From the moment that the Allies bombed the Axis into compliance, the
world has seen a steady stream of counterculture prodding at the
status quo. As each successive decade of the post-war era raged
forth, the art world served as a catalyst for social movements.
Today's youth claims to desire the same type of advancement,
expanding its knowledge via the Internet rather than in libraries,
interacting on networking sites rather than in clubs. But throughout
this generation, there has been an odd emphasis on the past, leading
scholars and students alike to wonder what this emphasis means.
"There has been this odd dance of self-identity that has plagued the
current youth," said Diana Galber, a history professor at UC Merced.
"There is no doubt that it has led [this generation] to lack any form
of actual connection."
Galber, whose classes often focus on various historical
countercultures, blames a lacking art world for the reason our
generation feels the need to constantly take trips down memory lane.
"This constant self-reflexivity isn't by accident," Galber said.
"There is no form of artistic license that has managed to captivate a
large part of the youth. As a result, no counterculture has truly emerged."
Kari Lizer, a professor of art and visual culture at UC Merced, cites
major artistic turning points as the reason that various
countercultures have been able to thrive. As a result, a lack of true
artistic identity is to blame for this generation's lack of gravitating ideals.
"The 1960s had artists like [Andy] Warhol who truly broke the
product-obsessed medium, and gave way to a youth that defied
mainstream ideology," Lizer said. "You look at this generation, and
there is no defining artist, no defining style; it's all very up in
the air … there is no artistic mold to adapt to."
That lack of artistic identity has many arguing that the current
stream of counterculture lacks any actual motivation or basis. As a
result, the youth of today has turned to the only form of art they do
know: nostalgia. Referencing works of the past, and refusing to
create any meaning of their own, today's counterculture may be the
ultimate example of just what the artistic world is lacking which,
according to Lizer, is actual substance.
"[Today's youth] looks upon the past as something not just to study,
but something to emulate," Lizer said. "That isn't to belittle
today's artists it's merely to put it into a broader perspective.
They simply aren't tantalizing their recipients anymore."
Riley Ackerman, a third-year art major at UC Santa Cruz, agrees, but
places the blame on both the youth and the artists. For Ackerman, the
quality of the art is only as deep as those analyzing it.
"It's hard to place all the blame on today's 'lack of intriguing
art,'" Ackerman said. "I mean, after all, it's more about the minds
that view it, than it really is [about] the paintings themselves."
Ackerman's point is valid, considering that the art world is a medium
defined by context. For a work to stand the test of time, it needs to
be understood by minds that crave that shift in values. Followers of
Warhol craved a reaction to the mass market they found themselves
part of. So the issue may not be that we lack a modern-day Warhol,
but a following for one.
"Our generation constantly finds itself overly nostalgic, as a result
of no firm footing in the present," Ackerman said. "There is simply
nothing to inspire us, and as a result, nothing to hold us down."
The youth of the 1960s became known for its insatiable taste for
revolution, while the flower children of the 1970s are the product of
the "free love"-based generation. The 1980s are often considered to
have been punished with availability and excess, while those of the
1990s were subject to a surge in flannel sales and the overall advent
With nothing to defend or uphold, Ackerman argues that today's
generation lacks any actual substance, causing us to emulate all that
has come before.
"Art and youth go hand in hand," Galber said. "They are
interconnected in a way that no one will ever truly be able to
understand or fully grasp."
So, as retro-ironic, T-shirt-wearing and Converse-clad 20-somethings
proudly recite their favorite Nickelodeon shows forwards and
backwards, many are placing this generation under a microscope for
observational study the likes of which, Galber said, have never
been seen before.
Ackerman, for one, hopes that today's young generation holds more
weight in the world than that.
"It would be nice to know that this generation holds a little more
value," he said with a laugh. "We lack an intense connection to
anything artistic, but that doesn't mean we need to lack actual
substance. I don't want to blame art or youth I want more from both."