Through the consumption of ‘How To’ YouTube videos, an artist is exploring the educational value of the internet and putting the results into GIF format. The resulting creative investigation, HowToHowToHowTo, is an exhibit by Gretchen Andrew, who had been working in Silicon Valley since 2007, taking on roles like software engineer, business analyst or product manager, and eventually working for Google from 2010 to 2012.
That's when she decided to try art.
“When I quit my job I did so deciding that I wanted to become an artist,” Andrew tells The Creators Project. “I had no prior skills but really believed that the internet could make me into this thing by watching YouTube videos and finding content online.”
Internet-enabled education speaks to the accessibility, diversity, and participatory sort of learning that has shaken up the education sphere since the induction and widespread use of the World Wide Web. University lectures posted online have proved an excellent resource for intellectual self-starters and online platforms such as Wikipedia, wikiHow, and YouTube have allowed for lessons in pretty much anything you want—albeit not without criticism.
Getting herself a studio in San Francisco, Andrew embarked on this digital way of schooling, alongside the mantra “fake it till you make it,” she says. Starting with YouTube videos ranging from How to Stretch a Canvas and How to Draw Hands, Andrew then turned her sights on the full spectrum of ‘How To’ content on offer, completing one-off trails—How to be Sexy, How to Get Drunk, How to Walk in High Heels, How to Do a Kick Flip on a Skateboard.
“Looking on something like YouTube is really interesting because it works on a supply side and a demand side simultaneously,” says Andrew. “So you get people creating content that no one is watching but they’re still creating. Then you get large corporations, like wikiHow, using Google search tools to see what people are searching for and then creating content based on that demand.”
Andrew then dove deeper, looking at certain topics in depth, including how to achieve physical ‘perfection,’ learning what to do in order to get better legs, hair, lips, teeth and so on.
“For each of those body parts, I then made GIFs of myself attempting to follow those instructions, looking at this absurdly formulaic idea of beauty,” she says.
She also looked at how you can become somebody else by changing your diet to reflect theirs, be they Russian cosmonaut or championship hotdog eater; seeing if “you are what you eat” holds any sort of innate value. Advice from YouTubers was also applied to writing a novel, to which Andrew documented the process with GIFs, highlighting the notion of “practice makes perfect.”
“I knew that buying these creams or taking these pills weren’t going to make me perfect,” explains Andrew. “But you don’t necessarily know the exact texture of the failing until you go out and try. I knew that writing a novel would be difficult too, but now I have a better idea exactly how difficult it is and what exists between the YouTube videos saying do these exercises and then actually doing them. It acquaints you with yourself in a much more intimate way.”
After completing HowToHowToHowTo, Andrew remains a believer in the internet’s power to change or educate oneself, but only if we are active consumers seeking it, rather than letting social media platforms supply it for us.
“I think the big question about social media is to what extent it amplifies the echo chamber of our own opinions and thoughts,” says Andrew. “As algorithms are more and more certain about who we are, what we like and don't like, what will hold our attention and be worth the advertising dollars, using the internet to change who are is a form of resistance. In that way, I think YouTube is best positioned to fulfill the potential of the internet as a tool for social change. But like all tools it can be ignored or misused.”