For a long time in human history, trade skills were passed along by way of masters to apprentices. Someone who was really good at something took on one or more little fledgelings, who went around and did basically intern work while learning the master’s craft. After a number of years, when the master felt it was time, he would release the new little craftsmen into the world, where they would be treated as equals. And there were good masters and bad masters, but that’s beside the point: trades had lineage, which could be traced back. These lineages became schools of thought.
At some point, a transition to the university system began, well before the United States was entering the world stage. In some trades, lineage was exchanged for a degree when it came to credentials, but there was still a period of focused learning that took place…for those who had the money. While the rich went to the universities, the majority of young men and women took the masters available to them: fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles or folks down the street.
And that’s how the world went for a while.
Here’s what no one explained to us as kids: our parents, the Boomers, they fought for this idea of a perfect world where we could grow up and be anything, do anything our hearts desired. And oh, did our hearts desire. But what they didn’t fight for was a way for us to learn how to do those things; oh yes, a university education is now available to a much wider berth of applicants. But having four years of different teachers is not the same has having the same master for eight—or more.
What we get, in a university, is a series of tastes—samples, really—of those lineages passed down to our teachers. They do their best, God thank them, but why do we really find it so strange that so many people (Millennials and Gen Xers) earn their undergrads and, lest they move directly into grad school, still seem to feel woefully underprepared? Many of us can’t go back to our old teachers, because they already have new students—they’ve put in the next crop before reaping the yield from the one before! We can’t go back to our parents, because while my father may have wanted to be a stand-up comedian, he wound up becoming a carpenter instead. He didn’t have this choice.
So out we go, crops of half-grown interns and apprentices in virtually every creative field from canvas painting to opera; inmates running the asylum. I have zero business publishing anything I write, for probably another at least three years. The problem is, I don’t have anyone who can look at my writing and say, “Sorry, this sucks. But here’s why.” So instead, I just have to suck, publicly. I have to put my work out there and face a whole world of pain that someone at this level of education working as an apprentice would never have had to deal with.
That’s us. Working for passion, carving trenches with Swiss Army knives. That means we’re going to screw up. A lot.
But here’s the other side of that. Without masters to guide us, we’re not restricted to the patterns of the past. Sure, we can look at Youtube performances of great ballerinas and hear symphonies whenever we want; we can study the end result—these phantoms give us things to aspire to, to reach towards. But we don’t see the editing phase. We don’t see the creation process. We don’t see how the sausage is made…more importantly, we don’t spend years following someone else’s recipe. Instead we end up having to rewrite it ourselves, largely by guessing.
So, yes, we’re going to get it wrong—more than a few times; and every time we fail, every time we screw up, every time our grants are rejected or our paintings don’t sell or our writing gets slammed by rabid armchair critics, it’s back to the drawing board.
We might not reinvent the wheel, but give us a chance, and I promise you, Millennials will reinvent everything that comes after it.
“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”
~ Dave Grohl
In the past, there was always a frontier, and it usually came with new challenges. My generation grew up dreaming of the stars, and what may lay beyond. “Space!” cried the myths of the Millennials, “The final frontier!” But history would have it differently. Despite all of the talks of missions to Mars and Jupiter, for the time being, we are still inexorably bound to Terran soil. Lacking places to expand high or low or to any side, humans created their own realm to expand to: the virtual horizon. Instead of outer space, cyberspace became the Millennial frontier.
The internet, I’ve heard it argued, is not a particularly great invention. It doesn’t really do anything on its own the way the wing or the wheel (or sliced bread) before it did. It merely accelerates the transference of ideas. But this allows for new possibilities. It allows for over a hundred thousand people to watch a woman stand up in her state senate for something she believes in. Now Wendy Davis is possibly running for governor, bolstered in part by vocal support from people not just in different states, but even different countries—support that she garnered because of these technological advances. With the internet, the idea may be more valuable than the dollar.
