The Millennial artist


Dear Artist,

A subscriber who signed off as “Over The Hill Portrait Artist” wrote, “You must be one of those Millennials, they don’t think like we mature artists.”


A work in progress by 32 year-old Australian portraitist Joshua Miels

Thanks, O.T.H.P.A. Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000. While this rules me out, 80 million are in America alone — the largest age group in history — and many are artists. In a recent article for Time magazine, Joel Stein describes a calm-looking anxious person checking a smart phone hourly and sending and receiving about 80 texts per day. This is apparently a kind of stress-reducing tick caused by a dependence on praise and a fear of missing out: “FOMO,” for short. According to psychologists, this constant search for a hit of dopamine interferes with creativity. Have you ever tried to paint while unwrapping a Kit Kat?

Results of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking show children’s creativity scores increasing steadily between 1966 and the mid-1980s. By 1998, however, things had started to nosedive. Popular opinion says the abundance of screens are to blame, including the resulting plummet of face- and empathy-time. But before elders congratulate themselves on classic techniques, let’s consider the new-idea-potential for a generation with precedent-setting access to information, lightning-speed communication, individual empowerment and an abundance of choice.


Done Dirt Cheap
I was always artistic and loved art at school, but I decided to do graphic design as a career so that I could be creative and earn money… at the time I didn’t feel like art would enable me to do that. (Joshua Miels)

Here are some Millennial ideas:

Be optimistic, practical and comfortable working within the system while tinkering at better solutions. Millennials are informed, pragmatic idealists.

Be leaderless and institution-wary. One-third of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated free thinkers, the highest in history.

Choose experiences over material goods. Millennials carry less debt than any other generation. You can even move in with your parents — and get along with them, too.

Temper passion with contemplation. Millennials think, think, think before they do, do, do. They share the process and invite feedback.

Take your stardom into your own hands, and eschew the herd. According to social historian Christopher Lasch, it’s not very “Millennial” to accept the banality of everyday existence.

Don’t call! (Text instead.)


I feel like I’m still trying to look for something new in the way I’m trying to paint. I haven’t settled on a style where I know the process from how I get from A to B. (Joshua Miels)



PS: “They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one. The Industrial Revolution made individuals far more powerful – they could move to a city, start a business, read and form organizations. The information revolution has further empowered individuals by handing them the technology to compete against huge organizations: hackers vs. corporations, bloggers vs. newspapers, terrorists vs. nation-states, YouTube directors vs. studios, app-makers vs. entire industries. Millennials don’t need us. That’s why we’re scared of them.” (Joel Stein)

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” (Robert F. Kennedy)

Esoterica: The Millennial artists I know are inquiring, serious, informed and unafraid to ask for help. They aspire to global standards of excellence, feel entitled to compensation for their ideas, and believe in a level playing field. Millennials are told to expect to have an average of seven jobs before the age of 26 — all that texting makes for a speedy multi-tasker. Are you missing out?

The Painter’s Keys Prize
Are you an artist aged 39 or under? You may eligible for The Painter’s Keys Prize. The deadline for this year’s chosen exhibition, “Scenes From Western Canada” is August 31st, with the exhibition held Sept. 22 – Oct. 4, 2015 at The Federation of Canadian Artists Gallery in Vancouver, Canada. Details and the online submission are here. We hope to see you.



  1. If you’re going to give/have a 39 and under prize/exhibition- my desire for an equal playing field suggest you think about a 40 and over prize/exhibition too. Bitch that I am…

    • Patricia Tatlow on

      Good for you Sara! I find the so called Millennials chalk full of creativity by virtue of their challenging attitudes. I’m blown away every day by the art produced by so many. Enough generation bashing. We are all products of our past and present. The Millennials are our future and I see one of incredible possibility.

