Did You Steal That Off Pinterest?

Everyone likes Pinterest, but it has produced an art quandary in my life. I kicked off the new semester of my high school art class with a unit on text art. In short, I asked my students to create a work of art using only text. Most students came up with original ideas, but a few students found ideas on Pinterest and wanted to emulate the concepts. I’m sure you have seen the type of projects I’m referring to. Those one-hit wonder Pinterest projects like the melted crayons and string art.


Inspire Before


What’s a teacher to do when students want to emulate these types of projects? Is there value in walking through the process or are our students copycats?


Learning Through Emulation?


One of my students in particular wanted to use nails and thread to write a saying. At first, I was against the idea. It seemed to me she wanted to copy what someone else had already done. In some ways, it would be. There is something “one time” about these type of Pinterest projects. It’s as if all the importance of the project is wrapped up in the method of construction.

Then I had another thought. While the student would be selecting that medium and copying, in a way, the choice of words and meaning would still be her own. After all, if a student saw a landscape painting online and then wanted to create a landscape painting, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Doesn’t the student learn something when going through the process even if the outcome has already been discovered?


Pin It!

Some of the liability for my quandary falls back on me. I have become an advocate for student research. In previous years, when I’ve presented a unit, I did the research myself, collecting examples of art that was related to the topic and then presenting my findings to the class. It was a type of image dump, where I was in control of what the students saw as inspiration.

Recently, I have turned this responsibility over to the students. I explain the unit and show two or three examples but then charge my students with finding ten to twenty examples on their own. In this manner, the students take ownership of the research as well as find art that is meaningful to them. Because of its ease of use, I have encouraged my students to use Pinterest as a method of collecting the requested images. Since I’m not filtering the pins, students will occasionally be inspired and pin these previously mentioned one-hit wonder Pinterest projects.


Be Inspired!

When a student decides to emulate a concept, it becomes an opportunity to discuss influences. All artists are inspired, many by other artists’ work. The great artists are able to use this influence and then transition the work to form their own concepts.

The difference, however, is that the concept in these one-hit wonder type of projects is demonstrated in the method. No matter how the crayons are fashioned to the canvas, a melting crayon project is still about the melting crayons. Can we say our students’ work is inspired if there is no transition occurring and they are not forming their own concepts?

The quandary continued as I considered printmaking. Cutting a linocut is the same process and produces similar results no matter who does it. Though the images created will vary, the method used is the same. If it’s acceptable to copy the process of relief printmaking, why isn’t it OK to copy the process used to create string art or melted crayon art? 


My Quandary Resolution


In the situation mentioned, I didn’t want to second-guess the student who desired to create the string art. Yes, I had concerns regarding the originality of the project, but I was still curious to see what she would learn through the process. In the end, I decided to let her go for it. It was the right decision, at least in this instance. The student struggled through several attempts at discovering the best methods. She learned many valuable lessons including making sure one doesn’t miss the nail when hammering.




Deciding if a student should emulate a Pinterest project can be a hard choice. Is the student copying an idea or will they be able to explore the concept further? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned even when the concept is lifted.  If you are faced with this quandary, take all this into consideration and make your decision on an individual basis.


Wrapping your head around HOW to inspire student creativity can be tricky. If you’re looking for ways to spark both your and your students’ creativity, our Creativity in Crisis class may be a great fit for you. With an assignment such as “Make an Artist Date with yourself to nurture your creative consciousness,” you can’t go wrong!


Have you had students ask to emulate one-hit Pinterest projects?

How have you handled this quandary?


Ian Sands


This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

    In college (waaaayyy before Pinterest), I took a painting class in which I was asked to copy, literally copy, a famous artwork (my choice). It needed to be as close to the original as possible. We were being graded on it. Later, we were asked to paint a still-life in the same style as the artist we chose. Is this any different than what your student did? I have my opinions of Pinterest, a lot of them not great, but the truth is, it IS a good source of information and ideas (so long as they are properly cited). I think a lot of our hesitation comes from the fact that Pinterest seems so… common? Accessible? Low-brow? If the student had found the idea in an art publication, would it have been as much of a big deal?

    In grad school, a professor asked us what contemporary artists we were inspired by. I mentioned one that I happened to have found via Etsy. The professor was NOT impressed and explained to me that she couldn’t possibly be a real artist, or any good. Meanwhile this artist has had shows in galleries all around the San Francisco Bay area.

