Fig. 1: I curated a refrigerator!
  • K.C. Fennessy
  • Fig. 1 - I curated a refrigerator!

So says co-founder Choire Sicha in this piece for The Awl, and I totally agree.

As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot, I think I'm fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in a practice of curation. Call it what you like: aggregating? Blogging? Choosing? Copyright infringing sometimes? But it's not actually curation, or anything like it.

Since I actually have a studio art degree, you might think I'd aspire to curate something someday, but you'd be wrong. Well, you'd be wrong if you were thinking about anything other than art. When I was in college, curators were professionals who organized shows at studios, galleries, museums, and other suitable spaces.

Like me, they usually had an art degree, but unlike me, they usually had an art history degree. And not just a bachelor's, but a graduate degree plus the experience to back up that formerly formidable word. Now any fool can call themselves a curator, and it's rendered the term meaningless. I'm not suggesting that amateurs can't put things together with taste and intelligence, but curate referred almost exclusively to visual art until the music world snatched it away.

ATP 2010
  • Matt Groening / atpfestival.com
  • ATP 2010 - A+ work, but not what I'd call curation.

Now every iteration of All Tomorrow's Parties, for instance, is overseen by a "curator," like Matt Groening or Jim Jarmusch. Talented gents, to be sure, but not curators in the conventional sense. And that's a pretty tame example, since ATP offers some of the more distinctive line-ups around, but they were one of the primary entities to get this particularly pretentious party started. I mean, the art world is pretentious, so why not come up with a more earth-bound alternative?

Of course, Sicha is mostly talking about the distinction between curating and creating. And he doesn't even mention music, but I agree that collector is a more appropriate term when referring to someone who organizes pre-created works. If you're showcasing songs or albums on your website or blog, then you're not really curating. It's like digging a hole in your backyard and calling it an excavation.

Nowadays, if you say you're "curating" a radio show or a music festival, people will know what you mean, but why be such a prat? I realize that words grow and change with time, and curate is probably here to stay as a music word and not just an art one—and I'm thinking specifically of alternative rock rather than classical or avant garde—but I've never used it in that context, and I never will.

Fig. 1: I curated a refrigerator!
  • K.C. Fennessy
  • Fig. 2 - Left side of curated refrigerator!

In the responses to Sicha's post, I came across several more accurate and less lofty verbs: choosing, assembling, scrap-booking, and my favorite: mood-boarding, but brilliantmistake gets right to the heart of the matter, "My Tumblr isn't so much a curated space as it is a symptom of deeper pathologies made manifest."