Invitation to Curate
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By techgnotic   |   Watch
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Published: January 7, 2015
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Someone once said that the decision of where to direct one’s eyes is the most important decision in photography.

That could apply to all art. Throughout the course of a day, we are exposed to thousands of pieces of content. How do we discern what is important, what is pleasing and relevant? How do we present what matters to us, and focus attention on those aspects that matter?

Curation is more than packaging–it is to help readers [discern] what is important in the world.”

— Maria Popova, Brainpicker

The term “curator” sounds quite pretentious and a bit intimidating, initially—calling to mind over–educated, emaciated gallerists, enrobed in expensive black clothing, ensconced in chilly chamber, mulling over the importance and significance of some piece of questionable ‘art.’

The Internet proves once again to be the great equalizer, impressing “curation” upon each of us, as we all have to select and edit what we take in constantly, sifting through electronic piles of information, art, opinions and lifestyle choices.

A good curator is thinking not just about acquisition and selection, but also contextualizing.”

— Joanne McNeil

The contemporary role of a curator is, arguably, as important as that of the artist.

This is good news for those of us who are at odds with painting, or operating a camera, or filling a blank canvas or empty page. With the current avalanche of content, curators are needed to shape, edit, choose, present—to hang the show—if you will. The curator has the opportunity to collaborate with the artist(s) after the fact, to express a different point of view; to educate, emote and offer an alternative perspective informed by their own life story.

The privilege I’ve had as a curator is not just the discovery of new works… but what I’ve discovered about myself and what I can offer in the space of an exhibition—to talk about beauty, to talk about power, to talk about ourselves, and to talk and speak to each other.”

— Thelma Golden

It’s a process not unlike like stringing together a perfect pearl necklace: choosing the pearls that complement and hang well together, that make both the individual and collective elements shine. And the more that pearls are worn, the more that they are in contact with the skin, the more they shine. A successful curation can do the same with multiple viewpoints. It’s an opportunity to take raw pigments and create a unique palette.

Mixing mediums and creating an environment: enchanting, disturbing, provoking, pleasing—it’s a dance of discovery. Looking at shapes, colors, subjects, and thoughtfully placing them like a trail of breadcrumbs, the curator entices the viewer to take a journey.

I’m sure I would have been considered a more significant artist if I was a singer–songwriter. It’s just not the way I roll. I love being a curator and a musicologist. People write me letters and thank me for turning them on to Fred McDowell and Sippie Wallace, and that’s partly my job this time around.”

— Bonnie Raitt

There is a school of thought that posits that once a piece of art is created, it no longer belongs to the creator, but belongs to the world. Curating on DeviantArt is a rich journey with endless possibilities. Enter a random term in the search engine, filter it by categories or popularity, and build a collection that expresses what speaks to you, that makes you laugh, that makes you angry and that you want the community to see and know. The same images take on entirely different context when grouped differently. The opportunity to reinvent the work over and over again exists. What you see—and how you are seeing it—is important to share.

Ideas are the most valuable thing. Good ones make all the difference; bad ones can hold us back, maybe even destroy us. If we can focus on finding the right ones, helping distill them, and transfer them as quickly as possible, we can get more of that. Curation is that means to the end.”

— Peter Hopkins

For me, the best approach to curating galleries is by putting all your initial interpretations about the pictures displayed before you on one side, and allowing the images to first ‘speak’ for themselves, and then to each other. Right away you’ll start noticing interesting themes like, similitude (my favourite), complimentary colors, lines and patterns, a 'common tone' between two or three (or more!) seemingly different photographs—a kind of visual poetry!” In short, and this is going to sound quite ditzy and vague, but I like ‘rhyming photographs.’


