WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world
Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

And if they don’t, don’t worry, just keep doing what you love!

(6 minute read)

I’m sure last week’s post about why millennials don’t buy our art may have landed harshly for some. It can be hard to hear all the reasons why, especially if it’s our own attitude that gets in the way.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said, over and over: There’s rarely any art that is loved by everybody. Trying to please everyone, or even someone else, is not why we do what we do, nor why we make what we make.

We do it for ourselves first. There’s something in us that has to be in the world. Our job is to make it happen, and get it out there so others can experience it, too.

Most of the reasons we covered are physical: Younger generations haven’t achieved their peak earning level – yet. When they do, when they have discretionary income, they will be back.

Their houses may be smaller, too, if they even have a house. If, like my daughter, they’ve been collecting the work of other creatives for years (and have begun to pursue their own creative work), then there may not be room for grand-sized art.

And of course, the subject matter, matters. My own art collection (other than my own work!) ranges from a few still lifes to landscapes, abstracts to wildlife, and everything in between. What matters to me is if it speaks to me. And as I pointed out last week, if later learn the artist is a pretty nasty person, then that aura eventually overshadows the work, and I move it on. Hence, last week’s subject. (That doesn’t bother everyone, of course, but it’s actually one reason Vincent Van Gogh struggled to sell his work. His mental health issues sometimes made him a difficult person to deal with.)

So what does work for us moving forward?

Fortunately, many people generously offered insights into what works for them.

Prints and smaller works brought the price down, making art more affordable to younger people.

Some artists don’t frame their work. This can lower the price, and have the benefit of avoiding the hassle of a customer who loves the work but doesn’t like the frame. If you try this, make sure to finish the edges, though. A one-inch thick (or more) will look more finished if the edges are painted, either to match the painting itself or in a coordinating solid color.

Offering classes has always been a way to expand our income streams. If people are enchanted by our work, there are ways to teach that don’t encourage people to try to recreate our own unique body of work.

Teach and/or exhibit in unusual environments. In a recent blog postLearning to See, I shared my own experience in a one-evening painting workshop offered by a friend at a winery in New Hampshire. It was fun, we drank a lot of wine, and a good time was had by all.

Explore local attractions and events that often attracts crowds of all ages. Brainstorm with others about what linked connections could provide art-making and art-selling opportunities there.

Subject matter: One young artist I met painted children’s toys as still lifes. They were well done, and whimsical and playful in nature. I suggested they approach galleries near the high-tech areas in California, where young people with money and young families might snap them up.

On another note, as the manager of our local open studio tours in Sonoma County said a few months ago, “Art events aren’t about making money today!” Although great sales are wonderful, not every event will be successful, for us, for everyone, every time.

Art events are about making connections.

Open studios, exhibitions, art fairs, gallery presence, social media marketing, etc. All these are sharing what we love and why we love it. Even if people don’t buy, because of all the reasons people don’t buy our art, they may indeed “be back” down the road. I’ve had people watch my work for years before decided to take the leap. People who weren’t sure I was who I say I was, who finally came on board. People who couldn’t afford my work, but came back with friends who could. People who don’t necessarily go for what I make, but have purchased for loved ones who do.

When I meet younger people in my studio, they are allowed to get comfortable. They love that they can pick things up, ask “dumb” questions, and be met and treated with respect and courtesy.

I share what is unique about my work. I share how I got there. I share what I’ve written about it. I share the “why”.

The conversation doesn’t just center on me, either. At some point, especially when I can tell they just aren’t ready to buy, I turn the tables on them. I ask what their creative work is, and listen deeply.

If I can’t share my art with them by selling it to them, I can share parts of my journey that may make their own easier. I can validate their own individual interests, skills, sense of purpose, and their own unique journey.

By encouraging them to do the work of their heart, to make room for it in their lives even if they do something else for a living, it shows I see them as not just potential buyers, but as people. Real people, with their own life goals, their own journey, their own dreams and desires, fears and setbacks.

One of our responsibilities as artists is to “pay it forward”. I want everyone who leaves my studio to go with a renewed sense of joy and “what if?” I encourage them to come back if they need advice or just someone to listen to. When they share setbacks they’ve encountered in their own work, I try to share a name, or a book, or a solution that could help. After all, there were plenty of people who encouraged me to stay on my path. I want to do the same!

And even as I finish this series, I realize there are real opportunities for me to take my own advice. People are begging me for classes, and though they are a lot of work (and take away precious time from my own work), I know it will benefit me and them alike if I make that happen!

I hope if you’ve find an approach that helps you attract a younger audience, you’ll share in the comments below. Don’t worry about the “pie getting smaller” if everyone has a slice. When it comes to the work of our heart, the universe is pretty big, and the pie is infinite.

