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 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.