The Fascinating Generation Z

The Fascinating Generation Z

The Fascinating Generation Z

Published on ArtPremium Magazine Winter 2020 in the “We Believe in” section

The youth are the future. In a world of changing political and social times, we are amongst a field of dynamic discourse and developing the new world around us… our new technological world. Technology’s labyrinth is at the crux of our modern world and the defining point of Generation Z.

 

Generation Z

 Leonard Suryaja

Generation Z is a name that has been floating around since the early part of the 2000s period as there came a need to characterize a new generation of people who were moving and acting in ways that were just beginning to be defined. They are the generation born between 1995 and 2015 and the front-runners of the new technological era. Born amid the internet and social media boom and growing up with names like Zuckerberg and household brands like Apple—they are more connected than any other generation has ever been. They form fast and spanning worldwide connections with the web and (thus) are highly influenced by the world around them. Thus, they are highly tuned to diversity through their connections and exposures via the web, and the new world and identities around them. Through their connection, their empathic senses are highly ingrained in their consciousness; and they are highly-exposed to the visual with platforms like Instagram and Tumblr at the center of their communication pathways, they are extremely visually oriented, lucratively creative, and uniquely artistic. The shift of interest in Generation Z and younger artists, in general, can be seen all over the art world—from the “young” focus at the Whitney Biennial, New Museum’s Younger Than Jesus show to FOAM Amsterdam’s yearly Talent Call and accompanying exhibitions. 

“The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” In the likeness of the words of the prolific writer James Baldwin, ArtPremium seeks to create the space for the artists of Generation Z in this issue and further on. Much like them, their art does not fit—it is new, beguiling, and beats against the currents of banality. Generation Z art is influenced by the world around them and history. It then becomes a large and varying spectrum—revisiting history and using the technology’s advancements.

“It is not our differences that divide us,” says Audre Lorde in a discourse on the American black experience in the 1980s in a collection of her works titled: Our Dead Behind Us. Much like the statement, the art of this generation is completely varying and is highly thematic. Major themes are centered around topics like identity—regarding gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality—and reflections on the art periods, such as cubism, abstract expressionism, and the art of postmodernism in general. Generation Z art also has a tendency to reflect and critically call upon the world and social situations around it—thus the birth of Catastrophe Media collective. Angela Riccardi and Josie Strick in New York started the collective and its 100% sustainably made magazine. The group seeks to highlight stories and issues faced on a personal level by individuals, and convey those issues and how they project into larger social, political, and environmental narratives. Where Generation Z differs distinctly comes to their access to technology and their utilisation of it as an art medium, with developments like augmented reality, and museums dedicated to developmental and experimental digital art, like teamlab Borderless Tokyo. 

Taylore Withe’s Other Side of the Cage (2017) is a perfect introduction into the world of Generation-Z digital art. Withe fabricates and creates digital realities and realms with photography to create surreal, alternate landscapes and also utilises virtual reality as an empathic device. In Other Side of the Cage, Withe places the viewer in the existential crisis of a polar bear, and relies on VR as an empathic machine, and immerses viewers into a crisis paralleling the ones seen today in the world around us. The surrealism of the work parallels that of John Yuyi’s Consumerism (2019). The surrealism Yuyi utilises of consumerist logos and language as temporary tattoos on her physical body reflects the pressing conversation on social media among Generation Z on the current state of consumerism. Yuyi’s work, albeit primarily on social media, serves as a sort of phenomenon while also serves as an anti-propaganda device against the mainstream.

There is a particularized focus on diversity in Generation-Z art never before seen in the generations of artists preceding them. The topic of identity is something that not only cannot be avoided in this generation’s art, but also completely and whole-heartedly embraced. Not only do artists make work related to their identities, like race, gender, sexuality, and religion—Generation-Z art viewers are also equally as invested in the identities of artists. Generation Z is highly attuned to the topic of representation and misrepresentation in art, and has made it a forerunning task to make sure this is not only prioritised but upheld. This sort of focus on identities can be seen in Leonard Surajaya’s work. Surajaya, while a certain amount of years outside of Generation Z, is an influential artist to the demographic. With Surajaya’s complex and elaborate tableaux of family pictures of his own family and loved ones, he complicates questions of identities, and raises critical questions through his staging and creating his photographs—layered with varying patterns, colors, and poses.

