation" as a trendy synonym for "collecting" reached its peak a couple years ago. These days, it's all about "the edit." Same shit, rearranged slightly differently.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:58 AM on August 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


OUCUR812?
posted by chavenet at 7:59 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Next up, cultivate
posted by aydeejones at 8:00 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was a child, I would frequently watch stuff I barely enjoyed because there was nothing else on TV. My children have so many utterly fantastic and delightful things they could be watching (or reading or listening to or playing, etc.) they could never watch all of the very best stuff in their entire lifetime.

This is a new problem. We need language for the new behaviors we're developing to cope with it. If you've got a better word than "curate," use it and see if it catches on.
posted by straight at 8:00 AM on August 27, 2015 [31 favorites]


If you've got a better word than "curate," use it and see if it catches on.

Raking
Sifting

o wait i know

Filtering
posted by chavenet at 8:02 AM on August 27, 2015 [36 favorites]


"how did curating, a highly specialized line of museum work involving the care, accessioning, and exhibition of artworks, come to mean, as cultural policy scholar Amanda Coles puts it, “just picking stuff?”"

Language mutates and in this instance it's mutating as people come to recognize more things as art. As the article notes, prestige words expand from their original niche.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I agree with most of the article's observations. However I can think of another context for the rise of "curate" as a verb. Since the Internet has become more widespread, much of what we discover is dictated by automated algorithmic processes: search engines, content farms, news aggregators, etc. The "content" (another unfortunate word) that we see is often free of any editorial oversight. No human being has looked over the list of stuff and said, "This is good, this is junk, this is good for people who like bees," etc.

"Curation" is the assurance to your audience that what you're presenting has the influence of human discretion. That's valuable to me, and I like to see it noted.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2015 [44 favorites]


I cultivate memes so chronic you can see crystals and shit. First I procure meme seed and fertilizer. Then I embue some shit into some other shit and cultivate them memes. And I use one of those little cultivating shovels to keep it real
posted by aydeejones at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


If you've got a better word than "curate," use it and see if it catches on.

Choose. Oh, did you actually mean "better" or did you instead mean "more able to make the user look hip"?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2015


The Miya Tokumitsu article quoted extensively in the Gracy Olmstead link does a remarkable thing. It cites "there's no such thing as society", a statement made by Margaret Thatcher to dismiss social concerns in favor of economic libertarianism, as a symptom of liberal narcissism.

/me goes looking for a Noam Chomsky quote he can cite as an instance of conservative stupidity.
posted by idiopath at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Society allows both the rich and poor alike to use prestige words. Simply identify the closest person in your caste and cast a knowing glance when a mere rube says "curate" immodestly
posted by aydeejones at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


If I'm not curating then why did I hire this docent to explain my tumblr reblogs to visitors?

No I don't think it matters that by "docent" I mean "mop" and by "hired" I mean "put a wig on it."
posted by griphus at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2015 [25 favorites]


I agree the word is overused, but I think it should have a very specific meaning that can and should apply outside of the museum context. For example, when I first started a picture tumblr, I had lofty ambitions to make it all one single, unified aesthetic, and it was going to represent one consistent universe and mood. I considered that "curating." I got lazy, though, and over time it ended up just being images I liked. Now I'm not really a curator, I'm just an average tumblr user. I think there is a difference. And regarding capitalism, I think curation is necessarily about stripping away and presenting a small, clean, carefully chosen set of things, rather than consuming haphazardly. Again, it's a difference in connotation (or should be - the word has really gotten away from us through overuse.) I think you can curate a record collection, and that might mean you have a small number of records that all attempt to focus on one specific sound or concern you're exploring and wish to provide for yourself and others in your life. Or you can collect a shit ton of records you like. Two different things.
posted by naju at 8:08 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pony: replace the favorite button with a curate button.

Only if clicking on it would send a priest around to check on the state of the soul of the commenter. Really, it would make more sense to use the Flag button for this effect.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


O snap: curatr.com
posted by chavenet at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2015


Pony: replace the favorite button with a curate button.

It should be an "appreciate" button, because we MeFites are all cultured sophisticates who appreciate art and media, not like the drooling idiot masses who merely consume it.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you've got a better word than "curate," use it and see if it catches on.

Raking
Sifting
Filtering


Decontamination
Sanitization
Rarefaction
Unembiggening
posted by rh at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Curating = shopping.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well-executed curation is not just "picking stuff". I have worked as a music curator for a number of years. Good curators are required to be extremely selective and knowledgeable of the market and media they curate. It isn't just about picking a bunch of nice things for some arbitrary self-pleasing end. When you work with specific clients, you curate according to their target market, short term and long term goals, etc - and your work is measured against specific metrics. I imagine the really good curators working in visual mediums - and Instagram, Pinterest, etc are visual mediums too - probably aim to deliver similar high-quality work with targeted results. Just because it's not fine art in a museum gallery does not necessarily devalue the work or mean that there is little skill and thought involved.
posted by aielen at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have long thought the overuse of

