Marketing Mondays: Ageism

Invisible to some, looming large to others
Banksy's elephant, via the Internet

It's the elephant in the room that no one under 35 sees. Every once in a while, though, the beast becomes visible to all. Here's the online submission policy from a long-time gallery, first based in SoHo and now in Chelsea:
"The gallery is looking for young emerging artists only. Fresh, innovative, interesting works and new ideas. Artists between ages 24 to 34. Preferable works: Abstract Sculptures, Figurative and Abstract Paintings."
If you're under 34 it's an opportunity. If you're older than 34, it's an insult. To be fair, this dealer does have a roster of mid-career and late-career artists who have shown to considerable acclaim, and unlike some galleries that have culled its older artists, this one is simply looking to expand the roster.

Is this illegal? I don't know, but it sure feels wrong. Then again, the only reason I get to comment on it is because the submission note is posted on the gallery's website. Most age-specific galleries wouldn't be so upfront. (No, I'm not telling you which gallery it is, but its identity lies between A and Z.)

Dude, if you really want to find "fresh, innovative, interesting works," get out from behind your desk and make the rounds of the places they can be found: open studios, art fairs, MFA exhibitions, juried shows, non-profits and the various do-it-yourself exhibitions put on by eager and ambitious artists. Talk to curators, surf the web, and here's an idea: engage the people who come into your gallery. No one knows what's out there better than the people who are out there. Also, you may be surprised at who's making some of that "fresh" work you're seeking.
But this post is not to pick on one late-career dealer. It's to hear from you.
. Do you suspect (or know) that age was a factor in an opportunity denied you?
. When did you first realize that age was an issue in your career?
. How do you deal with dates on your resume?
. Do you deflect inquiries about your age--or out and out lie?
. Do you know of other situations like the one I recounted?
. On the flip side, I have heard more than one dealer say that exhibition experience, a sales track record and enviable painting chops trump new and untried any day. Has that been your experience? .
And just to keep things open, all you "young and emerging artists" are welcome to join the conversation. Age will likely be an issue for you one day, too.
Related Marketing Mondays topic: Isms and Phobias


Bernard Klevickas said...

Thank you So much for posting this. I saw it too about a month ago. Then submitted my work anyway (I'm 39).
Yes, it should be illegal.

Kesha Bruce said...

I don't think I've ever been denied an opportunity because of my age, but having just recently graduated from the '24 to 34' age category I have to admit I find this more than a little bit...troubling. That said, I can't see myself fudging dates on my resume in order to compensate.

My first question: What does "fresh, innovative, interesting, and new" mean anyway? Like, really.

My second question: How does their current roster of "mature" artists feel about their gallery's new direction? I'm dying to know. Hmmmm!

Unknown said...

Hoo-boy, Joanne. This is a loaded topic if there ever was one. Elephant in the room, indeed. Brava.

I often wonder what my work and career would be like if I had started earlier, but I didn't. I had to raise a child on my own, and I needed to support myself, so I was an illustrator for many years, and I have no regrets. I went to Rutgers for grad school and we had a fairly diverse class, age-wise. I never felt talked down to or ignored. I was naive. Everything changed when it came time to build my career from there.

So it took a while to figure out how to navigate and negotiate and figure out what would work and what just wouldn't. There were surprised looks, and comments made. But I now realize that blaming ageism is a way of excusing myself from getting in the studio and trying to make the best and most compelling work I can.

I would tell all the under-35's that what they don't understand is that you never really feel "old." Old is a construct that comes from outside of you. It always confuses me that I'm invisible in some situations (well, I live in Williamsburg, so you can only imagine.) Because I'm still the same me, and I feel better than ever.

Julie Caves said...

Hi Joanne
You see this frequently here in the UK.
In Europe job applications and CVs expect to have your date of birth and occasionally a photo. It is not against the law to ask age.

