How Pinterest is Ruining Your Lessons

Pinterest is a teacher’s dream. It’s full of resources like lesson plans, handouts, and examples. They are all there for the choosing and so easy to sort and store. The problem is using them might just be destroying what makes art education valuable and unique.

In fact, Pinterest sucks for planning art lessons.

Pinterest is set up for copying of the most vapid sort. Vapid, because we scan for what looks the most appealing, what looks the prettiest. This is a good way to look for haircut ideas (guilty) but less than ideal for teaching visual fluency to the next generation.

Learning in art is not pretty and it does not match what’s going on in the next seat. It’s messy and complicated, just the sort of thing that can’t be captured in a “pin.” If you see an idea for your classroom that looks cute, quick, and easy, then it’s probably a waste of everyone’s time.

There are certain standbys in art education that we see again and again: birch trees, Monet’s bridge, Wayne Thiebaud pie slices, the plastic Chihuly replicas.

Chihuly sculptures on Pinterest

These, at one time, may have been good projects. But just like that song on the radio that’s played until you can’t stand it, they lose appeal each time they are recreated. At some point, they go from being creative homages to something less – something bright to hang on a wall or line up in your bakeshop-themed display case.

When do art projects become assembly instead of creation?

pie slice projects

My guess is it’s somewhere between the tenth and the 500th time someone copies the same lesson off of Pinterest.

For me, the power and purpose of these too-often replicated works get fainter each time we see them. Where is the joy of creation, the self-expression, the exploration of media? We’ve lost sight of the forest through all the birch trees.

birch tree lessons

If you think so too, put down Pinterest and go to an art museum, check out This is Colossal for ideas, or set up some centers. Develop new ways for students to experience the beauty and complexity that art has to offer instead of copying the same lesson off of Pinterest that everyone else is. We’re the creative ones, remember?

What are your thoughts on Pinterest?

Do you love it, hate it or fall somewhere in between?

Melissa Purtee

Subscriber

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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  • Tobie

    I was hooked on Pinterest when it first came out. Spent hours on it. I built up my boards and I also lost confidence in myself as a creative teacher. I got to a point where I felt several art teacher where the “great” ones. I weaned myself off a few years ago. Every now and then I go back on. The funny thing is I go on just to look at the boards I made. I still like them, and I still have not done them all!

  • Your article topic surprised me! As you know, Art of Ed has many boards and posts many things. I admit, Pinterest is my first go-to source for “something to teach shading/proportion/color (etc).” I have boards I share with students (well, until the school blocked access due to some people finding inappropriate content there) full of examples of, say, cultural art or portraiture. I think the problem lies in following directions for a lesson: THAT is craftsmanship and uncreative and detrimental to what we want to teach in art, which is to explore and problem solve. I hate that PInterest is becoming, increasingly, a forum for selling goods, but just yesterday I found a pin that leads to a lesson where students work together to make up their own art movement. The directions are very short and broad and open and embrace what I try to do with project-based lessons. Rather than throw out PInterest, let’s focus on using it as another tool to facilitate what art does best. Great discussion-starter topic!

  • Margo

    I taught elementary for two years right out of college. I used Pinterest my second year because I was unhappy with some of the projects we had done. Some of them were complete failures, which happens, so I looked to Pinterest for some help. In turn the projects I altered with the help of Pinterest turned out much better and the kids were super proud of their work. So in some cases it’s super helpful. I never did the most popular projects that popped up on there because honestly they looked boring and mass produced. They lacked the depth of knowledge that I wanted to teach my tiny ones. And they would show up over and over again. I liked to picked themes for each grade level and that helped keep some originality and creativity for me. It kept me away from those mass produced projects. Now that I teach high school (drawing, painting and AP studio) I use Pinterest as a classroom tool to introduce my students to new artists and to find videos of specific techniques, so they can learn to be self sufficient when I’m not around. They tend to like the variety and accessibility of it. Over all I don’t think Pinterest is a bad tool for art teachers. It can be a great starting point for lesson or activity ideas. But using as your main source of inspiration and lesson ideas takes away from the best part of being an art teacher, being able to make our own curriculum.

  • iansands

    We’ve lost sight of the forest through all the birch trees.

