Why Does Curation Matter?

At Tekuma, we built a ”curation” platform to bring art to space. It’s important for us to understand the meaning of “curation.” When asking this question, my first reaction was to look for a dictionary. This approach can easily bore an audience, however, so before we dive into the definitions, let me show you something that might spark your interest.

In Google Trend, you can find the search popularity of a word. Results show that the interest for “curate” has quadrupled over the past 10 years. This result is significant – curation has become an increasingly important element in people’s lives.

Why is curation important? The reason is simple. People don’t have time to waste on bad content. In the dictionary, the word curate is defined as follows:

  1. Curate something to select, organize and look after the objects or works of art in a museum or an art gallery, etc.
  2. Curate something (especially on the Internet) to collect, select and present information or items such as pictures, video, music, etc. for people to use or enjoy, using your professional or expert knowledge

People’s understanding of the word “curation” begins with art. That’s where the definition originated. However, over the past 5 years, the word “curate” has been become ubiquitous on the internet.

Traditional interpretations were constrained to the domain of museums and fine art advisors. Today, curation applies to everything and anything.

Five Elements

Curation is still an ambiguous term. As people use it more frequently, a clear understanding of the word becomes important. What are the objects a curator needs to deal with? What is the process of curation? The dictionary is not enough. Let’s build the foundations.

1. Content

When discussing curation, these 2 elements are essentially undeniable: content and medium. Content is the core, and it is the reason why curation exists. We need curation because we want to access a collection of desirable content. We visit a museum to see a series of artworks and artifacts, we choose playlists to listen to well-liked songs, we subscribe to magazines to read a selection of articles, and we follow a fashion blog to receive updates on the latest trends. All of these things are about well-curated content.

2. Medium

Selecting the right content is the first step to curation. The second step is often overlooked, however, and that’s medium.

Medium is like a container for the content. It establishes a framework that holds the content together. It helps organize and represent the content in a way that people can engage with. A gallery is the medium for an art exhibit; a playlist is the medium for a selection of songs; a magazine, either in physical or digital format, is the medium for articles; and a blog is the medium for posts.

Mediums play a very important role in terms of how content is organized and presented. Its significance, however, is often overlooked.

Selecting the proper content is very important, but at the same time it also has a low threshold. Today, everyone has access to a massive amount of content, and most of us could actually do a decent selection given a certain amount of time. What really matters is the medium we choose, and that’s what makes curation unique.

The gallery space that holds the exhibition, the interface that carries the playlist, the layout and organization of the magazine and the design of the webpage… these factors subconsciously shape our perception of content.  We must place the content in the right medium with the right format.

Now let’s elaborate a bit further by introducing 3 more elements of curation. Those are its methods: select, organize and represent.

3. Select

This is the most straightforward element. Selecting content with meaning is always the first step. For instance, if you are curating an exhibition under the theme of 18th century impressionism, you have to first choose several pieces of artworks under that theme.

4. Organize

A curator deals with a large amount of information at one time, and their artifacts fall into multiple categories. Organizing often requires a lot more effort and energy than selecting. An art curator, for instance, has to deal with the artifact itself, gather the artist information, study the historical and stylistic background, and place it within a timeline. The ability to organize the information is crucial. It allows people to connect a broader range of information with a specific piece of content.

5. Represent

This is the last and probably hardest step in curation. Representation is where content is placed within a medium. An interface is created for people to engage with. A representation usually includes visual or interactive components, and it is very important to have a cohesive design strategy. The capability of creating such representation also sets the line between a curator and “wish list” creator.

The primary goal of this article is to start discourse on what curation really is. Let’s summarize. The foundations are composed of 5 words: content and medium as objects; selection, organized and represent as methods.

Using Google Trend, we found that the frequency of this word in publications was previously 10 times what is it today.

“Curation” is  making a comeback.

The illustrations in this post are by Decue Wu, one of Tekuma’s artists. To see more of her work, click here!

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