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Curating Beats Creating

Curating Beats Creating

I’m sorry for words that follow. They may hurt. I’m not even sure I like what I’m about to say. But I’m saying it:

Sometimes art does more harm to the Church than good.

What’s the difference between a vandalized wall and a wall in an art gallery? Both contain painted pieces. Both contain true skill. Both contain commentaries on society and culture.

The difference is the curator. The curator decides what beauty belongs in the exhibition and what beauty clutters the space. He decides what will bring a flow to the works he presents. A good curator rejects great pieces of art because they don’t have a purpose in the exhibition.

A good curator rejects great pieces of art because they don’t have a purpose in the exhibition.

The curator can turn a wall of graffiti into something beautiful.

Unfortunately, many of our churches have turned into vandalized walls. We use amazing resources like Creation Swap and Photoshop tutorials to create, create, and create. Then we plaster our walls and bulletins with our art. Unfortunately, our congregation sees a wall full of graffiti. Each piece of “art” is screaming for attention and our congregation wants to look away. It becomes an eye sore and the message doesn’t get across.

It’s true. I see the occasional cuss word or middle finger in the midst of graffiti. Your congregation may see your point or get the message occasionally. But graffiti is a poor place to make your point. A massive pile of “art” is a poor place to make your point.

A massive pile of “art” is a poor place to make your point.

The Church has too many creators. The Church needs curators. There’s nothing wrong with Creation Swap and Photoshop tutorials. Some of the best churches rely heavily on them. But if you are using those tools without a curator’s eye, you are vandalizing your church. You must add context to your content.

Are you vandalizing your church?

Are you vandalizing your church?

What does curating look like for a church creative?

1. Decide what actually needs to be said.

I’ve been handed far too many bulletin announcements that don’t need to be made: “We gave 500 bottles of water to folks at a bus stop last week. Join us in two months to do it again!”

A few years ago I would have been excited about the work. I would have hopped on my favorite stock photo site, grabbed an image, slapped some fancy text on it and printed 500 inserts for this week’s bulletin.

But why?

Why does the congregation need to read about something they missed? And they won’t remember to attend the event 2 months from now. It was graffiti. I was adding a middle finger to the wall (if you will). It was a fine announcement but it wasn’t the right time for it.

Learn to curate your announcements. Convert your bulletin from a vandalized wall to a curated exhibit – telling the most important stories.

Convert your bulletin from a vandalized wall to a curated exhibit – telling the most important stories.

2. Decide when to create and when to refine.

Another massive temptation for creative people is to create when it’s unnecessary. How many times have I changed my church’s brand because I got bored? How many different crazy iterations of my church’s logo have I used in different pieces. I’ve gone from post-modern to South Beach chic to ultra hipster more times than I can count.

Sometimes curating means putting our artistic ADHD to the side and sticking to a theme. A powerful brand comes from consistency – not from bored artists entertaining themselves.

A powerful brand comes from consistency – not from bored artists entertaining themselves.

Do you need to design something from scratch? Or do you need to refine your work and keep your church’s brand consistent?

The ability to refine is as important as the ability to create.

The ability to refine is as important as the ability to create.
When was the last time you chose not to create? Sometimes that’s the better option.

3. Create smarter, not harder.

The curator realizes the resources at his disposal. You don’t see an art curator painting each piece himself. There simply isn’t enough time for that and the exhibition would suffer because of that.

Thus is the state of many churches. Our creatives are overtasked and the Sunday morning story suffers because of that.

A typical church has a worship leader responsible for every creative piece the church creates. He leads worship, designs the website, oversees the tech ministry, and prints the bulletins. How can you expect a regular person to make that happen with excellence?

This is where those sites like Creation Swap come in. When used with a curator’s eye, these sites can help a single person become an artistic powerhouse. When you can decide critically what needs to be created or what needs to be borrowed and refined (legally) you can get more done.

But don’t stop there!

You have artistic resources that you don’t even realize. Invest some time in meeting your congregation. Discover their talents and ask for help. As you reduce the graffiti on your church’s wall, you free up time to discover the resources around you.