I find it quite demoralising to be reminded that some people think someone over 35 can’t have fresh ideas. Many young artists I know have not started making their own work yet, they are still making work for uni, are derivative, are making work for the market or hoping to magically make it big. These young artists don’t make fresh work or authentic work at all. If it takes time to find your own voice or to know your own mind, they haven’t had the time yet.

Then there are the “young” artists who are over 40 because they are on a second career and have finally realised what they want to do with their life. So they are just graduating uni like the 22 year olds, but they know what they want to say. These “young” artists should perhaps be grouped with the other recent graduates.

The time and place for age limits might be to help new artists, to restrict entry in a competition to new graduates to give them a start, but not because they make better art.

Julie Caves said...

I know what you mean. I forget how old I am all the time. I have to actually do the maths, counting years from my birthday.
If I had no idea of my birthday and had to guess how old I was I would think I was almost 20 years younger than I am.

Joanne Mattera said...

Two know-it-alls put the dealer's name in their comments. I'm not publishing them. If you figure it out, and it's not hard, share the information with your friends, not here. If'd wanted to encourage this bad behavior, I would have named the dealer myself.

Jen Bradford said...

Years ago I saw a talk by Jake Berthot, in which he said that most artists were old children and very young adults.I loved that quote, and think of it when this subject comes up.

Ideally the trajectory of any artist's career is extremely long. I can't think of a profession that's harmed more by youth obsession. We're not ballerinas, for Christ's sake.

* said...

Many artists who for me are indispensable as examples belong to the 'late-bloomer' type, who hit upon a rich vein of important and vital work relatively late (example: Alfred Jensen, one of my favorites of all).

--ken weathersby

Nancy Ewart said...

Oh boy, does this resonate. Subtle and not-so subtle references to age resound in many of the galleries, proposals, shows, et al. that I see here in the Bay Area. "Young, Fresh, Innovative, Creative" - pretty clear that no 65-year olds need apply. Like one of your other posters, I had to support myself which didn't allow me to go all out in building an art career. By the time I could try to build that career, I was considered too old. I show my work, sell it even but I haven't been accepted in a local show for ages - partially because most galleries know who I am and how old I am. Now, I've built another kind of career but it's never going to be much of anything more than doing what I love because I love to do it. I'm not complaining (much) because I feel lucky to have that chance now, even at 65. But I would have love to have had more chances but the minute a gallery owner sees my white hair, I see his or her mind clang shut.
But then, it's a very competitive world out there and maybe that's part of the problem. Too many talented people chasing too few opportunities.

Susan Adsett said...

Yeah, this is a problem. As Julie pointed out, there are artists (and I believe the number is growing) who don't even START their art career until after age 35. And they are effectively locked out of this system.

Unfortunately, I think the only answer for someone in that position (like me!) is to ignore these people. Yes, it's a short-sighted and prejudiced business practice. But since it doesn't hurt their bottom line in the short term, they will not change.

Unknown said...

Interesting topic Joanne, and one that is overlooked until it really hits you right between the eyes.

Selecting or judging art based on an age group may have its place, but I tend to agree with that art be judged on quality of the work, not age of the artist. While young artists early in their careers may come to the table with ideas innate to their youthful “fresh” experience, mid and late career artists have life-learned “fresh” ideas from their experiences, and often have the financial stability to take risks and explore avenues for new work that exhibits strength and complexity not yet developed by younger emerging artists.

In the small town where I live there is an artist-in-residence program that states in their application:
“The _______ Artists-in-Residence Program is an opportunity for three visual artists and one creative writer between the ages of 20 and 35 to focus on their art-making/writing while helping with our organization’s mission to build community through dynamic art and ideas. “

If their mission is to build community through dynamic art and ideas, shouldn’t that be inclusive rather than exclusive?

This same group tried to include criteria requiring applicants to be single and have no children. (A board member stated that married artists, or those with children would be distracted and les serious about art-making.) I found their criteria to be most disturbing and noted that they would more than likely be criticized in the media if they included that material in the requirements. Looking at their website it appears they did drop the marriage/childless requirement but kept the youthful specific age group.


