It was reported earlier this year that British museums and galleries suffered a 1.4 million drop in the number of visitors – including a six percent drop in the number of young people visiting for educational purposes. Is the technologically driven younger generation falling out of love with art?
To this day I can still recall the intense feeling that spread through me the first time I saw Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond. I was no older than ten, and to me, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on. I could feel the stillness of the air in his Giverny garden, but also the life in it. Even then, back when I had no inkling of what I’d end up wanting to do with my life, I was adamant I would one day make something as beautiful as that.
That dedication to art and creation hasn’t left me, and neither has my love of galleries. I went back to The National Gallery at the beginning of the year to go and see their 'Beyond Caravaggio' exhibition, and while stood admiring Cecco del Caravaggio’s A Musician I suddenly realised I was surrounded by people well above my own age. Which, at 18, isn’t difficult, but I was surprised to find the room so empty of teenagers and young adults. I looked back at the painting, at the young musician’s cocked head and bored expression, and I couldn’t help but feel he was laughing at me. He seemed to epitomise an opinion of the masses: 'Don’t be stupid – young people don’t care about art.'
Now that’s a gross generalisation, but more often than not it feels as though we millennials are depicted as inward and disinterested; our world’s revolving around the technology in our hands and the social media addiction it encourages. And maybe that is true – I mean I’d be lying if I said I’d never wasted an afternoon scrolling through Twitter – but does that mean this generation is totally disengaged from art?
Young people are not indifferent to art; they engage with and exude it every single day.
I don’t think so. In fact, I think our generation represents the total opposite: we are more engaged and interested in art than ever before, but the ways in which we seek it out have altered dramatically. You no longer have to go to a gallery if you wish to see a painting; online catalogues like Art UK and Eyestorm, as well as the now accessible online collections of thousands of galleries, provide exposure to artworks from across the globe instantly, and free of charge. The expansion of social media has birthed a generation of creators who have redefined what it is to make art through the likes of Instagram and YouTube. Young filmmakers like Bertie Gilbert and Tim Kellner are not only making work relevant to their young audience, they make it free too. Meanwhile, if Vincent van Gogh could see the mass of young people on Tumblr who adore and are influenced by his work from over two hundred years ago, I’m sure he would be humbled. Young people are not indifferent to art; they engage with and exude it every single day.
In spite of that, our attendance of art galleries and museums is falling, with a drop of 3 million visitors between 2014 and 2016 in the UK. Our online arts communities are thriving, and yet we are attending galleries and museums less and less. Though there’s a whole bunch of reasons for this I find the lack of importance placed on art within our education shoulders a lot of the blame. The rigidity of our syllabus doesn’t allow young people to flex their creative muscles, and the number of school trips to galleries, museums and theatres is falling. How can you expect us to engage with art with you won’t expose us to it?
Despite this, I feel I should point out its not all doom and gloom. There is a major sector of young people moving further into the arts and succeeding too. The growth in popularity of Arts Foundation courses, the constantly increasing number of students in attendance at the University of the Arts London (UAL), as well as the growing success of young online artists such as Emily Coxhead prove there is more engagement, not less. Our interest in art is not falling, but instead inspiring new art forms and new ways of expression.
It might be too hard to tell if our engagement with art has grown or withered. Whether in between our generation and our parents we lost our knack for appreciating things. But what I will say, on behalf of everyone no matter what age who loves the stroke of paint or pen, is that we’ll never not seek it out. Art is always changing, renewing itself in unimaginable ways, but we are constant, and habits die pretty hard.
Rachel Coleman, blogger and member of The Girl Gang, a community of bloggers who open a weekly Twitter chat at #thegirlgang