((note: in the middle of typing this sentence, I overheard someone in an Austin coffeeshop talking about "curating cheese plates"))

the term "curate" is annoying and dumb. But reading naju's and other comments, I see that yes, it is actually a very important word. I am kind of a used bookstore fan, and in the time I spent in L.A. last year, I explored a lot of the bookstores. Alias Books, which has two locations, is exquisitely "curated." There is a very clear principle of selection in their selection of books, aligned toward philosophy, cultural theory, modernism, art, small presses, countercultures, subcultures, avant-garde and experimental literature, and other curiosities that fit into the interstices of these areas. It is particularly delightful because it is a used bookstore and it is impressive that a used bookstore can be so disciplined in developing its stock. I think it is delightful that they have a section devoted to Sun & Moon/Green Integer books.

Oddly, one time I mentioned the curated quality of Alias's stock (I didn't use that term) and the person working at the front desk acted like she didn't know what I was talking about.
posted by jayder at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I go look at the 1828 Webster's dictionary, it defines curate as:

1. A clergyman in the church of England, who is employed to perform divine service in the place of the incumbent, parson or vicar. He must be licenced by the bishop or ordinary, and having no fixed estate in the curacy, he may be removed at pleasure. But some curates are perpetual.

2. One employed to perform the duties of another.

So when did it become about artwork?

Which is a longer way of saying, the language changes over time, and a more modern definition of curate would likely include "selecting material for presentation." How well our current crop of "filthy bloggers" (including me) curates their material is a different topic.
posted by nubs at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:29 AM on August 27, 2015 [17 favorites]


"how did curating, a highly specialized line of museum work involving the care, accessioning, and exhibition of artworks, come to mean, as cultural policy scholar Amanda Coles puts it, “just picking stuff?”"

A vast majority of museums and other showplaces are tiny nonprofits run by volunteer and undereducated staff members who all curate exhibits made up of stuff donated at random by members of the public who don't really understand what is historically valuable and what is valueless. The curator at the nonprofit where I work is a former grade school art teacher, and I, a former journalist, do most of the real work associated with curation, despite having no actual education in the subject.

I wouldn't overload that word with status that it rarely actually has had. The number of trained, professional curators is small, the number of amateur curators is large. People were curating their own collections of stuff in Wunderkammers in the Renaissance, some of which went on to be the bedrocks of actual museums -- in fact, you'd be amazed at how many professional collections, overseen by trained and well-paid curators, started out as private collections, overseen by hobbyists.

This is like somebody watching kids throw a ball back and forth and crying out "How dare they call that baseball! It's only something that highly paid, highly skilled professionals do!" In fact, it was always something that kids did.
posted by maxsparber at 8:36 AM on August 27, 2015 [31 favorites]


Half a decade ago on the green, I mentioned The Highland Cinemas and Movie Museum, which is a multiplex built in the middle of the woods about a third of a mile outside of a town of 500 people.

I didn't stress the "movie museum" side of it then; when I was last there, the guy had walls of framed, unlabelled photos of the facades of scores or maybe hundreds of cinemas across Canada (mostly demolished now), and little roped-off areas with salvaged projectors and the like. There was also a series of display cases, one per decade, for the entire history of film. The display cases are massive, and crammed with memorabilia, all of it unlabelled. There seems to be a vague focus on film history, but it s widely inclusive: the cabinet for the fifties, say, might have a movie poster from Rebel Without a Cause or Bridge on the River Kwai, and some eight-by-tens of Marilyn Monroe or Montgomery Clift. However, there is just as likely to be a 45 of "Hound Dog," a TV Guide with Ozzie and Harriet on the cover, a 1953 Reader's Digest, or Uncle George's dry-cleaning receipt from 1958.

I remarked to a friend how entertainingly batshit the whole proposition was, and he sagely observed that this is how all museums get their start: you put a bunch of random crap in a building and charge people to look at it. If enough people do for long enough, you can refine the collection and focus the curation.

In other words:

1. Random stuff
2. Admission charge
3. ???
4. Profit Smithsonian
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's the end of history as we know it and everyone is sitting on their asses curating their online wunderkammers. It's a great way to feel like you're actually doing something artistic and valuable without all that fussy business of spending several years of your life mastering a craft to the point where anyone besides your friends and family has the slightest interest in your stuff.
posted by egypturnash at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Raking
Sifting

o wait i know

Filtering


"Metafiltering".

Our time has come.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:42 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a bit of a curate's egg.

I'm strongly in favour of its use in more than just museum contexts, provided it's used well. As aielen says, it's not just collecting or piling stuff up. It's like making a collage; you have to select items in a way that not only makes sense, but performs a particular function. Those objects may - in fact, should - provide context for each other, reflecting or contesting aspects of themselves, and the whole collection should have a story to tell that surpasses the mere fact of putting that number of objects of type x together.

