Curation is the new Creation
Everything is a remix.
Looking for originality and the notion of creating something totally new—well, it’s simply impossible. Once you come to terms with this, the world becomes a much more interesting place from a content creator’s perspective.
The universe and all parts of it are in constant change. Chaos is the norm.
Staring at a blank page or canvas and trying to come up with something new is a daunting task. But a remix? A curatorial exploration of past and present creations? A gathering of things that already exist in order to provide a new perspective? How very metamodernist of us.
HOW WE CONSUME CONTENT
As a company that develops strategies and tools to empower other people who think about content and publications, we must embrace this idea of curation and explore it fully.
As the Web has evolved and the devices we use to view the Web have evolved, the idea of curation has taken some leaps ahead in terms of how we create, digest, and share content.
While our own independent musings about the breakfast we ate or the jerk we had to deal with are fascinating to read on social networks, what is becoming more and more interesting is sharing what we are consuming of other people’s content, and then, sharing what we have to say about this consumed content.
This isn’t that different from recent trends in modern art — just look at Andy Warhol, who made a career and invented pop-art, by re-appropriating other iconic imagery and making it his own.
In a disgusting kind of way, it is a regurgitation process, where the value is added through each process of consuming and then expelling. Gross, right?
And yet, it’s pretty close the way everything works if you really think about it. Life forms are created, get consumed, become something new. Same thing for ideas, content, the stuff that we define our lives by in the non-physical realm.
INTERACTING WITH CONTENT
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only a small portion of people on social networks like Facebook are actually “power users”—users that create content and perform actions on a regular basis. Many others are simply passively absorbing it, and some are curating it.
By curating, I mean they are finding, rearranging, adding to, and then re-sharing things they find. If I had to only post original thoughts or creations on social networks, I would probably post 50% less than I currently do. What I do with the rest of that 50% is share, re-post, comment, like, or otherwise add my voice to an existing creation.
The vast majority of social media users are reacting to outside curators seeking to engage with them, by reading a comment, accepting a friend request, or reading a message. Today, the experience of content creation is not a one-way street; there are those that are creating or curating the content or the interaction, and those who react to it or interact with it.
There are those who have pushed the boundaries of what is actual content in the first place. Artist Cindy Sherman created a groundbreaking series of “Untitled Film Stills” from films that never existed as anything more than the creative backdrops for her photography. Sherman didn’t require the content to actually exist before she created her own art from it. Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography at the MOMA wrote of her works,
“In the Untitled Film Stills there are no Cleopatras, no ladies on trains, no women of a certain age. There are, of course, no men. The sixty-nine solitary heroines map a particular constellation of fictional femininity that took hold in postwar America—the period of Sherman’s youth, and the ground-zero of our contemporary mythology. In finding a form for her own sensibility, Sherman touched a sensitive nerve in the culture at large. “
As a collaborator I can now participate in many more conversations and experiences than I could before the Web. As a curator, I can now share more of the things that make up my world with far more people who have a variety of perspectives than I could before the Web.
I am being influenced by far more sources than any other content creator or curator, at any other time, in the history of human evolution.
I know, big statement, but it’s true. How do we work in such a noisy and full universe?
THE BLANK CANVAS IS NOT BLANK
This new realm we exist in is what is propelling our clients to ditch their static Websites and their content blurbs and actually want to re-engage from a different vantage point. It’s not about the visual design, the bells and whistles, the apps, the widgets, the customization—it’s about the content.
To focus on the content immediately puts immense pressure on the notion of creation. I went to art school and hold a BFA and a MFA, and still, standing in front of a blank canvas is intimidating. For people who aren’t natural creators, imagine the stress!
However, fret not, creators of the content—because as we know, it’s more about curation than it is about creation. See, doesn’t that feel better?
Look at new services like Pinterest that have sprung up and become hugely popular. What is so appealing about these services? I believe they play to a natural human desire to share and curate things—in particular, images. It is human nature to collect, organize, approve, and curate elements in order to tell a story or preserve memories.
