The Curator Rules

Museum curators have certain ways of doing things, certain rules they follow. It’s important to know what these rules are – and also to realize that they can be broken.

These are notes from my talk to Catherine Whalen and Sarah Carter’s “Curatorial Practice as Experiment” course at Bard Graduate School. Catherine asked that I talk about creative curation, to inspire students in the class working on an exhibition project.

The assignment got me thinking: what’s creativity? Some part of creativity is breaking with tradition, breaking the accepted rules.

And that led me to: what are those rules? What do we take for granted when we curate exhibitions? What do we take for granted when we collect for museums? What do traditional curators do?

You need to know the rules before you can break them…

And so I tried to sketch out those rules, and offered some thoughts on where they came from. I tried, to use the academic phrase, to denaturalize them. They’re not natural laws: they are customs we have accepted.

Some of these rules are good. Some I think we should do away with. But in every case, we should not just take them for granted. How might we improve the work of museums if we’re willing to break the rules?

Here’s my talk: use the gear button at the bottom to view the presenter notes. I’ve also included, below the slide show, a printout that might be easier to use.

View this document on Scribd


  1. Catherine Whalen

    Steve, thank you very much for sharing your reflections and insights with us. We found your presentation thought-provoking and inspiring, and it has continued to inform our work as we progress through the course and exhibition development.

  2. Debby Andrews

    Steve–this is terrific! I can think of so many ways I’d like to use and argue with these rules.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: