This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Examine Our Assumptions
We can tell a different story that just might open doors
(7 minute read)
At last, we’re ready to dig into the many reasons millennials don’t buy our art.
As you guessed, there are many, many reasons. And there are many, many wrong assumptions. If we are willing to have our assumptions challenged, this series might be helpful. Read on!
In hindsight, I wish I’d co-authored this series with fellow/former FAV author Lori Woodward. As you know from the wealth of insights she’s shared over the years, one of her superpowers is digging into the actual numbers and data to verify if an assumption, or a marketing strategy, is true useful or not.
I can’t do that. Or rather, I won’t. I tend to read a lot about whatever it is I’m writing about, note what resonates with me, and share a narrative. If the information is solid enough, useful, makes sense, it can change my narrative for the better.
That’s why I swapped “useful” for “true” above. You may have your own version of what’s “true”, but if it holds you back from finding your voice, and an audience, then consider framing, and embracing, what’s useful instead.
So if this series doesn’t work for you, I get it.
My first insight is that being annoyed/frustrated/less-than-impressed/derogatory about younger people is not new. I shared that in the original article and yet it didn’t seem to affect the tone of the comments. About a third to half of the comments were “negative” in tone, or started out positive/sympathetic, but ended up negative.
New technology, online media, discussion groups, video/computer games, were blamed for everything from “lack of attention span” to “shallow world views”. Lack of exposure to “real art”. A fixation on “likes”, popularity, expensive clothes, etc. Perceived lack of appreciation for the values we have, and yet this same argument has been used for many millennia. (No put intended!)
In 1859, an article in Scientific American complained about the inferior amusement gained from a popular new game called “chess”, You can read more funny, crabby moments in history here and here.
After I was done laughing, I realized that complaining about “kids today” is nothing new. We’ve been doing it since Bork made a lumpy hammered iron knife to kill a wildebeest, and the elders complained about “young people today!”, asking “why do that when a simple rock will do the trick??”
Short story, this is a story, an attitude that always has been, and always will be, with us. If it’s been going for untold generations, I doubt there’s anything I can say that will change everyone’s mind! (I’m hoping to encourage a few.)
In fact, I read a review of a book I recommended last time, KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. Halfway through, the columnist berates Harris for not coming up with solutions to enable future generations to work together (he does) and then admits their “quibbles” are just that—pretty minor—and also acknowledges they might seem to be a “grumpy Gen Xer” themselves. (This is the generation following us Boomers, people born between 1965 and 1980.)
An even more poignant take on generational differences is, we tend to judge quality by what we loved, what caught our hearts, when we were that age, too. Amidst all the angst and drama surrounding the prequels and sequels to the original Star Wars series, a long-time, avid Star Trek fan explained why the latest TV series is not respected by the earlier generations:
“…So this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. As someone pointed out about the new Star Wars trilogy “It’s not for you, it’s for people who are your age when you started liking Star Trek”.”
In fact, we, the Baby Boomers, were judged pretty harshly by the previous generation, too.
Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it (I’m guessing by now you realize I’m also a Mission Impossible fan), is to make a list of all the awful things said about our generation, all those ago. What did The Greatest Generation say about us?
For me, art was a frivolous pursuit. Growing up, my family found my interest in art “interesting” but baffling. I was encouraged to find a “real” job that paid well, never mind whether it was emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, get married, and quit complaining. Every grade I got in school that was less than an A came with anger and a scolding. Many of us, especially those who had young kids to care for, turned to art later in life, either through yearning, a sideline, a hobby, or after we retired.
TGG experienced some major world calamities: Two world wars, the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, the Great Depression in the ‘30’s. Harsh realities of an older time.
Yet they came home from WWII to GI bills, affordable college educations, a housing construction boom, vaccines to fight polio, and a booming national economy. They worked hard for their progress, too.
They considered boomers to be frivolous and privileged, focused on getting high and zoning out. No morals, no discipline, spoiled, lazy, and lightweight.
We are not evil people—no one generation is--but we had our moments, too. We were ridiculed for “Make Love, Not War”, and were considered rebellious idiots for protesting the Vietnam War. Some of us marched with King, risking life and limb, but most of us didn’t. And once the Civil Rights movement created legal protections for people of color, we thought we were done.
We were lucky. We found our wave and rode it out. Most of us were able to buy homes, find careers, create families, and retire in comfort, too. Workers at auto factories in Michigan were well-paid, and often owned second homes (lake homes, at that!). Many companies offered pensions, too, and matched retirement investments.
We cannot conceive the realities and disappointments “young people today” face: Robotics and automated assembly lines; the gig economy (where no benefits nor health insurance are offered, let alone pensions); recessions just when would have reached higher income levels, etc. I had an apartment and a car while making not much above minimum wage in the early ‘70’s. Today, minimum wage is a little over $7/hour, though many states are higher. Yet, one estimate is that if that had been adjusted over the years for inflation/purchase power, it would be closer to $11-$22/hour. The official federal poverty level income is just over $25,000 for a family of four. A family would need 3-4 jobs to jump that financial.
Gah! I’ve actually overwhelmed myself researching these facets of the generation gap. Thank you for bearing with me!
My sole point today is to show how even a few major insights can help us change our attitude towards millennials:
Every generation tends criticizes the newer ones. Every generation is told “they are doing it wrong”. And that creates assumptions, grudges, resentment and lack of connection among us all. How will younger people even connect with our art when they know we already feel they are “less than”?
Every generation faces unique societal, financial, moral issues that are not simple to resolve, and difficult to understand once we’ve gotten passed them. The Spanish influenza epidemic killed more people world-wide than WWI, and killed almost as many soldiers as combat did. That is unimaginable today. Oh wait: Millennials are facing the possible death of our entire planet due to climate change. Yep, that’s pretty scary, too.
So…if we can sit with the discomfort, we can shift our thinking just a little, we can exchange judgment for insight. We can turn resentment into compassion. We can trade disappointment and the fear that no one wants our art, into creating a bridge between our experiences, and the younger generations coming up.
Stay tuned for more myth-busting next week!
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Why Aren't People Buying Our Artwork?