They allow us to create our own “exhibitions” by borrowing from others’ collections or creations. Remember, everything is a remix, a collaboration, a bit of inspiration sparked from one source that carries over into a new one.
Even as I write this post, I’m borrowing from concepts I’ve read elsewhere or gleaned from a conversation with industry peers or realized in a flash of inspiration while reading Sky Mall on an airplane. (Seriously, Sky Mall can be really amazing if you’re looking for interesting ideas about what humans care about, or what marketers think humans care about — but that’s for another post.)
I’m appropriating other’s content into this post in order to create it. Wikipedia defines appropriation,
“Inherent in our understanding of appropriation is the concept that the new work recontextualises whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original ‘thing’ remains accessible as the original, without change.”
Thoughts, ideas, and “content” don’t originate from nothing. So how do we capitalize on this?
There are ways to help this become a workflow instead of a logjam. Of course, first you must know who you are and what your basic vibe is. Are you the MOMA or an independent gallery? Are you a high-end Mexican restaurant or a funky neighborhood joint serving local fare? Your “brand” sets everything—the “knowing” of who you are. Start there.
Then, who are the players in your band? Who sings the songs or tells the stories or welcomes the eaters? We frequently talk with our clients about the importance of establishing governance and audiences.
And remember, it’s OK to pay homage to your influences, don’t pretend you’re making this stuff up because honestly nobody will believe you anyway, or worse, you’ll get called out on it. A quick search on Google for pretty much any idea will generate results.
Even an artist often attributed as being truly “unique, Vincent Van Gogh, used appropriation, influence, collaboration and copying during his career. He often created art in the style of works he was inspired by. While he never travelled to Japan, he was hugely inspired by the art coming out of Japan, and he allowed that to influence his own work. He absorbed things he was interested in, and let it affect his work. Wikipedia says of his influence,
“In 1887, Van Gogh made copies of two designs of Hiroshige, a Japanese landscape printmaker. One print was The Bridge in the Rain. Van Gogh copied the scene from a woodcut by Hiroshige. He filled the borders with calligraphic figures that he borrowed from other Japanese prints. Flowering Plum Tree is the other print by Hiroshige which Van Gogh copied. Another print that Van Gogh created in the same fashion is The Courtesan based on a piece by Japanese artist, Kesai Eisen. Van Gogh also gave this piece a frame with motifs from other Japanese prints. The difference between the originals and Van Gogh’s copies can be seen in the use of color. Van Gogh used brighter colors with more enhanced contrasts.”
THE ARTISTS’ TOOLS
What do I write about? How do I start a story? Who takes the photos? I stare at blank boxes in my CMS, with [null] to inspire me.
You must start with the basics. Why does the story matter? What is compelling about the content? And who is the story being told to?
Here is where the tools of content creation and generation must be improved. We should provide the same sandboxes we are experiencing throughout the rest of the Web within our content management systems. How can we empower people to become curators as much as they are creators. How can we build on what we are already doing—snapping photos on our mobile phones, logging our geographic locations, re-posting from friends “social streams,” and actively searching on the Web for things we are interested in?
Isn’t Medium a great example of how a platform, a set of tools, an idea…is built around the notion of helping us become better storytellers? Better creators, sharers, collaborators — all focused around the notion of content? High-Five Medium!
How do you start thinking about curation? A curator (from the Latin “cura,” meaning “care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library, or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.
“… I believe ‘curate’ finds ever-wider application because of a feature of modern life that is impossible to ignore: the incredible proliferation of ideas, information, images, disciplinary knowledge, and material products that we all witnessing today. Such proliferation makes the activities of filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, and remembering more and more important as basic navigational tools for 21st century life.”
WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
So am I a curator? Are you? If you are overseeing the interpretation of your brand, then you are indeed a curator. So now you have to learn to think like one.
