Everyone’s an Artist, Designer, Critic. But Curator?

Digital cameras and smartphones have enabled their users to become photographers. Affordable composition and editing tools have made us all designers and editors. Social media have enabled, encouraged and sometimes rewarded us for posting content, reviews and opinions for everything under the sun. So, now we are all critics. So, now are we all curators as well?

[div class=attrib]From dis:[end-div]

As far as word trends go, the word curate still exists in a somewhat rarified air. One can use curate knowingly with tongue in cheek: “Let’s curate our spice rack!” Or, more commonly and less nerdily, in the service of specialized artisanal commerce: “curating food stands” of the Brooklyn Flea swap meet, or a site that lets women curate their own clothing store from featured brands, earning 10% on any sales from their page. Curate used pejoratively indicates The Man- “If The Huffington Post wants to curate Twitter…” [uh, users will be upset]. And then there is that other definition specific to the practice of art curating. In the past ten years, as curate has exploded in popular culture and as a consumer buzz-word, art curators have felt residual effects. Those who value curating as an actual practice are generally loathe to see it harnessed by commercial culture, and conversely, feel sheepish about some deep-set pretensions this move has brought front and center. Simultaneously, curate has become a lightning-rod in the art world, inspiring countless journal articles and colloquia in which academics and professionals discuss issues around curating with a certain amount of anxiety.

Everyone’s a critic but who’s a curator?
In current usage, curating as discipline, which involves assembling and arranging artworks, has been usurped by curating as a nebulous expression of taste, presumed to be inherent rather than learned. This presumption is of course steeped in its own mire of regionalism, class bias and aspirations towards whomever’s privileged lifestyle is currently on-trend or in power. Suffice it to say that taste is problematic. But that curating swung so easily towards taste, indicates that it wasn’t a very hard association to make.

To some extent taste has been wedded to curating since the latter’s inception. A close forebear of the modern curated exhibition was the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities. The practice of selecting finely crafted objects for display first appeared in the 15th century and extended for several centuries after. A gentleman’s cabinet of curiosities showcased treasures bought or collected during travel, and ranged culturally and from collector to collector according to his interests, from mythical?/biblical? relics to artworks to ancient and exotic artifacts. As a practice, this sort of acquisition existed separately from the tradition of patronage of a particular artist. (For a vivid and intricately rendered description of the motivations and mindset of the 18th century collector, which gives way after half the book to a tour-de-force historical novel and then finally, to a political manifesto by a thinly veiled stand-in for the author, see Susan Sontag’s weird and special novel The Volcano Lover.) In Europe and later the United States, these collections of curiosities would give rise to the culture of the museum. In an 1858 New York Times article, the sculptor Bartholomew was described as having held the position of Curator for the Wadsworth Gallery in Hartford, a post he soon abandoned to render marble busts. The Wadsworth, incidentally, was the first public art museum to emerge in the United States, and would anticipate the museum boom of the 20th century.

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[div class=attrib]Image: Dean&Deluca. Courtesy of dis.[end-div]