Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—form the largest consumer demographic today, and they have already begun to have a marked impact on the art landscape, challenging the way art is traditionally consumed and collected.
A 2021 report from Art Basel and UBS found that millennial collectors were in fact the highest spenders on fine art in 2020, with 30% having spent over $1 million on art, with an average spend of $228,000.
This no doubt presents a huge market potential for art dealers, galleries and auction houses, who have had to adapt their approach to cater to the unique attitudes and habits of these younger collectors. So, how exactly are millennials impacting the art sphere, and how do their behaviors, motivations and buying habits differ from older collectors?
The Role Of Digital Spaces
Along with Gen Z (the generation born between 1997 and 2012), millennials are typically more at home in online spaces than any other generation to come before them, spending a significant proportion of their time online and connecting through social media, and this remains true when it comes to discovering and buying art.
The 2020 Hiscox Online Art Trading Report found 69% of millennials had purchased art online from March to September, and 66% bought two to five pieces, meaning the online market has had a dramatic impact on introducing a whole new generation of buyers to collecting art.
The same report also found 92% of art buyers under the age of 35 regularly use Instagram for art related purposes, and 35% of millennial art buyers had bought art on Instagram, making it a powerful tool for millennials to discover new art and keep up to date with what is trending in the market.
The events of the pandemic resulted in an acceleration of digital spaces within the art world, further contributing to the increased accessibility of fine art among millennials and proving the value of such spaces. Sotheby’s reported in 2020 that 30% of its online sales came from buyers under the age of 40, and many galleries and auction houses have started to pay attention to this younger demographic, adapting to accommodate the differing attitudes and buying habits of millennials alongside their older patrons.
Access To Art Assets
One of the defining characteristics of millennials is their higher education level, with a Pew Research Center study finding 39% of those aged 25 to 37 possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29% of Generation X at the same age.
Given this increased level of education and the disruptive approach millennials have taken to many traditional career paths, many millennials are more likely to question accepted norms within the art world and reject what they consider to be outdated. Many have shown a preference for increased accessibility into art spheres and a less elitist approach to viewing and buying art.
The growing role of technology (paywall) and apps, such as Instagram, has made art more accessible to a new generation than it has been before, and institutions such as galleries, art fairs and auction houses have in some cases become less intimidating spaces as they develop new ways to engage their millennial audiences and curate exhibitions both online and offline that appeal to this demographic.
Shifting Values And Motivations
It is not simply the means through which millennials consume art that has changed when compared with older collectors, but their motivations for purchasing particular pieces are also different.
Twenty- and 30-something collectors often seek a connection and emotional experience with the art they purchase, with 95% citing “emotional benefits (passion for art)” as a motivating factor for buying. This means they may be less likely to invest in the works of old masters and other classical pieces, instead finding a greater affinity for contemporary pieces and works that utilize unconventional mediums and materials, often due to the increased relatability of these works.
The role of identity can also a huge motivating factor for these younger collectors, and they may opt for art that exemplifies their own political and ethical values. The identity of the artist is often important to millennial collectors, too, and their inclination toward online spaces means they are able to seek out specific kinds of art and types of artists, while being more willing to invest in emerging artists and those from backgrounds traditionally dismissed by institutions in the past.
They often invest in pieces that stimulate discussions of social impact, and the importance they place on identity has led to the increased success and visibility of artists of color and women as they express the ideas and values that resonate the most with millennial collectors.
Given the impact millennials are already having on the art world, galleries, auction houses and art dealers must be aware of the shifting expectations within this demographic. Institutions such as these must continue to embrace the digital transformation of the art sphere and provide new and immersive ways for younger audiences to view and buy art online, whether this is through a greater investment in social media channels or the provision of online viewing rooms. Additionally, dealers should consider the specific tastes of millennial buyers when it comes to the artists and works they exhibit, and take into account the importance younger buyers place on the role of identity and social impact in the art they buy.
Millennials are changing the direction of the art market. Their direct connection with the art world through online platforms and a greater demand for new ways to view and purchase art has had a significant effect on the accessibility and inclusivity of traditional institutions.