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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Saturday, 23 November 2013

One more overworked word like "curate" and I am going into meltdown

Oh and here's another thing…. having moaned on about pop-ups ages ago, I now (ONLY now) remember the other word - sometimes connected with pop-ups - that I have come to loathe, in its manifold mis-uses, more than any other.

That word is the verb, to curate. What I hate is that it is now used quite, it seems to me, thoughtlessly,  as a way of adding a bit of cultural heft to any old rubbish. (note to self: is not "heft" another of those words you should really not like? ed.) (note to ed, or to the note-maker: Look here! You are probably right but give a recovering journalist a fucking chance, won't you!?)

Ok, back to curate. I might as well say I am curating this blog, or  even worse, I am curating these silly little words and sentences and paragraphs that I am typing onto a little window on a little screen on a 13in MacBook.  Yes, just the same. Just like a dear old shepherd up on the Welsh Hills is curating his bloody sheep.

Back in the 20th century, a curator worked for a  museum or art gallery, and had the job of organising the exhibits. The aim of any curator was first to make sure the exhibits were safe (to curate, from curare, to care for), that they were presented in the best possible way so that the audience could  enjoy them, understand them, and understand their place in the history of art or whatever.

A really good curator could do much more than that - it was certainly an art-form and I am not arguing against the importance of the people who bring things together, display art and artefacts to enrich all our lives.

But at some point in the early 21st century - probably in London or New York - the word began to be used interchangeably with "editor" or "organiser" or "director". So that when it came to be Jarvis Cocker's turn to choose the musicians to play at that year's Meltdown Festival on London's Southbank Centre, he was described as the person "curating" this event.

That was ok for that moment - I mean, it was a fair  metaphor for the job in hand. The Meltdown festival was all about re-discovering treasures from the vaults of popular music, dusting them down a bit and bringing them to one of the stages. You could see it was a bit like organising Tutankamen at the British Museum.

Sadly, though, the word went ballistic, to the extent that club DJs would suddenly be curating deep Chicago house nights or whatever, while other long-in-the-tooth pop musicians or even pop critics would "curate" special editions of of Saturday colour supplements, and so on.

Even worse, with the rise of  easier-than-breathing blogger sites such as tumblr, every single solitary art student or would be art student is suddenly the curator of their own online art/photography/fashion/ or whatever gallery.

The sad truth being that while one or perhaps less than one percent of tumblr blogs are marvellous, imaginative, original, sparked on by the true genius of the curatorial inspiration, most are not.

So today, I was reminded of all this reading an article in a free magazine whose main aim is to promote local businesses in order to raise local property prices. You know the sort of mag that gets stuffed through every London letterbox?

Here's the quote:  "There are so many lovely boutiques in the Fulham area, but my favourite must be (name deleted) on the Kings Road,  because they have a real talent curating merchandise to suit their customer's (sic) need."

Yes, well, indeed. Personally, I am well impressed by the curatorial skills of the manageress of my local Save the Children Charity Shop on Clapham High Street. It is superb. Seriously.

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