American author, bell hooks, speaks of the academy as the most radical space of possibility in the academy in her famous book Teaching to Transgress. This generation of artists continually proves that through the art they produce, that is, as art students. Unlike almost any other generation, this generation’s attendance in art schools and art-related majors in university is unparalleled. With powerhouses in New York, London, Shanghai, the rate at which institutions are pushing out young artists who start their post-graduation art careers shortly after graduation is very fast. Thus, the saturation of young artists now seen in galleries and museums worldwide is astounding and undeniably prominent. Even further than that, the nuances around artists who have received their various Bachelors and Masters of Fine Arts in their various fields and the weight it carries in terms of respectability are also growing. This is becoming highly influential, and shapes the art we see in museums, galleries, and art curations. In this art environment, when going to any contemporary art museum or gallery, not only are you seeing a collection of artists and their art, you are seeing who has access to institutions and certain styles. The rippling effects of this major shift cannot be ignored when discussing the imminent major change of the art market. Young artists’ exposure, maturity, refinement, and the art world in general now are not something to be reached years and years later in careers, but to be molded and weaved into the very fabric of their academic experience and carried out immediately in work after graduation from these institutions. 

All these aspects of Generation-Z art are not seen alone; they combine and they are what create the art of this generation. However, what carries this art? What is the vessel that takes these aspects, blends them into their respective forms, and shows them to the outside world? When we look at art history and past art trends, art’s vessel is the salon, or the gallery, museum, or art space;and it is on this topic where perhaps Generation Z possesses its most interesting and influential factor – its vessel is social media. Social media has created a special space and also subtype of an artist, unique to Generation Z. Artists now use apps, like Instagram, as a kind of visual CV; using images as graphic proof of their accomplishments and activities. It also becomes a personal curation space where artists publish and share their work, and via the platform, can reach people including gallerists, curators, collectors, and general audiences at an alarming rate. The number of young artists rising to prominence through using Instagram is so evident that even older generation artists have caught on and made use of the platform as well. 

It’s clear that Generation Z is moving in more ways than one; laterally, upwards and in a sense medially—towards a common pulse. Perhaps what draws together the art of this generation most accurately is the empathy that is felt throughout their work. This is a generation that craves to feel, to critically analyze, so as to synthesize experiences through art. Their work is beginning to break into the walls of institutions worldwide and furthermore the idea of who gets to be seen as an artist. When not on institutional walls, they continue to break and blur barriers through social media, books, and every other medium imaginable. There is no end to Generation Z’s mind and how they manifest themselves. Their passion is felt, and at the root of their passion is a creativity that is burning profusely into the art scene. They demand to be heard and seen, and now more than ever, use this voice to do the one thing that is at the core of why Generation Z was named so—to connect. As the age of people who grew up in the age of connectivity, that same desire can be felt in their core reasonings in becoming an artist and the myriads of ideas these artists possess.

Artists on the Rise: the Awakening

Artists on the Rise: the Awakening

Artists on the Rise: the Awakening

Published on ArtPremium Magazine Winter 2020 in the “We Believe in” section

We live in an absolutely remarkable period of time, in which discoveries, technological advances, systems of realizations, and, evidently, the materialistic formation of thoughts and creation are evolving at a never-before-seen speed.

This first quarter of the century and millennium reveals itself to be the demonstration of a new era, one in which there is a constant generator of individuals and artists, who are daring each other to challenge codes and achievements, combining the influence of various currents of thoughts. 

Generation Z (sometimes known as Generation C for Communication, Collaboration, Connection, and Creativity), which saw daylight at the end of the 90s, is in constant interaction with its environment. They benefit from the velocity of distorted communication through social media, are exigent, and search for authenticity. They are better equipped than their parents, are ultra-connected, and drowning in information.

