G en Z is big.
They’ve taken over as the largest population segment on the globe. Coming in at 61 Million alone in the U.S., they’ve officially surpassed every other generation in sheer size, and their spending power is estimated to be as much as $143 billion.
As ‘social media natives,’ they’re impossible to ignore. Roughly between the ages of seven and twenty-two, they were born after the internet went mainstream. We know how impactful their collective voice can be, as prominently exemplified by the Parkland survivors, who successfully leveraged the digital terrain to disrupt the country’s gun control narrative.
The implications of this generation’s influence include corporations scrambling to get their products in the hands of the jaded youth, industries dramatically shifting, older people grappling to understand their ever-evolving, slang-heavy language. I personally find myself consistently impressed by the words coming out of younger people’s mouths on issues of global warming, human rights, representation and identity. But it is important to remember that what makes up ‘gen z’ is a group of individuals with human concerns, obstacles and dreams.
Get in the heads of the next wave.
Photographed by Quil Lemons (The New School '19, interviewed below)
Parsons School of Art and Design
Philadelphia New York City
How has your major (photography) prepared you for life after graduation?
Photography has become more than just making an image – it’s developed into a way of rewriting my narrative. I want to push a perspective that’s new while building on existing visual literacy established by previous generations of photographers. I feel like I have enough of a handle on my practice now to grow with it and eventually get to where I need to be. Also, in school, you learn how to get critiqued – hard. Sometimes to the point where you don’t want to make any work at all. That prepared me for the critical world and what to expect.
What keeps you motivated to stay in the art world when the criticism gets tough?
The critique is not what I find to be the most difficult part. Not to jump into another conversation, but that’s how it is living as a mixed (African American and Korean) gay person: I am constantly critiqued for just exisiting as myself. What keeps me in the art world is my hope to insert my narrative into the conversation. I want to be a part of the push toward inclusion and have a chance to say what I want.
How does this inform your work?
I try to stay away from anything too political, but the personal is political. The work that I make currently pushes away from the notion that I should speak on my ethnicity or sexuality in a transgressive manner. I typically feel disconnected – isolated in a sense – from the world, and I use photographs as a way to visually depict the melancholy I feel. I look for subtleties in the everyday that allude to grander ideas of loss, faith and this pensive sadness. The beauty that is found in the quotidian – once I take the time to notice these fragments of the day – is enough for me.
Do you think the world of ‘fine art’ will change?
I don’t necessarily think that the art world will change, but the people going into it will. Although I love photography, I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree so that I can work in [fine art/education] programs. I love seeing what people are doing, where my peers go and familiarizing myself with emerging artists that should be featured. My goal is to one day have the platform to feature these new artists. Eventually, these positions will be taken by people that just grew up with a different sense of the world, who are familiar with structures that once held them back – and thus be more inclusive with their decisions and who they hire. This is already happening in media with editors commissioning those who – 20 years ago – wouldn’t have gotten the job due to their sexual orientation or ethnicity.
Do you think social media has played a role in this?
Social media does play its role through exposure. More people are getting involved in art due to accessibility. The scouting process for artwork has changed, social media is blending with traditional fine art platforms. Newer decision makers will pull from various sources: Instagram, Lower East Side galleries, independent art fairs – they’ll spread their reach, pull from different places in the world and feature more than just mid-to-late career artists. That’s the future. We just need to get there.
Fashion Institute of Technology
Jakarta, Indonesia New York City
What made you choose FIT?
I’ve always loved fashion. I grew up in a family that works closely with fashion (my mom is in the beauty industry), so it was always in the back of my mind. I wasn't particularly drawn to becoming a fashion designer, but I wanted to go somewhere that would help me make it in the industry. New York was that place, which is why I enrolled at FIT – one of the top schools in the U.S for the Fashion Business Management program.
How was it coming to New York after being raised in Jakarta?
