The terms “curator” and “curating” are being slung around in a wide variety of contexts these days, mostly to do with the curator-as-filter. It is intriguing to see a term that is usually used in a fine arts context to be used in other contexts (in the three cases I mention below: the Web, interior decorating, and metadata) though it can sometime feel as though the word is being appropriated because there is no other term to describe precisely what is going on.

One of the first items like this that caught my eye was an article by Suw Charman on Strange Attractor that I quite enjoyed.

But we don’t need gatekeepers anymore. We don’t need people who stand between us and our stuff, deciding what to tell us about and what to ignore. We don’t need arbiters of taste. […] What we need are curators. And we need them badly. […] Curators already exist. Some are people: Bloggers who sift through tonnes of stuff in order to highlight what they like, and who, if you have the same taste as them, can be invaluable to discovering new things to like. Some are aggregators: Site that gather lots of little bits of stuff and present them in aggregation and help us find the bits that the majority find to be good. Some are algorithms: recommendation systems and search.

As I mention earlier, it seems that we need a new word to accurately describe what is involved in filtering and dissecting content for other users of the internet. Is creating a focused list of links curating? Blogging photos of random things – is that curating? Perhaps it is to an extent, but at this time, the role and host of skills that the word “curator” summons to my mind seems a bit flattened when used to describe the function of someone I would call a “filter” (though that sounds quite impersonal and awful – hence I am proposing that a new word needs to be created) would be.

Next, an article that mildly horrified me for its use of the word curating:

For hourly fees generally ranging from $50 to $250, these microdesigners, known in the trade as rearrangers or accessorizers, will regroup the potted plants in the foyer, style the paperweight collection on the coffee table, create vignettes of country-style baskets atop kitchen cabinets or spruce up the presentation of the family china.

With me so far? People who will re-arrange the potted plants in the foyer are “microdesigners”. Probably nice, inoffensive work if you can get it. Later in the article however, the c-word crops up:

For Jennifer Wong, 39, the owner of a consulting firm in Portland, Ore., not having to think about the details is “pure bliss.” Ms. Wong, whose home is decorated with mid-century furniture, recently enlisted the services of Martie Accuardi, who calls herself a microdesigner and charges $75 an hour, to curate her mantelpiece. Not only does Ms. Accuardi style her client’s existing decor, she augments it with pieces she brings in from her small home store. As part of her service, every few months she swaps out the old accessories and brings in new ones, adding seasonal accents.

I was gobsmacked to see that it was possible to curate a mantelpiece. I wonder in this case, if the word actually came out of Jennifer Wong’s mouth and was used by the author of the piece but not directly quoted, or if the author of the piece was using her thesaurus and that is how she came up with the concept of the curated mantelpiece.

Playing devil’s advocate with myself for a moment, perhaps there is some simplification going on, but the basic function of a curator is to select and choose work – so selecting and choosing items for inclusion in someone’s home could be curation. Or again, is what we are talking about here simply filtering? In the first case, filtering scores of links on the web, in the second case, filtering a host of choices at the home decor shop.

Finally, curation comes up on Anil Dash’s blog when he loses the metadata associated with his iTunes song library. For him the information that surrounds each song is nearly as important as the song itself, because without that context, he notes that they are no longer his songs. He goes on to say: “Art without curation or creation without witness leaves a work mute.”

To that sentiment, it is easy for me to rustle up an “Amen”.

Comments are closed.