The First Card: The Present
“Curator” is a word being thrown around with wild abandon if you have anything to do with fashion, food, booze, blogging, music, Etsy, Pinterest, Tumblr, and (as always) art.
You have a Netflix queue, which you maintain, nurture, cull and arrange just so.
Therefore you curate movies.
You have iTunes playlists on your computer, each of which probably tells a kind of story. Therefore you curate music.[. . .]
On one hand, there’s the persistent, traditional art-world definition: “A curator provides context, connoisseurship. A curator chooses, but not only chooses,” said John Corbett, co-curator of the Wicker Park gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey. Peter Taub, who curates performance art at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, said: “Curating is more than a reflection of a person’s interests. It is scholarship, framing ideas, telling stories — showing the edge that exists between the thing curated and the rest of us.”
On the other hand, that title, “curator” — summoning images of gravitas, of somber, skilled art administrators and historians who have spent years with subjects, applying rigorous critiques, even nurturing artists’ careers — has flown from its ivory tower and become democratized. Lately, it seems to connote: any thoughtful artisanal soul engaged in an activity that involves selecting, organizing and discernment.
Just like Kristin Cavallari! – “Everybody’s a Curator”, Christopher Borrelli
I’ve been thinking about the word “curator” for a while now. It’s a high brow word so it’s fun to think of myself and “curator” in the same sentence. It makes me feel like I have a shot at being more than a drudge who works 40+ hours and comes home covered in vomit and other even less desirable child-fluids only to get back to work in her own one woman sweat shop making things that only a tiny handful of people give a shit about, writing about things that another small handful of people occasionally give a shit about during what passes for my “breaks” on my ten hour shifts. On the weekends for “fun”, I set up an entire shop, deal with people who look at me and my wares with disgust and distain and then I take it all down and do it again. Every. Fucking. Weekend. Who does that? A crazy person would do that, so yeah, me.
As captain of my own tiny, sodden paper ship in a vast ocean of discontent that threatens to swallow me every time I do something that is not reading Facebook or watching Ladies of London, there is something incredibly soothing about the idea of being a curator. If I can make just enough sense out of the items in my life, then maybe I can sleep and not dream of constantly being buried alive while my gods and spirits watch silently. If I’m a curator, that gives me a sense of control of my environment, a balm so potent that it’s the best intoxicant I have. It’s all there, the promise of control and perfection if I could only arrange everything just so.
After all, a curator would eat quinoa for breakfast and a kale smoothie for lunch, her hair would be perfectly coifed, her make up naturally applied to give her a subtle sparkle, her dress would match her bag and her shoes and compliment her body perfectly and be machine washable, her disposition with her Tiny Charges would be so sunny that it would make Glenda look like a bad witch, she would meet her husband at the door with a kiss and a perfectly composed plate of seasonal meats, cheeses and vegetables served with bread she made from scratch. After dinner she would spin at her wheel while listening to biographies on cd and always remember to wash her face and moisturize before climbing into bed to say her mantras. She curated everything for her life herself, how could it not look like this?
She wouldn’t go to work with her hair in a sloppy ponytail, chipped nail polish, no make up, no jewelry, seven pounds gained in one weekend, wearing black knits with closer inspection appear to still have child-fluid from last week on them, get into a Nothing fight with her husband on the way home from work on her headset and shove whatever food was made for her while packing sold orders, watch an hour of brain washing reality television before wearily climbing into bed without washing her face (or her hair for the matter), lying in her unmade bed fretfully thinking, if I could just arrange the pieces of my life as easily as I arrange the pins on a Pinterest board, if I could just make everything fit together, I could somehow manage to be the person I am trying so desperately hard to be, everything would be perfect.
No, she would not.
But I do.
