Is There a Cure for the Curating Craze?


Do you curate? An increasing number of Americans are busy doing just that. In the past month I’ve read about people who curate wine, beer, tea and coffee beans. Facebook, a professor of psychology says, is “curating news and information that will keep you watching.”

In his book “Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else” (2014),

David Balzer

writes that “playlists, outfits, even hors d’oeuvres are now curated.” If you join Delta Air Lines’ Sky Club you will be given the opportunity to “curate your own unique culinary experience using grains, proteins, and vegetables”—that is, partake of a salad bar.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation of “curate” as a verb is from 1934. For 40 years it referred mainly to someone working at a museum—e.g., an exhibition being curated. In the 1980s “curate” began to have a broader meaning, and by 2011 the OED said it meant “to select the performers or performances to be included in (a festival, album, programme, etc.)” and “to select, organize, and present (content), as on a website.”

This definition is out of date. To curate now mainly means to select something—probably food or drink, but it could also be clothes, vacations, friends, whatever.

For 700 years “curate” was not a verb. It was a noun that signified (the OED says) a person “entrusted with the cure of souls; a spiritual pastor.” It comes from the Latin word cura, meaning care, concern and responsibility. A Spanish tapas restaurant in Asheville, N.C., is called Cúrate, which in Spanish means “get well.”

The noun “curate” is connected to the noun “curator,” a 700-year-old word that the OED says signifies “one who has the care or charge of a person or thing.” A curator often referred to a guardian appointed for a minor or an insane person.

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“Curator” has followed the same lexical path of broadening meaning. One journalist recently wrote that

George Saunders,

the author of “Lincoln in the Bardo,” had come “to see his role as a novelist expanding to include the role of ‘curator.’ ” He means, I think, that a novelist selects material from a variety of sources.

Let’s face it: We are all curators. We try to take care of the people we love and make wise choices about a variety of things. We curate our profiles online, choosing to present our best face. One columnist observes that “so much social interaction takes place between disembodied avatars and curated selves.” A website named has as its motto: “A well-curated life is a happy life.”

A well-curated life? To me this sounds comically pompous. Yet the notion of curating has a certain appeal. Who doesn’t want to be known as a person with discriminating taste?

Or is “curating” a linguistic fad, like “groovy”? A few years ago

Katherine Connor Martin,

head of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford University Press, told the author of “Curationism” that “it’s entirely possible that in, say, 2018 someone will look at [the use of curate as a verb] and say, ‘Ugh, that’s so dated, nobody says that anymore.’ ” Don’t bet on it.

Mr. Miller’s latest book is “Walking New York: Reflections of American Writers from

Walt Whitman


Teju Cole

” (Fordham, 2014).

Appeared in the December 13, 2017, print edition.

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