Are Curators Unprofessional?

27 Sep

First off, sorry I haven’t posted for awhile. I had a tonne of schoolwork, then I started a new job, then there was the Toronto International Film Festival, and then this past week there was the Toronto Improv Festival. Now that things are calmer, I intend to post more often until school rears it’s ugly head. Ugh, I hate that cliche but whatevs, I’m using it.

Now that my headspace is back where I want to see more art, and make more art, and curate more art, and write about art, I wish I could attend the upcoming conference at the Banff Curatorial Institute – Are Curators Unprofessional?. I would love to go to this! But I really need to work out my whole cash money situation first as my husband and I are contemplating the purchase of a piano.

Since I probably can’t attend the conference, I’d like to contribute my own diatribe on whether curators are unprofessional. My first instinct is to define what words like ‘curator’ and ‘unprofessional’ mean. And even though most of the time people say to trust your first instincts – I’m not doing that here. I want to use my own potentially misguided musings.

1. Why some curators are unprofessional. A profession = you’ve had training, and you’re getting paid for what you do. Emerging art curators in Toronto and beyond are honing their craft for free, and in some situations, are paying for opportunities to hone their craft. If you’re paying for something, rather than getting paid (or at least working in pursuit of getting paid), the professional aspect of the equation is questionable.

2. Why some curators are unprofessional. Anyone can call themselves a curator now. While sometimes curating does mean ‘organizing stuff’ it no longer ONLY means ‘caring for and collecting a bunch of stuff and organizing it’. Home decorators now have the self-proclaimed authority to claim they are partaking in the activity of ‘curating’ just by precisely selecting and organizing items on a client’s mantel. Sure, you could argue with me that ‘Hey, Jen, simmer down, they’re just using curating as a verb, that doesn’t count here! People who are painting, for example, don’t call themselves painters’. And you would be right. But I feel like setting that argument aside right now. I would just like to point out, here, that the words curating, and curator, don’t hold the ivory tower cache they once had. I am not passing critical judgment on this transition. It just is what it is and I’m observing it.

This post was getting long so I googled 'curator' and this is what came up first

3. Why most curators are probably unprofessional. While I am an artist and a curator myself, I like to pretend the twain shall never meet. So, ignoring this, and completely implicating myself – I think the overwhelming artist/curator phenom could be an indication that the field of curating, a baby discipline, is perhaps not very disciplined at all. To make a comparison, because I like to do that, in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, accepting an artist/curator as a curator would be like telling a bard that sure, you’re a decent sorcerer. But all us nerds know that sorcerers are a distinct character class, and that bards will always be a few steps behind wizards in their personal and professional development in terms of their magic skillz.

4. Why most curators are probably unprofessional. This is where things get confusing and touchy. Is it unprofessional for curators to do things like art reviews of exhibitions on display at other institutions? On the one hand, I would say probably not. In the business world, people can work at one company and also be on the board of directors of other related companies. But conflicts of interest totally abound in the business world, and the art world, on BODs or in other contexts totally happen. Conflicts of interest are inherently unprofessional.

You could also maybe argue that friendships between artists and curators are unprofessional because of the information that could be passed back and forth. But that doesn’t entirely make sense, because that would be like saying a guy working at a tire manufacturing company can’t be friends with the dude above him in the supply chain who sells him the rubber he uses to make the tires. Yet a lot of businesses have confidentiality agreements with fairly prohibitive clauses, which I imagine would make personal relationships between people working within the same industries difficult. (Yes, Disney, I might be giving you the side-eye here.) What makes the art world so much fuzzier than the business world here is that rarely do these types of contracts float around and get signed – maybe once you work for the government or an arts council, otherwise it’s all up to personal discretion. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the business world is 9-5, whereas the art world tends to be a 24-hour a day vocation.

These are just off the top of my head. If I think about it a bit more, I might do a part 2 and add more of my thoughts. Who knows – maybe my part 2 will be all about why curators are professional! I haven’t been getting a tonne of comments on this blog but if you happen to read this post, I’d be really interested to know what you think, or hear about some of the results of the conference.

I write tonne because I’m Canadian, BTW.


One Response to “Are Curators Unprofessional?”


  1. Professionalism is not enough? « New New New Blog - November 8, 2010

    […] me with a travel grant so I can attend the Are Curators Unprofessional? conference in Banff I posted about awhile back. I am also grateful for my awesome parents for footing the rest of the bill as a graduation […]

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