Pinterest: A New Space for Curating, Filtering, Distributing, and Accessing Art

On the Emergence of Public Curation and New Spaces for Accessing Art

In “Flexible Context, Democratic Filtering and Computer-Aided Curating: Models for Online Curatorial Practice”, Christiane Paul discusses how the Internet has inspired a “variety of dreams about the future of artistic and curatorial practice”, including new “spaces for accessing art”(85).

We have discussed in class the difference between an online exhibition – where art is born digitally (net art) – and an online documentation of an exhibition; the online showcase of physical objects (Paul). The former is the case, for example, of SFMOMA’s, a site that “was created to explore new art forms that exist only on the web (…) — taking a fresh look at what constitutes an exhibition — within the unique space of the personal computer screen” ( The latter, of the current exhibition section of the MOMA website, which invites visitors to explore exhibitions by date, artists, and more.

We have also read and discussed how the Internet has introduced new curational processes and institutional approaches, what Paul describes as a museum without walls, a “parallel, distributed, living information space that is open to interferences by artists, audiences, and curators – a space for exchange, collaborative creation and presentation that is transparent and flexible” (Paul 85). Here, we talked about the emergence of sites affiliated with museums, independent curators, and “an increased public involvement in the curational process”, what Paul describes as public curation (86).

I would argue that social media has introduced a new layer of complexity, by blurring even more the line between the audience, the curator, and the museums. This reminds me of the blogger versus journalist discussions of the early 2000’s. The question now is: can anyone be a curator? The British trends publication, Trend Watching, has recently published an article that discusses how “art curators are inflamed—and amused—by the new ubiquitousness of their role”:

The verb “curate” has become such an overworked—and distorted—marketing buzzword, it’s now in need of curation itself. Writing about designer Tom Ford’s new cosmetics line in September’s Vogue, Plum Sykes didn’t simply say Ford “selected” the colours in his four-colour eye shadow compacts. No, each compact offers “a complete look curated by Ford,” befitting its US$78 price tag. Even processed foods are treated as objets d’art in the Louvre: Loblaw Companies’ cookbook, The Epicurean’s Companion, part of the launch of their new high-end black label line, boasts “recipes inspired by the thoughtfully curated President’s Choice black label collection.”

“Curation,” from the Latin “to care for,” morphed beyond galleries over a decade ago—from indie music festivals “curated” by Matt Groening, Sonic Youth and the like, to high-end Paris boutique Colette, feted for pioneering the retailer-as-curator concept. Technology, too, paved the way to the “curated” identity on Facebook, iPod playlists and Flickr.

Mass-market retailers are all over the concept, evident in Restoration Hardware’s fall 2010 catalogue: “No longer mere ‘retailers’ of home furnishings, we are now ‘curators’ of the best historical design the world has to offer,” the home-furnishing retailer boasted. But who can blame them for the highfalutin claim? “Curate,” with its scholarly pedigree, is more prestigious—and thus deserving of a high price—than “selected,” “organized” or (shudder) “picked.”

Pinterest: a New Space for Curating, Filtering, Distributing, and Accessing Art

“Within a technological framework, curation is always mediated and agency becomes distributed between the curator, the public, and software is involved in the filtering process” (Paul 99).

There are still many people who have heard nothing about Pinterest, but its spectacular rise is worth exploring. Pinterest has been around for two years. In August 2011, Time magazine listed Pinterest in its “50 Best Websites of 2011″ ranking. And, over the past few weeks, it has suddenly become the hottest social network on the Web.[1] 

Pinterest invites users to curate collections of images from across the Web under different categories called “boards”. Users can bring other users’ discoveries to their own collections by simply repin it – Pinterest jargon for posting it.

What is actually on Pinterest?

“The Internet both blurs boundaries between ‘categories’ of cultural production (fine arts, pop culture, entertainment, software, etc.), and creates a space for specialized interest with a very narrowed focus” (Paul 91).

The Pinterest experience is that of browsing through a very appealing catalogue. Much of the content on the site is about products – such as furniture, clothes, books, food, photography, and crafts.  Online crafts marketplace, for example, is the most popular source for pins, accounting for a little more than 3% of all content on the site. Search for “Pins from Gagosian”, for example, and you will no longer need to visit their site. Pinners create boards dedicated to weddings, the arrival of a new baby, vacations and seasonal holidays. Some recent examples suggest that Pinterest is helping inspire students, increase student participation, and helping them tell stories. According to Google Ad Planner, in January 2012 Pinterest’s US audience was primarily interested in fashion, arts and crafts, recipes, seasonal events and holidays, and interior design (Everitt).

Who is on Pinterest?

“Hierarchies of media (the object and its history) and curational “gatekeeping”—both intrinsic to the museum—were demolished or simply sidestepped in the new sociopolitical arena of networked culture” (Cook 30).

Audience. According to comScore, in February 2012 over 95% of the audience on Pinterest were adults (+18). The female audience dominated visitation, and the bulk of the audience was comprised by 25-34 year-olds. 

The following art institutions and publications have already established their presence on the site. For them, Pinterest demands new ways of selecting, filtering, and gate-keeping content. These organizations exhibit a curated sample of their online archive, which is fully accessible on their sites. These exhibitions are arranged under a set of boards, and rearranged according to the audience’s response (measured in number of “likes”, “re-pins”, and views), illustrating a shift from the model of the single curator to that of multiple curatorial perspectives.