There’s more than just ad revenue and virtual real estate out there. We’ve all come to accept pop ups and Youtube channels as part of our daily lives; we’ve accepted that thumbs are a form of currency—which, a few thousand years in the future, will seem a strange and barbaric concept when taken out of context. But there is a lot of unpaved territory out there, measured in terabytes rather than acres. Between the metropoles of internet porn and independent news, one can find little oases; a song covered by a guy in his bedroom, a girl doing yoga on the beach, a flash mob in Grand Central, forever locked in moving time; art in four dimensions. They all began with ideas.
Make no mistake, every great thing that has ever happened at the hands of mankind first started with an idea, bar none. Many bad things have started this way, too, but that is sometimes the price mankind pays. After the idea comes desire. Desire is what takes someone from just having an idea, from asking “What if,” and keeps gnawing at them, until suddenly they find themselves simply unable to sleep, caught somewhere between a fever and frustration, trying to scribble, to draw, to hammer out this thing they’ve got inside them… and then, next thing they know, they’ve rediscovered Nirvana.
The Gen X and Millennial creative community was gifted with an incredible boon: an open playpen, and a way to share our work with people we would have no business being in contact with for critical review and consideration otherwise. Our teachers are each other.
While we celebrate success and champion those American Idols and Survivors, those names will be among the first to fade. The true game-changers of the X and Millennial generations will be the New Amateurs; the people who take shoddy knock-off hand-me-downs and turn them into greater things, or at least new things; the entrepreneurs who take old piano bars and turn them in to yoga studios; the bands that start out in garages and the painters that start out in living rooms and on back streets.
But that means we’re going to have to work. That drawing board? Get used to it, because those times between sharing work—that’s all ours. From the moment a person takes that first step on the path of an artist, they will be knocked to the ground; by family and peers, and the critics and strangers will be waiting in the wings after that. The world will show the young artist everyone who makes more money than them, who gets more views than them, who flies higher than them and puts out more work than them. The world will spit in the artist’s face. It will break their toys.
But that can’t stop an artist.
For the Millennial/Xer artist, there will be no master to pick them up or shield them. There will be no book to show them the quick and easy way. There will be no Publishers Clearing House to come knocking on their door with balloons and a party shouting, “Hey! You’re talented!”
But that can’t stop an artist.
We will have to write our own books. However, we have free reign to put our writings on the wall, and to look at what others have written before us. We have the power to compare notes, cheat on the tests, share recipes and stories and progress, but in the end, we alone must put pen or brush to paper. We alone must stand in the spotlight. We alone must stare back at the red dot by the camera lens. We alone have the power to suck, and when we fail, it will be on our own heads; but therein is the power and the permission to change—to try something new. And when we have something, something that no one has done before quite like us, we have the power to share it—without censure. Can you not grasp how powerful this is?
Some of us, apparently, can. Take Devin, here.
Already, we’re seeing new developments in the fields of dance and theater. Music composition and visual art have new champions. The culinary arts are open game, eager for new chefs to come forward and take us to the next chapter in cuisine. Video games have opened up the potential for interactive art, an entirely unexplored field. Many of these trailblazers are not walking the traditional paths to fame; they’ve been pushing into new territory since before the internet. But of us who come after, we’ve got to figure this out on our own. But that’s why we have each other.
Millennials and Xers have the ability to band together, to make decisions and come to a consensus as a group like no world power has ever had before. We don’t have to use this ability; no one is coming to the Millennials on their knees begging us to save the world. This isn’t the Great Adventure, not yet. This is just practice. But therein, we have the entirely unprecedented educational and economic landscape where the rules aren’t as binding. So what we choose to do with this ability is entirely up to us. Whether we’re a hacktivist from Anonymous or someone with a camera looking to add a little awesome to the world, we all exist on the same landscape, the new frontier; and we’ll face new, unseen challenges along the way. For a long time, we’ll suck. But it’s okay.
Because we’re going to change the world. Together.