Your Thoughts

  1. Do you mix photography with painting or illustration, or do you find it discordant to mix genres?
  2. How many pieces comprise the ‘perfect’ curation? When does it become too much, and risks fatiguing the viewer?
  3. What is one of your favorite collections on DeviantArt?

anonymous's avatar
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nipastyle's avatar
nipastyleHobbyist Digital Artist
collections are a bit pointless unless you´re a fan... from a somewhat producing point of view, a portfolio already exists
tejiri9B's avatar
tejiri9B Traditional Artist
my favorite collection on DA for now are all those i watch
tejiri9B's avatar
tejiri9B Traditional Artist
firstly i feel mixing photography and painting or paintings and drawing together is wrong since each media has a specific mood it places the viewers in. also placing the pieces in more than one row will over load any viewer since they would have to look up, down right and left. but i feel a gallery can have an infinite amount of works as long as they have enough space.
bilmaw's avatar
bilmawProfessional Digital Artist
Excellent work!
AbhishekJoshi's avatar
AbhishekJoshiHobbyist Photographer
One look at the journals and selections of arctoa makes it evidently clear, the gift an astute curator can be for artists. Have a look! 
ddfoto's avatar
ddfotoHobbyist Photographer
beautiful work!!!
Clu-art's avatar
Clu-artHobbyist Traditional Artist
1) I make both painting and taking photos. I don't see a Problem.
2) depends on the theme and the Chosen works, but human brain fast gets tired ;)
Zykierenelle's avatar
ZykierenelleHobbyist Interface Designer
So cool.
Rye-Rahym's avatar
Rye-RahymStudent Traditional Artist
There is a category in art called mixed media and I once did mix photography with painting to create a mixed media of content within the artwork. For me it is acceptable and you may find various elements when you combine photography with painting whether it is digital or not and the elements applied in the combined genres can be diverse and also complement each other. Maybe without the painting, the photograph may just be a photograph. Thus, a picture speaks a thousand words. And without a photograph, a painting is just another creation but rich with colours and other elements which can also form aesthetic value in the artwork. Digital manipulation is a form of a mix between photography and painting or illustration and you may find artworks as such here and it has been popularized in both traditional and digital as well.

2) For me, it will never be enough. There are always some new messages and new viewpoints from the artist himself that he will continue to convey to the viewers. And there will always be new elements that the artist applied which he had not in his previous works so there will constantly be works which are worth to be curated. In terms of fatiguing viewers, an artist usually takes time to produce artworks which are high has aesthetics value. A certain artist may actually bore the audience for lack of quality in his or her artwork and thus it might fatigue their vision or viewpoint. An artist has to know which are appropriate to upload or hang ir which ones are not. Quality over quantity.

3) My personal favourite collection are the ones which have their own personal style and messages. I love the idea of colour theories and how every colour can define something differently according to the artist. I have always loved the idea of love and affection and romance as well and how it connects the viewers to feel in such a way that only art can tell.
sarativa's avatar
sarativaProfessional Digital Artist
I think this is why I love tumblr. I can pretend to be a curator and it feels limitless.
ZorenHector's avatar
ZorenHectorStudent Digital Artist
English isn't my mother language, I have a vague definition of "curated". With presision, what is the meaning of curated?
Krazzulimaii's avatar
KrazzulimaiiHobbyist Digital Artist is your friend here. From what I can tell, a curator is someone who brings together a collection of artwork which serve a single purpose
nipastyle's avatar
nipastyleHobbyist Digital Artist
it´s such an artsy way to explain hashtags :meow:
Krazzulimaii's avatar
KrazzulimaiiHobbyist Digital Artist
This isn't hashtags though. This is collections, subfolders in your favourites.
nipastyle's avatar
nipastyleHobbyist Digital Artist
where´s the difference really
Krazzulimaii's avatar
KrazzulimaiiHobbyist Digital Artist
Just in organization. Hashtags are like keywords that are used to help with searches, and also show related art. Collections are chosen by someone other than the artist, and they may either be a collection of related works (like hashtags), or they are a collection which serves a purpose or tells a story.