  • Carolyn Althoff

    Pinterest, like many other resources, is only worth how it is used. Back in the day, we used to make resource binders for each topic area, assembling handouts, informational worksheets, newspaper/magazine articles, photos, etc., for students [and myself] to peruse and use. [I am just now cleaning out bookshelves filled with binders that haven’t been used in years for downsizing!] Pinterest is no different to me than those binders: It’s a space to pull together those images, links to articles, possible lesson plan ideas, etc. but now is digital rather than taking up over 1/2 of my bookshelf space. When a student has difficulty navigating the internet to get to where I want them to research, they know they can go to specific boards of mine for direction. As a positive, even after the assignments have come and gone, some of those students will share pins with me…thereby keeping the dialog of art evolving between teacher/student to one of peers-lifelong involvement with the arts! I would rather see a lesson that is so popular that it is used in every classroom across the world once, giving vitality and authentic engagement by all those involved, than to know a teacher feels ‘stuck’ in using stale lessons over and over and over and over…… I feel that the career choice of being an art educator is difficult enough with all of the expectations from federal, state, local, building, department, parents, students and selves that we need to stick together, share and help each other to find and utilize resources in a positive manner. Pinterest, as I stated earlier, is just a resource; it’s up to the user to make it viable and worthwhile. Great topic to reflect upon!

    • I agree! Thank you for reading and talking the time to comment!

  • Susan Amon

    Pinterest is a tool that I use, a resource and an idea and technique tool, for inspiration and to see what other K-12 art educators are doing in their classes and curriculum. I am one to take the idea and make it my own, but always including areas of art education from introducing a new artist (great for finding contemporary artists) to the criticism and aesthetics of thinking and discussing art. I always encourage imagination, creativity, and personal design in my art curriculum – but with all an educator has to do, Pinterest has become my go-to when I have an idea.

  • lheffe20

    I personally use pinterest, but try not to copy directly. For example, if I search for an artist, I might find 3 or 4 projects I really like and create a way to use what I like best about those ideas in a different way. The images on pinterest can be inspiring to make you think about an artist in a new way. I don’t teach in a traditional environment so it also helps me to get a sense of what kids are doing in their art classrooms so that I can make sure that my extracurricular offerings aren’t replicating/duplicating and are pushing students to advance. Many pins on pinterest aren’t linked to a specific a lesson plan and instead just offer a look at a finished product. While some projects (pie slices) may have only 1 working method to get to that product, others aren’t always clear and can offer an educator an opportunity to shape a product based on the process that they have been looking to apply. Verbatim copying of lesson plans will be a problem whether we’re using pinterest or another resource.

  • Leo Barthelmess

    I say whatever inspires you is a good thing. I am not terribly knowledgeable about pinterest but if it sparks an idea than go with it. I think Edison was attributed in saying, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Art teachers should not be following a kit or a manual. They should be posing problems to their students and if pinterest sparks a question to ask the students then it should be used like any other resource accessible to the art maker.

    • I agree Leo!! Getting ideas that spark students creativity is great, no matter where it comes from. It’s more about the process and thinking as far as I’m concerned. Many people need some sort of resource to get those juices flowing. There is nothing wrong with that. I say whatever gets people creating and exploring ideas then go for it! It’s not unlike a cook that starts out by looking in a cookbook or sees an interesting recipe online. Often they will tweak it and make it their own. Perhaps not the first time around, but as they develop some confidence they begin to try some other ingredients into the mix or use the original recipe as a springboard for something more.

  • Amy meadow

    Pinterest overall has been a helpful resource and tool for me, thinking back at my teaching career pre-Pinterest and post, I am definitely grateful for its existence now! I am never one to find an idea and copy it as is, I always tweak it to make it my own, make sure there is substance to the lesson, and connect an inspired look with an artist or art historical reference. Often I will get an idea and then Pinterest it to see if and how it’s been done before, which makes me feel like I have access to other art teaching colleagues, even though I am the only art teacher at my school. If I don’t see another example of my idea, then even better really, but it’s nice to have the resource to see how others have successfully executed a process or idea. Personally I think the birch tree example is the antithesis of what should be created and focused on in an art class–who really wants mass produced, un-creative art that all looks the same? So what if it’s “pretty” and easy to get those results? Nothing is learned in the process other than how to follow rote directions. If that is how one teaches art, said art teacher should check out Pinterest for some more inventive ideas! I also like the access to tons of talented small-name artists who are current, unique, and cutting-edge. It’s fun to show students a variety of artists from then and now, so we aren’t always resorting to learning about the dead white guys. I hope that those in the position to teach creative expression and art skills to students would not be just thoughtlessly plucking projects from Pinterest to use, but if people do, then I do see some harm in that from a teaching perspective for sure.

    • I am also the only art teacher in our district, so I appreciate the community, of sorts, that Pinterest provides. We true art teachers seem to know the difference between following project directions and using something as a jumping-off point. The problem, increasingly in our state, anyway, is that more districts are using teachers of other subjects to teach an art class or incorporate projects into their other curricula, and they ARE following directions verbatim b/c they don’t know any other way. And the administrators, seeing all the pretty birch trees on the wall, congratulate themselves on saving the district money on hiring a ‘real’ art teacher.

