Is this curation?

4 Apr

Most spellcheckers I use don’t even recognise the word ‘curation’. But obviously, it’s what a curator does, right? Curators are people who work in museums and galleries and archives and whatnot, but the basic function of their job is to select and arrange the stuff that we consume, from art exhibitions to film nights. But now that there is a) a superfluity of digital objects, from flickr photos to youtube videos and b) we spend much of our time online saving pointing these objects out to each other, we’re all really curators, aren’t we? In a post requesting better tools for people to ‘bundle’ and share ‘atoms’ of social media across a variety of platforms, Robert Scoble lays out the basics of this point of view:

First, who does curation? Bloggers, of course, but blogging is curation for Web 1.0. Look at this post here, I can link to Tweets, and point out good ones, right? That’s curation. Or I can order my links in a particular order. That’s curation. Or I can add my thoughts to those links, just like Techcrunch or VentureBeat do. That’s curation. Or I can do a video like Leo Laporte does and talk about those links. That’s curation. Or I can forward those links to you via email. That’s curation. The editor who sits in a big building at New York Times or your local newspaper that chooses what content you’ll see in your newspaper is a curator. So is the page designer who decides what story is at the top of the page.

Scoble goes on to discuss need to create ‘bundles’ of stuff, which can be shared in a web whatever-point-oh kind of way (ie interoperably and transparently). By the time he gets to telling us that “brands would be able to advertise on bundles”, you realises that he’s talking about something very different from what a museum curator actually does (or perhaps not: is exhibition sponsorship ‘advertising on a bundle’?), and actually rather facile. Nevertheless, he’s articulating a commonly-held, if often tacit, point of view about curation.

If Scoble comes across with the typical arrogance of a tech blogger demanding that his industry produce tools that meet his needs, the reaction of New Curator, You are Not a Curator, is almost an anti-manifesto:

You are, at best, a filter. You may make a name for yourself by excelling at some kind of selection process, but you are not a curator. “Curator” does not mean “I have good taste”. That just makes you some kind of fleshy gauze for the rest of us. The good come to us whilst all the pus and snot that came through your information media streams stay on your side. You are a makeshift step before a more advanced algorithm is invented.

Also, anyone calling themselves a “curator” when it is clear that they are dealing in merchandise should have their thumbs removed. You are not trying to fool us into believing that your job is anything outside marketing, branding and selling. Be proud of what you do without assigning the make-believe title of “curator” to sound more important. You have not reached some cultural apex through the range of shoes you have on offer. You are not a Connoisseur of a Stock-Take.

You Are Not a Curator. Don’t worry, there’s no shame. Just keep repeating it to yourself. You aren’t an editor of a newspaper by just simply choosing what articles to print. You aren’t an army general by simply shouting, “Charge”. So an inflated sense of worth in your Pick ‘n’ Mix does not a curator make.

I have becoming increasingly frustrated by the nonsense being stuck to the term “Curator” because people struggle to find the word for “Someone (Else) to Sort Through This Rubbish”. I still maintain that a curator, a job with actual skills, is starting to be abused by people from industries notorious for abusing definitions. This is why I sometimes despair at my Museopunk group when they start straying into territory that I covered in the Death of the Curator articles and calling it punk. It’s all well and good to get lots of involvement from your visitors/users/patrons/etc. but if you don’t have it based around an honest-to-God curator, do you know what you end up with?

Reality television. Prove me wrong. Very high participation from an audience who get to crowdsource the answers/outcomes/selections to the most base and voyeuristic products of the underculture.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as semantics. Scoble means one thing by the word, New Curator another. Scoble sees advertising as necessary grease in the wheels of new media; NC is snobbish about reality TV. Nevertheless, there is something real in flux here, a genuine decentring and opening up of the practice of selection and presentation, to a nearly bewildering extent. From the raw materials at your disposal you can present the world with endless interesting, artful and carefully-chosen collections of stuff. Some people are very good at it. But that you are, or are not, a ‘curator’, does not automatically follow.

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One Response to “Is this curation?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Further reading | MUSM framework - April 18, 2016

    […] D. (2010) Is this curation? Museum Cultures, 4th April 2010. Available at: https://museumcultures.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/is-this-curation/ Accessed 1st January 2014 […]

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