WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

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.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!

What do vocation, avocation, and amateur have in common? Artists. Period.

(5 minute read)

Continuing with my series on why people (millennials, but maybe other age groups, too?) don’t buy our art.

Thank you for leaning in on this series. So far we’ve covered the realities of this age group’s finances, home size (e.g., can they afford one, or have a small one?), how dissing the younger generations has been a thing for thousands of years, and why, if they really don’t have an appreciation for real art, it isn’t their fault.

Some of the comments revealed that some millennials DO have an appreciation for art. The artist either incidentally developed a style that appeals to millennials, or they simply don’t like our aesthetic, or they love it and can’t afford it. In fact, their strategies matched my own in my youth: They buy it from antique stores or thrift shops, or trade their own work for someone else’s. Or, if they are fortunate to have an artist for a parent, they will treasure that work. (Note that one commenter has three children of millennial age, and all three vary in their approach to art.)

But other comments built a case that very few people understand a) the importance of “real art”, nor b) appreciate what goes into “real art.”

Young people don’t understand the importance of composition, the artist’s chosen medium, technique, etc. They believe this is a massive change in our culture.

That is probably true. But is it really a “massive change”?

And if it is, so what?

First, there is no magic period in history where everyone treasured “real art”. For hundreds (thousands??) of years in Europe, there wasn’t even a middle class. People were “nobles” who could afford almost anything, and there were serfs, laborers, people who had skills but worked for a noble family, aka “peasantry.” Depending on which continent you lived on, a “middle class” didn’t develop until at least the 1700’s in Europe, and the early 1800’s in America.

As cities grew and industrialization spread, people in the trades expanded their audience outside of patronage by a lord (or pope, in the case of Michelangelo.) They were not as wealthy as nobility, but they had discretionary income.

As for art education, even public schools were only in place much later:

“When Horace Mann launched the public school movement in the 1830s and 1840s, he argued that public education would make the people better workers, and that drawing, which he wanted to include in the curriculum, had commercial applications.”

Did you catch the primary benefit?

To make people better workers. Ow.

So people who appreciate “real” art, outside of rich and famous people, is a relatively new thing.

My thoughts:

1)   What is the value of “real art”?

Jason Horjes came to the rescue on this one, in his recent post, about his favorite response for potential customers who want to know the investment value of art:

“I encourage collectors to buy art because they love it. If you buy a piece that you love, it will pay dividends to you every day for the rest of your life!”

2)  What is “real art”?

Real art. When that comes to mind, what do you see?

Painting? Sculpture, maybe? Starting in Greece, maybe, around 1000 BC.? (If memory serves, the Lascaux cave might have been considered beautiful, but not art-for-art’s-sake, as it was believed to be “hunting magic.” And the chapter following that in my art history texts was pretty small until we hit the Greeks.)

Now, painting. Acrylic paint? Or just oil paint? When acrylic paint showed up, it was denounced as “not real paint”, and considered inferior to oils. Drawing (cave art, anyone?) and watercolor (created in the late 18th c.) have always been considered not as valuable, though the Masters used them, too. Cave art is also “just chalk”, so pastels are considered further down on the scale of value. So, our current assessment of the value of a medium is not based on history or age.

Sculpture? As I’ve said many times, stone and cast bronze are easy winners. But a potter told me years ago, “If I create a clay sculpture, it’s considered “craft”. If I have it cast in bronze, it’s considered “real art.”

Last, some comments on the introduction to this series spoke negatively to the practice of “young people today” buying “cheap, shlocky reproductions and prints” from places like Ikea and Target.

Most of that artwork starts out as work by real people. They’ve found a way to make either work that appeals to a wide variety of people, or they’ve been willing to work with these companies to sell mass copies of their original work.

Does that make them “less than” a real artist?

Or just someone who’s very savvy about creating a different income stream for their work?

And sometimes these monolith companies find ways to work with local artists in ways that benefit both. Just like most of us, young people may collect massively produced artwork editions until they can afford, or appreciate, the unique appeal of original art.

3)  Why do we expect people to understand it on every level?

I am not knowledgeable about many forms of art, because I never practiced them. I didn’t practice them because they didn’t “fit” with how I work. I have bought art without even know what the medium is, I know people whose pastels and colored pencil works are astonishing, much better than some more-respected media. They are just as hard to master, and even harder to sell at a good price.  And in all my years of studying art history, I never saw a “quality chart” on medium.

I also value work not based on its medium, but on whether it resonates with me. Is it a subject matter I care about? Is it an artist I care about, that I can support (in a small way) with my purchase? (I can’t afford work above a certain price range, and I have no more room for big art.) Is it for a cause I care about? Does it fill in spaces in my collection?

As for whether everybody “should” value our work, here’s my reality:

Creative work of all kinds have an audience. And yet that work may not appeal to everybody.

I do not appreciate restoration and collection (curating??) of antique cars. Cool? Yeah. But not my thing. And not for a lot of other people, too. But it’s still “real”.

I love music. Almost everybody loves music. But not everyone appreciates the music I like, and I don’t appreciate “all music”. I’m betting neither do you. (Don’t worry, I’m not going there today!) :^D

I love to read. But I may not like the same authors, topics, genres, etc. that you do. In fact, some people don’t even like to read. I may not understand it, but I know that’s true.

And that’s okay.

To avoid reader burn-out, the rest of this article will appear next week, continuing the discussion about whether millennials appreciate “real art” and “real artists”.

In the meantime, as always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com.