You have to break out of the content constraints that the infancy of the Web have taught you. Stop thinking of content as “Introduction”, “About”, “Contact”, “News”, “People”, “Events”, etc. How incredibly boring we have let content become! Stop thinking your story needs a title, a beginning, middle and end.
Stop thinking you need to say something completely original before you begin!
Stop worrying about what everyone will think (honestly, worrying about feedback is a problem you’ll be lucky to have).
Content can be much more exiting than we are giving it credit for. It doesn’t need to be National Geographic-quality photos alongside an article about free-climbing Mount Everest in shorts and sandals. It doesn’t have to be multiple paragraphs; it doesn’t even need to include words. What it does need is authenticity and perspective. Having something to say vs. just saying stuff is a big difference.
HAVE A PERSPECTIVE
To be a curator, you have to ask yourself, what matters to me? If you are a company, a college, a group of people, or an individual, you have to have a position.
This is the litmus test for what you care about and what you don’t. It lets your audience know who you are and what they can expect when they engage with you.
Some curators take huge risks and combine things previously never thought to share any similarities, but through the combination a new dialogue is created.
Some artists borrow wildly from their minds and experiences, without concern over outsider interpretation at all. I happen to love Basquiat for his stream-of-consciousness approach to painting, and his seemingly complete lack of self-editing.
Sometimes not knowing exactly what the storyteller is saying is OK, as long as the ride is worth it.
Some curators reinforce a notion or support a proposition about a particular concept or historical period of time. Some curators invite public collaboration in order to create the experience. This collaborative and interactive process seems to be the nature of current curation online, and what people are being drawn to. We expect to participate, to engage, to see reality before our eyes, to have no filters or delays in place, no censorship, no central authority.
Obrist continues in his article “To Curate,” stating,
“To curate, in this sense, is to refuse static arrangements and permanent alignments and instead to enable conversations and relations. Generating these kinds of links is an essential part of what it means to curate, as is disseminating new knowledge, new thinking, and new artworks in a way that can seed future cross-disciplinary inspirations.”
He finds that as we exist now in an era of overabundance and reuse, we must focus on what curation empowers us to do.
“Curating can take the lead in pointing us towards this crucial importance of choosing.”
The other notion I think we must address is the notion of randomness. Increasingly, we are exposed to the power of randomness, as we can see it unfolding every second of every day through multiple media that provide real-time sharing of events. This ability to see the world’s events unfolding before our eyes in real time with no filter has an effect on our psyches. It is a constant reminder that the universe operates in a state of randomness.
Chaos is more the norm than predictability. Scientists will tell you that embracing the unknown is one of the foundations of good science. Nothing can ever be exact, even in mathematics—a supposed exact science.
How does one embrace randomness while trying to curate?
You need to have the ability to allow any new element or idea come into play within your curatorial toolkit at any time.You must not operate with a closed or restrictive set of parameters as you seek to curate. You need a very full palette of colors.
The Web and those creating experiences on the Web are adding to these colors every day—and empowering us all to expand our resources as we seek to curate.
THE EMERGING CURATOR
Let’s face it, very few of us started out as aspiring creators, and yet, we are all now being expected to create content every day.
For many of us, our jobs require us to create on a regular basis, yet we’ve been given no training or help, we are just thrown into the mess and told to go write interesting things.
This is pretty much impossible, but I’ve found it’s a lot easier if you think about it as curating instead of creating. What has caught your attention lately that might inspire a new line of thinking? Was there a similar topic being discussed in a completely different venue, and is that worth cross referencing? How will your readers benefit from your curatorial decisions?
Going forward in your daily activities, try to put the emphasis on being a curator and see how it changes your approach and frees you up to be more prolific, engaging, and ultimately authentic.
Joining a conversation is much easier than starting a new one in an empty room, and almost everyone has something to say, if given the right venue.
Now it’s your turn, to curate this post by leaving your thoughts or comments, turning into something more than just my thoughts and references,letting it evolve into something new. Embrace the chaos, and release your inner curator!
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