Saturday, May 1, 2010

Talking 'bout My Generation

Wow! I just left two days at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where I had been invited to participate in a panel speaking about "Making Meaning in the Marketplace" sponsored by the American Craft Council. While I often speak in front of large groups of people, it has been a long time since I have been in an academic setting, to say nothing of an art-academic setting, where there is a vocabulary all its own.

I was once an art student at the California College of Arts (and Crafts, as it was then known), and once an avid participant in deep heady conversations. The conversations then (in the 1970's) were often about art vs craft, and how we (mostly) women students could justify working in a medium (textiles) so strongly identified with women's handicrafts, yet consider ourselves serious artists. And how could we be taken seriously as artists by the previous generation when we were rebelling against them so strongly. And how to get a gallery to show our work. My, how things have changed - and not!
There were two conversations with students in particular that really struck me. The first had to do with the concern about having a unique work vs selling out, being unique and being knocked off. In this globalized world into which they are graduating, the Internet and mobile computing has changed everything. Students don't know whether to hide their work or show it, don't know if millions will view their work or no one. We used to be concerned about a few hundred, maybe thousands seeing our work. Now, in the age of American Idol and Yelp, everything is up for grabs to be voted on by our fellow citizens. Such a different pressure...

But the final conversation of the day really struck me. A young woman asked me, essentially asked my generation, to take her seriously - to take the fact that she and her generation approach things so differently than my generation did. Specifically, she talked about the fact that the 20 year olds of today often have multiple interests, and have been comfortable pursuing them, thus their resumes post-college may include a mixture of talents and experiences. She has found that that is often being considered "unfocused" or "inexperienced" by employers of my generation. We spoke of the irony that the mature adults of today, those who fought so hard against the constraints of the '50's and '60's, were now imposing their '80's and '90's-based work ethics on the new workforce of the '10's.

This caused me to reflect on my daughter, a young woman who is perfectly comfortable identifying as a designer/artist/photographer/art director/blogger. She is interested in all these things, damn good at all of them, and wants no one to box her in to one category. As her mom, I know that boxing her in would be the dumbest thing for any employer to do, that this would never take advantage of all that she has to offer. So then I thought about some of the people who work for and with me now: the finance guy who is also a painter, the marketing manager who owns a roller derby team, the merchant who is also an interior designer. Their whole life perspective walks into every meeting we have, but do I really value that? I sure hope so. As far as the finance guy goes, I know that the fact that he was a painter meant a lot to me in hiring him in the first place, but little did I know that he would write a monthly Controller's report that is actually interesting to read!

Really, in the end, is my quest to live as a successful businesswoman, a trusted friend, a desired lover and a style arbiter so very different?

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