The Second Card: What Cross You
Dark secret of the day: I really, really hate my Spare Oom/Work Room. It was painted sloppily by a former beau with me and it was supposed to be a bamboo faux finish but it never worked out to look anything remotely like that. It’s a grungy green that gives everything a sickly hue and the brush strokes aren’t right. Every time I see the sloppiness at the top six inches of the walls (done by said beau), all I see is all the reasons we broke up. Adding insult to injury, (1) mismatched Ikea bookcases that haphazardly house all my shop supplies for making my wares (2) a desk that doesn’t look right with anything (3) the doors to the closet that never close right (4) the bow that Jow got me and then promptly told me I was never allowed to use because once we received it, the label said that according to California, it could cause cancer. Shipping it back would cost almost as much as it cost, rendering it useless.
This is not what our Work room was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a room for Serious Magic/Ritual use. Instead, it looks like what Martha Stewart would do if she was suddenly broke and meth addled.
I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just kept hating it more and more, building to a delightful boil of internal loathing. I’m a terrible visual thinker, we’re on a very tight budget and I couldn’t figure out how to make my fantasy witches’ hut into an 8×8 reality. For all of my creativity with words, when it comes to visuals, it’s a complete dead zone inside me.
I felt worn down and disheartened until I read a post from one of my favorite Mormon Mommy bloggers:
when brandon and i were first married we had absolutely zero furniture between the two of us. We’d found our first apartment together, a two-bedroom in Lake Oswego, Oregon (two bedrooms!!), and the emptiness in there was comical. There’s only so long you can sit on pillows and sleep on an air mattress, so we did what you do and found ourselves a furniture outlet and bought ourselves a living room set. Guys, it looked awful. Two years later we were moving to Brooklyn + I happily sold that sofa/love seat combo and those stupid matching lamps. When we moved to Idaho in 2006, I promised myself I’d do it differently. This meant our three-bedroom home was empty for the better part of a year while I slowly collected pieces I loved to fill it with from thrift stores and occasional Ikea trips (three bedrooms!!!), and in the end what I was left with was a slightly mis-matched, but very truly me, little home.
My theory is that if you love it, it’ll look great, no matter what it is, and I’ve never had that fail me yet. My other theory is that too many items from a “big box” store, no matter how perfect they look, are going to leave you with a home that feels flat. You need a few items that are special, items that have a story. Whether it was that you dug it out of a thrift store bin, or made it yourself, or knew that your purchase dollars had gone on to support some really great cause you cared deeply about, I think the difference between a house that is decorated and a home that has been a soulfully, carefully curated, is the spirit that lives inside our belongings. –A Decorated Home/ A Curated Home, Hey Natalie Jean
The Third Card: The Distant Past
Once upon a time (the 1990s to be exact), in a far away mystical land called New Jersey, there lived a girl. She was in love with a fellow band dork who worked very hard to be deep and mysterious despite playing bass sax. He had all the angst of a glittery vampire but kept cheating on her with other band dorks because she was not ready to go All The Way yet, making him completely irresistible due to the exact right ratio of bullshit boyfriend drama and boyfriend’s bullshit adolescence angst. She drove an old Buick Rivera which was no where near as cool as her bitch friend’s convertible. She was often not asked to cut school with her friends, deemed too anxious to handle adventure and too straight edged to miss class. Always a late bloomer, her boobs and her vices didn’t fully materialize until college. Mostly she read and stared out of windows of cars, of diners, of classrooms, of coffeehouses, of her bedroom.
She dreamt of some day going to a party as full of glitter, towering glamorous drag queens, amazing music and falling (mutually) in love with someone who loved you back, just like she saw in the movie theater. While she wouldn’t be ready to shed her skin and her fear for several more years, her walls were bedecked in the graven images of those who dared. Claire wearing wings, dreamily staring out from her balcony, with the word “hope” scrawled across it. Leo desperately shooting across Mercutio’s body with the word “despair” embossed on it, the pictures of them together from their Rolling Stone interview. Sarah, Fiona, Sheryl, Joan. Claudia, Louis, Lestat. Spells and power thoughts calligraphied on onto copy paper with the edges burnt on the stove and stained with tea.
