The Trap of Pinterest Perfect

On a recent Q&A after an Artistic Edge Webinar, a participant, a visual arts teacher, helped me to pinpoint (excuse the pun) my beef with art teachers relying on Pinterest for project ideas. As it turns out, it was the same thing that made me quit a studio practice class in my first year of Art School… all the student’s projects looked more or less the same!

In my studio practice class, the professor’s first assignment was for each student to create a cone, a cube, a pyramid and a cylinder of particular dimensions out of cardboard, using the technique she had showed us in class.

As a student, it bored me to death to see all the perfect brown shapes laid out on everyone’s desk the next class. However, I waited to see if this was the first step toward something more interesting. Maybe we would be asked to turn these shapes into a figure, or a series of related objects that created a story. Unfortunately, the exciting next step I was waiting for never came.

So, at the end of the class, I asked the professor about the objective of this project, the professor told me that it was about learning the techniques of 3D construction. Ok, I thought, that is valuable, but surely there is a more interesting way to go about it.

When I asked her about projects to come, she said we would be focusing on techniques with cardboard for several weeks and then moving on to wire. I dropped the class that afternoon.

The point I am trying to make here is, there is always room for learning technique, but the projects given to students do not have to be purely technique. If students are given a challenge to use the technique in accomplishing a conceptual goal they will be forced to learn the technique and use their creativity. On top of that, if students are motivated to achieve a goal, they will learn whatever technique they need to use to get there.

What is Pinterest Perfect?

The issue I find with teachers relying on Pinterest for project ideas, is that in general, the final products all turn out the same. Sometimes the only choice the student’s have to make in the project is, “Which colours should I make my butterfly?”

The reality is students inevitably have different skill levels and unfortunately, students naturally compare their work to that of others. When the final products are all meant to turn out more or less the same, students get too caught up in the final product looking ‘right’ and quickly become discouraged.

If on the other hand, the goal of the project is for each student to find their own expression of an idea or their own answer to a question, comparing their work to others is less important and the students are freed to pursue creative ideas of expression.

What about learning technique?

Of course learning technique in visual arts is important, but the projects given to students do not have to be purely technique, there needs to be a balance.

Because really, who cares if a child is able to make a butterfly the same as everyone else’s? This does nothing to prepare them for the real world. The real world is looking for them to come up with new ideas, not replicate the work of others.

Maybe I am being unfair to Pinterest and those who pin their interests there. What I would like to do is caution art teachers and teachers away from falling into the trap of having the class create something that is picture perfect. For me, that is not the point of art. I believe the point is to communicate something interesting visually through the use of techniques. I believe the goal of arts education is to teach students this process of creating.

Technique should be the means not the end.