Blog: The Millennial Aesthetic

Christine Alfery

Posted on May 01 2020

Blog: The Millennial Aesthetic

Ben Davis of ArtNetNews wrote a review of Molly Fischer’s March 2020 article “Will the Millennial Aesthetic Ever End?”. I read the essay because the first thing I asked myself was; “just what is the millennial aesthetic?’’ 

Ben Davis seemed to address this by starting his review by stating Fischer’s essay was “A great example of how naming a style is a way of trying to kill it”. This is what I have consistently said about trying to define art by asking what art is rather than asking what isn’t art.

According to Fisher, the Millennial Aesthetic is filled with pinks and pale greens. Reading this I thought - WOW that explains all the pinks and pale greens dominating Art Basel this past December. The ArtNetNews review summarized the essay’s take on the Millennial Aesthetic this way:

The “millennial aesthetic” favors “chatty positivity”; it likes “blank, clean surfaces” and soft lines; it is “casual, friendly, and impersonal.” . . . seeking the mental shelter of the inoffensive and non-judgmental.

Does this remind anyone of a movement from the past?

How about minimalism? How about the modernists search for utopia and purity in their paints and painting techniques? Did they find what they were looking for? I can’t speak for them all but many learned that utopia cannot be found - that power, if only from the subjective self, is always in the way. One cannot find something that is nothing.

Fischer hit the nail exactly on the head when she stated in her conclusion “We have lived through a moment in which design came to seem like something besides what it was, like a business model or a virtue or a consolation prize. The sense of safety promised in its soft, clean forms begins to look less optimistic than naïve.”

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The “sense of safety” that Fischer is referring to is the utopia the modernists were looking for. Follow the herd and you can’t go wrong – it was important to find that “safe” place. Folks, it doesn’t exist. Chaos happens, and ordering the books on your book shelf according to color won’t keep your safe. As Fischer put it:

“Above a bookshelf (spines organized by color), a poster advises you to WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE. In the far corner, within the shrine of an arched alcove, atop a marble plinth: one lonely, giant cartoon jungle leaf, tilting from a pink ceramic tube.”

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Thank goodness the modernist utopian aesthetic recognized this and moved on into self within the work. My hope is that today’s Millennial esthetic will also move on from smooth filtered surfaces to spotty imperfection, from smooth blurred lines to dramatic markings, from safe design to personal art that expresses something. 

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We Are All Connected by Christine Alfery

We have already gone through the black canvas phase – let’s get back to individual interest in the actual artwork and the expressions of the artist and viewer. Let’s move against monotone non-judgmental wishy-washy pastels and (gasp!) move on to loud and expressive primary colors.  

No more pink please. 

As Fischer put it, “art is by definition trying to set itself off against the background of mass-marketable basic-ness, it is going to exist in some kind of suspension, assimilating bits of the dominant design language (for me that is our history as artists) and at the same time pushing against it.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s move on.

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