During the transition from print to web, it became quickly obvious to a magazine team I was part of that we would have to become much more curatorial. On paper, you present stuff that you've created, filtered and organised. On the web, you're actually presenting other people's stuff when you link to it, and you're investing it with a certain importance by doing so. You assumed that people would bother reading your website if it was useful to them, and you now had to consider how to include stuff that you hadn't commissioned or produced while still providing something that had utility and narrative. I thought then and still think that curating is a good word to use for this process, as it involves a lot of creativity and thought, needs a clear understanding of the job you're trying to do and the result you're aiming for, but is not the same process by any means as writing stuff down.

And anyway, Eno is strongly in favour of curating as a valid and widely applicable creative cultural act. Vox Brian, vox dei.
posted by Devonian at 8:45 AM on August 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's the end of history as we know it and everyone is sitting on their asses curating their online wunderkammers. It's a great way to feel like you're actually doing something artistic and valuable without all that fussy business of spending several years of your life mastering a craft to the point where anyone besides your friends and family has the slightest interest in your stuff.

Look, it seems like curation at this point in time is sort of getting a bad rep because people are assuming that anyone can do it, since everyone seems to be doing it. To some extent, anyone can curate, but not everyone can do it well. And even fewer can do it excellently. Curating an account for a specific ad campaign for a multinational brand is different from curating a few cute animal pictures on your own Tumblr for 20 followers. Everyone can write, not everyone can write well, and even fewer people can become successful authors or copywriters.

And good curation does require several years of your life (or at least, significant time invested) honing your skills so that others do have an interest in what you do, and pay you significantly for it.
posted by aielen at 8:57 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have 800 t-shirts. Judge me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:06 AM on August 27, 2015


A really good curator doesn't just organize or arrange or pick; they conceptualize a direction, plan the show, art direct the graphic and installation design, invite creators/artists/etc, suggest a direction for their work (if it's contemporary work), manage the installation (and insurance, etc) of work, plan events. They actually make the work happen in a direct and focused way. More of an literary editor than a fashion shopper.

Saying 'curators arrange things' is a little bit like saying "an event planner just arranges a bunch of events". No - the event is the carefully coordinated bunch of things.

Also: You heard it here first: in a few years, 'architect' will be the new curate.

"We've completely re-architected our branding direction."
"My work focuses on designing our restaurant's culinary architecture."
"I encourage your team to think of myself as a management architect, not a management consultant; we don't just consult; we build."
posted by suedehead at 9:13 AM on August 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


These are very interesting articles, but I have to admit that I almost never hear anyone talk about curating anything. And I build capsule wardrobes, read about them, have a tumblr, etc. Is it not extremely obvious that personal curating (i.e. building a collection of something) and profession curating are totally different? Even to the "curating cheese plates" people? Like as slang, it just implies that you're trying to choose things with the correct artistic vision/direction... not too far afield of the rarefied meaning, and no one would claim to be a professional cheese plate curator, would they?
posted by easter queen at 9:15 AM on August 27, 2015


OK, the bad news is that METACURATOR.COM is taken.
The good news is that it appears to be for sale.
posted by sour cream at 9:19 AM on August 27, 2015


Specialist. Engineer. Developer. Author. Curator.

Words with prestige get used by people who don't "deserve" them and thus it has always been; thus it ever shall be; thus is the endless march of Mankind into the yawning abyss that looms before us all with teeth all a-gloam with shimmering darkness and the -

Sorry, got sidetracked, my bad.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:23 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


As an engineer, I feel this pain on a daily basis.

Words mean things.
posted by blurker at 9:25 AM on August 27, 2015


Mwah-ha-ha. Yes, Tomorrowful.
posted by blurker at 9:26 AM on August 27, 2015


the term "curate" is annoying and dumb. But reading naju's and other comments, I see that yes, it is actually a very important word. I am kind of a used bookstore fan, and in the time I spent in L.A. last year, I explored a lot of the bookstores. Alias Books, which has two locations, is exquisitely "curated." There is a very clear principle of selection in their selection of books, aligned toward philosophy, cultural theory, modernism, art, small presses, countercultures, subcultures, avant-garde and experimental literature, and other curiosities that fit into the interstices of these areas. It is particularly delightful because it is a used bookstore and it is impressive that a used bookstore can be so disciplined in developing its stock. I think it is delightful that they have a section devoted to Sun & Moon/Green Integer books.

It's funny - I loathe the trend toward "curated" bookstores, because it tends to reduce the stock. I was just in a rather charming newish bookstore the other night, and they had very little on the shelves that hadn't been published in the last couple of years, they had only the most obvious choices in many categories (and as a result I've read almost all their stock in my areas of interest, even where I'm not especially familiar with the fields in question! This should not be!), and while everything on the shelves was certainly good-quality, if I walked in off the street actually looking for a specific book, I would be extremely unlikely to find it. I very rarely go there unless I'm thinking "gee, I have no idea what I'd like to read; where can I choose among a collection of new books?"