  • Bridget Castonguay O’Leary

    I am surprised by this AOE article. I do not think something that is quick and easy is not worth teaching. It might be quick and easy to prep or quick and easy for the art teacher to understand, however my students might not think the same lesson is quick and easy. Many of my lessons that I think are “quick and easy” and will be completed in 2 classes will take 4, 5 or 6 classes, because my students take it to the next level or it was not as easy as I first thought. I also think Pinterest is a valuable resource for art teacher’s inspiration. I feel like I live on an island in my school as I am the only art teacher. Pinterest is a way into the the “art teacher world” for me, I have found valuable art teaching blogs through pinning. We need to be mindful of the websites we are using for lesson planning and inspiration just like a good researcher is using proper resources. As long as we are mindful and respectful of our Pinterest boards and how we use them in our teaching spaces, I am all for Pinterest inspiration and lesson planning.

    • I agree that Pinterest is good for inspiration, especially when you are alone in your building. What do you think, though, about some of the more popular lessons? Are they over done?

      • Mona Lisa Lives Here

        It is important to consider how we are using the word “lesson”. Are the birch trees, for instance, part of an art lesson or a craft project that looks nice framed? Are we educators or are we decorators?

        • Regina Peterson

          As I said above they are learning about many REQUIRED parts of the elementary curriculum in my district. That particular lesson covers about six different grade level expectations. Maybe you don’t have those but I do. Why can’t they learn, explore, have fun AND be proud of their work.

          • Regina Peterson

            I changed that, I realized it sounded a little defensive.

  • Susan Wood Yeager

    I use Pinterest all the time! It’s been very helpful for finding resources for teaching techniques and also for lesson ideas. Often, I will find an idea for a project but I’ll have to develop the instructional aspect myself because either there aren’t any other resources besides pictures of the end product or the resources aren’t exactly what I need/want. I don’t think this post is really about Pinterest, but rather about doing projects that have no content and are more crafty. I haven’t ever done the birch trees project, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing the Dale Chihuly-inspired installation thing. That’s not really about melting plastic cups… it’s about learning about the artist, doing an installation, working as a group, etc. Also, inexperienced teachers sometimes need those type of projects and then, once they’ve figured out what the heck is going on in art teacher world, they can revise projects or come up with their own. But in the beginning, it’s hard! Pinterest can be a great tool!

  • Ellen K

    I think Pintrest is a good springboard for ideas. But I think that of Incredible Art Dept and even AOE lesson plans as well. Because I was literally thrown in the deep end with six Art One classes and no established curriculum, I had to design my class from the ground up. After 15 years, I still like many of my original lesson plans over what is online, although I’ve been known to tweak or alter assignments based on new information or classes that need other help. I have deliberately avoided working in districts where scripting is the norm for lessons for this very reason. And no, I don’t post my lesson plans online-I may assemble them into a book after I retire.

  • Allison Beth

    I love Pinterest for the ideas for projects to go along with a specific artist. I was always taught to not reinvent the wheel, which now sounds like it just crushes creativity. I however am a young art teacher with no curriculum books at the two schools I’ve worked for. Unfortunately art is not important enough to the administration to purchase any sort of resources or curriculums. I am seen as a 45 minute break to the teachers, not a collegue, not an art teacher. Just someone who comes in an occupies their students while they can go to the bathroom and copy room. Some even choose to take their lunch at that time because it is 15 minutes more than our regular lunch. Even if I did have a curriculum, my students are so behind in art, that it wouldn’t really matter. I teach 600 + students in a given week. I have to group grades together because I have little to no prep time. So unfortunately, art has been put on the back burner in terms of academic importance and Pinterest has become my lifesaver.

    • Yvonne Taylor

      That’s so sad to hear but I know it’s not unusual Allison.

    • We had a similar situation in our district. At the elementary level, I was told I was there to give the “real” teachers a break. Elementary art is now gone, and I teach grades 7-12. I write my own curriculum, following state guidelines (does your state have those?) and I like it that way, b/c I kind of disagree with our state’s emphasis on skills. I prefer to inspire creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving. On the bright side, at least they use art in your district in some way–students could be put on computers during the ‘real teacher’ break time as they are in my school, now.

  • Steph H

    I agree with the reproduction ideas, Melissa! However, I have found a way to use Pinterest to promote my TAB philosophy too! I no longer teach one “project” or lesson about one or two artists or ideas and present a powerpoint at the beginning of the unit. Instead, I have pinterest boards on our big ideas, such as “Text in Art” and pin many different examples of artist (new and old) who have used Text in different ways to express their artistic ideas. I love it because it is organic (always adding ideas), I can present many different art forms very easily, and my students can get to it at any time or place (when they are ready to investigate again). Example- https://www.pinterest.com/stephholmberg1/text-in-art/

  • Lauren Snider

    I like pinterest but like a few people said, I use it for a spring board and to find new lesson ideas that promote uniqueness. I hate cookie cutter artwork with a burning passion and I also hate when a lesson just touches the surface of a topic (ex: Native American art) rather then digging deeper and finding the meaning behind the artwork and creating something unique that represents the kids in the style of the artist or culture they are learning about. I know I have seen many cookie cutter artwork examples and lessons on pinterest and I have stopped following some people because that is all they ever pin. But I like to find inspiration for lessons and projects on pinterest and then create my own lesson from the picture I see and modify it to my own liking.