There was always another betrayal to cry into her phone about, with her sister eavesdropping on the extension. When she would wipe the snot from her nose on the back of her flannel sleeve, she would look to her most sacred shrine on her wall for confirmation that some day, her life would be more than being left out of everything interesting and her boyfriend having sex with everyone but her.
The Fourth Card: The Recent Past
While I always appreciate the patronage of my dearest Charmers, the truth of the matter is my online shop sales account for probably about 30% of my actual sales. A very important and very crucial part of my sales, but the majority of my transactions actually happen in person.
Finding the right niche events for me took a lot of time and energy, but eventually I came to the conclusion that events that are “general public” oriented is not a great fit for me. My clients tend to fit a different demographic for me than the general public which is fine for me because I tend to get annoyed by large, crowded events anyway. My wares tend to do a lot better where there’s a dedicated community attached to the event. This has worked out well for me because it means that it’s been easy to con Jow into helping me shlep due to the high concentration of ridiculously attractive and/or accomplished people and food trucks that go with these events.
Selling to people like you who “get me” has given me far more energy to keep scaling my business than having to constantly explain myself, my wares and my shop set up. I’m now at the point that I can tell if someone Gets It in about 30 seconds. I’m very polite of course to people who don’t but I don’t go out of my way to explain myself because it’s a waste of time for everyone all around.
Selling to people who get me has also taken me down some unexpected paths. Like, if you told me that once of my most successful markets requires me to wear a full Tudor gown, I would have looked at you like you were completely loco crazy. I decided spur of the moment to start listening to novels about chicks who were medieval/renaissance era and I started tumbling down that rabbit hole and half my friends are even farther down that rabbit hole anyway, so the next thing I know I’m writing off a handmade Melton wool Tudor gown as a business expense. More than fine by me!
Years ago, I just sold Goddess Dollies at a couple events (there will be more as soon as a I have a moment to sew them again) which meant camping. I thought I would be a Burning Man kind of girl and I was working my way up to attending something like that. What I learned at my first event: I hate camping with the fires of a thousand suns.
So naturally, I’ve been avoiding all outdoor events for my current shop for a long time because it’s expensive, a complete pain in the ass and makes me die a little inside every time I used to do it. I’ve finally scaled my business to the point where it was ridiculous to not do outdoor events. It was cutting off half my year of shows and making it difficult to break into certain communities. Since that realization, I found that I’m a lot more tolerant of said events now because (a) I make a lot more money at them because I have a very diverse portfolio (b) I’m not expecting to have fun at them (c) I’ve become a set up ninja and (d) I’ve started to think of the possibilities of what I could do with a 10×10 tent, which is a challenge because you only have so much space, it needs to be weather proof and most of your space needs to be focused on your wares versus fixtures.
Curating a museum’s gift shop requires similar focus and creative strategies.
What does curating a museum shop entail?
There are overarching necessities within a retail setting – price point, packaging, product type (do I have enough scarves for the fall?). Then there are seasonal considerations – outdoor living items and vases for fresh flowers should be available in the Spring, messenger bags and hats in the Fall, for instance. For the Walker, there are several more layers. The themes and points of view of the artists we work with, along with the interpretation of our curators and the educational programs we present, inform the buying process and presentation in the Shop.
How do you keep up on ideas, products, trends, and makers?
You want me to tell you all my secrets?! Every buyer has their own methodology developed over time. For me, there are companies that work with designers that I have my eye on all the time. I also attend buyers’ shows in New York and Chicago to look for new lines and emerging designers. There’s also a constant, steady flow of email pitches flowing through my inbox, and sometimes a hidden gem shows up there (but truthfully, there isn’t enough time in the day to read them all!). My favorite way to discover something new is word of mouth – someone I know found something I should take a look at, and I just have to have it!
Are “influencers” important to you, and if so, who are some of yours?