I don't go to bookstores too much anymore, because they're so "curated" now that I can't find anything I want to read. There's no "gee, I wish I had a copy of Terry Eagleton's mid-nineties book on violence in literature; I'll stop in at Large Academic Used Bookstore and Large Academic New Bookstore and there's about a 50% chance that I can get a copy". There's not even any "gee, I wish I had a copy of Robert Musil's important novel about gender, sexuality, institutions and modernism, Young Torless" - where fifteen years ago you'd find it next to Musil's better-known Man Without Qualities because the bookstore would assume that someone would look at MWQ and buy Young Torless, now there's only Man Without Qualities, because we've "curated" things down to the obvious.

I used to love to go book shopping, and now I don't.
posted by Frowner at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


As an engineer, I feel this pain on a daily basis.

Words mean things.


It's a bit presumptuous for an engineer to make declarations that properly belong to linguists. So everybody's a linguist now? How dare anybody really anybody ever do something that doesn't require an advanced degree.
posted by maxsparber at 9:33 AM on August 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is nonsense.
If I write a book, I am an author
If I put together an anthology, I am editing it
If I assemble a showing of art or photographs, I am a curator

Should someone who uses his or her expertise and taste put together a major display at MOMOA and be called an assembler? Or should the person doing this work simply not be credited for the work done?
posted by Postroad at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


These days, it's all about "the edit."

What is best in life? To crush your editors, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women...
posted by thelonius at 9:42 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think "curate," no matter how it's used, is a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 9:47 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just for context, the first curator was a school administrator who taught priestesses.
posted by maxsparber at 9:49 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


“Curated,” a word that barely existed forty years ago...

curator (n.) Look up curator at Dictionary.com
mid-14c., from Latin curator "overseer, manager, guardian," agent noun from curatus, past participle of curare (see cure (v.)). Originally of those put in charge of minors, lunatics, etc.; meaning "officer in charge of a museum, library, etc." is from 1660s.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:49 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"That's not curating, that's scrapbooking." - Some famous author
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:52 AM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can Plebeians Be Trusted With Accession?

Will the Proletarian Ever Understand Exhibition?

Do Common People Care For the Art They Pick?

Is Curation The Sigh of The Oppressed Creature, The Heart of a Heartless World, and The Soul of Soulless Conditions?

Seriously though, the word curate has been generalized to mean ...to select, organize, and present (content)...". I'm all for it, this was always real work that, as Postroad said, people haven't always been credited for.
posted by ethansr at 9:54 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not south that "curate" is being applied to mundane "things" it's that everyone else has such awful taste.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:56 AM on August 27, 2015


No I don't think it matters that by "docent" I mean "mop" and by "hired" I mean "put a wig on it."

dude just turn it upside down
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on August 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think there's two things at hand here:

a) people who mostly hit a button to share/reblog/retweet/re-pin (usually from the inside the same network or even just from a couple of hashtags) stuff they like. Calling themselves "curators" is... uh... pretentious as fuck because all they're doing is hit a button on something they liked.
b) people who go to some trouble to find material to a website. Either it's digitizing stuff from the meatspace, tracking material from old geocities/lycos/50megs websites, museum catalog websites, relevant youtube videos with very few votes buried under the nth page, etc. I don't think there's anything wrong with these people calling themselves curators, regardless of the medium they choose.

On practical terms: I'm not a curator of Art Nouveau on Pinterest. All I do is re-pin pretty stuff to look at when I need ideas. OTOH I ran, for some time, a wordpress blog that had music-related adverts (new releases, festivals) scanned from my bunch of 90s Select magazines, with some additional information (usually chart position). I think I can say I was a curator while doing that blog.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:00 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Glad the factory is still stamping these out only four or five years behind We should double back and sweep a few other words up:

Self-published "authors" on Amazon? I'm agin' 'em!

Those fraud "musicians" in that cover band I hate? Fiddle-dee-dee!

Oh god I'm so eye-rollingly sick of all the "photographers" on Flickr! Fi!
posted by mph at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, yes, I certainly do hate it when a bunch of dweebs on the internet come up with elaborate, self-important justifications and two dollar words for the things they share on the internet, PEEVERS WHO ARE FAFFING AROUND WITH A LONG-ASSED MULTI-BLOG THINKPIECE DISCUSSION ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE TIRED OF A WORD AND WHETHER OTHER PEOPLE SHOULD BECOME TIRED OF IT TOO.

The ironimical thing about it is that that right there is a big part of the reason the concept of 'curation' exists the way it does right now. Because there is 'content' like this all over the internet, and for most people, it is helpful to find blogs and other resources where people share the type of content you are interested in. (Also: 'Content' is a good word to describe a wide range of types of material in a range of media. So ha ha ha.)

Some people want to see this type of thing, and are genuinely interested in the internet zeitgeist and these sort of many-to-many discussions of trends and terminology. Those people might turn to a curated forum such as Metafilter, where such things are often shared, to find them.

