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Burnt out, millennial, and artist

Ask Artblog's Beth Heinly responds to a question about millennial burn out and its relation to social media and endurance performance.

Image courtesy of the artist. Eric Millikin, in the midst of his month long performance consuming nothing but Pumpkin Spiced Lattes, 2016
Image courtesy of the artist. Eric Millikin, in the midst of his month long performance consuming nothing but Pumpkin Spiced Lattes, 2016

I’d love to hear you talk about this wrote:

“Can you speak on the connection between millennials’ relationship to work(ing all the time) and our tendency to value art that involves extraneous labor (i.e. endurance performance, physical harm, etc)? My question comes from this article.”

Dear I’d love to hear you talk about this:

The millennial practice of endurance performance art is branding yourself as an artist on social media while simultaneously creating massive amounts of artwork to keep relevant within an aggregated timeline. With economic decline the arts will likely suffer because Art is a niche market that caters to the wealthy upper-class – a class today that is 1% of the population. Henceforth a market which reports that 65% of the artists who make a living with their art are actually 10 people. I exaggerate, but I’m mostly right. You’re a millennial, you should google it. In any case, less viable career options for the majority of working artists.

I saw a number of parallels in Ann Helen Peterson’s article you shared to the art world at large – especially considering artists are essentially similar to the academia category. So, these factors; economic decline, my parents think I’m super talented, if I get my Masters I can teach, oops hardly any tenured staff at art schools, I can’t pay off these student loans as a barista – all of these parallels can explain the burnout, which explains, in answer to your question, the rise of endurance performance art.

Endurance Performance art was initially indoctrinated into art history when the term “burnout” first came to define itself via the article you shared, by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, to cases of “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Hence Chris Burden in a locker for five days, Tehching Hsieh in a cage for year, Marina Abramovic, just Marina Abramovic. Checking out = endurance art, the two constructs or actions seem to have a lot in common. The 1970’s like today saw a lot of political upheaval, protests championed by the 1960’s against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights, Equal Rights, the rise of environmental awareness, a corrupt presidency and an economic recession. Yikes, here’s hoping we don’t follow in the 1980’s footsteps. Seriously, everyone, Stranger Things is pretty, but honestly, not that deep.

But, aside from what I mention in the opening paragraph, I struggle to think of endurance performance or self-harm as standard practice for millenials. I found a couple examples of endurance art in this recent decade anyway, two mail art performances. The contrast between the two is telling. In 2011, Jordan Wayne Long mailed himself in a crate from Bald Knob, Arkansas to Portland, Oregon, a 7 day journey, all while online gaming. The artist describes the work as a coping mechanism for PTSD, aka burnout? In 2014, Wilmer Wilson IV attempted to mail himself from Washington DC to Philadelphia covering his nude body in postage stamps. The piece itself, entitled “Henry “Box” Brown: Forever,” was less about the act of being mailed and more about a commemorative act for the individual Henry “Box” Brown who in 1894 mailed himself from to Richmond Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to escape slavery. For Wilson, the endurance art part, more self-harm part, of the performance would be walking the streets of DC nude covered in postage stamps – oh, and being a black male. In 2016 artist, Eric Millikin, drank nothing but Pumpkin Spiced Lattes for a month. Check out those plastic straws. I’m thankful it wasn’t a white girl performance. I also found a recent endurance performance in the footnotes of the Endurance Performance Art Wikipedia page – uploaded in January of this year, artist Benjamin Bennet smiling on youtube for 4 hours. It has over 300,000 views! Surely to go down in the “Weird Youtube” Hall of Fame w/ “I Feel Fantastic”.

Millenials are overworked, out of work and obsessed with the social media timeline. Add to that a tendency to cope via nihilist fascination (think staring into the abyss) and the answer to this self-feeding loop is to set the task to endurance performance art. Thank you for sharing that article with me! I really enjoyed it.

Old Millenial Beth