  • JILLIAN NINTZE

    This is interesting. Pinterest is a helpful tool for me. As a new elementary art teacher I felt really overwhelmed by creating my curriculum being that I was hired a month before school started and all I had was a high school art curriculum in my bag. Not only could I get a strong sense of what others were doing around the world, I was instantly connected to a global professional learning community. I discovered outstanding educators. I found Cassie Stephens, Laura Lohmann of Painted Paper, Patty Palmer of DSS, Donna Stanton, Ginger Pacer of Paint Brush Rocket, Nic Hahn of Mini Matisse, Don Masse of Shine Brite Zamorano..the list goes on….I follow their blogs, I contact them, I ask them questions. I follow their visual inspiration boards and create my own.
    I saw a pin of mine in the screenshot of this article of my Wayne Thiebaud cake I did with 5th grade. My inspiration was taken from Nic Hahn but I changed up some things for the lesson I taught. It was my students’ favorite lesson this year. I feel I was being creative by thinking about how I could make it varied and teach it to my art students.
    I understand the point of view that Pinterest doesn’t show process or the “messiness” of creativity. I agree. As a professional teacher I understand the limits of Pinterest and can decide its level of usefulness for me when creating lessons. I would never claim it has ruined lesson planning. Instagram has also helped me immensely because teachers do post the messy processes, the flops, and the triumphs.
    I don’t want this to become tldr: but in summary, Pinterest can be super helpful.

    • Yes, I agree it can be too – and it sounds like you are very thoughtful in how you use it. Your kids are lucky to have you!

  • I’m a one-person department in a 3A school in a town where the next nearest high school is 30 miles away. Pinterest is a fantastic resource for me. I agree with several of the folks who have said that it’s how you use it–that you definitely need to make the lessons your own. If you’re not willing to open up to new ideas and only want to do things the way you’ve done in the past, you’re not growing, and that’s not fair to the students. Pinterest is full of amazing inspiration, tried and tested projects and beautiful final results. You must be open to cool new things. Who cares if 200 other schools have done the same project? As long as your kids have never done it before, and get to take it, spin it and make it their own, they’re creating, and that’s why we’re here. I’m surprised by this AOE article.

    • I see what you’re saying, but imagine going in to every elementary school in the county and seeing the exact same artwork. Some of the really popular lessons that write about in the article produce almost identical results. Is that sort of replication valuable for students to learn?

      • RWS

        Every child in the country learns the same alphabet, learns the same numbers, learns to read the same words, learns the same history events and on and on. So what if they’re all doing those same birch trees? What’s wrong with having a few common projects that have art departments in unison across the country instead of us all being our own islands with varying degrees of experience and success? My students LOVE those trees and some who have serious processing issues, can’t hold a pencil, etc. end up with a painting that they are insanely proud of. I do plenty of other types of projects over the year that are of my own devising and allow for choice, but Pinterest sometimes is my catalyst for these new ideas.

        • Anita Welych

          I’d have to say that learning history dates and the alphabet consitute rote learning. Aren’t the arts by definition NOT rote learning? Isn’t that why we fight to keep art in the curriculum in the first place? Isn’t what we aim to teach creativity? Creative problem-solving? Making your own question and reaching your own conclusion?
          I am not here to knock Pinterest per se, but to be a voice for exploration without pat results. It doesn’t mean that you can never work on a themed project, but for me this sort of step-by-step work is like the junk food of art making, best consumed in smaller quantities.

          • RWS

            Good luck learning to read or be conversant in life without learning the alphabet or history! Rote learning is by nature repetitive so unless the teacher is doing the same one project over and over with the same exact students, it’s not rote. Different kids learn through different means and some respond to a step by step approach because they are overwhelmed by choice, so a little bit of each type of teaching technique in an art curriculum is not a bad thing. There are skills to be learned even in the birch lesson like wet in wet watercolor techniques, foreground middleground, background, repetition, tape resist, dry brush etc. that can then be applied to other lessons. I guess it’s how you teach the lesson that is the point. BTW, your dismissive “junk food” analogy is more than a little offensive.