So as I recall it, the concept of museums arose from, effectively, curiosity cabinets, where people with the resources to do so simply collected things that interested them, and sometimes shared them with others. Based on their personal interests. Curate and curious both evolved from the Latin cura, meaning care. These are things that people care about. Any prestige attached to the term came after that. People are just complaining that other people care about things they don't. Who gets mad at people for not sharing their tastes? (Answer: Everyone. Everyone gets enraged about that.)

And the reason that curation is important and the reason the term is so widely used on the internet is that there is too much information for each individual to sort through on their own, so we turn to people who both create and curate the sorts of things we are also interested in.

So I have a pretty giant, carefully organized RSS feed, which I could argue I have curated over many years to follow specific things I am interested in. Tech blogs that are not just shopping blogs. Longform journalism that several different blogs either curate or publish. Several different arts topics. Cultural stories sometimes using vague, abstract, and even personality-based criteria. All of those things are curated, and I find their curation hugely valuable and worthwhile, because the people who maintain them help me sort through and find things I am personally interested in. I don't share my 'curated' feed with others, because I don't expect anyone would care. In fact, I was a little creeped out when someone asked me to once, because my 'curated' list is very specific to my wide-ranging interests and I can't imagine anyone else would be interested in more than a subset of the things I am interested in.

If you can read these thinkpieces complaining about 'content curators,' thank a content curator.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:13 AM on August 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Raking
Sifting

o wait i know

Filtering


"Role: raker." "Role: sifter." "Role: filterer." Nope, none of those sound right when supplied to the Projects posting form, I'm going to stick with curator.
posted by JHarris at 10:21 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


(I was standoffish about calling myself a "curator" too, but eh, it seemed to fit when I posted Danger Radioactive, so I used it.)
posted by JHarris at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2015


I've only ever seen two kinds of "When did X start meaning Y" articles in the world. There are great language-evolution history lessons that are few and far between and then there's this shit, the chronicles of old people having a really hard time coming to grips with the fact that their hands aren't on the rudder of the good ship Vernacular anymore.

God, don't cherrypick Baudrillard quotes you found on the internet to sound important, old people. Nobody is fooled.
posted by mhoye at 10:24 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


This thread probably a good place to link back to the VNYL thread from a few months ago.

For every "curation is worthless now because everyone does it", there's an "actually curation is something a lot of people are looking for and value, as demonstrated by their willingness to shell out $$$ for even a half-baked and scammy version of it".

Bonus: Here's the physical store VNYL built in Venice Beach with their Kickstarter money... for those who want to see what a record store with nothing BUT (a bargain-bin version of) modern art museum style 'curation' going for it would like like.
posted by subdee at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2015


Nope, none of those sound right when supplied to the Projects posting form, I'm going to stick with curator.

Yep. I've used "curator" in Projects twice, and it would've fit for 5 of the 6 projects I've posted. Creating a playlist (that I spent many hours on), starting a label and putting out releases from artists, spearheading two music compilations, putting together a mix of old PC music - I feel comfortable calling all of this "curation" rather than creation or authorship. On one hand it's not particularly difficult, and on the other these projects all drew upon a lifetime of developing tastes and learning as much as I could so that I could trust my instincts when it came to pressing the buttons. I put in my 10,000 hours or whatever, it's just entirely invisible to most people, and that's fine. "Curator" works in many situations like that.
posted by naju at 10:36 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pickenchooser
posted by Kabanos at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


If I go look at the 1828 Webster's dictionary

But that dictionary also has an entry for curator:

1. One who has the care and superintendence of any thing.

It's that sense of responsibility and caretaking, which goes well beyond the assemblage of an appealing group of objects that defines what I do as a curator, and is missing from the contemporary uses we're discussing.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2015


maxsparber: This is like somebody watching kids throw a ball back and forth and crying out "How dare they call that baseball! It's only something that highly paid, highly skilled professionals do!" In fact, it was always something that kids did.
It also reminds me a little bit of the late 1990s/early 2000s when there was all kinds of pearl-clutching about these new mysterious things called "B-L-O-G-S" and what an affront it was to True Journalism that now any old plebe could publish stuff online without going to journalism school, working for a newspaper!
posted by usonian at 10:54 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, to be fair, they were kind of right about that.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:57 AM on August 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


It gave us summary quotes!
posted by maxsparber at 10:58 AM on August 27, 2015


*smashes fists upon table*

Goddammit, you guys! I'm not a censor! I'm a "curator"! I curate what you can see since you don't want to see any of that shi-- any of that dreck that stains the walls in this place! See? I just curated my own speech right then and there! It's about providing quality content by restricting content not feasible for your eyes! Or your ears! Or your brain!
posted by I-baLL at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Should someone who uses his or her expertise and taste put together a major display at MOMOA and be called an assembler? Or should the person doing this work simply not be credited for the work done?

Did you even read the article OR the thread, or did someone curate all the comments away from you?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:08 AM on August 27, 2015


Until I saw this I thought a "curator" was a fan of the band The Cure. Thanks for setting me straight.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2015


You're looking for the Pitchfork thread, just down the hall.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:33 AM on August 27, 2015


Huh, I didn't realize this was a thing but apparently I've internalized the ubiquity of "curate." I keep finding good uses for the term. Just last night my husband asked me why, in my photos app, I had a folder with all 500+ of our wedding pictures, and another folder called 100Wedding. I told him that was my curated album.