Catherine Nash: Desert Paper, Book and Wax said...

Demographics change, profiling changes... as does semantics...

I was raised on the "emerging", "mid-career", "established" ladder...Wisdom, experience and gaining of expertise in expression were honored. I believed that the visual arts was a career one could get old with....and I still do. This ageism trend is very interesting to note. It wasn't happening while I was 24-34.

A bottom line: one paints/creates what one must...and along a time-line of a given lifetime. Does one define one's success by the depth of imagery alone...or by one's sales in the current artmarket?

Some may even define personal success as conducting a vibrant, adventurous life during which consistent creative, expressive and meaningful works are being made.

brie said...

Joanne, I doubt that this will become a sweeping trend. It's not the route to great art. Sounds to me like an old dealer trying to surround himself with young meat for whatever reason. As everyone over age 35 understands, we just keep getting better and life keeps getting better. Except for that nasty added rock in the road of ageism.

joel c said...

Your marketing Mondays are continually interesting. I ran into this once. While at Pratt earning my MFA as a nontraditional student (older student, have to love the political correctness. I know I'm older, just have a look) I was going to apply to the Bronx Museum's program for emerging artists until I was told I was too old. Funny I thought I was emerging in the studio discipline I was pursuing in my MFA . My 'new' career is art. Just shook my head and moved on.

Sharon said...

Hi Joanne,
A few years ago, when I was researching an article for the Brooklyn Rail about contemporary artists' approach to motherhood , none of the women I interviewed had a problem admitting publicly they had kids, which is refreshing, but no one wanted to state their age. Each felt they looked younger than they actually are. Apparently having kids isn't perceived as a career-ender anymore, but growing old is.

LM Smith said...

What if you are in your 50's and just "emerging"? I find this to be a problem since the term "emerging" implies that the artist is young. I just finished an MFA after years away from painting but I'm not 24!

KRCampbellArt said...

I saw this too and others like it over the years. This is so interesting because I just put in the paperwork for a grant to make a documentary on women artists over 50. I plan to cover this situation and others about women going about their work.
Great post.

Pamela Farrell said...

As a late bloomer, at 52, I can say with certainty that despite whatever native talent I might have had at 25, I lacked the focus, drive, and emotional maturity that I have now.

To my knowledge, the gallery where I am represented, does not currently represent artists in the 24-34 age range. The artists are mostly in their late 30's and up to 80-ish. Most are pretty well established in their careers, or at least in who they are, with work informed by accumulated experience.
Some, like me, started their serious art careers later in life or had less-than linear career paths.

When I see opportunities for artists with an age restriction, I just imagine that there is likely to be little true innovation, and that the work is most likely to be trendy, market-driven, or derivative. A dealer seeking to take on artists defined first by age seems pretty short-sighted, or maybe desperate.

On the rare occasions when I have had input about including artists in a project or group show, etc., it's always, always, always about the work. That is, until I decide to curate a show by artists over 35.

Crone, and proud of it...

Anonymous said...

The walls of narrow minds are closing in. I'm curious -- are they targeting a particular age-group of collectors and patrons, as well?

Horse Feathers Saddlery said...

Unfortunately an "under 35" cap is common on calls for artists, competitions and grants in Australia, especially in the government and community sector. While I understand it's an attempt to support new and upcoming artists, like others who have left comments on this topic, I'm frustrated by the assumption that age is an indicator of career length. Perhaps a better idea would be to call for artists with less than 10 or 15 years professional experience. Then artists, like myself, who started later in life would be included.

Bernard Klevickas said...

And Let's not forget the "Younger than Jesus" show that closed not too long ago at the New Museum. Artists' should've been picketing in the streets! said...