    • Well stated! I’m tired of being dismissed because I’m in my 60’s. I love being a bitch if it exposes a “wrong”

    • Peter Trent ( AKA Ancient Artist ) on

      I heartily concur with Mr. Wilcox though I would up the age limit to 60 or over ( that, however, may exclude Mr. Wilcox – damn, there’s always a snag !

    • I agree, Bruce! ;-) <3
      Every generation has something that sets them apart. And so does every individual. We should be careful about making blanket statements about any group ever.
      Historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is a/b an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:

    • And an 80+ prize. Some of us have been professionally artsy for decades before the Millennials, and maybe their parents, were thought of. In this age of better health for the older folks, I’m not saying elderly, there are a lot of us still going and who have solved many art problems on our own. I for one would be glad to pass that on to younger artists (and have done so often), but would very much like to know more about their thinking.

    • Agreed Bruce – the over 40s are so yesterday in today’s artworld. It feels like they are all waiting for us to die off so they don’t have to put up with our art – you know, the stuff that actually makes sense!

    • 1 – agree with bruce
      2 – my mom, 91 in october, has caregivers under 40. Couple under 25. She loves them to death. Laughs with them, keeps them on their toes, we all have a great time living life.
      3 funny, if you take note, the graphic design in current ads print ads use the same style and colors used by those in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Wonder what that says about the current creative effort of our ‘youth?’
      4 Who cares how old or young someone is? What is the big deal about age? Just get out there and create! Have fun! Spread the blessing and joy. Whever you are!
      We can all give to each other, learn from each other and bless each other! Age makes no difference

      • Right on! “What difference does it make?” I’m 87, still painting and selling my work. Since age of 70, I’ve written and published three novels and a memoir. I’m now on the final chapter (350+- pages) of my fourth novel. Don’t assume those of us with silver hair have nothing new to contribute. LOL. Happy painting to all.

  2. Well, though I am in the Boomer generation, I sure do not fear Millenials. I enjoy working among them, for the most part, though I don’t enjoy having to clear my throat while walking down the street to alert people who are texting that I am walking in the opposite direction. That said, I truly enjoy Millenials’ creativity!

    • Nancy Ericksen on

      This is picky, I know, but it reflects how I wish to deal with other human beings. Terms like “boomer” and “millennial” lump millions of individuals under a single label. Personally, I would like to treat each person as an individual and avoid assigning characteristics derived from extrapolated statistics. Individuals create art, not huge demographic groups.

        • I suspect I’m older than anyone commenting on this site. Still painting and selling. Just completed a $500 commission . In art, a
          ge doesn’t matter. It’s all about ability to produce what the public wants.

          • Amen to age restrictions: some of are still “emerging” in that we aren’t commercially recognised, but age limits say we should have made that emergence by this or that age. Some people keep growing and so by the time they get a body of work together, it is no longer representative of their current work.

            I find I am still painting stronger every year, and have no idea if I am older or younger than you, Tinker. (I am 1933 vintage, and a model of that year that has help up well.)

      • That was my point exactly. Though, admittedly, you said it better.
        Also, I wonder why the “boomers” can’t help the “millennials” in the areas they are deficient. The government should have us older folks departing some of our knowledge before we depart this earth.
        Although there is much to lear form the millennial, there is also much for them to learn from us. If my father hadn’t been given an early retirement from Kodak, he might have taught some workers enough to save them from Chapter 11.
        I know there is much we older teachers can offer the young ones, at least the ones who realize they don’t know everything!
        Anyone interested in starting a petition to the govt.? If we can sneak that in before Obama departs, we might have a chance at getting it passed.

        • You must be kidding! No government allowed in this area. This is strictly creative free enterprise…people helping people. If someone wants to learn and explore new techniques and ideas the Internet is loaded with almost unlimited websites and discussion groups. As a “senior”, over 70, and an artist,(still learning and growing) I love and appreciate the easy access to the experience, talent, and knowledge of so many artists of all ages…and their opinions!

