Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #23: Curator


Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

The theme this week is art world stuff. Up today:

Terms of Art #23:


Okay so this is from the Library of Congress card catalog,
but it gives you a sense of the sometimes very boring life of a curator [source]

Pronunciation: CURE-ay-tor

Definition: A curator is someone who runs an institution’s art collections.

Their jobs often include doing things like:

  • directing the acquisition of new pieces
    (How do we fill a gap in the collection? Is this a good piece? How much does it cost? Is it a good investment? Is it in good condition? Does it enhance/complement the rest of the collection?)
  • organizing, cataloging, and interpreting pieces in the collection
    (What is the relevance of this piece? What is important or valuable about it? Where does it go in our in-house system?)
  • contributing to scholarly work in their field (publishing books, articles, etc.)
    (How is the received wisdom about post-WWII European art mistaken? What does globalization mean for contemporary multimedia artworks?)
  • keeping up-to-date on new trends and developments
    (Which emerging artists are doing interesting work? What is new research revealing about older works?)
  • planning and organizing shows/exhibitions
    (What should we have a show about? Why? What do we include, and what can we borrow that we’d want to include? How do we organize the flow of the show? What themes do we point out? What do the artwork labels say?)
  • sometimes: physically handling the works and taking care of them
    (Which kind of tissue does this need to be wrapped in? How can it be safely transported?)

They typically hold MAs or PhDs in a relevant field, like art history, archaeology, architecture, design, or whichever field of art they specialize in.

Related terms:
care – yes! the word ‘curate’ is related to the word ‘care’, so you can think of the curator as the person who cares for a museum’s collections ♥


I guess this is Google-curated content? (image results for “curate”)

Not to be confused with:
curate (buzzword) – as in, your Instagram feed; as in, the buzziest overused term of our content-oversaturated digital age… I personally don’t really care if you confuse these but just know that it makes curators die a little inside every time someone says they have a curated restaurant menu or closet or *shudder* personal brand.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.