There IS a trend to scoop up emerging artists and put a jet rocket to their career hoping to launch the next Damien Hirst.The galleries seem to also want very attractive and charismatic young artists apart from their work. I know a young artist just out of school whose work looks just like Alex Katz's (nothing really new there)who has been scooped up by a gallery "we want to make you a star" to quote the gallerist. It's made me wonder whether, like all trends, this will play itself out and art will be once again become the focus and the name of the game. Where will that leave the young underdeveloped artist?

Joanne Mattera said...

So many interesting comments today. A few comments bach atcha:

@Kesha: You ask "How does their current roster of 'mature' artists feel about their gallery's new direction?" Not thrilled, as you can imagine.

@Sharon: Interesting that motherhood is not a career killer. That's good news. But I'll bet it's a time sucker unless the partner is equally invested in rearing the child.
When I was in art school I actually had a male teacher say to me, "You have to choose between being an artist and being a woman." His message was that I should forego children if I waned to be taken seriously. I asked him: "Are you married? Do you have kids?" Yes and yes. As it turns out, I have no kids (that I know of) but I've always wondered whom he might have misdirected with this "advice."

@Ryl says: "Are they targeting a particular age-group of collectors and patrons, as well?" This issue also comes up at the art fairs when the collectors ask the age of the artist and then back away when they learn it's a mid- or late-career artist (unless it's Frankenthaler or Bourgeois or Benglis). I think it was Oriane Stender who remarked something like, "So tell the collectors that if they're over 40 they can't buy the art."

Keep your great comments coming.

Joanne Mattera said...

@Bernard: Re "Younger than Jesus," Across the street, there was a counter show called "Older than Moses." I didn't attend the NuMu show. In fact, except for the Tomma Abts show, i have not been to the NuMu except to use the bathrooms, which are the best on the LES. I think their curatorial program leaves too much too be desired, and there are many better museums to support.
@ Marian: that mindset was worse a few years ago, before the October 08 crash.

I do want to say that while many, possible most, dealers want to have some younger names and faces on their roster, they know very well that exhibition experience and a track record count a lot. Unfortunately there will always be more artists for the number of available dealers, so too many artists (of all ages) are vying for that same piece of the pie.

Franklin said...

Imagine that only a dozen people on the planet could sing. We wouldn't care what they looked like - we would cherish and revere them. But as it happens, a lot of people can sing. Thanks to digital tools some of them can be made to sound much better than they really are. Consequently, it becomes possible for audiences to demand that they also dance, be 25 or so, and fill out the tops of fashionable outfits nicely.

The same thing is happening to the art world. It's not quite as crass yet, but it is headed there. Younger Than Jesus was the beginning, or at least the first open admission that ageism had become socially acceptable in contemporary art circles, just as Skin Fruit was the first open admission that contemporary museums exist to inflate the value of private collections.

andrea said...

I think Mariandioguardi and Franklin are onto something, especially when you consider the pure logic of the situation (or lack thereof). This is not just about art or even primarily about art, but about cashing in on the western world's current obsession with celebrity. The next best thing to being a celebrity is being a celebrity maker.

Anonymous said...

Sadly some of the local art institutions support this attitude wholeheartedly! I work with several grads privately (outside the institution) and I am shocked at what their professors say to them in "critique".
"You're painting like an old lady" or
"This looks like an old lady abstractionist" etc etc. School will remain unnamed.
If my professor said that to me, I think I'd punch them. Or get my $75K back. I'm just out of the 24-34 range and I find this incredibly offensive and demoralizing.
Another topic for Mondays: the Great Grad school swindle.
I'm staying anon for this post...

Hylla Evans said...

There is under 30 talent out there, but the Younger Than Jesus show didn't find it. It's the only time I felt ripped off paying to see a museum show.
If youth is the measuring stick, all that guarantees is lack of experience, not usually a valuable asset except in kindergarten art shows.
As for arbitrary criteria, how about a more original novelty, like left handed artists, deaf artists, artists over six feet tall and blonde?

