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Art in the office: a welcome distraction?

Friday February 23 2018

'Guernica', Pablo Picasso, 1937, Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid'Guernica', Pablo Picasso, 1937, Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid

The most effective art for a work environment is art which challenges. Art that provokes rather than simply decorates and embellishes. Engaging workplace art must strike a delicate balance: personal but not so personal as to alienate, detailed but not overly intellectual. Art which is seen repeatedly across many weeks or months also takes on the added challenge of needing to continually garner interest.

“Different studies have placed the average time people spend looking at individual art works in galleries and museums at anywhere from 17 seconds to as little as three seconds. Looking at art in the corporate environment is a bit different. A work can resonate in a new way after two or three hours shut in a meeting room with it”, according to John Sharples and Chris Lewis, co-chairs of Simmons & Simmons’ Art Network.

Art placed in a boardroom or in a lobby is seen not just by a wider array of people than at a contemporary gallery but can be viewed again and again by the same set of eyes. This means art in the workplace can offer a refreshing alternative for artists wishing to display their work outside of the traditional gallery setting.

Recently, Arterial spoke to some members staff at a Central London anti-extremism charity where we curated the work of three contemporary artists: Emily Lazerwitz, Conor Rigby and Lucy Ash. Their work was chosen as the themes of surveillance, economic change and hate crime resonated with the organisation.

Unsurprisingly, images of the natural environment – lakes, forests and waterfalls – cropped up time and time again as being able to create a relaxing space which is pleasant to work in. Interestingly, images containing religious motifs, typography and calligraphy were popular among employees as it was felt that images which require a little deciphering offer a valuable “break” from the daily routine.

Art in the office should be visually pleasing and offer a welcome interlude from the daily grind, particularly when it involves the study of serious and sobering subject matter. But what about more ostensibly public art in, say, the foyer? One member of staff felt that a print of Picasso’s anti-war tour de force ‘Guernica’ would be ideally suited to the entrance to their workplace. Almost a century after its completion, it is both immediately recognisable and a symbol of the triumph over evil. Art can serve to bolster the organisation’s image, reminding those who pass by it of the company’s ethos.

With the proliferation of digital media, the possibilities for workplace art are becoming increasingly innovative. Rather than an oil painting or photograph that remains, well, the same, light installations, GIFs, videos and screen-based works have the potential to offer an interactive art experience which constantly engages and renews its appeal.

There is, of course, the possibility for art to provide too much distraction, but a considered artwork, simultaneously pleasing to look at and with the right balance of visual appeal, symbolism and novelty, offers a stimulus for ongoing debate, reflection and creativity far more appealing than the monotony of the grey office wall.

By Naomi Sparks, Arterial