Curation vs. Creation

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Monday lunchtime. I’m scrolling through the fluorescent wilderness of my Twitter feed, hastily eating a Benugo chicken wrap at my desk (uninspired lunch option 3 minutes from the office). What should I do this weekend? Is there anything good happening in town? And what should I listen to this afternoon to pass the long hours until hometime?

I check out a curated list of London events, read about a curated range of new flavours from a chocolate brand. Afterwards, I don’t have to search far for curated playlists to soundtrack my afternoon. Its a positive epidemic of curation.

A quick look at Google Trends shows a steady upturn in uses of the word ‘curate’ since 2005. When did we become such organisers of culture, optimisers and tastemakers? But not, tragically, creators.

Shaping our own personal brands is the great art of our times. We spend hours expressing ourselves in subtle ways, selecting the tracks that best convey our moods, our identities. In 2004, assembling the perfect union of background imagery and autoplay track on mySpace was a top priority (wallpaper mimicking TV static and Rilo Kiley, in case you wondered). I’m hugely guilty of this myself: after all, its a necessity in a competitive world where personalities rub against each other like sweaty commuters on a rush hour tube. But I’m pretty sad that we’re living vicariously and not producing our own tangible works of art or self-expression, almost as much as I’m rankled by the misuse of ‘curation’.

There is one incidence of curation that doesn’t bug me, however. A week ago I went to see an art exhibition at the Barbican, assembled by bonafide museum curators. A new spin on the usual concept of showcasing work by artists, this exhibition featured collections of stuff that artists had collected, alongside a piece or two by the artist. This ranged from the priceless, 500 year old oriental Buddhas and Hindu art, to trinkets and forgotten holiday postcards buried deep in shop draws.

One of my favourite exhibits was from artist Jim Shaw, who collects so-bad-its-good amateur art from LA thrift stores. As a lover of leftfield personal histories and artefacts, the whole show was fascinating; but moveover, I loved how these artists’ ‘curation’ of related objects had informed their own work. No surprises that Damien Hirst collects freaky taxidermy.

So wouldn’t it be refreshing if we all had the facility to make an original comment on something rather than passively share it on social media? Or if lifestyle writers stopped ‘curating’ lists of bars to stop at on a Saturday night, as if people needed another word for ‘recommended’?

Collect cultural artefacts, observe the world, enjoy that kimchi burger from an obscure street food stall, but don’t make that the end point. Lets put ‘curation’ back in the word draw and start creating instead.

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