It works in a lot of other contexts too.

"Why do you have a pile of clothes on top of your dresser?"
"That's my curated wardrobe!"

"Why is this pile of dishes in the drainer never put away?"
"That's my curated set of dishes!"

"Why are these three pairs of shoes always laying around on the bedroom floor instead of on the shoe shelf?"
"Those are my curated shoes!"

Yeah I think I'll keep using it.
posted by JenMarie at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you wish to be critical of my comment, Missile Man, then please tell me what it is. Merely making a snippy remark tells little of what it is you find objectionable in my comment. And yes, I had read the article--finding it as snarky as your remark --and the comments following the article.
posted by Postroad at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2015


Reminds me of my powerful and glamorous
days as a "Sales Executive" for small market radio station.
posted by weathermachine at 11:38 AM on August 27, 2015


> in fact, you'd be amazed at how many professional collections, overseen by trained and well-paid curators, started out as private collections, overseen by hobbyists.

We were at the McNay in San Antonio last weekend, and that is pretty much exactly their history, and it is one hell of a collection.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:40 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


In internet terms, curate is just the new aggrigate.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]



"Why do you have a pile of clothes on top of your dresser?"
"That's my curated wardrobe!"


Yeah, I have a pretty extensive wardrobe archive curated into some tubs in the back of my closet [I think we should work on getting the word "archive" into wider circulation]. Part of the archive is sitting in the basement on top of the washer, carefully stored for maximum wrinkle.
posted by Frowner at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Haha, I definitely having a clothing archive as well. Mostly things that are still in nice shape but don't fit well right now. Argh, if I just drop a few pounds I'll be able to dip into the archive!
posted by JenMarie at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2015


I disagree with the article. It's not about control, it's about the unmitigated self-absorption of the digital age. "Curator" is just the most self-important term that could be applied to someone typing up a list of things they like, which of course everyone cares about and is very interested in.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:24 PM on August 27, 2015


It cites "there's no such thing as society", a statement made by Margaret Thatcher to dismiss social concerns in favor of economic libertarianism, as a symptom of liberal narcissism

Please notice the difference between the words "liberal" and "neoliberal"

curator (n.) Look up curator at Dictionary.com

Please notice the difference between the words "curator" and "curate"
posted by RogerB at 12:28 PM on August 27, 2015


And not that I think it's the definitive work (or even all that deep) myself, but it's still weird that not a single one of these pieces even name-checks David Balzer's recent book Curationism.
posted by RogerB at 12:41 PM on August 27, 2015


He's hip, he's cool, he's 45! I have yet to read anything written by Choire Sichua that was worth the 60 seconds it took to get through. Can't tell if that was satire or if he's really trying to pull rank on people using the word "curate" in dubious contexts but it would be shit either way.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on August 27, 2015


Specialist. Engineer. Developer. Author. Curator.

Words with prestige get used by people who don't "deserve" them and thus it has always been


My pretense to be a chemical used in darkrooms to create photo prints is a sham.
posted by idiopath at 1:18 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was an enjoyable post and thread - thanks.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:31 PM on August 27, 2015


Words mean things.
Oh, I dunno. We all have, like differing opinions on that, man . . . (cf. the prescriptive/descriptive grammar thread from yesterday).

From the Ngram linked in the first article, it appears that 'curated,' as the first author asserts, has really only come into popular usage in the last thirty years or so. For funsies, I took the 'd' off the end. Lo and behold, 'curate' seems to peak around 1840, with some peaks and troughs but a general decline in frequency until the early aughts.

So hey, newish coinage of oldish word! Means a new thing, p'raps? Not sure it means what Tokumitsu is saying, though. If I even understand what she's saying; like this comment, it seems pretty jumbled. But hey, 'editor' just means the algorithm that over-auto-corrects my admittedly purple-leaning prose, right?

In any usage I've encountered, 'just picking stuff' != 'curating;' the word still implies that some modicum of thought went into the picking, and the arrangement, and the description. To me!
Maybe some people really are getting all loose with it.

Use of 'archive' to mean 'backup' bugs me more, but that's what it means in many contexts now.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:04 PM on August 27, 2015


I curate dank memes.

"On the left as you enter the building, you'll see the Rare Pepe Wing..."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:10 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


i'm just here to judge the guy with 800 t-shirts
posted by poffin boffin at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


No I don't think it matters that by "docent" I mean "mop" and by "hired" I mean "put a wig on it."

Do you pull the mop into a bun before you put the wig on
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:50 PM on August 27, 2015


As an engineer, I feel this pain on a daily basis.

Words mean things.