When I first arrived in New York, I felt that I was able to finally find myself. Back home I had a hard time coming into my own because everything is very conservative and structured. As soon as I came here, I met so many international people – everyone was so nice, and people from New York are so open. I became this new person, this new self. I love the hustle. That’s why I came to New York and that’s why I want to stay – you can embrace and celebrate your individuality here like nowhere else.
What is your perspective on the art world?
I was raised among artists, my dad loves to paint, and so does my uncle. But back home, art is viewed very traditionally depending on its medium, so when I was exposed to it, it was always in the form of oil painting or sculptures. Being here has taught me that art lives in many forms and isn't so clearly defined. It's eye-opening to see the intersection between art and culture in New York City, from graffiti on the Lower East Side, to fine art institutions such as the Met.
Is there anything you want older people to know about your generation?
I feel like older people always think our generation gets it easy because of things like social media. They’ve been pretty closed about learning what our culture is really like. I just wish they could be more open and actually see what’s happening. Everything we do as a generation is directly impacted by them. The way we do things that we do can be tied back to politics, or the economy. It’s not as simple as ‘we have social media.’ If they want to be more open, I think they would understand more.
New York City
How did you decide to study industrial design?
I’ve always been interested in fine art and different areas of focus, like fashion design. I went into industrial design because it’s so broad that, really, any sort of product fits under it. I had a focus on furniture, and as I learned more about the different processes, I could apply them to other things. Whenever I make a painting, it’s essentially the same process as making a chair.
Tell me about what you’re wearing.
I made my shirt and these shorts, which have removable/changeable velcro patches. I also made all of the jewelry I’m wearing, as well as most of the furniture in my apartment. Part of the reason I went to Pratt was because I wanted to take their sneaker design class, which actually filled up before I could register. So I wound up taking a jewelry design class, where I learned how to cut and drill pendants and saw logos. Once I nailed the process, I could cut, polish and sell jewelry out of my apartment, which has been a way for me to pay for more materials to create more work. I actually shipped out an order this morning.
How has making money from your work impacted your creative process?
It’s actually been reassuring. I think one thing that’s tied to people my age using social media is that we’ve become impatient. All day every day, I would see my peers’ accomplishments, people in my eyes that were more advanced or successful in areas that I wanted to be in. There was definitely this sort of “when’s that going to happen to me?” feeling. But now –even at this scale – it’s nice to get paid for my ideas. It’s the first time I’ve been able to exhale in a while. But that has to be a New York City thing: there are a million things happening every second. There’s this sense that if you’re not doing something, you’re going backwards.
Is social media changing the traditional trajectory of an artist?
Yes, social media has significantly impacted the process of my generation’s artists. We have a guaranteed audience; it’s easier to get 1,000 followers than it is to get 1,000 people in a gallery. Social media can be used to make a name for yourself and I can speak from experience: there are people from all over the world who have seen or bought items I’ve made. But if I were taking a more traditional career route – keeping things hidden in my portfolio, only showing them to employers – I may have missed out on sharing and monetizing my ideas. I think we’re still in the early stage of how social media is used, and no one knows where it will go, but people get careers from it already.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina Brooklyn
3 words to sum up your feelings on entering the post-grad world?
Shocked, nostalgic and eager
Why did you choose to study what you did in college? What made you decide to focus on China?
I double majored in Chinese and Peace War and Defense. Chinese was an easy decision. From first grade until the end of high school, most of my days were half in English and half in Chinese in a dual language immersion program through my local public school system. Peace War and Defense was more of a fascination. It’s an interdisciplinary curriculum focused around issues of international and national peace and security. It’s the only program like it in the country.
What are you up to this summer?
This summer, and for the foreseeable future, I am working at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a nonprofit that does diplomacy work with China. I also hope to find a good pottery studio where I can keep up my ceramic skills, and maybe pick up a new hobby or skill – maybe the piccolo or another small instrument to match my hands.
Do you feel as though the art industry is changing?