    Pinterest, and technology in general, allows us access to sources of inspiration that WE never had as developing artists. Maybe our hesitation stems from this difference? Long story short, I would have been hesitant, like you were, but I would have had to acknowledge that it wasn’t much different than a student being inspired by a non-Pinterest source.

  • Dan

    Like a lot of art people I get mixed feelings about pintrest too. I haven’t self-analyzed this very much, but you have given something think about! Thanks!

  • Teresa Euken

    I have been a 4-H judge here in Iowa for 12-15 years. I judge at both the county as well as the state level. I am also an elementary art teacher. Here’s a little different view on things as I see it. Unlike school at times, doing a visual arts project is completely and totally up to the exhibitor. Through the years, the number of students even interested in taking visual arts to the fair level had dropped dramatically. There were actually years when some counties didn’t even have enough projects to fill their state fair quota of 2-3 projects. This was from a pool of hundreds of 4-Hers. Very SAD.
    Since Pinterest has came into the picture, we have seen the number of visual arts projects as well as the quality SKY ROCKET!!! Last year one county alone went from about 4 projects county wide the previous year to well over 100! Of course they only had one judge because they were not prepared for this kind of jump in numbers. What a great problem to have!
    Now, let’s get to the point… Pinterest is directly related to the increased interest in these kid’s desire for creativity. How we deal with it is our own choice. In the 4-H program, the students are made held accountable for siting where they came up with their idea or what their inspiration was. This is a requirement. They are encouraged to do this and not felt like they are “cheating the system.” With this in mind, they must explain or show how they have simply used this as an inspiration, but they know they must put their own twist on the project, think outside the box and make it their own.
    I truly believe that the change in numbers and the interest in creating has been a direct influence on this. Kids were playing on x-box, social media, etc. so much that they had put their creative talents aside. Now they can “play” on Pinterest, which is sparking their talents once again. It is up to help make this a positive learning experience and it can be as long as we ask those important questions: What was your inspiration? How did you make this project your own? What do you plan on doing in the future with this?
    Help this different point of view is helpful. I can’t wait to see how many more amazing projects we have this coming summer!

  • susan

    What about teachers?
    I know of a teacher who brags about how inventive her lesson ideas are. Meanwhile… I’ve found every one on Pintrest!

    • Zoe

      I am an art teacher and yes, I get a lot of my inspiration and ideas from Pinterest! I love it! Teaching and planning takes a lot of time and if I can shorten that time by seeing other cool ideas for my student’s to create, then I have more time to prep for those lessons and also, my own artwork! Moreover, I think that every teacher adds their own interpretation regarding how to teach a lesson. I don’t brag that I come up with these ideas on my own…but, if someone asks me where I get my ideas, I’m not shy about being honest and saying that I find many of my lessons on Pinterest.

    • iansands

      Susan, I thought about going there but thought there was enough in this article without opening that can of worms, lol! Maybe next article…

      To Zoe’s point below, I myself have found interesting art projects online. Funny how it was ok for me but I question my students :)

  • Sara Roberts

    I love that you let her… sometimes my best ideas come from being excited about someone else’s art/ideas!

    • iansands

      Sara, one thing not mentioned in the article was that this was one of her first projects. I had to consider what would happen if I said no. Would I shut her down completely? That was my biggest concern. Since this project she has moved on to experimenting with oil pastels on canvas and other materials.. Completely independent of Pinterest. Hindsight is 20/20 but I feel good about my decision

      • Sara Roberts

        I think you’re right! An early shut down could lead to later hesitation. I just know that excitement of finding something I REALLY want to create (hey… It’s new to ME…) and if someone said no, it would be as good as breaking my heart.

  • Mr. Post

    Cezanne tp Picasso “Did you steal my ideas from the Salon?”
    Picasso “errrrrrrr… mayyyyyybe, why you askin’?”

    • Valerie

      Nicely played…

  • Ann Wagener Parker

    Interesting post. I struggle with some of the same issues and it is interesting to hear another view. I usually handle some of the struggle with my students self evaluation rubric where creativity is one of the areas. If they are using their own ideas it is a top score, but using something seen and adapted gets a high rating as well– lower down is copying without any changes ( which includes using their own ideas that they have done before and want to expend very little effort or value.)

    But your point about control is an interesting thought. If we’re letting the student control their search/research process, we do have to give up some of that control which maybe is one of the harder processes that a choice teacher has to do.

