curator/curated/curating

It’s been interesting to see the broadening popularity of the words ‘curator’, ‘curated’ and ‘curating’ growing over the last few years. It’s especially interesting to me as I have the impression that it comes at a time when many museum curators feel their professional recognition is declining.

I have a cynical impression that the term ‘curator’ is sometimes used as a very shallow credibility grab. I often feel use of the word has very little to do with the work museum curators do, preferring to allude to an idealised notion informed by (problematic) ideas about authority and museums of the past. Sometimes ‘curating’ is just seems to be a fancy way of saying ‘making decisions about’, as in this Huffington Post piece about ‘curating your own life.’

Curators Conference (which I found through Susie Bubble’s blog) looks like it will provide some thoughtful insight into the adoption of the term beyond the museum:

We’ll all be speaking about the idea of curation and how it has infiltrated our respective creative fields.  Why exactly have we hijacked that word and why has it become the buzzword to use in new media and commerce start-ups and in brands’ marketing strategies?

(Susie Bubble)

It would be good to learn more about why people who direct music videos and photograph fashion adopt the terms. Hopefully they’ll be able to change my cynical view, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything emerging from the day.

It’s important to stress that discussions about the definition of curator aren’t just taking place beyond the museum. As part of the Citizen Curators project, Peter Ride has written an interesting blog post about the project’s decision to use the word ‘curators.’ I’ve also been following some interesting discussions about ‘curator’ and language on twitter. I thought Rebeckah Higgitt and Rachel Souhami made interesting points about the kinds of skills and combination of authorities that shape exhibitions. Danny Birchill, in the same twitter conversation, contributed a link to this interesting article about International Art English which explores some of the newer uses of the word ‘curate.’

Of course I should also be a little self-critical here: ‘curating’ is right there in my thesis title, and hasn’t got an especially strong claim on being an actual, legitimate word. Furthermore, I often use ‘curating’ to mean one, specific aspect of museum work, and could substitute ‘exhibition-making’ in many of my uses. Perhaps I should spend a little longer considering why and how I use those words myself.

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