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon 12:59,
I did write about the MFA last year. Link below. The comments tell the story--some see it as having been eminently usefeul; others see it as a ripoff. There's no one answer here.

Link below, or go to the sidebar and scroll down to "The MFA" on Marketing Mondays 2009.

It's So Worth It said...

This is a frustration that goes with being a 'late bloomer' as an artist. I raised my family first and when I returned to school to get my BFA and then my MFA I felt behind the tide before I even had a chance to get out and surf! Scholarships, exhibition opportunities, galleries-many often had a cut of age of 35 which left me hanging. I sometimes feel I am chastised for the fact that I am older in attempting to get a job-find a gallery, etc...

It is nice to be idealistic and think that the work can stand alone and that it shouldn't matter your age. However when you walk in the front door with gray hair (I am 45 and mostly gray already) the smile becomes fixed and forced and it becomes obvious that I am not going to get the job, gallery or whatever it is where the younger image is more desirable. What is funny is that they don't think I realize when they are trying to explain why my (excellent) qualifications don't 'fit' with the direction they are going that I know why. Especially when I return later to see the 20 something behind the gallery desk that my 'excellent' qualifications couldn't fit behind.

It becomes a bit demoralizing--Good thing I have thick skin!

Joanne Mattera said...

Hearing so many comments from artists who are hitting brick walls makes me that an entrepreneur with some deep pockets and a keen sense of niche could greate a fabulous gallery that shows the work of artists over 45 or 50. Many collectors are also over 50, so there would seem to be a natural affinity.

All you enrepreneurs out there, here's an offer: Open a gallery, a serious gallery, in a major metropolis, and I'll curate a show for you for free. Or if you are a dealer--same parameters as above--who would like to expand your program, I'll curate a show for you for free.

The only catch: Act fast. I'm curating only one show for free, so if you're interested, let me know. I'm at

Nancy Natale said...

Youth schmouth. I posted a photo on my blog of an artist named Alice deBoton who recently passed away at the age of 103. She worked in many mediums all her fascinating life and took up encaustic in her 70s. The photo shows her with a blowtorch in one hand and an encaustic painting in the other. Now that's something to aspire to! (

LXV said...

Nancy, this is great about Alice deBoton ! It's sort of like my fantasy: to live out my old age, when I can't see to paint anymore, just throwing pots. Maybe I wouldn't even fire them, just to keep making new forms. I'm so process oriented that I can't imagine greater bliss. It would give me something to wake up for every morning. Then why the heck am I still painting?

Adria Arch said...

When I first got out of art school in the 70's, it seemed common wisdom that you needed some years to develop your mature work, and I always felt "too young" to approach galleries. Now it feels like the tides have turned and I often feel "too old" to approach galleries, but feel like my work is much better than ever.

I have a friend who was told that her work was great, but she should "hire" a younger cuter woman to market it for her. Yikes.

Unknown said...

A middle aged friend of my sister took her work around the galleries in New York with no luck. She gave her slides to her daughter who visited the same galleries later and was offered 3 shows. When she "came clean" about the work, the galleries were furious. At 68 my work is better than ever...nothing to do about it but keep doing the best work I can...although some part of me loves the idea of a show for people over 60!

Caleb Taylor said...

Am I the first 24-34 reader to weigh in on this discussion? Come on, we've got to represent!

It is interesting to read the comments and I do find age restrictions to be limiting to the artists and institutions that are setting these parameters. I am not finding that most galleries are willing to to take risks with younger artists. I am 28 and have been given the run-around by galleries who do not trust that I can assemble a show and maintain professionalism because of my age. I find it tough to believe that many galleries are trying to build a program based on age rather than work quality. I am learning that galleries and collectors love having a story to tell, so maybe this desire for young and innovative is their preface.

I encounter collectors who are chasing young artists as a way of reliving their youth. It's a gross game of tag.

