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Pinterest: Education for the Digital Age?

There is a simple, naive pleasure in collecting things. I seem to remember that fantastic summer when Laker and Lock, not to mention Colin Cowdrey and Peter May played Cricket so well against the West Indies and recall collecting cigarette cards with their heroic images. Another series of cards carried the proud images of Her Majesty’s ships many of which I first saw in as the Fleet assembled in Mount’s Bay in about 1952. The cards were sometimes ranked with stars with battleships carrying the full 5 stars and light cruisers maybe 3. Innocent of both imperialism and the devastation of weaponry we carried collections that stuffed into our school blazer pockets.
Just a few years before intellectuals such as Walter Benjamin and Stefan Zweig were being impounded by the fascists in Germany, Italy and Austria. Zweig has 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) replaced by plane paper which he takes lovingly from his folder and extols the detailed wonder of each image. Whatever the pleasures of making collections, John Fowles has reminded us of the darker side of the psychology. On the whole a masculine foible, because it was the men that had the money to pursue their interests, in their great salons clever women as varied as Rahel Varnhagen and Lady Ottoline Morrell collected persons to cultivate the exchange of ideas. How far such aspirations are from the hurried pinning of electronic images onto simulated pin boards!
However, being now just short of 250 followers myself on Pinterest, have I 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 shrunk to just the size of an i-phone screen? There are at least three ways in which I might attempt to justify to myself the outrageous amount of time building my own portfolio collection has taken.
Firstly, it has enabled me to discover significant new artists. Looking under the 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 our 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 there are the delightful colours of the work of Hope Gangloff and I notice that I have pinned several of her pictures because their bohemian portraits thoroughly engaging. This time the person who first mounted the work 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”.
In addition to aiding the discovery of new artists, I find that 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 by a series of events led to my discovery of the print work of the Dresden painter, Conrad Felixmuller. I have done some 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, it is a useful encouragement, at least to someone rather lazy like me to get sketching. As I am sure many find that sketching, for someone whose is perhaps stimulated enough by language is a delightful change.
Stimulated by a course of lectures by the cultural historian, Robin Lenman I have taken a deeper interest in photographic history. Pinterest provides a useful resource for those who are interested in the stage and screen, entertainment and political change throughout the twentieth century. Black and white photographs 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 favourite artists, composers and indeed scientists. It can clearly be seen that Man Ray and Tzara’s work influenced photography as well as art. Film stars 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 actually resemble the work of their paintings.
Can Pinterest benefit education? I am not entirely sure; the wealth of imagery would be useful to many designers. It may well form an entry point for students who are reluctant to go into galleries, especially if these are expensive on in foreign cities. Certainly, the galleries could themselves make better use of this technology. However, the lack of detail and face-to face discussion of paintings and their techniques provided by “pinning” are evident draw backs. As Pinterest is so easy to use, it provides a mechanism which encourages it’s users to exchange images of Rembrandt and is then prompts them to see the original has got to be a very useful tool.

 

George Care

Since retiring from school mastering in various schools, including Holland Park and Alleyn’s GC has worked as a reviewer and art critic. He has broadcast on local radio and visited major galleries across Europe.

Volume 30 number 4 March / April 2016 pp 32-33

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