The image of the struggling artist whose genius is not enough to earn a living has been prominent for decades. Much as it would be nice to think this perception was obsolete, the fact is, a job in the arts is still negatively connotated, particularly among older generations. 1Granary investigates the prejudice toward creative work and asks: how do Generation X (Gen-X) and younger generations’ relationships with their jobs differ? How meaningful is the parental relationship in career decisions? And ultimately, how can both sides come to a compromise?
“Artists only make money when they’re dead.”
As definitions are fluid, for this article, the particular generations are defined as Generation X (born from 1965 to 1979), which are the segments the majority of parents belong, and the younger generations, being the Millennials or Generation Y (born from 1980 to 2000) and Generation Z (born from 2001 to 2012).
Surely, homogenous characterisation of social identity generalises different life experiences, values, and interests and leads to stereotyping. Punks and identifiers with the New Romantic movement would not necessarily find much common ground. However, individuals close in age share specific characteristics resulting from collective experiences.
First things first: who are Gen-X? According to the Journal of Organisation & Human Behaviour, Gen-X stands out from other generational character traits due to feeling less valued and often overlooked. Through discursive studies, the journal could identify common interests in traditional family values and concerns about the economy. Another study states materialism, cynicism, and pessimism to be attributes associated with them, resulting from economic prospects and societal issues. Gen-X’s relationship with work closely ties to the importance of rules, employment security, and stability, as well as a balanced life-work relationship.
“You can’t turn a hobby into a job!”
To be fair, the creative industry is known for neither employment security, stability, nor a balanced life-work relationship. 47-years old accessory designer Jo Miller, who first studied Fine Arts before eventually transitioning into fashion at the age of 36, remembers: “At the time I was growing up and living through the Thatcher years, I felt creativity was very undervalued. People often expressed to me that being a creative was something you should do as a hobby rather than considering it to be a serious career path.” He continues that the understanding, in general, was very narrow and restricted. “In my teenage years, roads into creative industries were limited, and they were not well understood or represented.”
Imagining that Gen-X could access information on creative careers mostly through secondary sources such as TV shows and magazines, it comes as no surprise that to a survey by @1granary, which saw more than two-thousand respondents, 68% answered that they have or had a hard time with their families accepting or respecting their creative work.
Otto Garrod, a 19-year old BA Fashion Print student at Central Saint Martins, grants very personal insight into his experience with the topic: “We don’t see eye to eye at things. I would spend weeks creating this coat and send a picture to my Dad, and he would just respond, ‘Looks good.’ I wish he would actually kind of give a fuck.”
“But how will you make money?”
Gen-X’s perception of the fashion industry during their defining years, in particular, poses a multiplex matter. In her book Anti-Fashion: The 1970s, Valerie Steele describes the 70s as a divided period, starting as the “bastard child of the 1960s fashion revolution” and later turning into “The Decade That Taste Forgot.” Punk came in style with sex and violence, bubbling up to the high-fashion world, which would translate it into the decadent Terrorist Chic style. In contrast, the middle-class escaped the industry’s diffusion and confusion by gravitating toward power dressing and business attire that set the tone for the 80s’ aggressive styles.
Simultaneously, the Golden Age of Capitalism led to a high in consumerism: affordable ready-to-wear fashion increased in popularity, while the couturiers struggled to maintain their influence. Miller shares, “I had little interest in the high street trends that were available to me. Instead, I immersed myself in the local charity shops, something that was frowned upon at the time, where you could find amazing choice vintage pieces that I would adopt.” The casual blue jeans evolved from a symbol for workers to a symbol of continuity and lifestyle. Soon, jeans were picked up by designers like Calvin Klein or Pierre Cardin. Fashion no longer trickled down; it bubbled up as subcultures set the tone for trends. High fashion lost its power of influence. And as the depression set in, the industry fled to licensing deals to stabilise its market share. Thus, by the 1980s, the industry was in flux, and colleges started to train a new wave of couture designers.
“How are you going to monetise that idea? H&M sells it for less!”