          • Anita Welych

            Absolutely, rote learning has its place. No argument there. My point is precisely that art stimulates – or should stimulate – the parts of the brain that rote learning does not. I would argue that rote projects do not really teach skills like rendering – that’s a really complicated set of skills, and not just copying.
            Your point about children feeling overwhelmed and finding comfort in step-by-step projects is valid; however, my experience is that many of those children feel that way because they have been chastised for doing something “wrong” – like a little girl in a classroom I observed once who was coloring in a sun black, and someone had just told her to change it. Those kids quickly come to doubt their ability.
            Just like junk food has its place in our diet, so too do salads or desserts or chick peas – it’s all important. In my mind, a junk food analogy isn’t offensive unless junk food offends you. If so, my apologies!

          • I think you may be arguing apples and oranges. Anita: yes, right on! Art thinking is why we HAVE art–if we follow directions and make the same projects (and that is consistently what many administrators perceive art as: making things with hands), districts will find themselves not needing a trained art teacher at all. That said, Avery: I agree, who cares if we make the same projects in order to learn a skill or technique? Heck, the way things are going, we’ll ALL be making the same projects handed down by the gods of education in Washington so Am. students can ‘pass the test.’ But then it becomes necessary to move beyond. Now that we know how to use watercolors, kiddies, let’s make our own pictures.

        • Christine Bozzuffi

          totally agree. most students today have a hard time with totally open ended projects (in my opinion.) i believe that teaching them technique gives them a valuable tool they can use to move forward with their own ideas..and projects like the birch tree paining are a vehicle for them to do so. i combine can combine the elements of landscape design with a multitude of watercolor techniques students can experiment with and still come out with a finished piece that they can ALL succeed at!

  • Leah

    This article makes me mad. I’m tired of the Pinterest-shaming. So what if it’s not your thing? We get it. Melissa and Ian are the gurus of all things choice based. They are what we all are made to feel like we are supposed to be. But why do we have to make others feel like crap because we don’t teach like they do? Anyone I know who uses Pinterest DOES put their own twist on things. Back in the day, teachers bought idea books-tons of them- and tweaked those ideas to meet their curriculum goals. Teachers go to idea exchanges. We go to conferences and conventions where we learn new ideas/techniques. Pinterest is a digital version of that, and only one of many sources of inspiration. When creativity is encouraged in classrooms, students use the projects as their starting point anyway and add their own twists. We have enough stress in our jobs from parents, administratorys, and sometimes coworkers. We don’t need the added stress of feeling like we are being attacked from within our own ranks when we come to a valuable, trusted resource like AOE.

    • Regina Peterson

      I’m not angry but I agree. Process is a very important part of creating but it is not the only part. No project I do looks exactly like another but they all have the same theme or are working on the same concept. (Yes, I do birch trees and it is a great way to learn about perspective, values, landscapes, etc. They are also very proud of their projects and parents hang them on their walls at home). When a project is process only, especially for elementary, you are eliminating some of that too. So let’s not get lost in one way or another. As someone said earlier just because it has been done on Pinterest doesn’t mean all students have. Did artists stop making portraits just because they have been done 1000’s of times before?

      • Denise Wey

        Agreed

      • Robb Sandagata

        “Portrait” is a wide ranging artistic category with almost limitless possibilities. “Birch Tree Painting” is a specific painting with extremely limited options. There are a million different ways to approach the same topic.

        • Regina Peterson

          Those birch trees have many options of approach. Besides, does it limit the creativity of a portrait by having them “paint” a portrait?

    • I agree that, when used as a starting point, Pinterest is a helpful teaching tool. What about some of the popular lessons that produce very similar results? Do you think teachers should avoid those or use them as needed? Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

    • Pbgal

      Extremely well said, Leah

  • Denise Wey

    I completely disagree and find this viewpoint narrow with blinders!

  • mary

    I feel I am still new to pinterest so I do use it to find ideas of posters, curriculum and room set ups. However, I do get overwhelmed by seeing the same projects done 100x and more. So right now I am somewhere in between

  • Robb Sandagata

    For those of you who feel a bit offended by this article, please consider that this article is not really about Pinterest at all. It’s about a tendency in Art Ed to replicate and repeat certain lessons, some of which have been around for Eons. This happens in High School curriculums, too. We could easily have the same argument about Artsonia, Art Ed Blogs, or even the Art of Ed itself. If your working conditions are impossible and Pinterest is your saving grace, then don’t worry about this. If you see 500 + students a week at 3 different schools, you should a) be proud that you are still standing, b) continue doing what you have to do to survive, and c) work to improve your situation and find a new job. I don’t feel that Melissa is saying “you are lesser than if you use Pinterest,” she is asking us to consider the impact of these kinds of easily reproducible lessons.

    • I think Melissa has started a fantastic discussion!

    • Pbgal

      I disagree – the entire tone of the article was saying “you are lesser if you use Pinterest”. If Melissa really wanted to make her point, she could have done so by including pictures of what she considers creative, original lessons that she has experienced success with herself.

