The Intentional Art of Curation
Putting action and meaning together
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” — George Eliot, 1871
You’ve been to a museum, right?
As you wander around the galleries, stopping at the display cases and pausing in front of wall hangings to ponder the artist’s meaning, did you ever wonder how much of the collection is on display?
That is, have you considered what percentage of a museum’s holdings are shown at any given moment?
Take a guess. Fifty percent? Maybe 25 percent?
According to the chairwoman of the Americas department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “Most museums show between 2 and 4 percent of a collection.”
When you consider that museums, collectors, and content creators go to great lengths to assemble their miscellany, and that the vast majority of it never gets seen—that’s more than a shame.
Hence, the role of the curator.
Not Just for the Museum
Curators are needed in far more fields than museums these days. Dispense with your image of the stuffy, tweed-wearing museum director (in a bow tie?) and think rather of a sophisticated, well-read, and canny individual who has their finger on the pulse of things.
The best curators have deep knowledge of their subject, can spot trends, and point out the confluence of things in disparate areas.
And that’s what they do: they pull together items from a collection, assemble them in a certain way, and tell stories about what they are and why they matter.
One of the most important things you can do for anyone — your team, a friend, a family member — is to help them make sense of a jumble of information.
As we’re inundated with news, data, brand extensions, and more, a service you can provide is to group things together and give them context.
Provide a shortcut.
Tell a story.
Don’t make them sift through the 97 percent of your material in search of something of importance. Give them the 3 percent, packaged in a way that gets their attention and makes them want more.
Curating Timeless & Timely
That’s essentially what I do here each week.
I keep in mind what I’d like to write about and I keep notes about things that relate to it. I use OneNote to capture links, images and other digital thoughts, and I carry index cards in a pocket briefcase for a timeless note-taking approach.
It takes longer to determine just how it will all play out, what the essays will contain, and how the links will be grouped, but my goal is to help you understand how the world around you fits into a larger story.
When you know the size and type of container you have to fill, the curator understands how to approach the task.
Curate comes from the Latin cura (n.), meaning care.
When we curate, we take great care with the items in our possession, and we assemble them in almost a loving way.
To curate is to care.
“They never taste who always drink;
They always talk and never think.” — Matthew Prior
In a newsletter, David Berkowitz talked about curated serendipity as the hallmark of a good community. It’s when organizers take care to assemble the right mix of people in the room. (Serial Marketer)
A Troubling Night at the Museum
Every generation of artists has its problems with museums. They were once too corporate. Now they are “carceral and colonial, and thus ableist.” Point of No Return: Alex Kitnick on the discontent with museums. (Art Forum)
Curator, Heal Thyself
Tidying up is fine, but you need a space that feels like you. How to curate just about anything. (Psyche)
“I only saw it because I was looking for it.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1893
One way to see the future with intention? Track corporate patents. Here’s an example of Ford patenting drones for remote jump starts. (Patent Drop)
Stand Up and Win
Want to be more intentional with your meetings? Don’t sit down. “Novel ideas often bubble up when individuals think deeply about their particular areas of expertise, and stand-up meetings tend to keep people focused on work that is easier to integrate with the team’s.” (Harvard Business Review)
I Meant to Do That
The problem with corporate values: when values are at odds with a company’s bottom line, often they won’t win out. (Vox)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“The true University of these days is a collection of books.” — Thomas Carlyle, 1841
🎧 We go through our days, flitting from one meeting to the next, firing off emails, and swatting down Slack messages. But as we do so, are we spending much time really thinking about things? How much deliberation are we giving them? How often do we stop to register whether something fits with our beliefs or values? And what do our actions say about our values? David Amerland joined Timeless Leadership to talk about Intentionality.
📚 The modern man has good intentions—all he lacks are the tools to turn them into gentlemanly action. The Forgetful Gentleman: Thirty Ways to Turn Good Intentions into Action is illustrated reference guide instructs and informs readers on the subtle art of being a contemporary gentleman by incorporating both traditional and modern practices, bringing the classic idea of gentlemanliness forward into the 21st century.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.