And the folks in your congregation do want to help. You just need to ask and give them the support they need to make it happen. Too many church creatives are told in books and conferences to build a powerful team. But so many church creatives barely have time to get their own stuff done – much less to invest time in others!

Reduce the graffiti. Drop a few paint cans and share the work with other artists. Give yourself some room to step back and curate the creativity at your church.

Give yourself some room to step back and curate the creativity at your church.

4. Sort.

The early Internet was like an exploding library – spreading bits of information all over the floor for us to wade through. It was chaos.

Search engines grew out of a need to organize that information and make it possible to find what you were looking for. Each search engine rose to prominence as it was able to more accurately organize and sort the internet.

Curators are search engines.

Curators are search engines.
They keep track of what’s available. They sort it. They know immediately where to go when they need something. They are organized.

Too many churches are like the Internet in the early days. Their visuals are all over the place. They have 200 communication pieces lying around for people to figure out what’s happening. They have no way to keep track of new worship music so they default to the same 30 they’ve always done. Their creative endeavors are so scattered that no one really remembers what happened from week to week.

Curators organize the mess. Then they present it in a way that flows. It makes sense. People know what’s being said. They know where to find stuff.

Church becomes an enjoyable trip to an art gallery. A story is told. Church stops being a wall of graffiti – an eyesore.

How can you curate?

We are all communicators.

We are all communicators.
Whether we communicate through words, art, music, technology…we are all communicating. Curating is all about refining and clarifying that communication. It’s about acknowledging you are a communicator, and communicating through everything. It’s about seeking the best way to communicate and doing that.

Skillful curators are not born over night. The art of curating is something that must be wrestled with and developed. Curators must curate their craft. You will need to curate your craft. What separates the great from the mediocre is the ability to add context to your creativity – to curate.

Sometimes, art does more harm to the Church than good – when we neglect the curating process. Curate your creativity.

About The Author

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of "Created for More," a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas, roasting his own coffee beans and enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanmalm.

3 Comments

  1. @gwpaulsen

    Wow, you nailed this: “A powerful brand comes from consistency – not from bored artists entertaining themselves.” Suggesting that creatives move toward curating implies an added dimension of intelligence in our work. Fantastic! I think it’s great you are suggesting that we do this by carefully considering our audience. Just because we’re (desingners & communicators) all wired, doesn’t mean everyone is receptive to our digital mania.

    In fact, when did we survey our congregation and determined who actually uses the website, who is not on Facebook/twitter and who still wants a copy of the sermon on a Compact Disc (many do)?

    Recently we found this challenge not just in terms of format or medium but in terms of time. People’s capacity for “what’s happening” is fairly limited and immediate. Like your water-bottle example, Releasing information about events/opportunities too early doesn’t necessarily get people ramped up and signing up. Around here, people are receptive what’s either Right Now or about to happen.

    Thumbs up. This gets me thinking that I need to survey more people about their perception and use of information, before embarking on another design excursion.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan MacKenzie

    I really agree. I think your point extends a lot further though. I’m reading this through the context of having recently begun to attempt to write hymns.

    The concepts of curating are so important even when you are also the artist. I can think of a number of songs where the writing is heavy handed… sometimes to thick with theology so the pacing is like carrying lead, or sometimes so thin that there’s nothing meaningful being said, or anything in-between. Then I can think of some gifted writers who have an ability to speak even bald truths in a way that still pleases on aesthetic levels.

    A cohesiveness in pacing, structure, rhythm, and the use of space to frame are so important both on the macro scale of curating multiple messages across different media, and on the micro scale of individual artwork.

    Reply
  3. Rich Kirkpatrick

    Viewing creation as a threat at the front end is something I question and a problem in church leadership structures I have observed. So, art is not what harms the church. It is fear of artists and creation in general. Artists that have a healthy environment willfully live edited lives. But, usually it is fear of innovation and creation that keeps us cutting and pasting and calling it creativity. So, yes, there is plenty of content we call creative which makes filtering a must. What is not common is powerful, simple art in the church.

    Just for further clarification, I think what you are talking about is more about good communication than good creation. Creation and innovation are not mutually exclusive from having good communication or curation. It is just that sometimes the goals of communication are not the only goals and creation is not only a means. It is also an ends as well as a means.

    Reply

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