    • Carol Anderson on

      Thanks for the laugh! I thoroughly enjoyed picturing a face intent on a device, not what’s ahead of them. Could that extend into other parts of life? I think so!I had the displeasure of having my car totaled due to texting while driving. He didn’t see my turn signal or me, dead ahead. Thanks to my Volvo, I’m fine.

      • They say there have been thousands of accidents first because of cell phones and now, even more, because of texting. I don’t even like when my hubby looks at the map app when he’s driving! I keep telling him he needs to trust me a little. (It’s true I can’t find my way out of a paper bag, but I taught map reading and am actually quite good at it!)
        Good health to all, whatever your age!

  3. I too love the millenials (bd 1955) but I have to restrain myself from recommending that those who wish to do ‘janga’ (sp?)_ style cartooning or becoming animators, study anatomy and classical drawing to as to better inform their efforts. … “better inform their efforts.” Sigh. What a gas bag I’m becoming as I turn 60 … Love your newsletters~

    • That would be Manga. Some of those people are the most creative on earth! I’m 71.
      I marvel at the stuff kids do today. I’ve done digital art too which is a blast. I have several digi art programs on my iPad the best of which IMHO is SketchClub. Digi art apps are also a great design tool for traditional media. Try out your ideas without using expensive materials.
      Check out the art youngsters do on Scetch Club if you want to have your mind blown.
      Talk about CREATIVITY.

  4. In 1992 I put everything in storage and headed to the west coast to explore and visit some friends. Several very painful occurrences unfolded- that I’ll not go into- and about 4/5 months into this ‘journey’ I moved back into the basement of my parent’s house in northern Utah- forcing them to feed and house me while I produced 10 new pieces. Since they did a poor job of that earlier in my life- I figured I could get away with it… adding here that I had no debt and was only responsible for a monthly storage garage bill. My expenses were nil. I didn’t do this because I ‘thought we could all get along.’ I did it because I had all my art supplies/tools with me- I had to create a space to manifest the next body of work- and I didn’t have any reason to immediately return to Denver.

    Half-way through this period I generated an upcoming exhibit in Salt Lake City- through friends from when I’d lived there before. But I also had to put up with my father’s ignorance. He walking into the room where I was working and said- ‘Well- I see you’ve learned how to work.’ And I didn’t kill him. And please note- I didn’t learn how to work from him- because he was a flake. At the end- after I’d returned to Denver and the show was over- my sister told my father that I hadn’t sold anything during the exhibit. What he said next (in a letter) was: ‘I’d NEVER succeed because I flaunted my sexuality.’

    Really? What father says to their child that they will never succeed- for ANY reason? This dead bastard is still standing in the way. Sara- always be grateful for having creative supportive parents.

    And sorry- millennials may have many things going for them- but they do not have a lifetime of experience- yet. And of course- the problem with youth is that they are clueless as to what that lifetime experience will bring to their work. From the long-term perspective of another ‘mature artist’…

    • Dear J B W,

      Your feelings seem a bit raw and reveal a deep disrespect for your parents who seem to have allowed you the great freedom to live with them to create without incuring debt. That is a valuable and caring thing they gave you. While your family may not be all you wish for, making peace with your past is a valuable thing and may increase your productivity and possibly enable you to be a more positive artist who sells more work. I started to treat my parents with a lot more respect and care as I got older and found they returned it back to me in ways I would not have expected. We ended up enjoying the last decades of their lives and I am so much richer and happier for it and so were they! Give it a try. You have everything to gain and nothing to loose!

      • Jerry Fenter on

        I don’t think Mr. Wilcox probably had the space, time or inclination to explain his relationship with his parents. Not all families are easy to make peace with. Sometimes the only peace is to separate completely from them and become your own person.

        Just because you’re “richer and happier” with your connections doesn’t mean you can preach to someone else. You don’t know about his situation and have no right to give him advice. Good luck to him. He can find ways to do his art on his own terms.