  • Kara escalante

    Thank you for your honesty. I really enjoy reading your articles. They help check me at the right moments.

  • Abby Fliehler

    Thank you Melissa! You articles challenge us to think about the “why” of what we teach? It isn’t just about standards, elements, and district curriculum…it is asking us to reflect as teachers and art educators. Are we teaching just how to make pretty pictures? Are we here to challenge kids to think uniquely and problem solve? Or is it a delicate balance of both-teaching kids ways to think but also giving them chances to see success in guided projects?I don’t know the answer but the reflection piece comes in asking the question. You do an awesome job of helping me to question what I teach and why. These questions are what makes us to become better teachers. It is all in the “why.” This article was a great reminder of that.

    • Thank you so much for thanking the time to leave me this comment!

  • Elizabeth Castor

    It seems to me that the bigger message is that we as teachers should be walking our talk…. we should be thinking and using lessons that allow our students to think/engage. I turn to pinterest, facebook multi-posts, and other such sites to find some fresh looks at the skills I am hoping to teach; when my ceramics slab-making lesson has gotten old and tired I go a-hunting on the boards for slab ideas that can be deeper, fresher and/or more meaningful. :) Thanks for the reminder Melissa! (especially since this is what I have dubbed “pinterest season”)

  • Pbgal

    Would love to see pictures of projects from all these art teachers who are claiming they use only their own ideas. My main goal is to help my students achieve artistic success while incorporating my required standards and if using Pinterest helps to do that for me and my students, then I am happy (and my own students are too). Each individual makes of it what they will, and the projects all turn out unique with marks of each student’s personality. By ensuring success and confidence while they are young, these same students of the “cookie cutter” art, will grow up to explore creative avenues because they have experienced success in art. Some people are very talented at designing successful lessons, why re-invent the wheel? We have a lot of success in my district because the art teachers are all willing to share their ideas with colleagues. Enough with shaming art teachers! Shame on you.

    • I don’t think anyone uses only their own ideas and I completely agree with you about using resources that will help students reach the learning goals you’ve identified for them! However, there are other ways to teach skills and produce work for display than by using cookie cutter projects. I worry when students experience this type of project they become dependent instead of confident.

  • Lisa

    How is it that I didn’t even know what “Pinterest” was before and have no need to reference it now within my art program?

  • Ingrid Bookhamer

    I think the bigger question is: What are the students learning and walking away with? If the lesson has been done elsewhere, or countless times before, but there is a valuable teaching point, then it is still worth doing. It will be new to the students’ eyes and minds. If the goal is to create something pretty to hang in the hallway and the teaching point has been forgotten or lost, then it’s not a worthwhile project to begin with. Great article, an food for thought in the art teaching community!

  • Clyde Gaw

    This is a fascinating discussion! Many thanks to Melissa for posting the original question on the use of Pinterest as a foundation of curriculum development and all the passionate art teachers who have posted on this discussion thread. I view Pinterest as one of many compelling resources that students may access while formulating and refining their art ideas for present or future exploration.

    • When you like something I’ve written I know I’ve done well! Thank you :)

  • Karen

    Pinterest is not a bad thing. AOE cannot believe it is a bad thing either because in many of the classes you need to create Pinterest boards for assignments. How Pinterest boards are used is important. There are many ideas that I have not thought of. My kids love melting plastic for Chihulyish projects. I never even thought to melt recycled plastic bottles. But I do more with the lesson than simply melt a bottle. I add Chihuly’s artistic process into the conversation and getting along and working with others to create group work. Keep pinning.

    • AOE is all about letting writer express personal views, as mine about Pinterest are! I agree it can be used in many ways – some that are good and some that aren’t. Thank you for reading and sharing how you approach teaching process :)

  • Victoria Sommers

    I agree that the best part of being an art teacher is getting to decide what projects to do. One of the worst parts is the isolation from other art teachers with so many of us being the only one of our kind in the vicinity.

    One of the things I struggle with is the balance between teaching creativity and teaching skills and techniques. Process based, open ended creativity is the end goal but when I begin with those kinds of lessons in my Art 1, middle school classes, then, for the most part, the results are crap. I learned (the hard way) to start with basic lessons that tend to have cookie cutter results. Then I try to move them to more creative, expressive work once they have been exposed to the techniques of a medium and (dare I say) some standards for what looks good.

    For example, drawing strategies or guidelines for composition or water color techniques are skills that can and should be taught, just as fingering, and reading notes are taught in music. If music teachers led with “create your own song” the results, except in rare cases, would be noise and chaos, not music.

