Read This: Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff

While I don’t ask my clients their age when they are making a purchase, it’s safe to say that a majority of my customers are in the 55-70 range. In my conversations with other gallery owners and artists around the country it seems that this demographic group drives much of the activity in the art market. None of this should come as a surprise – our clients in that age range are at or near retirement – they are often empty-nesters at this point, and they’ve obtained a certain level of success after years of work that allows them to feel they deserve to indulge in fine art purchases (not to mention the fact that they now have the disposable income to afford the purchases). Luckily for all of us, that age range is experiencing a major explosion as baby-boomers move from middle-age into the beginning of their golden years. Barring an repeat of the recent economic meltdown, the next decade should be a good one for the art market.

A recent article on got me thinking about the long-term, however. Sociologists and retail analysts report that there is a major shift in attitude occurring in the next generation of consumers (the “Millenials”) and, to a certain extent, across all consumers. The article theorizes that as our digital life moves more and more into the cloud where everything is free or almost free, the need to buy physical things seems to be diminishing. This shift (assuming it’s real, and not just another doomsday headline designed to sell more magazines) could certainly affect the future of the art business. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The article indicates that rather than the traditional need to own things for the sake of owning them, the next generation of buyers are interested in acquiring things for three reasons: 1. These people buy things because of how they make their lives better, 2. People buy things because of what they can tell others about the things (in otherwords, sharing and the social element are important) and 3. People buy things because of what having the things says about the buyer. These are all factors that play pretty well into the art market already.

Read the article on

What do you think – is the future of the art market troubled by tectonic shifts in people’s attitudes toward buying? How will technology play into the future of the art market? Instead of buying physical art, will buyers simply be displaying digital art on art screens in their homes?


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  1. Hi Jason, great article.
    I have recently been thinking about this same thing. At one time only paintings of flowers, portraits, etc were considered art and then came artists such as Miro and several others that changed all that. As these “baby boomers” get into that art buying demographic, I see landscape & Southwest paintings selling very well. But as for the future of art, these types of paintings will become less desirable. The younger generation is looking for art beyond landscapes & portraits, they want something more edgier. This is seen at galleries in New York and other places that usually set the art & design trends. Visit galleries in these places and you won’t see as many “traditional” paintings but more graffiti art and modern paintings with maybe a bit of shock value. I believe technology will also play a significant part and I see art done on computers becoming more acceptable. I don’t believe this “Y” generation doesn’t like to buy things. Credit debt is becoming a huge problem, yes, even with the “Y” generation. Their art purchases just might not be the traditional art people are buying today.

  2. As a Sculptor, I would think that such a trend would not effect me as a picture of a sculpture is worth almost nothing compared to the real 3 dimensional work and that you cannot display well on any wall screen. Especially because my work is animated with light effects. I believe that unless the Government puts limitations on companies, Automation and enforces shipping jobs over seas, there will certainly be more economic trouble as companies have learned how to make a dollar by bundling jobs, (bundling is not always a good thing), and employing automatic devices instead of real people. Eventually these cutbacks will hurt the very companies that do it. Hopefully, the economy will improve and the art market will flourish again.

  3. I think that the visceral component of art will always attract an audience. Like all things, there’s the pendulum effect. More and more I see digital pieces as de rigueur in major exhibitions and museums. There will follow a reaction to this that lifts craft . The sensuousness of resistance… materials that resist our command and the battle scars that result–will always compel human beings. In 30,000 years, or more, humankind has always expressed its ideas through materiality. I doubt that will suddenly end because of the rise of the digital age.

  4. I think the younger group may purchase different types of art while in their youth, but, they too will age and build homes and change their interests and fascinations. I’m an artist who works in two worlds, one of ‘traditional’, even ancient methods: mosaic and one of ‘artistically enhanced photography’ – whether that can be considered ‘digital art’ or not, for me a photograph that I’ve taken [digital] is just another type of ‘canvas’ and I’m finding that perhaps the language of this art form speaks more to younger buyers.

