Content Curation is Not an Artform

I used to make mixed tapes when I was in college.  I recorded playlists of music to match a mood or the personality of the person I was making the tape for.

I’m proud to admit that I was good at it, probably because I was a disc jockey for the college radio station.  There’s no doubt in my mind that some people make better mixed tapes than other people.

It’s a talent.  A skill.

And one that can be appreciated by other people.  However, no one put my ability to list and record songs on an equal or higher artistic plane as the music itself.  That would have been laughable.  A gross characterization of the act of creating a mixed tape and a grave injustice to the actual artists – the musicians who wrote the lyrics and the melodies and performed them.

That’s why my patience has worn thin on the topic of “online content curation.”  Content curation is one of the biggest scams in social media – and a parasite on the side of actual content creators.

What is a content curation?  It is people making lists of stuff they like or admire and sharing them on their blogs, their Tumblr accounts or on Pinterest.

No doubt this is a fun activity.  And like my mixed tapes, curation is a great way to share content and discover new things.  But it is not and never will be an artform.

At best content curators are tastemakers.  At worst they are thieves stealing money and profits from the actual content creators.

So when a novelist like Joe Hill tweets last week: “In the 16th century, the poet was artist-king. The 19th: the novelist. 20th: the film-maker. I wonder if in the 21st, it’ll be the curator,” I feel a deep sigh and an eye roll coming.

Really, Joe?  People who make suggestions on already existing artwork are sudden parallel to filmmakers, poets and novelists?  That someday the person who compiles a list of great horror novels will be more appreciated than the writers of those novels?  How sad, misguided and absolutely ridiculous.

Unfortunately, the idea of the content curator as an artist isn’t an isolated concept.  In fact, it appears to be a growing movement.  One of the Web’s most popular curators Maria Popova of Brainpickings has been pushing the idea of a Curator’s Code to formalize the recognition for content curators.

It says in part:

“While we have systems in place for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, we don’t yet have a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy, a system that treats discovery as the creative labor that it is.”

So Maria wants people who re-post or retweet curated content to credit the original curator because those people are – drum roll please – stealing credit for discovery of the content.  As if the actual online content were a buried treasure and not readily available on the Internet.

As I’ve written before, I think it is crazy to credit curators, especially when the we still haven’t figure out fair ways to credit and reward creators of the actual content.  Since announcing her code back in March, Maria went back and made some changes to her original code to make sure creators were front and center, but I still think the entire concept is misguided.

I might have been annoyed if someone retaped one of my mixed tapes and called it their own, but the music wasn’t mine to begin with.  I just put it in a specific order and shared it.  The people who really should have been annoyed were the artists who weren’t selling their albums and CDs to the people I gave mixed tapes to.

What do you think?  Are content curators artists?  Or con artists?


The Awl: “You Are Not a Curator, You Are Actually Just a Filthy Blogger.”

Joe Hill’s tweet on Curation

Collecting Content Isn’t an Art, Creating It Is

Is Curating Content the Elegant Art of Theft?

7 Responses to “Content Curation is Not an Artform”

  1. Since removing the content from the equation would obviate the need for curators, they are an inherently derivative class of professionals. When content curators create the content they curate, then they can call themselves artists.

  2. Try to say that three times fast!

  3. I think I still have some of those tapes 🙂

  4. I agree. Scholars can write literature reviews all day, but you don’t become famous unless publish theories of your own.

  5. Originality is its own power. Thanks for commenting Sarah.


  1. Hey, Mister- Can I Have My Blog Back? — The Happy Home - June 12, 2012

    […] talk about how “curation” is not an art form. But I will agree with that article writer that it’s a skill. I’m also not copping to […]

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