    In art we do have the opportunity and the obligation to let the students compose their own original works! That’s so exciting and unique to our profession! But I feel that sometimes the Art 2, 3, AP, high school, etc., art teachers forget that somebody has to teach them the basics. Used properly, Pinterest is just a tool for connecting creative people and ideas. Sorry if some of us are sick of seeing birch trees, but I don’t think they should be dismissed out of hand. The process, after all, isn’t always seen in the product. A lot of art education can be instilled into a ‘cookie cutter” lesson.

    Thank you for this discussion! I don’t feel as isolated after reading many of your stories and I’m inspired to get ready and plan for next year!

    • I agree with you about teaching skills – but i don’t like how CC (cookie cutter) lessons disguise them as projects. If you’re interested, check out the link below for how I address that issue in my high school classes. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! http://purteeart1.weebly.com/blog/bootcamps

  • Korey Jones Averill

    Preach, sista!

  • Shelley Menhennet

    I love Pinterest!!!!!
    It is an amazing resource for Visual Arts teachers, particularly Primary (Elementary) who often feel isolated in their schools, as they are the only Visual Arts teacher. It’s a great way to communicate with other art educators from across the world. I don’t think I’ve ever not dug deeper than just the pin, if there is an image of an activity that I have found interesting. I will always go look for the blog post, web page that explains the whole process, the reason the activity came about in the first place. the whole context for that 1 pin image. And this usually leads to me communicating with that educator. In fact, if I find an image that I like and it doesn’t have any more layers of information attached to it I don’t think I would save it let alone use it.
    I also find it to be an amazing tool as it holds all my 170+ boards full of 13000+ images that I do not store on my macbook or ipad at school or my imac at home. And, it doesn’t cost me anything! My students can access my boards at any time – and they do. I often mention artists we are working on or areas of art we are studying in our school newsletter and leave a link for the parents/school community to look at images on my boards – and they do. Many of my students have now started creating their own boards as a way of managing their favourite footy team photos or pictures of cars or whatever their interests are rather than continually losing their favourite images as the memory on their school ipads is too small or they are clogging up their parents home computer memory.
    I know some pinners have squillions of followers. I have about 3000, some of whom I know, most of whom are Visual Arts teachers, who use my boards regularly rather than reinvent the wheel and create their own. I love hearing from them and seeing that they have found their way to my art teacher blog via Pinterest. I love sharing ideas, getting to know them better and talking about the weather on the other side of the world if that is what we want to do. It is so much fun and I would never have dreamed I would be sharing my ideas with 3000 others when I set up my first board as a way to off load my photos from my macbook!
    And I have never, ever seen a Pinterest idea and ended up with clones on that pin. The activities I develop with my students always have layers of choice embedded so the end results are never clones of each other but evidence of the learning journey of that individual.
    Perhaps Melissa the issue here is you just don’t know how to use Pinterest properly!!! Don’t look at the birch trees that you don’t like! I wouldn’t look up ‘birch trees’ in the first place unless I liked looking at them. I would look up perspective drawing or perspective painting if that is what you are looking for. Perhaps if you use better search phrases you’ll get better results???

  • Mike

    Thanks for writing this article Melissa. It points to a larger problem that an image shared does not capture the lesson in itself, and that in the social network world, everything is about quick clicks and moving on. I would love to see more sharing among ourselves of images that show diverse solutions that can come from a prompt or set of constraints, or whatever. Even when our cohort of art teachers come together to share in person, it is often just one example of what it is supposed to look like, not how many different avenues were explored.

  • caitlin

    As a new graduate, just getting my degree in Art Education and entering the field I feel like pinterest has exposed me to a lot of newer techniques that I was not taught in school, for example different printmaking techniques or weaving ideas. Some of the things I was taught in school are still applicable today but a little dated or just missing some fresh approaches teachers are using. That being said I do get tired of seeing the same projects over and over. This article inspires me to be more confident in my abilities and not always rely on pinterest lessons all of the time.

  • Elisabeth Payne

    A couple of years ago I realized my advanced art students were ripping off ideas from Pinterest I became very frustrated. Where was the originaIity? what about plagiarism? So I developed a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. How could I fight it? After some thinking on how to handle the problem I remembered early on as a teacher that many of my students assumed art was about drawing step by step to make the dinosaur, if it were. I had to educate them on what art was all about, that it was about creativity and skill development. Last year I decided to embrace Pinterest and use it as a tool. Yes, occasionally I have looked for new ideas for my beginning art classes when I have become tired of projects, but mostly I look for inspiration. I have yet to follow the projects 100%. Mostly it sparks ideas for me. I often get ideas from obscure places as well as museums. We don’t live in a vacuum so don’t try to keep kids in one. I allow my students to use Pinterest if they are struggling for ideas, but encourage them to make the idea their own. I often ask for photo references when working in realistic styles, so when they find something “cool” on Pinterest I require them to find other references and modify the “idea” to help them make it original. It is used as a tool for inspiration. Much like the Internet as a whole the students are using technology more and more, Pinterest along with it. With structured discussions on plagiarism and fair use, make it a teachable moment on intellectual property etc. it’s not foolproof, but it’s a step in the right direction. The other thing about using lock step lessons at the younger grade levels, as it does add difficulty at the high school level, at least they are experiencing art. Kids are so afraid of being wrong, they have to relearn how to be creative again but let them have positive art experiences with built in success to help cultivate their love of art.

