Last Saturday the New Museum organized a panel discussion titled YTJ: Then and Now: Redefining Generations. On the panel were Carroll Dunham, Joan Jonas, and Mira Schor -- all mature, established artists. It was moderated by 28-year old Brian Sholis, a free-lance critic the New Museum hired to put together a resource center for the YTJ show.
The panel, including Brian Sholis, all teach, and they unanimously agreed that their students have extensive “horizontal knowledge” -- knowledge about what's happening now, but little “vertical” knowledge. They are indifferent to the past (including past art), even the fairly recent past.
I really doubt if it’s a cause for concern, and I expect that these young artists, like we did, will become more interested in learning about the past as they get older and as their art evolves. I remember the disdain my generation (sixties hippiedom) had for anyone older than thirty and for any music beside Rock and Roll. We grew out of it and so will they.
I think a more important observation the panel made is that today’s art students and young artists generally expect to exhibit right away and make money as artists. True or not, this indicates a radical change in the perception of art world economics. These kids, if I may call them that (after all, 33 is old enough to have teenage children or even start a religion) use the term “art practice” a lot -- a phrase I find jarring -- and most colleges and art schools now offer “professional development” courses, and dealers recruit artists right out of graduate school. This would have been completely unheard of in my generation. We never expected to make money or even exhibit all that much, and the few artists that did make money were somehow suspect.
I’m not saying that the old attitude was a good thing -- it wasn’t, and it screwed up the lives of many artists, including the Abstract Expressionists. Nevertheless, as Carroll Dunham pointed out, lack of exposure allowed him to spend 6 or 7 years working things out in private. He didn’t think it would have been possible for him to grow as an artist without that.
But that was back then. What I think is most interesting is these kids don’t seem to need private time to find themselves or to work things out. They are so used to revealing themselves in their websites, Facebook, text-ing, etc., that public presentation is natural to them. They have the confidence (I’m tempted to say arrogance) to just throw it all out there for everyone to see, with no inhibition. Good for them!