11 March, 2021
In our previous article, we discussed the positive role art plays in mental and physical wellbeing. Through numerous case studies, the arts have been shown to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety as well as help those going through illness or dealing with trauma to forge a new identity within themselves, increasing notions of self-worth. Recently, given these findings, there has also been much discussion about whether to include art not only in hospitals but also in workspaces. If art can reduce negative feelings, then it would make sense to say that it can also improve concentration, productivity and motivation. So, what role does art really play in the workplace? Does it have the power to boost performance?
Hospitals have become renown for their blank, empty aesthetic. However, over the last few years, hospitals worldwide have been evaluating whether hanging visual art on their walls may have a positive effect on their patients, as scholars increasingly adopt a more holistic approach to health. In 2007, a British paper demonstrated that art had a positive effect on patient wellbeing and recovery, leading to a reduced length of stay and increased pain tolerance.
The best example of this is perhaps the Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest and most renowned medical institutions in the United States, which has invested in art since it was founded, in the 1920s. It established an in-house art programme in 2006 and now has over 7,000 works, including some by Sol LeWitt, Peter Newman, Anish Kapoor and Sarah Morris. The clinic has really adopted a curatorial mindset, which unlike that of most hospitals, involves taking risks, in order to provide their patients and viewers with a true art experience, rather than just a passive, decorative one.
“Artworks lend comfort, beauty and wit to the environment. They promote innovation by challenging our ways of seeing. Above all, they assert the strength of our humanity in the face of sickness and misfortune.” - Toby Cosgrove, Former CEO & President of Cleveland Clinic, as quoted in the foreword of the Cleveland Clinic Collection website
If a work of art can provide beneficial distraction from pain and allow us to view challenges with a different perspective, then perhaps, being distracted by works of art at the office might also be to an employer’s advantage.
According to a study of 2,000 office workers conducted by Dr. Craig Knight from the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology, employees are up to 32% more productive when given control over the design of their workplace. Additionally, a study of 32 companies, ranging from food distribution companies to law firms, found that 78% of employees agreed that art in the workplace reduces stress; 64% agreed that it boosts creativity; and 77% agreed that it encourages expression (Victory Art, 2018). Motivational posters, however, seemed to have no effect at all.
"In 12 years we have never found that lean offices create better results, and the more involved people are in the enrichment process, the more they are able to realize a part of themselves in the space” - Craig Knight as cited in Victory Art