    • Great approach to using Pinterest with your students! Thanks for sharing!

  • Melissa Gilbertsen

    Yes…and no…I teach HOW to do different art techniques/use different art medias and sometimes use pinterest projects as a vehicle for doing that. I don’t use all ideas without a twist of my own, it’s a jumping off place. As an artist in my own right, research plays an important role for me to make connections, get inspiration, and try new thing for my own art. I feel that’s what creative thinking requires. No one creates in a vacuum. I have zip curriculum and a snoot full of kids everyday…I need to see what can be done especially by example! I’m a visual learner! But I do get your point and it causes me to think, which is ALWAYS good, right? Some folks use examples, some don’t…it’s up to each of us. I always say there are a whole lot of ways to get to where you want to be! I also never teach the exact lesson more than once, so ideas from elsewhere do help me think wider than I might all by my lonesome. Just a thought. :)

  • Meli Clo

    AMEN!

  • Chris Ziems

    Lots of appreciation for those art teachers out there exploring new ways to do things. I’ve been really inspired by a lot of the articles by yourself, Melissa, and others on this site that pose questions about what it really is we hope students will learn from visual arts in school, beyond producing a product that looks nice, but may or may not have very much meaning–birch trees, countless copies of photographs of animals, etc…

    I’m entering a new school in August at the middle school level and am so excited to start fresh and begin with the mindset of creating as much opportunity for student choice as I can, and learning along the way. Just wanted to express gratitude for the dedicated friends out there bringing these things to light and to my attention

    • Good luck in middle school! It’s the one age group i’ve never worked with but it seems like a perfect fit for the ideas you describe! They’re lucky to have you :)

  • Lisa Ingraham

    Pinterest is a teaching resource, not my art curriculum. Not only have I pinned lessons for inspiration, but I’ve also pinned useful powerpoints (so I do not have to reinvent the wheel) and relevant art videos to enhance engagement. Where else would I have bumped into actual footage of Monet painting in his garden? I wouldn’t have been aware that film even existed without Pinterest. Perhaps a broader view of the value of this site is needed.

  • Theresa Crawford

    I disagree wholeheartedly! I do not use Pinterest in the way you describe, finding cutsie make and take crafts. I use it to connect my standards with new and different ideas from a variety of very talented Art Teachers. Just like I don’t use the “Lesson Plans” from AOE exactly as they are presented. There is no real world connection, history, or even a vocabulary of Art Terms in those lessons. They are just a stepping stone to launch creativity. My students always have the expectation of using their own creativity, ideas, and problem solving skills, thats why they love to make Art!

    • It sounds like you plan great lessons for your kids! Thanks for reading!

  • Carol

    I don’t have a problem with the content of this article, I think it is a worthwhile and relevant discussion. I have a huge problem with the shaming tone that is used. I do not come to the Art of Ed to be judged or shamed, I come to be educated.

  • Carey Hernandez

    I use Pinterest often, but I think I use it differently than most people. I use it as a tool or visual bookmark. When I’m researching for a lesson I might create a board and then pin various resources. This just keeps my visual ideas in one place. I’m a visual person, Pinterest visually bookmarks things for me. I was a very early user on Pinterest and I think I use it differently because of this. When I began using Pinterest there were not a lot of pins. All of it came from people researching and pinning. Follow the right people, places (even art museums) etc. also helps me use it in a artistic way. I rarely do something just like I see it, but it starts a creative process for me. A process that doesn’t look like anything I saw on Pinterest, but might not of happened without it because it gave me an idea that led to anothet idea. Ideas need to come from everywhere and it doesn’t hurt that I also work at an art museum. Pinterest is fine, but copying is not.

  • opinionated_too

    Pinterest is a pain in the ass. I was trying to look up poisonous mushrooms, because my dog was eating a mushroom. I had to sort through at least 100 pinterest links before I found a REAL link to mushroom types. If teachers are using it for lesson plans, they aren’t qualified to be teachers. Make up your own lessons.

  • Mel

    Haha.. I missed this article the first time around, thanks for posting it with the 2016 round-up. I am actually teaching a class titled “Turning Pinterest Projects into Authentic Art” at NAEA this year.. I believe, like many other commentators, it is all in how you use it. Thanks for the interesting article!

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