Against the background of those developments, it appears the fashion industry repelled Gen-X not only due to contrasting work ethics and values; even worse, fashion had lost its credibility in the eyes of the public. If Rags and Punks could create what the acclaimed creative genius later sold as expensive haute couture, and the ready-to-wear labels subsequently again offered as a cheaper rip-off for the middle-class consumer — how can it be aspiring to work in such a confused and delusional environment? Miller says, “I was often told I would not be able to make a living from being a creative, and I was selfish and irresponsible for wanting to pursue a career in the arts.”
Consequently, as fashion designers lost their influence, the public lost its understanding of the concept. Garrod explains, “My Dad grew up in Skinhead culture. He always appreciated their fashion and the aspect of 1980s England, a common kind of ground that always inspired my work. If I reference something growing up he indulged in, such as Fred Perry or Ben Sherman, he could see the accessibility to that.” The designer continues, “But he sees things on a very surface level. For example, for the Light Show 21, I made this 18th-century cut jacket, with the ass sitting incredibly low, and it having lipstick stains; he didn’t understand it.”
“What are you going to do with that?”
What is likewise challenging is Gen-X’s comparably high parental involvement in their children’s career decisions. Thus, one respondent to our @1granary poll said, “I just don’t talk about [my work] that much anymore because I don’t want their commentary holding me back.” Another one even answered, “My parents don’t know I am in fashion. They think I work in Marketing.”
Similarly significant is how parents’ disapproval can negatively affect one’s creative work. A 26-year old MA Jewellery Design student at CSM shares: “It puts pressure on me to work in line with industry’s standards so that I quickly get a job after graduation.” The student also voices an eternal hardship that accompanies parents’ intense involvement. “I do seek validation from my family even though I know I should not because they will never be able to understand my field. So every time they show any negativity, it makes me hopeless.”
“It’s ridiculous and a waste of time.”
With Gen-X’s relationships with the creative industry and their children in mind, the younger generation’s perspective is somewhat twisted. Their teens and twenties are no longer just to reach and settle in adulthood roles. Instead, studies have found the period to be increasingly troubling for them, characterised by instability, insecurity, and high levels of change through the exposure to manifold prospects for love, work, and worldview. Growing up being torn between parents’ traditional values and a new world focusing on self-fulfillment and exposing endless possibilities through digital devices is one of the main reasons the Millennials and Gen-Z have higher rates of anxiety and depression than other generations.
While Garrod has found a way to translate his anxiety into his work, he admits, “I do remember very clearly this conversation with my Dad in the car, saying, ‘Everybody is good at something, everybody has got something that they want.’ I was probably like ten or eleven. My Dad responded, ‘You’ll find it one day.'”
Then again, it is not to say that Millennials and Generation Z are indifferent to attributes such as financial stability and job security. However, studies found that younger generations change careers more frequently and value freedom and status more than their parent’s generation. This poses a source of definite differences and often a lack of understanding of Gen-X for the children’s career decisions.
“Get a real job!”
It is difficult to go through with a career choice if there is little support from one’s family. Particularly when parents over-involve in their children’s decision-making and impose their own goals and beliefs on their children. Thus, it is even more important to expose Gen-X to preliminary information on fashion and the arts and to different realities. Asking the @1granary community how they try to resolve the issue, besides answers like blocking their family or moving 10,000 kilometres away, a few suggested “Long talks about my aspirations and goals” and “Trying to explain it in their ‘language’ so they have an idea of it.”
What is essential to understand is that apathy or incomprehension cannot be equated with neglect. After all, digitalisation disabled the privileges of education, demographics, and personal networks that Gen-X was dependent on. Younger generations undeniably benefit from the advancements in technology and free and unlimited information from the internet.
Thus, for Otto Garrod, despite wishing for more empathy with his work, his Dad’s difficulty grasping his son does not overlap that he is trying and ultimately caring. “It’s such a juxtaposition. He rented this space for me to work in, even when we didn’t have the money. Throughout my foundation year during the pandemic, he would model for me. I would put him in a blazer, get his gut out, put him in a skirt. He doesn’t understand it, so he turns a blind eye because he wants me to be happy.”
There are two sides to the story. On the one hand, external validation always poses dangerous grounds, and it is crucial to find healthy strategies to cope with it. On the other, people’s realities are and will ever be different; there is a reason why humans are declared individuals. So finding common ground and an understanding of each other’s reality is undeniably a good start – across all generations.