(this article was first published in The Huffington Post)
I’m proud to be born somewhere in-between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I believe they call it the generation X. Based on statistics from the hot of the press report ‘American Attitudes Towards Art’ carried out by Invaluable, it looks like I have benefited from the social habits of both worlds. I’m a traditionally trained fine artist that has had to develop a passion for the mobile digital medium. And as you’ll find out, this has its benefits.
The results of this eye-opening survey suggest that If you were born before 1965 you are more likely to be digitally challenged but could enjoy a three hour trek around an art museum or gallery in the conventional sense before deciding to purchase a unique piece of art. Conceived after 1982 and you’ll have a tendency suffer from what I’d call “digital impatience” and understandably seek out more efficient, accessible and excitingly visual ways of collecting, appreciate and buying art online.
I hear the ‘Baby Boomers’ parroting the age old phrase, “what is this new generation coming to!”, in response to the infuriating way the youth of today experience the world through smart phones and tablets as opposed to savouring the tangible experience.
The way Millennials behave is different but let’s not be naive, their experience is not better or worse than their predecessors, it’s just unique. If I’m really honest with myself, my 16 year old daughter experiences the world in a much more complex way than I ever did in my teens. She still takes advantage of the many opportunities to experience her environment in a tangible way. However, a significant part of her social time is spent expertly exploring, recording, sifting through and sharing the sea of information she is bombarded with from online sources.
Before I became a full-time artist. I was head of art for 12 years in a cutting edge inner London school. My ultimate mission was to encourage a diverse selection of children from 11 to 18 to learn the skills needed in making and appreciating art. And many of these children are now young Millennials.
For some time I struggled to understand why these inquisitive teenagers were often left cold following our regular visits to the latest museum or gallery exhibition. On reflection, I realise that the experience was often influenced by the attitude towards art taken by the very curators who put the shows on. And they were not necessarily taking into account the way our younger generations behaved.
It wasn’t long before I recognized the problem and incidentally the solution. My student’s inability to appreciate art in these circumstances was not because of their lack of creativity or feeling. The answer lied in there social habits. Obvious you might say. Well not to the vast majority of schools and educational institutions of the time.
The digital medium in the form of smart phones and tablets had become imbedded in the way the younger generation experienced art. For these young people the experience of finding something they were inspired by was not an isolated one as in my parent’s era. For Millennials the joy of experiencing art was tied-up in the act of sharing it with their peers.
I recount a trip to Paris where students surprised me by insisting we make the somewhat complicated trek through the Louvre, with it’s labyrinth of identical rooms, in search of the famous Mona Lisa. Even before we arrived, the discussion around it’s value and mystery had become more of a focus of interest to them than the actual physical masterpiece.
And you can probably guess what happened once we were faced with the Leonardo’s painting in person. Yes, no less than 30 minutes of intense selfies that were shared instantly with friends and family back home. I had no choice but to take my own selfie with Mona and it was the talking point all the way back to our hotel.
The point I’m really making is that we can’t expect the new generation who have grown up with different social habits, to get excited by art in the same way as we did (GEN X and Baby Boomers).
By adopting the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ attitude and taking interest in the digital medium as a creative learning tool, I thought I might get a better response. Well there has been no turning back for me. Using tablets in the class room was an instant success and before long, students were independently building online journals of artworks using applications such as Pinterest and getting excited by exploring, discussing and sharing their experiences from recently discovered cave paintings to Damien Hirst’s sheep in formaldehyde.
No surprise then that after leaving the teaching profession to focus on developing my own career as a full-time professional artist, coach and writer, the results of the Invaluable survey resonated with me. In my last Huffington Post article on how ‘Emerging Technology Enables Serious Collectors to Buy and Sell Original Digital Art Securely’, I pointed out that “there can be little doubt over the potential of the mobile digital medium as a major contender in the future of the arts industry”.
My online social media presence, including the ability to build my own following and to share the process of my work along with the final outcomes I create, is going to be key in ensuring future sales from the next generation of collectors. And although galleries and museums will still play an important role in supporting artists, they too are realising that their survival will depend on the social media habits that are revolutionising the way art is being experienced and bought.
“There has never been a more critical time for our industry to prepare and execute digital strategies that engage, inspire and capture the next generation of art buyers — Millennials.”
Rob Weisberg, Invaluable CEO