I feel you, man. Time was, an engineer was a guy in a puffy hat and moustache who shoveled coal into an actual locomotive engine. Now it's like everyone thinks they should be able to call themselves an "engineer" just because they successfully completed a rigorous course of study and joined the professional engineer's organization in their area.
posted by No-sword at 3:22 PM on August 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


i'm just here to judge the guy with 800 t-shirts

I deaccessioned about 30 to the Goodwill & the rag bin just a few months ago.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:38 PM on August 27, 2015


Metafilter: artisanally curated hyperlinks.
posted by twsf at 3:53 PM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The latin root for curate actually means something more like to care for; Google Translate lists it in that direction as "heal" in English. As Horace Rumpole suggests upthread, this implies a lot more than just making a list or collecting things and tossing them in a box in your attic.

Curation implies that you are protecting, preserving, and preparing things for display or other use. If your list is drawing attention to a neglected niche then maybe it's curation, but if it's just your 20 favorite songs then no it's not.

The father of a coworker of mine had an exhaustive personal museum of airline liquor bottles. When he died he had over 20,000 of them, all displayed on neat little custom built shelves. People would visit him to see his collection and airlines would send him new and limited edition samples because they knew of him. Part of keeping his collection was preparing the bottles; carefully and invisibly draining the contents was an important step to make sure the bottles did not deteriorate. This is curation.

Today the collection is in a bunch of cardboard boxes in a storage unit. His son is not a curator, and the current fate of the collection is a perfect example of the difference.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:25 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


As long as the middling classes can keep hanging on to incredibly ill-paid, shabby gentility by means of this word--bully for them, I say. Otherwise we must send all our sons into the East India Company.
posted by Hypatia at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I once curated a guy's collection of matchbooks from Air Force One.
posted by clavdivs at 7:09 PM on August 27, 2015


Dear Curators: We feel your pain. Love, Archivists.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:27 PM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hilarious, I was just ranting about this very thing to my long-suffering wife not days ago (some soon to open Soul Food restaurant in our neighborhood had declared that it's CD collection, sorry I mean it's musical atmosphere or some shit, was going to be "dj curated"). In my opinion this self important smack is deserving of something on the order of a full Fuck Lewis Black-style treatment. It's pissing me off almost as much as how every stupid nostalgia puff piece is a fucking "Oral History" all of the sudden.
posted by nanojath at 8:11 PM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


A curated "musical atmosphere or some shit" can indeed make a big difference to a business if it's done well. This "self important smack" can boost a restaurant's revenue and customers significantly - from personal experience I've seen up to 75% increase. If your restaurant is using good curators, they may be having the last laugh. The idea of a curated music atmosphere may sound pretentious to you, but it can serve many functions (crowd control, human traffic flow, boosting rate of purchases/sales, optimizing peak hour meal consumption, etc) and there's hard evidence to back up its efficacy. DJ curators may possibly focus more on general branding than these specifics (especially if they're just "guest DJs" that have more experience with DJ-ing live events), but that's not to say their work doesn't have value.
posted by aielen at 12:50 AM on August 28, 2015


You know, we all became "curators" because we live in a society which provides many, many things to consume and experience, we have relatively little labor power and people like to produce art and criticism. It's a silly word, yes, but it gets at a real thing.

1. We've got a lot of stuff. I can't just go down to the pants depot when I need pants and say "basic pants pls thx"; I have to pick. I can't request a basic music collection; if I want music, I have to develop some idea of what I like and choose it. It's entirely reasonable that people would come up with various systems of meaning for different objects in order to aid choice and render it pleasurable. Humans have been coming up with systems of meaning for objects for a really long time.

2. We don't have much labor power, so we have to choose carefully and understand systems of meaning in fine detail. In theory, I could wear "basic pants" - I could get a random pair of jeans or khakis from Target and call it a day. In my job, that would not fly. It especially does not fly for anyone who is marginalized - Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs can wear basic pants, although even there "basic pants" are supposed to symbolize how much better they are than other humans.

2.5. In many fields, you have to "curate" the self in order to be employable - you need to maintain an appropriate web presence, and part of that is very often showing that you produce something. Either you produce things that are literally related to your field - graphic designers doing free work, for instance - or you produce your self as a good employee, someone who is community-minded but not too radical, loves to garden but does not love [hazardous low class hobby], can write well, etc.

2.75. If you have to curate the self in order to be employable, why wouldn't you try to make that fun? If you need a web presence and you need to produce it "correctly", why wouldn't you focus on "curating" lists of songs or articles or things you actually like?

2.9. In Soviet America, curation selfs you - that's the drawback.

3. Curation/criticism (they're forms of the same thing) are amateur art, just like fanfic or self-published novels or fanzines or community theater or putting your mixes on soundcloud. People like doing them because they're accessible ways to create - maybe you can't make music, but you can write something passably interesting about music, or at least make something that satisfies you; maybe you have a strong color sense but are absolutely cack-handed - pinning collages or putting things on tumblr is satisfying. I think a feature of modernity is the loss of the idea that ordinary people can produce amateur art that isn't very great and that's still okay. You can produce art - even if it's bad! - and still have it be fun and rewarding. You can produce writing or collage or collections and learn to do it better over time. It's low stakes. You don't have to be silent just because you're not a genius.

