The art of curation isn’t about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other, and what statement the context they create makes about culture and the world at large.
– Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
As a child, one hoarded seemingly useless things, stacking them in cupboards away from prying eyes, where they waited – to be brought out, dusted and put to good use. Usually the time never came. And when one got down to discarding them, one would realise, with a wistful sort of sinking of the heart, all of the things that one never got down to doing. Much like watching ‘a train standing in the rain’ (Quoth Pablo Neruda).
Years later, one understands that it is the things one hoards that really form one’s pool of resources. The ideas and information, insights and inspiration. These swim in the head, waiting to be drawn upon some day in new configurations of hitherto unseen patterns – giving rising to ideas that are unabashedly ‘unoriginal’, a medley of things we have seen, felt, heard, touched, known. Creativity is often misunderstood to be solely an act of inspiration or genius. Truth is, we are ‘mash-ups’ of what we let into our lives, as artist Austin Kleon would say. Many of us mistakenly believe that our integrity lies in preserving a clean slate of mind, by avoiding the infiltration of other people’s thoughts and ideas. This is largely responsible for the novelty-fetishism of today.
The delightful blog Brain Pickings is one of the best resources presently on the internet to celebrate this oft-undermined act of hoarding. One would use a better word here – curation – to indicate the very careful process of selection and pattern recognition that underpins any act of gathering ‘interestingness’ (as described by blogger Maria Popova). It is not just the hoarding of information, but its absorption and relation in the context of other things that facilitates combinatorial play – the very process of creativity – the ability to tap into our mental pool of resources and combine them in new ways.
Educators, for years, have been following the model of the ‘three R’s’ in classrooms – namely Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic. While this model has served society well so far, churning out ‘well functioning’ individuals by the millions who could take on the machinery of the world and fit into it with minimal discomfort; a mass churning in man’s state of consciousness has seen many harbingers of change fiercely advocate the three C model. Some say this stands for creativity, curiosity and critical thinking. Others turn the words around to include collaboration, communication, character, confidence, and my personal favourite, curation. In all of these models, creativity remains a constant.
While any learning process must begin with curiosity, with its goal being directed towards creativity, the mediating process here is curation. Curation involves critical thinking, so as to filter the wheat from the chaff in formulating one’s personal micro-culture of cross-disciplinary ideas. The ability to curate meaningful content from among the barrage of information one comes across daily, necessitates a discerning attitude. And this is where Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic come in, as tools for comprehension or communication of content – as mediums for larger ideas and meanings.
What such processes of learning lend one is the confidence to chart one’s own trajectories. Susan Cain, author and champion of the Quiet Revolution, describes our culture’s gradual shift from the extroverted paradigm of the reign of personality to one of character cultivation. She extols the virtues of solitude, a necessary prerequisite for any act of creativity; a sentiment that is echoed by Austin Kleon when he plainly enunciates: ‘Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)’
Architecture school often leaves one with the curious aftertaste of having spent more time de-schooling oneself than in actually acquiring know-how. For ‘the trick in beginning to do architecture’, as Simon Unwin introduces in ‘Analysing Architecture’, ‘is to wake up that innate skill; to revive that childhood fascination with making campfires in the woods, digging pits to sit in on the bench, making dens under tables and up trees’.
Maria Popova is the model of a self-motivated, self-taught individual. Dissatisfied with her Ivy League education, she turned towards books, art and media to acquire insights. Millions have joined her in her personal learning and growth trajectory, through the virtual network of the internet. In creating a larger community of interested individuals, one does not know what will come to be, but this – that in spreading the virtue of presence over mindless productivity, one creates the conditions wherein creativity comes around. The pleasure of ‘finding things out’ has allowed Popova to create a seamless flow between life and work, turning her passion for content curation into a worldwide tool for the dissemination of timeless wisdom and ideas. There is much to be made of this – that learning is essentially a self-motivated process. And often, the act of celebration is more important than criticism.