That's how I see it anyway.
ZorenHector's avatar
ZorenHectorStudent Digital Artist
Sounds somehow specific, but ok then, thank you :)
davespertine's avatar
There is a difference between a collection and an exhibition.
A difference between strolling and scrolling too.

A collection can just be a pile of paintings in a cupboard
or a bunch of photos in a drawer

An exhibition is a display of selected pieces arranged in a space.
It is important to leave space between works so that they do not detract from each other, unless the tension or the harmony between them is the desired effect.

Exhibitions can be designed to display the individual pieces or to express the intent of those who arrange the display.
So perhaps the role of the curate would be to paint the walls light green and encourage people to click the like button?

I would say that the desired effect of an exhibition was to alter the mindstate of the viewer, to inspire, to enthral, to entertain.
But others would say that their job  was to sell, to promote, to market.
Some would feel that their aim as curate was to raise their own status.

Organising and arranging such a thing should result in something which leaves people wanting more, and feeling refreshed rather than getting halfway and saying "is there much more of this to go through". It is about composition and entertainment, and part of the process is that the viewer takes time to reflect on what they experience. 

Space is needed to achieve that.
Loulin's avatar
LoulinHobbyist Traditional Artist

Thoughts in response to question no two.


Being a curator myself I know that every exhibition is different. Some exhibitions can manage a lot of art. Some exhibitions are better when they carry very few pieces. It all depends on the nature of the art, its size and the personal preference of the current artist.


A physical gallery has a clear limit as to how many pieces its walls can carry, and therefore dictate all the how’s and why’s for any particular exhibit. But theoretically a digital gallery doesn’t have a limit so the question doesn’t really make a lot of sense. There is no “perfect” curation. Certainly not in a digital gallery. You sort and categorize the art but with no or very few limits the question of “perfect curation” is debatable.


It’s usually the limits you get in a physical room and how you manage that particular challenge that determines if you get a pleasing, telling, exciting flow in the art that is exhibited in that space. It’s the current limits that makes the artist and the curator choose what and which direction is most pleasing for the eye.


That being said, of course you can fatigue your viewers in a digital media as well. Long journals with lots and lots of thumbs or countless of pages filled with favourites is usually too much for your interest to handle. It’s all about choosing the best and most interesting pieces but personally I think it’s a long stretch to call it “curating”. 

pica-ae's avatar
pica-aeProfessional Interface Designer
I would always see the journal as a great place to curate deviations. Using the embedding options of DA enables you to arrange images perfectly. (Or even better with the little help of CSS.)
Not so much my favourite collections, I use them differently and more for myself to find works again later. 

1. Mixing genres is great, I think especially on DA it is important just to show how diverse the submissions are :) Which is also why the "Celebrating Diversity" series was started… To show the community how broad DA is :la:

2. If we're talk about curating in a journal entry, I would never place about 10 - 20 deviations so each of them can get enough attention and you have more time to actually appreciate each work. 
djailledie's avatar
djailledieHobbyist Photographer
Interesting article. There is definitely a need for curating the overwhelming daily flow of images on a site like dA. I have seen some interesting attempts in the journals of davespertine or Izaaaaa (they limit themselves however to small numbers of images in one journal, which constraints significantly the process).  Groups were initially a good attempts for that, but most of them have turned into a way for people to self-promote, which misses the point.
My own attempt is SquareBySquare, where nobody can submit, only I can add images to the group. However, I don't look at the big picture - beyond the fact that I selected every image in the group (at least for the last two years). 
makepictures's avatar
To curate well you need knowledge and you need taste and you need to creep into the point of view of whomever you may be serving with the result.  I've seen Ellen do this and she is spectacular!
ellenherbert's avatar
Thank you - the work showcased on DeviantArt has endless curation possibilities.
4thofficial's avatar
4thofficialProfessional Interface Designer
Curate art for yourself or for other people to view?
anonymous's avatar
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