Art reflects the joys and anxieties of the times, so this month we got to wondering what millennial artists have to tell us. We know they’re coming of age in a politically charged and economically uncertain world. And, like the generations before them, they want to skip the mistakes their parents and grandparents made and change the world. But in an era of fast-moving politics and even faster-evolving technology, how will millennials make their mark?
Living in limbo.
Just as millennials started coming of age the economy took a plunge, so their experiences as adults thus far are characterised — more than anything — by a sense of uncertainty. The New York Times called them “a generation in limbo,” waiting for the economy to re-stabilise. In England, the feeling of career and financial uncertainty became even more intense with the last year’s Brexit vote, when older generations overruled a strong millennial preference to stick with the EU.
While they wait for their career prospects to improve, a lot of young people are settling for jobs without much of a path ahead, living with their parents, and taking more time than past generations to attain financial stability. When The New York Times talked to young college grads about the situation, Amy Klein told them how her fellow Harvard classmates were managing. “They are thinking more in terms of creating their own kinds of life that interests them, rather than following a conventional idea of success and job security,” she explained.
For Amy, this meant joining a touring punk rock band. For others it means volunteering to find meaningful work, or exploring their artistic talents. We hope this is a silver lining — that millennials with the time and inclination to cultivate their creativity and find their voices will push the art world in unexpected, exciting new directions.
Reflecting a fractured zeitgeist.
Of course, finding your voice isn’t easy, and these are complicated times. Consider Eric Yahnkers, whose art draws on pop culture to ask deliberately uncomfortable questions about racism, sexism, and elitism. Eric recently talked to Vice about his work, and how hard it is for millennials and Gen X-ers to navigate their places in a politically-charged moment:
“My recent work centers on the current neo-progressive sociopolitical zeitgeist, and maybe more specifically a group of predominantly white, educated, middle-to-upper-middle-class millennials and gen x-ers caught in a clumsy limbo of wanting to join the battle for sweeping social reform and equality, while desperately trying to shed the stigma of their own perceived privilege and ancestral ties to cringe-worthy conduct. It’s an inner-negotiation that often leads to awkward bouts of overcompensation and inadvertent ignorance and discrimination,” he says.
In his art, Yahnkers puts familiar pop-culture icons in the context of current political debates. For example, his drawing “Purple Lives Matter” is an image of Prince, astride a motorcycle, wearing his purple velvet suit and familiar, mysterious gaze, but to the sides are police officers holding him at gunpoint.
“This piece was one that made me a bit uncomfortable,” Eric told Vice. “The piece obviously addresses the ‘Black Lives Matter’ versus ‘All Lives Matter’ paradigm, which has become a symbol or dog whistle to identify detractors to the cause, open and closeted bigots… Prince is the perfect hue of purple to firmly entrench the message in the confusing space between empowerment and ignorance.”
If it’s uncomfortable, turn it upside down.
Among the creative trends we’re watching is the millennials’ refusal to let the status quo go unquestioned. Take, for example, the new app Beme, which lets users capture and post short videos — but they can’t review or edit the videos before they go live. It’s part of a larger movement to deconstruct the hyper-curated world of social media. According to Beme’s creator Casey Neistat, “Truth is so much more interesting than the fiction we’re used to.”
In a similar vein, Wanted Design recently created a pop-up art installation, DataCafé.biz to question our relationship to our personal data. Rather just accepting that corporations collect and sell information about us, Data Café highlights the transaction by parodying a blood donation. Users receive internet access and cookie in exchange for their data, along with a thought-provoking sticker that says, “I gave data today.”
A month in limbo.
Keep following us on the blog this month as we look at more of the ways young designers are expressing themselves, and a world, in limbo. We’ll ask them how they manage fast-changing creative tools, when they decide to try new trends, and when they decide to go their own way. And be sure to visit this month’s gallery of curated stock about being caught in limbo .