  5. My art tends to attract this age group heavily. And yes they do buy though most of my art is bought by entrepenuers in the 30-45 range only because they have the money. If you usually don’t listen to your parents music or your grandparents music then why would you buy that art? If your gallery is only selling to people in the age range of 55-75 then your market is about to shrink heavily. If your art is “of the moment” then it will be attracting a younger age group.

  6. I think that, being the case ,one should perhaps consider this:
    found art is big conceptual art is also big.
    the world is changing very fast. people are always sentimental about their childhoods. things that formed them, they experienced. i.e. 50’s craze…
    texture cannot be duplicated in digital. neither can size,…. very expensive to print.. so why not collages of textury found objects relating to the now… which will easily become then.. or for those who are mature now,, get some thens in the picture.. but only if these people, your collectors, are young enough to yearn for the yesterday.. Thats how the antique market has always functioned. I suggest go to the nearest swap meet.. pick out the materials that speak to you…now ! incorportate them in large pieces. maybe we dont need acid free stuff when we will beat the living daylights out of it with acrylics, glitter…….. Personally, I am a reaslistic painter. I know many disciplines.. my energy to be jumping boulders is almost non existant.. if it ever was, , I dont even want to run around with gallerial stuff, and I think the crappy work that kids are doing is crap.. but in the hands of a truly fine artist who is well schooled.. you could be saying something wonderful. that will be felt and loved. that s my personal goal. btw. if you look at my website today.. it aint up yet.. too much trouble. love ya judi

  7. by the way. I was at an outdoor “art sales event”, and one of the artist was an older gentleman with beautiful watercolors and oil paintings of landscapes and seascapes. they were becautiful.,, but he wasnt selling. some lady with awful flower still lifes was doing ok.. what can I say? Shades of Kinkade….. er… I love the fact that Kinkade people will be buying and selling their stuff for a long time.. amazing.. isnt it something that Rembrandt had all those Rembrandts and all his studio stuff was auctioned cause his debtors had to be paid? Amazing.
    My sugestion? Get a name for yourself. Figure out how you are going to do that, please stay legal and a good person, but get some notoriety … people love to buy a name they know. Simple.

  8. Living in N.W. Montana and doing modern art is very limiting. It is slowly catching on but I can’t see that it will ever catch up to the cowboy paintings that are so popular here. I’m winning Montana art contests. My art is selling even in this enviroment. I wonder how it would do in a younger progressive enviroment. How do I get there??

  9. They don’t have to buy much stuff with all the surplus of hand-me-down stuff from the Boomers. Likewise, DIY is big with the web now. Also, Craigslist is king!

  10. Both my 2-D art and my ceramic vessels are characterized by abstract expressionist imagery, and although I do sell to some of the younger gen X/older millennial generations, I am aware that my brand does not feature many of the things that appeal to millennials. Newer art seems to feature a combination of pretty — flowers, sweet little things — and some creepy factor. I know that my customer base is shrinking, but I frankly don’t care for that aesthetic, and I don’t want it to characterize my work. My challenge is to create something that does appeal to people with that mindset (regardless of age) while still maintaining some faithfulness to my own aesthetic.

  11. I was strolling down a popular street in San Francisco last month and came across a store that featured the latest digital gadgets and devices on the market. One such item was a beautifully framed screen that gave one the option of displaying any art picture desired as a centerpiece to ones home. The options were endless (the abstract, graffiti, edgy art, to the more traditional landscape, portrait options). Referring to your article the ‘digital natives’ may find such technology a good fit for the three things that move the Millenials to buying anything. 1. “These people buy things because of how they make their lives better, 2. People buy things because of what they can tell others about the things (in other words, sharing and the social element are important) and 3. People buy things because of what having the things says about the buyer. ” Time will tell as these type of advances pour into the market and become increasingly desirable for the digitally minded consumer at prices that become quite competitive over time.

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