Oh, and please, no more negative comments on millennials! This entire series was to expand our thinking, and our hearts. To be open to kinder ways of being in the world. If I didn’t change your mind, that’s okay. We are all entitled to our opinions! But trash talk and negative thinking doesn’t help anyone, and shuts down the conversation.

Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world, so that the world can be a happier, more beautiful, more loving place, for ourselves, and for others.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

And your bonus for today, a comment left by a reader on Fine Art Views:

There was a panel discussion a week or so ago on this very topic at the Booth Western Art Museum’s Gala. Brad Richard, the owner of Legacy Gallery, and Tim Newton of Western Art and Architecture were among the panel members, and the discussion was led by Seth Hopkins the executive Director of the Booth Museum. I didn’t ask Seth about it, but I suspect the question might have been prompted by your blog. Anyway, the conclusion was “Don’t worry about it!”. if we think back to when we were the age of the Millennials, we weren’t buying much art either. Most people don’t begin to have much disposable income until their 50’s. The Millennials are busy finishing off their massive college loans, building careers, and growing families. Few are in a position to buy art! They will come around and we will see the market for quality art surge! Of course, the panel members admitted to trying to find ways to attract the Millennials now. The consensus was to keep educating and to keep on producing quality art. One very encouraging development is the resurgence of an appreciation for fine representational art. Art designed to lift the spirit rather than to match the sofa! Don’t sell the Millennials short! They will soon become very discerning buyers!

Posted by Michael Strickland · via fineartviews.com

 I’m so grateful Michael shared this, it reinforces everything I said in this series! Thank you, Michael!

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.

WHY AREN’T PEOPLE BUYING OUR ARTWORK?

It may not be what you think…

(3 minute read)

I spent most of the holidays visiting my daughter and her spouse on the east coast. We always have interesting conversations (in a good way) and this time was no exception.

One topic that came up was, why don’t millennials buy art? The list of reasons she gave was astonishing, and all of them made perfect sense. (Spoiler alert: Millennials DO buy art. Maybe just not OUR art.)

And there are lots of reasons why.

One of my New Year’s Intention (I’m giving up on “resolutions”) is to write shorter more articles in series, breaking up a topic into a series of points. We’ll see how long that lasts, because my style is my own, and I’m not ashamed of that. You either have five or six minutes to enjoy my journey to clarity, or you don’t.

Still, this topic is worth expanding upon, and I’d like you to participate.

In the comments below, please list your opinion about why people—but especially millennials, defined as younger adults from who were born between 1981-1996 (age 23 to 38 in 2019) are not buying our work. I’ll answer as many as I can, and share the reasons I’ve discovered, in columns to come.

Do you believe they don’t appreciate “real art” over something found at Target? Share it in the comments!

And a small request: Ask with an open heart, and a willingness to expand your understanding. That way, we can all move forward with insights that could help us all.

Also, keep your heart protected, because some of the insights will be hard to hear. None of them are directed to any of us personally. My intention is not to make anyone feel bad, but to increase our understanding of the reality of a lot of millennials today, and having compassion for the straits many of them are in. (#NotAllMillennials  etc.)

So as not to keep your hanging (too much), I share one reason (out of many) why the market for my own more expensive work has fallen off:

Most of people who originally collected my bigger, more expensive work were older than I, and several have already died. Or they’re still here, but they’ve downsized their home, and have no more room for more art.

We’ve experienced this ourselves. Moving from New Hampshire to California did this to us. We’ve already had to move to a new rental in the five years we’ve been here, and each new home has been smaller than the one we had before it. We’ve gone from a 2,500+sf home to 980sf. (We’re not retired, as one reader inquired, that’s all we can afford here in California. Plus we’re renting, AND we own three cats and a dog, so we’re lucky we even found a place to rent. Ouch!)

I simply have no more wall space for new art. There isn’t room for half the art I already own!

Hold this in your heart: The deepest, most powerful reason for making our art is that it gets us to our highest, best place in the world. It heals us.

Everything else is gravy.

Another spoiler alert: Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out this book preview titled KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. If nothing else, it will help explain “OK Boomer”.

My favorite? People my age constantly complain that “young people today” are on their phones all the time. Do you know what they’re doing?

They are reading. Articles. Columns. News. Letters, long (blog posts or Facebook posts) and short (texts and other instant messaging from friends and family.) Listening to music. Watching videos and movies. Doing research.

You know what tech innovations older people have complained about for the last three thousand years? Claiming that these “new inventions” are destroying human society?

Books. Newspapers. Radio. Hi-fi. Equality for women, people of color, people of “questionable” or “unacceptable” gender. Resentment against Italian and Irish immigrants. Celebrating Christmas with gift-giving and festive trees. Dancing. Moving pictures (aka “movies”.) Umbrellas and chess.

Enough! Post your “reasons why millennials don’t buy art” below, and check in next week.

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.