I think with every generation there is a tendency to criticize the younger generation. My experience with my children’s generation (ages 28, 26, 21) is that they are pretty much the same as my generation. My son was an art major in college. He took art appreciation, studied the old masters and worked hard on his projects, especially his senior show. He was a pot major—pottery that is. He knew the complete history of pottery, all the major trends, the best working artists etc. He knew a few photographers from his classes, but not many. But then, he knew a lot more potters than I did.
He was dedicated to art, so he studied it and worked hard at it. At his senior show, he introduced me to a classmate who was a photographer. She had beautiful prints. The color ones were digital. The black and white ones were analogue. She had one cyanotype. We started talking about her art and her inspiration. We took a tangent and talked about her influences. I can attest she was fully aware of the history of photography.
At least the members of the younger generation in the art department at St. Olaf College know their stuff.
I think there have always been people who are truly interested in the arts, and they will study the technique and the history. There are also a lot of people who will dabble in photography or watercolor or pottery. They will not do the hard work to become really good.
The issue then is why do the young people David is meeting think they are artists?
I speculate that the barriers to declaring oneself an artist have been lessened by the new technology—especially in photography. In the past, cameras were expensive. To produce quality prints, or at least large prints, you either had to have a dark room or spend a lot of money to send out a negative to be enlarged. Today, a cheap consumer camera can match the output of many top end cameras. If you have a file, you can get it printed cheaply. Just look at the prices on Mpix for large prints. All kids have computers and cameras. (When I was growing up way back in the 70’s, only a few had 35mm SLRs.) More kids are experimenting with the medium. They don’t need the skills that we had to acquire to get over the threshold of proper exposure, the skill to print in a darkroom, etc.
I don’t know if it is a good or a bad thing. In general, the more young people that are exposed to photography, the more will rise to the top. If you have a cow that gives a quart of milk a day, you will get little cream. A cow that gives 5 gallons of milk a day, you will end up with a lot more cream.
As for printing on aluminum, I made a few tintypes last week. I didn’t use Japanned tin, I used aluminum. I’ve tried printing on etched circuit boards. I have seen some wonderful photographic works on Plexiglas, curved to reveal a secondary photo underneath. I don’t have a problem with young, or old, photographers pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in photograph, trying new methods or pursuing a new vision. I don’t want to be stuck in the f/64 aesthetic. Some of the new work will succeed—most will be crap. But people need to experiment, play, grasp for the new, or photography will become stale. Hopefully, they will also have a good grasp of the past to guide their journey of experiment.