‘Curator’ used to be a dusty, cobwebby word; curating wasn’t an activity that people boasted about… But there’s been a cultural shift.
First it was a friend doing some ‘freelance curating’… well fair enough… she’s an artist; then I heard Sandie Shaw telling Radio 4 that Wayne Hemingway had invited her to ‘curate a live show’ for the Vintage Festival… what? And Sandie’s not the only one… everybody’s at it now…
Curating is the new DJing: a seemingly straight-forward act of ‘choosing’, elevated into a specialist and elitist activity. And I always thought Wayne Hemingway was a man of the people.
Here’s Dave Haslam talking about his contribution to the Manchester International Festival:
“…I’m curating True Faith, which is six events in The Pavillion Theatre on Albert Square in the heart of Manchester.”
(More information about Manchester International Festival can be found at mif.co.uk.)
In the past, this series of events, which includes live performance and interviews, would have been advertised using a catch-all message about the events themselves… the organiser’s name would have appeared in small print, if at all. But now the curator has become the prime mover, both behind the scenes and front-of-house.
I hate the new popularity of this word/role ‘curator’ because it emphasizes the gulf between ordinary people and arty people… those ‘in-the-know’. No ordinary person would ever claim to curate anything… well not at present, but who knows what horrors lie ahead. Perhaps we will soon be watching adverts inviting us to curate the contents of our own homes?
Digital publishing and advertising gurus seem to be driving the over-use of the word, through their esoteric debates about internet content and strategy.
The way the word ‘curating’ is being used within the artworld seems childishly literal by comparison, but never-the-less the word has acquired a new shininess through its popularity with the digital cogniscenti.
It’s like the kids heard the grown-ups talking in the other room… they didn’t really understand the discussion but certain words sounded familiar…
Plus the concept of ‘curating’ is a useful vehicle for ‘bigging up’ the role of particular individuals, implying expert status and presumably attracting funding in the process.
It is hard to keep up with the pace of digital media development… we’re all in constant danger of being bamboozled. Digital media gurus speak an almost indecipherable language… alot of it American buzzwordy fake nonsense. But what do they actually do? Mostly they appear to generate money without making anything tangible. Not great role models for the art world then… well I hope not, anyway.
The trouble with the word ‘curating’ is that it sounds so specialised, implying that we require a guide to help us navigate successfully through our own culture. But in the case of Pop Culture this is a scam: Pop Culture is already ours… it belongs to everybody, by definition. We don’t need superstar curators anymore than we needed superstar DJs.
(No offense was intended to Dave Haslam… I was thinking of the globe-trotting, mainly house, DJs when I wrote that.)