Curation is Creation
‘Curation is Creation’ is the name of a book I picked up last week by Colin Wright. As a designer of information technology, the title caught my eye so... nice job Colin. Today I wanted to express a few of my own thoughts on the topic before diving into his.
Several years ago when I lived in New York City I went to a retrospective exhibit of the artist Jeff Koons. Ya know, the balloon dog guy. He’s had a long career with many distinct phases (including a pornographic one... nice 🙈). But in particular I’m remembering one of his earlier phases which was, as far as I could tell, just a bunch of vacuum cleaners. Granted, they were pristine, antique vacuum cleaners collected in tidy, well-lit, acrylic cases but vacuum cleaners nonetheless.
I entered the room thinking “Well, this is bullshit. This doesn’t mean anything.” And I was right because it was true: the objects in and of themselves were just objects. They didn’t mean anything. But what I didn’t get at first glance was that the meaning came through the curation of the objects into the context of the exhibit. All of the added value that resulted in those vacuum cleaners ending up in a fancy museum on the Upper East Side instead of a landfill came from the context of their curation.
As I walked the room and read the curator’s descriptions the dots started to connect; the value unlocked. The information that had been lying inert inside of those inactive vacuum cleaners was suddenly given shape. Lifeless, and otherwise worthless, objects given life and value by the act of curation. Creation through curation.
More recently, in the context of my work as a software designer I’ve been drawn to the metaphor of information as clay and the designer as its sculptor.
Clay has some inherent value but it’s limited in its natural form. The real value comes from what you craft with the raw material using your creativity. Clay is useful. Bricks fired from clay, more so.
In software, information (or data) is the raw material; it’s the clay pulled from the earth. Curating that data is like sculpting digital clay. Like clay, data can exist on its own and have some value. But just because it exists doesn’t mean that it means anything and the real value of the data is in its meaning.
How do you unlock that meaning? First you have format the raw data into a shape that’s more consistent and accessible. Then you have to craft and present it in an understandable way. Raw data didn’t make Google one of the world’s most valuable companies. Curated, contextual data did (along with some other less benign practices 😇).
The raw material of the information age is data and its true value, meaning, is unlocked through curation. So whether you’re just another designer out here trying to make a living (like me) or maybe an aspiring Jeff Koons protege, the practice is the same: curate to create.
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