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Alexander McCall Smith on wild and curated spaces

On Twitter, novelist Alexander McCall Smith (@McCallSmith) reports briefly on a conversation about curated spaces with someone from the art world. First this:

Spoke to curator. He made interesting distinction between paintings in gallery (zoo) and those “in the wild” (eg. in churches, houses, etc.). [June 16 2011]

That caught my eye as a useful division for those interested in the role of curation on the web–our shared work of helping others find worthy content by establishing a meaningful context and then linking to it ourselves. Some public spaces in the world, belonging to institutions and dependent on their authority, protect and organize their collections just as zoos and galleries do. On the bright side, good things are preserved and studied and presented, while on the grim side all the fabled limitations of the ivory tower apply: out of touch with the world, shrouded in secrecy, expressed in the language of insiders, etc. Remember, too, how lions used to pace in small enclosures, their feline power driven to the edge of mental illness by their terrible circumstance. Those who study sometimes stifle the thing they seek to know. So “the wild” sounds appealing at the end of that little message. Three minutes later the novelist followed up with this:

Same distinction with men. Some are in the zoo (tamed, quiescent); others in the wild (go to pub, football, think unacceptable thoughts). [June 16 2011]

Here he amplifies the hints of the first message—the gallery or zoo protects but also tames; in the wild there is danger and disorder. It is, perhaps, the tug of civilization at every moment, between that which orders and the energies which it seeks to channel and contain.

I wonder if schools ever talk about adulthood as an opportunity to negotiate between the two very central human impulses. It’s plain that there is a toolkit for acts of curation in various fields, but is there something comparable that helps us benefit from the wild energy? Is there a toolkit, or are the wilds by their very nature beyond the reach of those organizing powers? I wonder if young people would enjoy talking about these two parts of our nature. I don’t recall much along those lines in my upbringing.

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