3.5. Of course, all these "collections" are in a feedback loop with capital, so it's not like they're innocent either. But what are you going to do? Curl up and die because you don't live in utopia? The revolution's a long time coming, as far as I can tell.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think a feature of modernity is the loss of the idea that ordinary people can produce amateur art that isn't very great and that's still okay.

Mediocre amateur musicians were appreciated much more when the alternative was a handful of radio stations and maybe a few dozen record albums (or nothing at all if you go back far enough). Having instant access to a significant chunk of the best art humans have ever created dampens some people's enthusiasm for making their own.

"Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest." - G.K. Chesterton
posted by straight at 7:05 AM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I curate outraged novice responses to miffed professionals.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2015


I work in museums with museum curators. When I first read a piece like this oh, maybe 20 years ago, I asked one of my curator pals what he thought. His response was "I think it's awesome that an incredibly arcane and nerdy career that I used to have to explain to everyone is now widely understood and considered cool." So there's one person's opinion for you. In general, my sense is that trained professional museum curators are not writing these pieces and are generally not deeply concerned that this phenomenon is in any way impacting their status. It's just a job title, it's not the sum total of their experience and everything they are and do.

As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot, I think I’m fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in the process of curation,”

One problem I have with this sort of statement is that people aren't curators of "art and whatnot," they're curators of a specific institution, collection or department. Curators of something - a thing which denotes their subject matter expertise and scope. So someone can certainly be a curator of European sculpture, or a curator of agricutural implements, or the curator of the Whoville Museum of Local Nostalgia. I don't see why we can't also have curators of vintage denim, curators of pre-1970 soul music, or whatever. "Curator" as a word doesn't exist outside of a context of something to practice curation on.

Professional curating is a collaborative endeavour, one in which compromise and working within constraints are as critical as personal vision. But curation in common parlance strongly emphasizes the latter.

Now, this is an exceedinly important point. In any larger museum, curators are people on much larger teams and their work (like all museum work) is highly collaborative and subject to many levels of internal and external review - something that independent curators, no matter what they curate independently, don't have to deal with. But that's really a matter of whether you work within or outside of an institutional context.

I wouldn't overload that word with status that it rarely actually has had. The number of trained, professional curators is small, the number of amateur curators is large.

Amen to that.

A really good curator doesn't just organize or arrange or pick; they conceptualize a direction, plan the show, art direct the graphic and installation design, invite creators/artists/etc, suggest a direction for their work (if it's contemporary work), manage the installation (and insurance, etc) of work, plan events. They actually make the work happen in a direct and focused way. More of an literary editor than a fashion shopper.

Yeah, but doing shows - the public part of curation - is probably for most professional curators not something they spend the bulk of their time on. Exhibitions need curators, but curators don't need exhibitions, nor do they always have a lot of say in exhibitions. Curators review the collection, make acquisitions, develop collectinon policies and collecting plans, meet with donors, consult with advisory committees, instruct staff and docents, write for catalogs (for their own shows and for shows at other institutions), attend conferences, study, work with conservators, work with visiting researchers, etc. Curating in a museum is a lot more than presenting shows - it's more about collections scholarship and stewardship - so it's not fully analogous to selecting and presenting content online. Also, curators don't have total control over shows - art direction, graphic design, text. That's all collaborative in a museum of any size, and educators, interpreters, designers, etc. are all involved in those decisions and have roughly equivalent authority in many.

You heard it here first: in a few years, 'architect' will be the new curate

This is already happening!

The father of a coworker of mine had an exhaustive personal museum of airline liquor bottles...This is curation.

Nooooo....dumping the liquor out of the bottles is conservation. Putting them on shelves is display. Putting them in boxes in the garage is storage. Curators are involved in all these functions in museums, but the most important is the shaping of the collection in the first place - and curation involves saying no to some things that aren't worth using precious museum resources, so it's not about amassing THE MOST of anything.
posted by Miko at 4:16 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dear Curators: We feel your pain. Love, Archivists.

You also file their pain, but only after it's past its first use, right?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2015


Professional curating is a collaborative endeavour, one in which compromise and working within constraints are as critical as personal vision.

Curation is haiku.

Museums have large storage areas and small display areas, so they must choose. In choosing, they strive, through juxtaposition, to create something internally sufficient, independent of context, and able to bear consideration as a complete work.

Which is the fundamental aesthetic quality of haiku.

The Japanese report that it's very easy to write bad haiku, and very hard to write good haiku. RobotVoodooPower reminds us of the proper word for bad curation - scrapbooking.

More problematically for would be curators of cat photos, the bilingual report that you can't write haiku in English at all. Japanese is tonally stressed where English is syllabically stressed. Coercing the latter into a structure intended for the former makes as much sense as serving Sunday Roast Beef with chopsticks and calling it sushi. Some collections are just not able to bear consideration as complete works.
posted by falcon at 1:02 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


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