While I have my eye on what other retailers are doing, honestly, I like to forge my own way. I used to be much more focused on other museum stores and tastemakers, but I started to feel a little bit like I was chasing my tail. Now I get my inspiration from what designers are doing and items that excite me, and I bring them to the Walker to hopefully give our customers a fresh point of view and some of the same inspiration and excitement. – Curating the Shop: Michele Tobin on Buying, Selling and Etsy Pages, Paul Schmelzer
You may be saying to yourself, but I don’t have my own retail shop, what does this have to do with me? The ability to edit a space (you live indoors, don’t you?) and make it into something you find pleasing is incredibly satisfying and feeling inspired by your surroundings can only improve your personal practice.
More over, haven’t you ever walked into someone’s personal space (their Instagram, their home, their dorm room, their work cube, their shop, their blog) and immediately thought, Yes. We are meant to be friends/companions/lovers/peer mentors/coven mates. People decide a lot about you based on your appearance and your living space. A lot of snap judgments are made about you in that first minute. And, um, you’re making a lot of them in that first minute about others too whether you realize it or not.
The Fifth Card: The Immediate Future
In the work place, you are currently being judged about everything from your cube’s cleanliness to your choice of font in your memos to what you wear to how your Power Point presentation looks to where you chose to go to lunch with your co workers. In corporate America, you’re your own brand so figure out how to best market yourself as you actually are.
In small business, everyone is looking at your business’ name, your website layout, if you’re with Etsy, what your business practices are, how many sales you’ve made, if they feels an instant connection to you and your wares just by walking through your door. That takes a lot of time and practice, but Etsy has a good 101 for a starting point.
In case it’s not obvious, curation and personal brand building are currently inexorably linked which is terrifying for obvious reasons and exhilarating because it gives you space to be who you are and to present your work with your vision.
We don’t have an information shortage, we have an attention shortage” says Godin. “There’s always someone who’s going to supply you with information that you’re going to curate. The Guggenheim doesn’t have a shortage of art. They don’t pay you to hang painting for a show, in fact you have to pay for the insurance. Why? Because the Guggenheim is doing a service to the person who’s in the museum and the artist who’s being displayed.”
As Godin sees the world, power is shifting from content makers to content curators — and that’s leaving folks like Cuban with less power to dictate terms.
Godin explains: “if we live in a world where information drives what we do, the information we get becomes the most important thing. The person who chooses that information has power.”
[. . .]
Karl Marx and Adam Smith said there are two teams, owners and workers. I’m saying there’s a third team now, people who own their own means of production. They own the factory and they’re a worker. That could be a blogger, or a designer. The argument of the book is that the linchpin is the one part that you can’t live without. It’s good news because now you can be somebody who’s going to step up and people are going to notice. – Seth Godin: Mark Cuban Is Completely Wrong About Aggregators, Steve Rosenbaum
The Sixth Card: Outcome
XVIII. The Moon
The distinction between this card and some of the conventional types is that the moon is increasing on what is called the side of mercy, to the right of the observer. It has sixteen chief and sixteen secondary rays. The card represents life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit. The path between the towers is the issue into the unknown. The dog and wolf are the fears of the natural mind in the presence of that place of exit, when there is only reflected light to guide it.
The last reference is a key to another form of symbolism. The intellectual light is a reflection and beyond it is the unknown mystery which it cannot shew forth. It illuminates our animal nature, types of which are represented below—the dog, the wolf and that which comes up out of the deeps, the nameless and hideous tendency which is lower than the savage beast. It strives to attain manifestation, symbolized by crawling from the abyss of water to the land, but as a rule it sinks back whence it came. The face of the mind directs a calm gaze upon the unrest below; the dew of thought falls; the message is: Peace, be still; and it may be that there shall come a calm upon the animal nature, while the abyss beneath shall cease from giving up a form. – The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition Under the Veil of Divination, Arthur Edward Waite
Find your personal truth, figure out how to present it to the world, carefully select what is to be revealed and when, balance it with your primal needs and don’t stop until you get to where you’re going. That’s what your glamour looks like, Charmers.
Start running and don’t stop until you’re fully rooted in your own power.