To me the art world is a fantastical beast that balances all types of spaces and is a part of everything we do, whether or not we are aware of it. It is a massive influencer. I’m not sure if the industry is changing, but from my perspective, it seems to me as if art and politics are becoming closer. It seems to me that almost everything is political – it could be that I read into it this way because I studied war and politics, but it seems to me that everyone is more inclined to read the political in art now. That, or maybe it has become more overtly political.
What sets your generation apart? / something you’d like older people to know about you and your generation?
I think how I feel about the perception vs. the reality of how I see my generation can be summed up in a tweet from someone I knew in college.
“millienials in movies: omg😂💕 i need my frappuccino☕️✨ before i talk to my parents 🙄🤫they’re SUCH a drag😴😴 ok ttyl bff ☺️❤️
millennials in real life: climate change is causing irreversible damage at unprecedented rates because of incessant corporate greed”
He might be talking about millennials, but I think it’s also true of the older Gen Z. We are perceived as being so caught up in ourselves and frivolous stuff, but really we are angry and adaptable. We are ready to take on the challenges of the future because the anger we feel gives us passion, and the adaptability gives us the ability to creatively attack the problems of today and accept radical change as is necessary. We have our issues as a generation – as any generation does – but I think that we are prepared to take on the challenges that previous generations have left for us, and other challenges which we have brought on ourselves.
New York City
What are you up to this summer?
I’ll be going down to Florida, where I have a paid internship at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, the biggest museum in the state. There’s a team of four of us. I’ll be working mostly on their new education program, but we are also curating a show on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec posters. Not a lot of internships mix the education and curatorial space, so it will be cool.
Everyone thinks of Palm Beach/West Palm Beach County as this very privileged area (Mar-a-Lago is there), but as you move inland into Palm Beach County, there are kids in the public school system who get very little exposure to art, and the museum will have to step in and fill a role that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
How did you become interested in working with museums?
Growing up in NYC, I have always been interested in museums. I’ve been privileged in the sense that my grandparents and parents took me to places like the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art from a young age. When I was a senior in high school, I interned at the Met in their Medieval Art department. There, my direct supervisor was the head of high school education programs, including nights like “Teens Take the Met,” which brought kids from all over the city – many of whom have never stepped foot in a museum – into the space.
How did it feel working with students your age?
It was a special feeling to introduce them to all of the possibilities a museum presents. You don’t have to be an art historian or someone with a scholarly background in the arts to work in a museum or be interested in the things that are in them. There’s a whole range of opportunity and it’s my time to give back.
How do you further this opportunity?
I think the most important thing is to provide access, allowing people with disabilities and people from marginalized groups to experience museums. As museum educators, we have to widen our vocabulary and think outside of the box to develop strategies that include more people. When I was working at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton, I would lead museum tours for refugee or working class kids local to Central New York. For many of them, this was their first time in a museum, and when you step into the space – clean, polished, fancy looking – you have to explain that this space exists not just some art world elitist, but it also exists for them to use and come back to and make meaningful connections with.
How do you feel having just graduated college?
I want to do everything. I studied political science in college. I studied graphic design. I love to dance; I love to draw. It’s scary right now, looking for work, because I feel that once I get a job, I’ll be put in a box, confined to one position. It’s important for me to have a side hustle outside of my job –to continue to do creative things on my own.
What have you been doing to sustain that creativity, that ‘side hustle’, in your job search?
I’ve been applying the graphic design skills I learned in college by creating illustrations of people I admire, posting one to two illustrations a day on Instagram to get traction. I want more exposure; I just have to be consistently putting work out there. That level of consistency comes with the job.
Do you think it's necessary to pursue a more traditional career route, or are things changing?
Things are changing. I think it’s possible to find a job that suits your personal talents. And if you don’t have that, you can cultivate a side hustle. You might have a day job, but when you get home you can make wigs, or do make-up, or run a fashion line. Social media is helping people branch out of the norm. It’s reassuring to have options in that way.
