Is There A Millennial Art Movement?

Art is a defining part of any era. The art of the time in many ways represents its zeitgeist and is instrumental in understanding its social, political and cultural themes.

The famous art movements of impressionism, cubism and abstract art  have both reflected and influenced societies of the time. But, in a time of rapid change and massive division, what art movement or movements define this era and the millennial generation? 

A report last year by Art Market Guru found that millennials pursue art due to “an appreciation for aesthetics, and a desire for self-expression.” In other words, it’s important for millennials to interpret their personalities through art rather than just buying what is popular or considered to be ‘good art.’ They want to make this decision for themselves. It was also discovered that over 90% of art collectors from this generation are predominantly interested in contemporary art pieces and 78% of millennial art collectors from America buy online.

But who are the artists whose work millennials are buying? Or perhaps it’s better to ask; what influences millennials and how do artists reflect this when creating work? Many young people use the internet and social media as a way of showcasing and appreciating artwork which is why immersive art is so popular right now - it looks good on your Instagram story. Installation artist Uzumaki Cepeda has over 100 thousand followers on her Instagram page which displays striking images of her vivid and bright furry designs. Immersive artist Yayoi Kusana is famous for her dot print installations and works across sculpture, film, performance and drawing. Immersion and installation are exciting ways of experiencing art at a time when consumers are concerned with art that is ‘Instagrammable.’

Likewise, digital art, which is also largely consumed on social media is an inspiring new branch of modern art and recent steps in technology have made way for experimenting with this type of art. Using computer technology to generate images was obviously going to happen at some point and modern platforms like Tumblr have even been likened to the Dada art movement. 

Similar to social media, celebrities and pop culture also influences the art that millennials enjoy and consume. Andy Warhol helped to implement our obsession with celebrity and expressed it through art. We’ve been following ever since. In his 2002 book, ‘Art and Celebrity,’ John A. Walker explores how “global culture is now dominated by celebrities” and how artists contribute to the cult of celebrity while simultaneously critiquing it. He also mentions how artists themselves have become celebrities. Modern artists including Miriam Carothers, Michael Pellew and Mr Sly all use imagery referencing celebrity culture in their artworks.

Being more aware of environmental catastrophes and inequality and discrimination has also affected millennials consumption habits. Art is no exception. Art for social good is like protest. It can inspire people to make positive changes or at least bring awareness to real issues. John Holcroft is an illustrator who uses satire to create works that depict the ugly side of society and the truths that for too long, we’ve denied. ‘Stop Telling Women To Smile’ is an art mural painted by New York City artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh as a powerful reminder of the sexist, shameful and scary street harassment that women face daily. 

Plastic Jesus produces street graffiti that speaks on social injustices and highlight themes including the refugee crisis, homelessness and the lows of celebrity culture. In 2016, the street artist gained notoriety for placing a miniature wall around Donald Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. Kameelah Janan Rasheed is a Brooklyn-based artist who works across many disciplines. She produces work that highlights themes of trauma, racial injustice and brings to light the hidden narratives of those who struggle the most in society.

Perhaps the weariness of the state of the world highlighted in the millennial art movement also triggers nostalgia. In art, this trend has been described as “a growing movement” that is “turning its gaze back half a century or so, to what now seem like quieter, purer, cleaner times” by The Financial Times. In the article, the writer was speaking on the art world’s current interest in re-discovering artists of the past (some living, some dead) and showcasing their work to new audiences. However, this trend is also seen in work by new artists who reference times gone by. An aesthetic influenced by 90s graphic design can be seen in the vibrant and vivid, immersive works of artist Alex Da Corte and photographer Floyd P. Stanley induces ‘80s nostalgia through his striking photographs of cassette tapes from that decade. 

Above all, the millennial art movement is defined by consuming art in pursuit of showcasing self-identity. Whether that be your personal style, the causes that you care about or dear childhood memories. Millennials are concerned with celebrity culture and social media just as much as they are with social and political issues. All of this fuses together to create art that speaks to one of the most diverse generations yet.

Tali Ramsey is a UK based writer.