    • Ann Wagener Parker

      I’m replying to myself as I have no other action. One of the things I truly struggle with is that many of my students cannot think for their selves.They rely on internet images as their source and ultimately their finished idea. Sometimes I think that the internet and online access has crippled (and I use this word really intentionally) their brain. How is it that students can’t think for themselves anymore?

      • iansands

        To some degree education has not asked students to think for themselves. Students are given step by step instructions to projects where the outcome has already been determined. Students who have never been asked to think for themselves either do not know how to do do or are afraid to do so for fear of being wrong.

        When given choices, some students run with it right away. Others need a little more coaxing. That is sort of what this article is about,

  • Lynn

    I think there is a lot to be said for a student finding a project they want to do and figuring out a way to do it. I had assigned high school level ceramic students to research different kinds of mugs and recreate one as a set. The results were so much more varied than when I would demonstrate how to make a mug and have the students copy me.

  • Anita Murphy Williams

    Picasso said,
    “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” I’m okay as long as they’ve researched and made it their own in some creative way. She is probably not selling it to make a profit. She just admires the idea and the technique.

  • Connie Z

    I’m going to “push back” a little and tell you why I wouldn’t use your approach. I purposely choose lots of contemporary illustration, that I curate specifically to show them a wide variety of approaches via current application of skills/media/whatever the lesson tackles…(which I collect via Pinterest, heh)…. and here’s why. I want to fill their minds with excellent images. They are naive and love the cliches. They’ll choose drippy watercolor eyeballs all day long. And I want to get beyond those.

    Further, they are poor at researching online. yes, so they need to be taught where and how to look. But I do that in other ways…

    • iansands

      Connie, I respect your opinion however, I have found for the most part that my students do a really good job of researching and finding art online. While I agree with you that their taste may not always been as sophisticated, I have been pleasantly surprised at what they come up with… Many times things I would have never thought of.

  • mickey

    I do let them do what they find online, not only on pinterest. Basically I am a one person department, in a rural area – students need to find their inspiration, and not copy what I do all the time either. Plus they are experimenting and learning /teaching themselves a new technique and problem solving skills. I also use it as a discussion on plagerism, proper citation, and what can and cannot go into contests. Some of it also depends on the student and what they plan to do with their art – if they are in the class to learn techniques and have a lifelong hobby – not a biggy, however, if they are thinking about going to school to major or minor in art, or want to do competition, we discuss the techniques they learned, and now, how does that translate into your own artwork.
    The last item I want to discuss, is that we do not create artwork in a void. What goes on in the world around us affects and influence us as artists, With social media being so much of the world in which these kids (and we) live in, you need to teach them how to use it properly.

  • Gabbie Gritton

    Im very honored to be part of this blog! At first i was also concerned with the originality of the post, since i found my ideas off pinterest. However, through my processes of experimentation and thinking, i found out it was something i really wanted to do. I got many comments on how original and thoughtful my idea was, but i explained how i found the idea on pinterest and added my own taste to it. It helped a lot to have such a supportive teacher to help me through the process. Im very happy with my results!! Thanks Mr. Sands!!

  • Sydney

    I gotta tell ya. I am not a trained art teacher. I sort of fell into it when I helped an elememntary art teacher who got sick. I didn’t know anything about art education. I didn’t know anything about developing a curriculum. The school had been using a workbook curriculum. It is through Pinterest that I found John Post, Cassie Stephens, Patty Palmer and Aof E. I am SO thankful these teachers are generous enough to share what they have developed, so I can make art much more satisfying and interesting.
    One thing I know about Pinterest is that we do have to pay attention to what is presented. Sometimes the project or description is very misleading. (No, sharpies on ceramic plates don’t work.) I have used a few of these misleading posts to show my kids just how misleading the picture or description can be.

    • iansands

      If you ever want a good laugh, google Pinterest Fail. There are hundreds of images of good Pinterest projects gone bad. There is even a website dedicated to it.

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  • RachelH.

    I realize I’m a little late to this discussion but I love all the points in the article and am planning on switching to TAB soon. My question is: How do you even get to allow the students to research online if you do not have access to enough computers? I teach middle school where the 8th grade has i-Pads but the 7th and 6th grades would have to share the two computers in my room. Or, get their phones out and that seems to invite all kinds of problems!… and is against our school policy.

  • Vivien

    Pretty sure at my school, I overheard an art teacher telling a student (in year 12) to copy a painting from pinterest to use as her Major Work in her HSC. I was literally in the room and didn’t know how to feel about what that meant for me if I was to continue art.