Does that give you hope for the future – for you personally and for young people entering the art world?
Yes, but I don’t know what to expect. It’s a bit nerve-wracking because I’m about to go into my first big job after college. As for the art world, there are some people who have great work, but it depends on how hard they’re working to get it put into a museum, for example. But it seems to me that now, people don’t care as much about having their work in museums. They like having their work online because it reaches a wider audience. That’s important. And it takes a while to be recognized, but it works if you want it.
Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School
South Philadelphia Brooklyn
Were you into photography from a young age?
My family always said I was – I don’t really remember. My aunt Linda was a photographer, among other things. I’d always be playing with her cameras during Thanksgiving, and my parents would be worried, like “put down that $5,000 camera!” But she would always let me do my thing and nurture that. I will never forget when she took me to see Paul Strand at this Philly museum when I was 15 and trying to figure it out as a photographer.
When did you start putting it together that photography was something you’d pursue?
In high school, I would go to concerts with a disposable camera and shoot the event, shoot what we were doing, and post it to Tumblr. My parents couldn’t understand why I’d be on the internet for so long. Now they get it – but back then, they’d question me. But I was learning so much; it was beyond me. So many different things about sexual identity, gender, how people represent themselves culturally, people in different time zones, celebrating different holidays. So many things became ‘a thing’ through that website. Tumblr was a space that I feel like a lot of artists of my generation came into themselves.
Does a space like that still exist?
I wish it did for younger people. On Instagram you can always see someone’s follower count, but on Tumblr it was more hush-hush, allowing people to connect in a more genuine way. If you were doing something cool, that’s all that mattered in terms of connectivity. There’s not really a space where you can learn things anymore because everyone wants to police and be right. With the ‘cancel culture’ that’s been birthed, there’s little space to learn. We have to value that people come from different walks of life and are in different stages. There’s no equal playing field where people can coexist in cyber space because everything’s attached to something monetary or a following.
How can people in power play a role in bettering this?
True activism would be to put queer and marginalized bodies in the room, hiring us to do work – not for a byline –but to make and support cool shit. The art world is a white man’s space; a lot of people in my generation are tired of that and are actively trying to change it. White allies are doing that too, knowing that as a white person with a lot of privilege, they don’t have to regurgitate the same pool of people. I’m excited to see where everything goes, but with the state of politics now, I’m afraid all of our progress could get flipped on its head.
Any advice for staying positive in this time?
Keep making art; keep making people aware. Art is a way to relay history and to relay the truth, whatever that may be. We have to keep putting ourselves out there because there are so many people that can relate. Visibility and representation are so essential, and ‘being seen’ is something that goes very far, because it allows people to feel validated to do the thing they themselves want to do. That is why we create.
School of Visual Arts
São Paulo, Brazil Brooklyn
3 words to sum up your feelings on entering the post-grad world?
Overwhelmed, (im)patient and hopeful
What are you up to this summer?
I’m currently waiting for my visa to arrive, but in the meantime I’m working on a new project about soccer and Brazil’s impact on the sports landscape nowadays.
What keeps you motivated to work in the art world?
I think living in New York and going to art school in the city specifically allowed me to be surrounded by working artists and people in the creative field at all times. There’s also so much to see in New York, so many galleries and movies. With that being said, all of my friends and I share the same interests, so we keep each other motivated to make work.
Anything that frustrates you about the art world? Do you feel like it’s changing?
One thing that frustrates me about the art world is that you’re either really big or nothing at all, however that has been changing in the last few years because of social media, which brings everyone to one single platform, making people more accessible.
Do you feel your age influences your perspective/work?
I believe my age gives me a different perspective on things for sure, however I think being a Brazilian woman living in the United States has more of an impact on how I approach my work because of the critical distance I have from both home and the United States.
Special thanks to Zach Bowman.