One could certainly speak of phenomenology as the structure of lived experiences and consciousness, which we find through the youth’s constant creation. With the use and influence of photography and filmography, traditional painting has become more figurative and narrative through time.

The number of art schools is constantly multiplying in the world, and most particularly in countries that witness a flourishing economy before their eyes. Parents of today are no longer negligent to their children’s aspirations, contrary to what they could have been in previous generations. 

To access knowledge and the results of experiences, artists from previous generations had to fend for themselves through books, studying, and even encounters. Generation Z’s art students have been facing a level of maturity starting from the youngest of ages as they get to benefit from immediate interactions and globalization at the touch of a button. Open communication is at hands’ reach for Generation Z through instant exchanges. 

We are now evidently the witnesses of a radical change in the history of contemporary art. ArtPremium felt its need to devote an issue and propose an open call selection of undergraduate and graduate art students. This selection would be considered as delicate as the materialistic space of a single magazine would not be a big enough space to prove just how intricately Generation Z are expanding their artistic potential individually.

This open space to Generation Z will allow us to escort young artists’ international careers and access to private and public institutions, all the while visualizing new figures in the contemporary art world.

 

Corinne Timsit

Postgraduate Opportunities for Artists

Postgraduate Opportunities for Artists

Postgraduate Opportunities for Artists

Published on ArtPremium Magazine Winter 2020.

The opportunities available to artists beyond the classroom can be endless, depending on the will and determination of the artist. Where traditional paths may have in the past seemed more difficult to find success, many postgraduate young artists are now turning towards accessible platforms of social media, in order to open doors for membership in the elite art-world establishment. 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby - Postgraduate

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nasher, 2013, oil on canvas

The path of “the struggling artist” is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when considering postgraduate careers in the business world. However, when young artists, such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, CJ Hendry, and Ken Nwadiogbu, are able to sell their art for prices ranging from $1000 to $3 million, the romantic vision of the struggling artist is replaced by a sexier image of a financially independent, rock-star artist. As in any other business, developing a successful career as an artist demands time and persistence. There are no “off days”, since the work of an artist is her identity, and cannot be set aside at the end of a workday. A certain level of training is also usually involved, after which an artist must promote her work and introduce it to the world. While many websites and books may offer guides as to how to develop an artistic career, the young artists of today are turning towards non-traditional avenues in order to find opportunities to which they may not have had access 30 years ago. Today, young artists are creating their own opportunities.

Instinctively, the first step in pursuing the path of a professional artist is to apply for art school. There are many reasons why someone would want to do this, including access to a network of art industry experts who may not be easily accessible to the artist otherwise. Another reason may be to jump-start an artistic career through a guided program that offers exhibition opportunities, regular critiques, and mentorship. An art school is a nurturing environment for a new artist to experiment and test ideas before implementing them in the outside world. It is a place where artists can benefit from ample studio space, the feedback of their peers, and a community of like-minded individuals. Once graduation looms around, artists must come to face the reality that they will need to actively seek out their new community, and also implement the tools they easily had access to while at university. Rather than get fed information about upcoming artist competitions, grants, or exhibitions, graduate artists will need to take the reign of their own future and find these opportunities through their own initiatives. 

There are several options that will lead an artist, post-graduation, towards a successful career, and all of them involve relationship-building: If the artist is social, networking may come easily, and she will benefit from the in-person interactions that may lead to studio visits, commissions, direct sales, or an introduction to an influential contact; an introverted artist may find more success through online promotion and marketing of her work; a lucky artist will find a patron to champion her work and connect her to other influential art collectors; and most desirable of all is for the patron to be a cultural gatekeeper, such as an art dealer, who can open doors for her in the elite world of art market influencers. 

