The pleasures of Pinterest- art education for the digital age

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There is a simple and naive pleasure in collecting things as any fule doth know! When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, so to speak, I can dimly recall swopping cigarette cards with sepia images. Well perhaps not sepia. However, I seem to remember that fantastic summer when Laker and Lock, not to mention Colin Cowdrey and Peter May played wonderful Cricket against the West Indies and recall collecting cigarette cards with their heroic images of those players. Another series of cards carried the proud images of Her Majesty’s ships. Several of these I first saw as the Fleet assembled in Mount’s Bay in 1952. Such cards were sometimes ranked with stars; battleships carrying the full 5 stars and light cruisers maybe 3. Innocent of both imperialism and the devastation of weaponry we carried collections that were stuffed into our school blazer pockets.

Just a few years before, the great collections of European intellectuals such as Walter Benjamin and Stefan Zweig were being impounded by the fascists in Germany, Italy and Austria. Zweig had written a moving story over a collector who became blind as his family were forced to deceive driven by the dire necessity for bread. His valuable etchings in his “Sammlung” (collection- but also interestingly composure) had been replaced by plane paper, which he takes lovingly and unknowingly from his folder, and extols from memory the detailed wonder of each image. Whatever the pleasures of making collections, and John Fowles has reminded us of the darker side of that psychology, it seems on the whole a masculine foible. I am sure that feminists would correctly point out, that indeed it was the men that had the money to pursue their interests. It seems that in their great salons clever women as varied as Rahel Varnhagen and Lady Ottoline Morrell collected persons, rather than things, to cultivate the exchange of ideas. How far such aspirations are from today’s hurried pinning of electronic images onto simulated pin boards!

Anton Pieck (1895-1987) was a Dutch painter and graphic artist
Anton Pieck (1895-1987) was a Dutch painter and graphic artist

However, being now just short of 250 followers myself on Pinterest, have I using the network, acquired any useful knowledge of paintings and photography? Might it serve as a useful vehicle for learning, even though the collections of great museums are now shrunk to images which are just the size of an i-phone screen? There are at least three ways, which I might justify to myself, the huge amount of time building my own portfolio that collection has taken.

Firstly, it has enabled me to discover significant new artists. Looking under my own heading of “Works for further consideration”, I find the delightful sketch of a city street by Anton Pieck. The person who originally pinned this usefully informs me that Pieck was well known for the nostalgic and fairytale quality of his work which included sculpture and graphic art. He was Dutch and lived from 1895 until 1957. The image which I have pinned vaguely reminds me of the street in Truro which runs beside the city’s relatively recent Benson cathedral. Next to this, in the random manner of my collection, I have pinned the wanly evocative sculpture of a young girl with a suitcase by Berit Hildre, a French sculptor who I now go on to discover has a delightful and tender portrayal of her work on You Tube. Then too there are the delightful colours of the work of Hope Gangloff and I notice that I have pinned several of her pictures; their bohemian portraits being thoroughly engaging. The person who first mounted the work on Pinterest has usefully added the comment,”Stumbled into this exhibit in Chelsea the other day. I have never seen her work in person. Quite enjoyed the pattern overload! Hope Gangloff at Susan Inglett Gallery”.

by Berit Hildre
by Berit Hildre

In addition to aiding the discovery of new artists, I also find some of my so-called pins are a stimulus to my own attempts at sketching. For instance, I enjoy the work of the Neue Sachlicheit, particularly Christian Schad. This interest led to my discovery of the print work of the Dresden painter, Conrad Felixmuller. I have done a little printing in the recent past and the lyrical lines of Felixmuller’s 1927 Woodcut portrait of Christian Rohlfs prompted me to making a copy in red biro and red ink. Because the images are so easily available and to some extent a prompt to experiment, Pinterest is a useful encouragement, at least to someone rather lazy like myself, to get sketching. I find that drawing, for someone like myself who spends a fair amount of time with reading and language, is a delightful change.

Stimulated by a course of lectures by a friend and cultural historian, Robin Lenman, I have taken a deeper interest in photographic history. Pinterest photographs provide a useful resource for those who are interested in the stage and screen, entertainment and political change throughout the upheavals of the twentieth century. Black and white photographs too have their own appeal. Here, I already knew of the work of Roman Vishniac of the vanished world of the Stehtl but was fascinated to find photographs of many individual artists, composers and indeed scientists. It can be seen that Man Ray and Tzara’s work influenced photography as well as art. Film stars evidently influence how bathing beauties are portrayed. It is curious but perhaps not surprising to notice how similar the photographs of Egon Schiele and Paul Klee themselves actually resemble some of their portrait work.

by Hope Gangloff
by Hope Gangloff

Can Pinterest be of any use in education? I am not entirely sure. The wealth of imagery might well be useful to many designers. It may also form an entry point for younger students who are reluctant or unable to visit galleries, especially if these are expensive or in foreign cities. Certainly, some galleries might make better use of this technology. However, the lack of detail and face-to face discussion of paintings and their techniques provided by “pinning” limit its use. As Pinterest is so very easy to use however, it provides a mechanism which encourages the exchange of images by say Rembrandt, and if it then prompts users to see the original, then certainly it has got to be understood as a very useful tool.

“Hope Gangloff, born in Amityville New York in 1974, is known for creating vibrant and truthful portraits of his friends as a way to share his vision of modern American life. The theme often captures a generation in the process of change, a certain type of youth affected by the crisis economy and the obsession for material goods. His portraits, highly detailed, show the mood of a moment in his characters. Its very different colors go from very pale tones to others almost supersaturated. Sometimes his work reminds Maurice Denis and others, by their way of drawing, their representation sometimes sexual reminiscent of Egon Schiele” (Source Inesvigo on Youtube)

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