The Copyright Question: Who Owns What

Unlike Facebook — which is mostly about creating and posting your own material — the focus of Pinterest is posting content you find on other sites. Therefore, this is content that most likely someone else owns. The platform encourages users to give credit to original sources through proper citation.

When the content is yours, you are not giving up any ownership rights you may have simply by virtue of posting something on Pinterest.  That said, when you post content on the site, you do grant Pinterest broad rights to use that content.


The Raise of Public Curation—On Self-Branding and Online Identities: We Are What We Curate

Social networks provide users with a space to work out identity and status and negotiate their public lives. The choice of content one publishes allows users to signal meaningful cues about themselves. What we put forward is our best effort at what we want to say about who we are.

In the early days of social media, people were mostly judged by their associations (“You are who you know”). Once communities were established, users started to pay increasing attention to what they posted. The content on their status updates, their regular tweets and check-ins, and the brands they chose to “like”—it all flagged important signals about themselves (“You are what you post”).

The Internet culture is now showing increasing fascination with pinning (discovery, filtering, and display of content). Unlike other social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest does not emphasize what users did or are doing. Instead, it focuses on a person’s long-term aspirations and interests – such as their dream home. Pinterest frees viewers from incessant updates and check-ins. Pinterest provides users with a place to curate their image: A space to work out identity and status through the practice of appropriation (the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work). Pictures beat words on Pinterest (“You are what you curate”).


Exhibition: Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art

The world’s pre-eminent resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America”. (Click here).

  • The exhibition celebrates the artist and her/his work of art.
  • There is a total of 19 boards, each of which curates the contents of the AAA website (archives & research collections) to tell new stories, from the point of view of the artist. There is no temporal arrangement. Also, the stories are not organized by artist or format. Each board is curated by themes.
  1. Ain’t no party like an artist’s party: A story about parties. “Because an artist’s party don’t stop!”
  2. Dog Days: A story about dogs. An artist’s best friend”
  3. Color Me Happy: A story about colors. “A feast for the eyes”
  4. I Love You: A story about love. “I Love You More!”
  5. Animals in the Archives: A story about animals. “A menagerie on paper”
  6. So Crafty: A story about crafts. “A very Hand-on Board”
  7. Studio Style: A story about artists’ studios. “Where artists worked, from Paris to Soho”
  8. That’s Sketchy: A story about drawings. “Inspiring Sketches”
  9. Little artists: A story about kids in the arts. “When artists were still finger painting”
  10. Wish you were here: A story about places. “Travel vicariously with your favorite artists”
  11. La vie Boehme: A story about women in the arts. “Art world individuals who marched to the beat of their own drums”
  12. Delicious Documents: A story about food.
  13. Say Cheese!: A story about people. “Noteworthy and noticeable portraits”
  14. Jackson Pollock Centennial: A tribute. “Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) is an American icon. Creator of rhythmic and energetic “action painting,” he is internationally hailed as a leading figure in Abstract Expressionism. The Archives of American Art is celebrating the centennial of his birthday (January 28, 2012) with an exhibition in our Washington, DC gallery”
  15. Happy Holidays: A story about Christmas.
  16. Facial Hair of Note: A story about beards in the arts. “Misplace your paintbrush? Just use your beard!”
  17. Work in progress: A story about the making of art. “Spoiler alert! A sneak peek at works before they adorn museum walls and pedestals”
  18. Dear Diary: A story about personal diaries. “Notable journals at the Archives of American Art”
  19. Pinteresting Printed Pages: A story about printed materials. “Prints to pique your pinterest”
  • There is no clear rationale for the way in which each board is positioned in relation to one another.
  • Each pin (image) offers comprehensive citation and links to the AAA website, where the image is placed in a cluttered space. On Pinterest, however, the image is at the center. As said, pictures beat words on Pinterest.


  • The source of content is the AAA site. All material is hosted on the site, suggesting that the institution does not use the platform as a place to organize new discoveries, but rather as a way to promote and showcase their own collections to new audiences.
  • In fact, one can say that the voice and tone they use on the headings (board names and descriptions) is rather informal, suggesting their intention to reach broader and perhaps younger audiences.
  • Anyone with access to Pinterest can be exposed to this exhibition (see “Who is on Pinterest?” section).

AAA site. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are part of the secondary navigation. 

Works Cited

Cook, Sarah. “Immateriality and Its Discontents: An Overview of Main Models and Issues for Curating New Media.” Paul, Christine. New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art. Ed. Christine Paul. Berkeley: University of Calfornia Press, 2008. 26-49.

“” 01 January 2001-2002. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA. 23 March 2012 <>.

Everitt, Lauren. “Pinterest: Just what exactly is on it?” 02 March 2012. BBC News Magazine. 15 March 2012 <>.

“Everyone’s a Curator Now.” 03 November 2011. 10 February 2012 <>.

Paul, Christiane. “Flexible Contexts, Democratic Filtering and Computer-Aided Curating: Models for Online Curatorial Practice.” Curating, Immateriality, Systems: On Curating Digital Media, Data Browser Series 3 (2006): 85-105.


[1] In August 2011, comScore reported +1.2MM visitors to In February 2012, +17.8MM unique visitors, reaching 8.1% of the US online population.

One comment

  1. tonygamino

    I’m really impressed. I’m a user and fan of Pinterest and your review is really insightful and comprehensive. Fantastic insights.