In Nigeria, parents do not particularly consider the visual art field as a career opportunity, and generally tend to encourage their children towards professions that are more science- or technically focused, especially if they are smart. Perhaps this is why Njideka Akynyili Crosby originally attempted a more conventional path in medicine, yet turned to art when she was denied acceptance to the school of her choice. Two years after graduating with honors from Swarthmore College, she went on to earn a post-baccalaureate certificate from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where her teachers had a tremendous impact on her and made her realize that this was the life she wanted and could have. Between her certificate and her subsequent MFA degree from Yale University, Crosby was the recipient of the 2009 Coverley-Smith Prize from the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, as well as the 2010 Gamblin Painting Prize from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. As a student at Yale’s MFA program, she was also accepted for a residency in New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, and it is there where her career began to really take off. From this point on, prizes, grants, residencies, and speaking engagements flowed regularly in her direction, and by the time she made her debut at one of the most well-known international art fairs, Art Basel Miami Beach, Crosby’s work was selling out at $50,000 apiece. 

Now, Njideka Akynyili Crosby’s work is in such high demand, that her paintings are selling at over $3 million at auction, and galleries are selling straight to museums. In Crosby’s case, her development as an artist after graduation was propelled by her unique story, and her ability to tell that story. Enrolling in continuous art programs that included residencies allowed her to produce more work, and create more opportunities for her to exhibit.

In contrast to Crosby’s journey as an artist, which includes the traditional art education to gallery representation, some talented artists are opting to go directly to the collectors and bypassing the traditional gatekeepers entirely. This approach has created opportunities that have never before been possible, allowing the masses to create “instant” celebrities rather than having certain individuals create them through strategic marketing. One artist who has gained significant success through individual promotion and social media platforms is CJ Hendry. Similar to Crosby, Hendry attempted a different, more accepted path before turning to art. However, she dropped out of architecture school when she realized it wasn’t for her, and then after taking a shot at finance school, dropped out of that as well. In both cases, art was what they turned to when they realized that a career in art was what they were most passionate about. 

CJ Hendry - Postgraduate

CJ Hendry, via Instagram

For Hendry, the tipping point for her success was when she made her first sale through Instagram in 2012, the same year that Crosby was a resident at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Crosby went the most established, traditional route, while Hendry took the more accessible route, taking advantage of today’s technology to brand herself and her work. A NY Times article published this year on CJ Hendry depicted her as someone who, despite achieving artistic fame, was still searching to be accepted by the art world. It is difficult to know which strategy for career development is best, but ultimately it comes down to the artist’s goals. Hendry has no gallery representation, stages her own shows, has yet to see any of her works in a museum collection, but has a 1500-people-long waitlist for her work that always sells out. Crosby, on the other hand, has sold out gallery shows, where her collectors have mainly been museums, such as the Tate and the Whitney, and her work is in such demand that it circulates through auction houses that sell her work for millions of dollars.  

Ken Nwadiogbu is another rising star from Nigeria, who began his artistic journey at engineering school. Finding time in between classes as he completed his engineering degree at Nwadiogbu would express his creativity through drawing. As a product of the Millennial generation, he grew up well-versed in the marketing power of Instagram and has been able to use this platform to display his work and gain the attention of people in the art world. In terms of career development, Nwadiogbu is a bit of a hybrid of Crosby’s and Hendry’s paths. Similar to Hendry, he is not formally trained, yet has immense technical skill. He is also open to gallery representation, although his self-promotion so far has made it unnecessary; he has been able to break out into the art scene through the accessible platforms of social media and has used the platform to reach a network of influencers and tastemakers on his own. 

Ken Nwadiogbu - Postgraduate

Ken Nowadiogby, The Value of Nothing, 2018-2019, charcoal and paper collage on canvas

Unlike Hendry, however, Nwadiogbu has not financed his own solo shows but has relied on relationships to help promote his work and curate his drawings in both group and solo exhibitions that bring his physical work outside of Africa. One particular advantage of using Instagram to publicize his work is that he is able to control his messaging and use the platform to voice his opinions on socio-political structures in his country. Had he attempted the more traditional route, he may not have had this kind of control.

The career opportunities for graduates looking into developing as professional artists are abundant, and thanks to social media, very accessible. Regardless of social media and real-world connections, however, the truth is that without initiative, persistence, and determination, opportunities will not materialize.