        • Thanks Jerry- and Peggy- really- you don’t have a clue. My ‘feelings’ appear raw to you because I told the TRUTH of this story. But in an overtly heterosexist world- in fact- my not/heterosexuality has impeded my financial success as an artist- again and again- as I’ve experienced rejection after rejection by (mostly christian) religionists. And I have too many stories to count anymore- starting with the first letter I got from my father informing me I was going to hell.

          But who I am has never impeded either the quality nor originality of my work. I haven’t referred to either of my parents as anything but their names for more than 4 decades- so I call them Larry and Lucille- not mom or dad. And they are both dead now- and I’m not the only member of my family who is just fine with that.

          I told a ‘short story’ that seemed relevant to this letter. I did not tell the whole story- because it’s ridiculous. I moved out of my parents house right after I graduated from high school- at 17- because my home environment was TOXIC. But my school/peer group environment was also TOXIC- and I spent all the years of junior/high school contemplating suicide- and it’s amazing I’m still here. So I have no respect whatsoever for either of my parents- who lived together in the same house separately for more than half their lives- hating each other- because their mormon religion wouldn’t allow them to divorce. They both failed utterly in providing a nurturing environment for all their children- because neither one of them really wanted any of their children. Respect? Respect has to be earned- even by your parents.

          I made peace with my past a long time ago. It’s why I’m now telling the horror stories.

          • So WELL SAID Bruce! I think one of the most corrosive things in many children’s families is the power that religions, or educational superiority” or plain old ignorance and lack of decent upbringing themselves, give those within their group to be fanatic to the point of cruelty and even annihilation of their own best selves. For many of us, distancing is the only way to survive. And parents can take adult children in not out of caring for their welfare but for another opportunity to push their child’s face into the ground and stomp on the back of their head – verbally, psychologically, not necessarily physically. I am glad you had the courage to leave and to leave again and go far enough away to find that there are communities of people who will see you and like you and even love you for what you are, warts & all.

            I heard something that has given me pause for many years now; a man was talking about differences and similarities between religions. He said, “The Christian loves his friend in spit of his faults; the Jew lovers him because of his faults.” Our “faults” give us our flavour, our uniqueness.

            And only heterosexuals produce non-heterosexuals. We are parts of this life together, whether we like it or approve or not. Might as well accept and get on.

      • I think I can come up with something other than the shit my dad says! But you made me laugh! And yes- I should be blogging- but instead- I like to ‘respond’ to something… so I’ve been writing/posting on here for 10+ years… and for some reason- Robert let me get away with most of it…

  5. Great article Sarah. Though I am not technically a millennial, I enjoy and embrace their spirit. I think really, most artists do too…when we are creative. I learned texting so that I could communicate with my grandkids. Now I use texting more than email, because it is much faster, and it encourages brief messages.

    Love what you are doing,

    • Page,
      I resisted everything at the beginning. Now I wouldn’t trade texting or having easy access to directions and food for anything!
      My mom used to tell us that computers were evil! I think she said it because as she wondered around trying to talk to her kids, most of us were busy doing something on our PCs or smart phones. We didn’t have time to stop and talk to her. (Oh, how I wish I could have that time back . . . )

  6. Excellent article Sara. My kids were born in the 80’s, they and their friends are just awesome! In the literal sense of the word. Gone is that old rigidity and doctrine. They all seem to have a full time relationship with their genie. No matter how hard I polish the old lamp these days, my old genie comes plodding out and just sits there watching me paint. So frustrating!

  7. Brilliant and timely article, Sara. Thank you for noting these concepts and changes that are happening in the collective consciousness. My kids and grandkids fit this model quite nicely. I probably won’t ‘catch up’ with them till my next lifetime!

      • Jesse Hogan- If you think (I think) I have all the answers- I don’t. But I can see virtually any situation from multiple perspectives- and I’ve come to understand that that is a gift I have. Doesn’t mean I have all the answers- but it does usually mean I can shake you loose from a stuck position you’re in- where you can’t figure out what to do next. Since I have no ‘college degree’ that says I can charge money for that ability- it doesn’t make me very much money.

