Stephen Calloway. Curator- Victoria and Albert Museum
As someone who has a fascination with the English language I find it incredibly interesting how the meaning and usage of words changes over time. Unfortunately in some case this can lead to a feeling that words come to be completely misused. I’ve already mentioned on here about the misuse (in my mind) of the term designer; Used to suggest someone had designed a collection when they have not. Another of my bugbears is a misuse of the term vintage, which now seems to have completely lost its meaning. Although, my biggest annoyance, as the title of this piece suggests is the misuse of the term curator.
I will begin with a dictionary definition
noun\ˈkyu̇r-ˌā-tər, kyu̇-ˈrā-, ˈkyu̇r-ə-\
Definition of CURATOR
: one who has the care and superintendence of something;especially : one in charge of a museum, zoo, or other place of exhibit
The term “cura” (latin) means to care for. A curator by definition is a carer of collections.
Now it would seem a curator is simply someone who “selects”, especially in the social media sense of the word.
This latin origin suggest most of my problems with the misuse of the term curate. Curation is not simply selection but also (perhaps more importantly) is CARE. In the museum setting this of particular importance as evidently museum objects are valuable (from a monetary and social history viewpoint) and must be cared for appropriately.
I’ve seen numerous shops described as “carefully curated”, which I feel is something of a misnomer and indicates that the person using the term does not understand its meaning, as by the words definition a curator IS a carer.
I think this has to be the BEST quote on the topic:
“Harold Koda runs the Costume Institute at the Met, so he’s allowed to describe himself as a curator—it’s his professional title. For everyone else, though, it’s just a highbrow way of saying “one who picks things out,” which describes all style bloggers, retail buyers, “
Now, as someone who wants to BE a curator I get angry. This is because I feel it diminishes the role an actual curator plays. I intend to complete an MA and possibly a PHD before I would even be considered as a curatorial assistant let alone a curator. The role of the curator is a challenging one, often caught up n bureaucracy of the museum world and also a considerably amount of trouble in ascertaining whether items are suitable or not for display.
The curator is a beacon for the public to not only look after items for them, so that they can see them, but also to educate. This complicated role of the curator suggests why simply selecting a few things (for example on a pintrest board) and suggesting it is “curated” irritates me so much.
But onto an interesting point here, the rise (and the importance of) social media. Now we need to find new ways to “define” what we do. The only problem is that by doing this we diminish the roles of what people actually do.
Often, unfortunately I believe this misuse of the word curator suggests an over inflated belief of self importance, and trying to make whatever said person is doing sound more grandiose than it actually is. I think a more appropriate word in most senses is that a person in a social media sense is often an editor, or a selector.
My annoyance not only relates to the words misuse in the online world, but also in the real world. A key example being Wayne Hemingway’s doomed vintage festival which had areas “curated” by different people. I find this ever so slightly less irritating than the words use in a social media sense, possibly because I can see a level of care that would need to go into doing this. Although still this diminishes the importance of the work of the curator. Again though it is the egoistical personality suggested of the person who describes themselves in this way that immediately put me off. This suggests curator merely as a buzzword, and related more with fashionable trends rather than history and care as it should be.
I’d be interested to know what others feel about this use of the word curate. In a social media sense would you describe yourself as a “curator”. Or like me do you see it as a sacred world associated with museums professionals?
Essential further reading:
Essential further reading: