Saturday, 8 November 2014

A curated life?

It's Saturday morning. The weekend, and so I've decided that despite the number of emails eagerly awaiting my attention I'm going to take a couple of hours just for me. Usually, I'd spend this morning reading the Saturday newspapers in front of the fireplace with a good, strong cup of coffee. But today I'm indulging in my latest obsession instead, curating my Tumblr blog.

Tumblr is a god send for creative but decidedly non-artistic people like me. So much content to choose from, no need to be able to create it yourself. Just search and ye shall find. Oh, you'll find lots of stuff not suitable for family viewing as well. But in among the pornographic sites are many, many sites dedicated to beautiful images. For a visual junkie, it's a feast, perhaps even an overdose. Time becomes immaterial, to do lists vanish, all that matters is the next amazing image. Fashion, food, places I have visited and others on my 'someday' list, wine, books, music, art, romantic images of couples in love, all the things that constitute a 'good' life. You can find them on Tumblr.

At some point, actually quite early in the visual consumption feast, a desire to save the images for re-consumption later occurs. And so a blog is born. Naming is an issue; not due to lack of imagination, but because someone else got there first, so compromises have to be made. The software isn't exactly user friendly, but through persistence I trick it into doing what I want. And what is it I want? I want not only to horde images I find beautiful, memorable or thought-provoking. I want to display, to organize, to curate them into a whole. I want the mood to shift subtly, the colours to blend and merge, a narrative to emerge. Having satisfied that desire, I try inserting images which mark a sudden shift in direction through colour or subject matter - pointers to the viewer that things are about to change.

And in doing so, I realize that I am anticipating a viewer other than myself.

I am engaging in an act of consumption and production not only for my own pleasure but also for the pleasure of some unnamed other. When I think of that other, I imagine it being my closest girlfriend, who I anticipate would love the same images as I do. She may not have the same Sam Elliott fixation or love of Charles Bukowski's poetry that I do, but she would laugh gently and tell me it's "part of my charm." Beyond that, it gets kind of scary. There's a sense that you can broadcast to the world and yet remain anonymous, should you choose to do so, when you set up your Tumblr account. It's like you're curating an exhibition that will never open its doors to the public. It remains hidden, to be found only by chance or accident.

Why scary? Because curated sites like Tumblr, or the photo albums on your Facebook page, are projective devices. They allow us to say something without using words, to tell others what things really matter to us. Our subjective response to the world around us is on display for others to read and interpret.

This is one of the great changes social media has brought about. No longer are our photo albums, scrapbooks and journals intensely private things. They are now on display, and along with them our thoughts, passions and our curatorial skills. Likes, hearts, reblogs, reposts and even the odd comment tell us how well we are doing. Curating is no longer the prerogative of the highly educated and skilled; anyone can curate. And anyone can comment on the skills of the curator.

This is the argument David Balzar makes in his new book, "Curationism: How curating took over the art world and everything else." (Follow this link for an excerpt).  It's also the topic of Alexandra Molotkow's column in today's Globe and Mail. Both authors raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of consumption in everyday life. Are you 'curating' when you decide what to wear out into the world today? Do you simply place books on a shelf or stuff your clothes into whatever available space there is, or do you curate a display that says something about you and about your relationship to these objects?

Have we all become curators?


  1. First of all, Dr. Neilson I really enjoyed reading your post, as it poses up very thought provoking questions that are worth to reflect upon. Being a vivid social media user, and blogger, I liked how you assimilated you Tumblr blog to an art gallery to be discovered just by accident, and chance. "There's a sense that you can broadcast to the world and yet remain anonymous, should you choose to do so, when you set up your Tumblr account. It's like you're curating an exhibition that will never open its doors to the public. It remains hidden, to be found only by chance or accident." This make me wonder about how many places of our interests there is in the internet yet to be discovered. Luckily for us, there are webpages such as, that permits us find all of the hidden beauties of the internet according to our interests. Answering the question, have we all become curators? I believe that we indeed have, because we had come to a stage in which we upload pictures thinking ahead of the likes and positive comments, the reports, and the enjoyment of the rest. This makes me wonder, when we do on a vacation and we post a photo, do we post for ourselves or for other people to approve and acknowledge? For some people, especially on Facebook, likes and comments have become a necessary source of approval, and we all have the capacity of approve and "curate" other persons postings. I will defiantly check out the books you have suggested as they are topics that really interest me. Also, I would love to see you Tumblr blog, as I see you are fond about the images displayed on it. Furthermore, I have never used Tumblr myself (and I am afraid to start as I am sure it will take a lot of my study time), but I am intrigued on how it works, I too, my mother and sister are immersed in that world of photographs. Thank You for your post! I really enjoy it reading it! - Sebastian Gonzalez-Artigas

  2. Curation is a really cool part of the power of the internet! There is so much information out there that it is nearly impossible to make sense of all of it. Curation is really cool because it allows absolutely everyone to make value from the raw data that is the scattered world wide web. Websites like Sputnikmusic and Reddit have become very popular for their curated content and their ability to empower people. I think of curation as sort of an art form because depending on the subject being curated there is so much wiggle room to add personality and flair to otherwise completely random content from around the web, good curation isn't random but selective and most importantly personal. It is empowering because everyone can add value with their own unique spin on their interests and hobbies, which at the end of the day makes the internet a more organized place for all of us! -Brandon Schauer

  3. Very insightful post Prof. Neilson on a topic that has become as common as having a coffee in the morning and happens without much thought. Curation is one of those things that is becoming part of everyone's daily habits whether they realize it or not. I cannot tell you the amount of times either myself or people I am around have something saved on their phone or other devices that they want to show. And after seeing these viewings and from reviewing the ones I have on my own devices it does say a lot about the person from these saved images. In addition having social media platforms that people are able to deliver personally relevant content is very self rewarding for them. I know many people personally that would never be interested or able to create their own blog, website, etc. But through platforms such as Pintrest, Instagram, and Tumblr allow them to do the fore mentioned in a more basic and easier way. All of theses are useful tools in allowing people to become more confident in themselves and express it in newer ways than previously possible.
    -Joel Lapierre

  4. Great post Professor Neilson! I find it interesting how curation walks the line between consumption and production. It seems to be gaining traction and websites like are really taking off. To put a spin on it, turntablists could be considered musical curators taking bits and samples of existing music to form a new piece altogether. Check out Kid Koala, one of the most talented (in my opinion) turntablists . It’s a little left field but you might find it interesting.

    Also "found poetry" seems to be becoming pretty popular as a form of poetry curation. New poets can take various samples of work from existing pieces of text or poems and arrange them to form a new meaning or tell a different story, creating and consuming content at the same time. Very interesting.

  5. Really enjoyed this post Professor Neilson!
    Personally, I think we definitely curate displays that reflect us in some way or another, and this often becomes the case in the digital world. Websites like Tumblr enable users to create collections of images, text, music, etc. that they enjoy and are interested in sharing. I think that this automatically builds a relationship between users and their blogs.

    The whole idea of curating one's life online reminds me of the concept of the Extended Self. Tumblr blogs can often become a significant part of our identity. I know people who are extremely devoted to maintaining their blogs and will ensure that they are updated regularly and well-kept (one friend even deleted various posts off of her blog because they 'looked too messy'). It seems that these online collections of 'stuff' become almost as valuable as physical collections - like stamp collections or book collections. Though, it's interesting to note that physical collections take much more time to develop and it's often the process of creating the collection that fosters an emotional attachment between the objects and the creator. With Tumblr, however, collections can be created almost instantaneously yet they still hold great value for their creators. I think the convenience of being able to access Tumblr from anywhere at any time enables this attachment. Additionally, the added pressure of "followers" creates greater incentive to put more effort into the curation of a blog. Blogs are undoubtedly reflective of their creator's interests, but I think they can often be indicative of exactly who those users are or who the desire/aspire to be.

    We're living in an era where the online self is almost, if not equally, as important as the real-world self. Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and other social platforms are allowing users to create distinct identities that become a digital component of their extended self. And though a person's online identity may not be identical to their real-world self, it constitutes one part of their complex personality. Going forward, I think it will be interesting to see how marketers address this divide between the online and real-world self and how the creation of this new identity will impact our behaviours as consumers.

    - Adil Munim

  6. I really enjoy your post about curating! It is an interesting question to ask whether or not we have all become curators. We live in a world where we have access to more information than ever and how do we make sense of it all? We categorize and group information until we can find meaning and a purpose for it. There are some many tools that people have access to these days that allow them to curate that is hard not to. Curata, the tweeted times, Bundlr, Delicious are just a few of many. Personally one of my favorite websites, very similar to Tumblr, is Pinterest. This is a tool I use to list ideas, passions, where I would like to travel, what I would like to wear etc. When you check out my blog you will see that I have written a post about it. This site is great because you can take everything that you like and categorize them into their own board making it easy for you to go back and find them. What is interesting is that many businesses now use Pinterest to target their audiences. This way it is easy for them to see what their target audiences are interested in and what they are looking for. Pretty cool stuff!