Now that I am out of grad school, I am swimming in the sea of all artists, regardless of age. I can't lie, submitting an application to a program that has thinned the pool is less intimidating, but in the end, I want to be part of an impressive group, not a young group.

And I have to point out, there are galleries, grants, residencies that are only looking for established artists. Pollock Krasner grants, Gottlieb grants (minimum 20 yrs career), Joan Mitchell Foundation Artist Grant express these guidelines. There is a studio residency in my city that requires you have been out of academia for at least 7 years to apply. I'm waiting...

Although I don't encourage ageism, for every 24-34, there is an opportunity for 35+. Or at least I hope.

Randy Garber said...

I take my cues from Louise Bourgeouis, who at 93, still says she's learning...So, I'm not about to lie about my age or experience. What's the point? And yes, ageism is discrimination.

thanks for the discussion, Randy Garber

Joanne Mattera said...

This is funny. You've actually made Louise Bourgeois too young! She's 99 (born 1911).
The thing about being so old is that it's OK if you have the kind of career she's had (though she didn't receive acclaim until she was in her 60s). Not for nothing is she the Matron Saint of Mid Career Artists everywhere.

BTW, congrats on your solo at Bromfield

Unknown said...

Hi, I am following you site.
I am older art students, emerging artist, photographer. Having my health problem, so while helping my father's company and doing other stuff, I am eventually changing my career.

I am Japanese, and opportunities are much less than other Western countries, or even China. And I just noticed many young artists showing works in galleries in Japan, and also contest for new artists have age limits here too.

Mink said...

Sorry a little late on this, tending to the sick kid and the sick husband. So I have never cared about age, anyones age, I received my MFA when I was 26, I thought I was doing my best work........WRONG.......i was just starting out....I needed years and time still and I had to work a full time job to pay my loans. so I have always managed to stay painting but its has moved slow, it isn't until now at 41 that I am where I should be, My new work is my work , the work I have wanted to get to. If I were to be denied because of age well thats just silly. I also heard that 20 somethings are now dying there hair grey its the new color. love that.

Bascha Mon said...

My 1st taste of the age/married/children discrimination was at the very beginning. I thought that I would want to go the the Studio School in the village. I brought in tons of heavy to carry and unusual work. Phillip Guston was very enthusiastic, but the only woman on the panel said that I couldn't come there because I was a mother of 2 kids and thus couldn't possiby be a serious artist. Now more than 40 years later, it's my age and experience and not my children, which interfere. There were even 2 galleries who told me that they never consider ANY artist who doesn't live in the city. Excuses abound and locating a gallery that is a "fit" and wants one is more than a challenge at every age.
Bascha Mon

littlefroglet said...

A loooong time ago, when I was 25, I found a great deal of opportunities for young artists in the 18 to 24 range. That particular co-horte have haunted me since. While I have changed disciplines and vanished from the scene once or twice, it is only recently that I have truly played in the playground that is 'emerging' artist. And lo and behold - it is yet again reserved for people five years (or more) younger than me. I know that whinging about your baby sister getting all the toys 'coz she's cute is part of growing up. But for heaven's sake, I'm 40 now and she's still getting all of them! I'd love to see some sort of analysis why this is the case...

Bascha Mon said...

Although I already commented on this subject, I would like to add something. I just wrote a narrative bio for the catalog for my forthcoming exhibit. The last line is ...."after 40 years of work, Bascha Mon is still exploring new ideas."
Why would anyone think that the creative juices dry up after 35 - did they not look at Picasso?
I must admit, tho, that I do not put dates on my degrees, but just the mention that I had a major exhibit at a NY gallery over 30 years ago, turns the gallerist's back on me. so, we just keep making art anyway.

Unknown said...

I am writing about this now because I believe it's also technically against the law and I am happy to comment because it's not something discussed often. Really people don't know about this until well, they are denied..I wrote some letters asking how it's possible to galleries and they just basically passed the buck. It's offensive and it's ageism for sure.