    • Yes- Rick- but not for a while now. It used to happen all the time. Just the time it took to write meant something to the computer- and it wouldn’t take. If I think about it- I often copy my post before hitting ‘post comment’ just in case. But I haven’t had that happen recently.

  8. Mary Manning on

    Sara, This column and the comments are so interesting, and got me thinking about everything in life and love. This summer, I am trying an experiment: more art, less time on iPhone and messaging. Spending more time face to face with husband, daughter and other people in my life. Ageism is a dirty word for me and I refuse to let generational or other obstacles interfere with what I love whether it be family or art. Who knows where this goes, but it feels better than any time in my life.

  9. As a painter since adolescence and a long career as a college Art Professor ( from 1970 to 2010) I saw the changes in students over the decades and my take is that serious and hardworking students were in every year and then a few who were not for varied reasons. What I saw throughout was a desire to learn and grow as a creative visual artist. In a later year I had a student who came to college with substantial experience in computer generated imagery she was open to learning how to see form and color for her drawings and paintings. During a project on historical methods ( under painting then glazing and scum long) she came to me with a look on her face that worried me but she said” now I know what the terms mean in my computer programs “. So if we stay open to dealing with each person as an individual and give them the knowledge we have gained maybe they will take it in then make it their own.

    • Phil Chadwick- last night I thought about this some more- and Joshua Miels paintings are great- but isn’t that exactly how we inspire each other? He’s using odd color representations to get his lights/shadows- his ‘poses’ are interesting- but his palette is quite somber- not ‘happy’! His POV is also interesting- but why can’t you take you visceral reaction to his work- and let it shake you loose of your own POV and try to look at your landscapes differently. His brushwork is great- but so is yours- really. I love what you’re doing. Why not try an extreme landscape close-up? Which would be the exact opposite of a ‘landscape’… Why not look at the landscape you are painting- and change some of the colors? Using colors that are NOT there… I know your comment here is probably not serious- but it does spark a re-looking at your own work- if these paintings spark something in you. And- no I’m not suggesting you copy anybody- but still…

      • I just saw this Bruce… and I thank you very much. You observations are kind but also accurate. I would still paint to try to improve even if I had not found “weather”. I just came in from an experiment where I used a slippery surface and gobs of paint. The colours are right fro the base of the thunderstorm from last evening but it was more of a sculpture in the oils. I found an older brush worked best to leave interesting strokes in the surface. It was … fun… and thank you Bruce!

  10. Dear Sara,

    I am not one of the millennial artists . I am in the same age group as your father was. I am a self-made person , lost my father at an early age , and sgtruggled all my life alone. Today, if I look back to the past, I am happy that I succeeded in having a better life than before. As a hobby, I paint with people of ther same age , I make sketches wherever I go (in museums, etc.) . Besides. I attend the university with young students. My objective is to live a happy life, think positiv , make sports and eat well.

  11. As one of those so call over the hill artists, (way over the hill) I love seeing how the young artists energetically approach new ideas. When we were young and marching for women’s rights, racial equality and doing sit-ins and making organic gardens, shouting against the Viet-Nam war-this is what we wanted. Children and grand children who were sure of them selves, Trying new things we never thought of, exploring new territory, unafraid to step out there. They are the results of our work and I am proud of what we started in those wild years of the 60’s and 70’s.

  12. I am a mom of millenials. Thanks for defining the term. I never knew what it meant. Your description is so apt. Especially of my daughter. I’m also an older mother so the chasm between generations is greater. Their confidence in their ability to achieve their aspirations is amazing. How much they can do while answering every text and looking at every photo blows me away.
    To Phil Chadwick, I’ve seen big changes in your painting since you’ve retired and started to paint full-time. Form and colour are becoming more dynamic, feel more inspired. This young painter Joshua Miel, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the barriers of convention. I love his work.

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