Nancy Mizuno Elliott On Curating

We’ve asked our Truman Curatorial Fellow to say a little something about curating – in particular about her own particular brand of curating. It’s worth a read.

Representative artwork by PAP ART artist Stephanie Liner. Image courtesy of John Michael Kohler Art Center
Representative artwork by PAP ART artist Stephanie Liner. Image courtesy of John Michael Kohler Art Center



The Marriage of Meritocracy and Cronyism

or How to Embrace Contradictions with Gusto – Nancy Mizuno Elliott

In my personal relationships, I am beginning to expect and accept that people are full of contradictions and that these contradictions, both situational and fixed, do not reek of hypocrisy. When I was younger, the two—contradictions and hypocrisy—were locked in a vampire’s kiss. But, I’m older now, and I perceive contradictions independently, less symbiotically.

Expectations, assumptions, and inflexibility made me righteous. And, I think we all know there’s a great high to being right. But, it’s a crack high. Short, intense, paranoid, and potentially violent. Being rigid limits your life and your friendships.  And as my body gets doughy with age, so does my psyche. I’m more malleable, which ironically makes me a bit more knowing.

I’ve learned to love the messiness of life. I’ve learned to not only tolerate, but embrace contradictions.

As a DIY curator, I see curating as a creative act. Putting a show together is like assembling a band; you need more than good musicians or easygoing folks. You need spark, an excitement and generosity between members.

So, because my curatorial motives include creating a community, a clan, a tribe for myself, I practice the art of contradictions: I curate shows considering the merit of the artist and the social skills of the artist. Basically, I work with friends or potential friends whose work moves me emotionally or tests me intellectually.

Now, in this context the word “friend” may seem girly and touchy-feely, but to use the term colleague would be posturing and hiding under the bulky skirts of academic speak. I assure you that I’m not looking for a BFF, but I am looking for someone to collaborate with, someone whose company I enjoy, whose values I relate to, someone who’s vulnerable, honest, and enthusiastic, someone who likes to share.

I don’t want to give an impression that, for me, the business of curating is a friendfest. It’s far more complicated and nuanced than that. When you are selecting those you want in your tribe, let alone your Cabinet, you value both expertise and comradery.

And, I don’t want to give the impression that success in the art world means nasty networking or scorch-and-burn social climbing. But know this American: 9 out of 10 MFA students do NOT continue making art after graduating. That’s because they become embittered by the myth of pure meritocracy.

So, if you accept the contradictions of merit and cronyism in the art world, not only will you be less anxious, you will be more successful, focusing on excelling at your work and nurturing likely friendships. 

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