11 March, 2021
We are facing unprecedented and unfortunate times which led people to redefine their everyday life, their routines and their working and social life. People more than ever need distractions and remedies to feel relieved and less alone. Art, in this context, can play an important and surprising role, having the ability to reduce anxiety, feelings of depression and also improving productivity and motivation at work.
There are multiple possibilities which allow us to still enjoy art from home, starting from having physical art around, experiencing online tours of the most famous galleries or museums and developing online teambuilding activities through art.
Photo taken of Laura Santamaria's artworks at London Trade Art headquarters in London.
Enjoying physical art around
For many people, experiencing the second lockdown means spending a lot of time at home, above all for those who are currently working from home. Our homes all of a sudden play a different role in our lives, as everything around us is perceived with increased importance. The division of spaces is fading, as we are now sharing the same places where we are used to eating, chilling, playing with our children, also to working for many hours. Sometimes, it can become very stressful. A Linkedin survey demonstrated that the mental health of 18% of workers interviewed has been negatively affected by working from home, 27% struggles to sleep, and 26% is not focused on work. Moreover, 46% claim to feel more anxious and stressed than pre-Covid and to work for more than 8 hours. This situation can easily bring to the so-called “working burnout”, a syndrome which is spreading because of Covid19.
So, how to still enjoy life from home? From ancient to modern times, emotions have always been intricately related. According to a model outlined by Lazarus (2001), familiar objects and events tend to incite feelings of happiness, as they are considered safe and benign. Similarly, it has been proven that appraising an art object “as comprehensible” affects positive thinking (Russell, 2003; Silvia, 2005b), especially in its ability to create meaning.
Indeed, being surrounded by art can distract people in a positive way, boosting creativity and concentration. Anxiety, mood swings, sadness and frustration, which have a negative influence on our working productivity, can actually be relieved by having art around in our homes. The same importance of enjoying art during the working day has been received by many corporates which invested in enriching the working environment with high-quality art, aiming to improve the employees’ working and personal wellbeing.
In this context, it is important to highlight that being an art collector doesn’t necessarily mean being rich. Art can be accessible and affordable at all levels and for any kind of spending capacity. Buying high-quality art by contemporary artists or prints of renowned artworks can be accessible and make a difference not only aesthetically but also psychologically. Moreover, if you can’t afford original artwork, then you can always make your own and boost your creativity, creating your own art, finding an alternative way to feel busy and entertained.
Breaking the working-day by visiting museums/galleries/art fairs online
Staying at home for so long makes us feel the need to break our working day with alternative distractions and entertainments. Since art institutions and museums are locked down, too, they luckily found innovative ways to experience their art from home, thanks to virtual tours and online viewings which can also serve as mental support. The arts are not only essential for individual health and wellbeing but also for general society. An art-on-prescription project in the United Kingdom, where people experiencing psychological or physical distress was referred to engage with arts in the community (e.g. galleries, museums and libraries), demonstrated a 37% reduction in hospital admissions. Moreover, the Creative Health Short Report shows that, after engaging with the arts in their communities and social care settings in London, 82% claimed that they enjoyed greater wellbeing. This demonstrates that participation in art is not only a vital part of healthy aging but also the key to healthy living.
Now that we are asked to stay home for our own wellbeing, it is still possible to enjoy art through virtual channels. Online viewings of exhibitions and museums, online art fairs, online art auctions are spreading as alternative ways of experiencing art.
Some of the most famous art galleries, such as Gagosian, Hauser and Wirth and Pace gallery went digital even before Covid pandemic, allowing people to visit their spaces through virtual tours on their websites; a practice which is now available on most of the major galleries’ websites. Gagosian launched its pilot virtual viewing room timed to Art Basel 2018 with a selection of ten artworks including "Map of Eastern USSR Missile Bases (pos)" by Andy Warhol valued at approximately $1.2 million. The Gallery launched a second viewing room coinciding with Frieze London in October 2018, featuring works available exclusively online by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Sterling Ruby, and Jonas Wood. For Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 Gagosian viewing room was devoted for the first time to a single painting, dated 1988, by the German painter Albert Oehlen sold just three hours after it was unveiled for $6 million. Following the same trend, also Hauser & Wirth launched for Art Basel Miami 2019 the “Artist Choice viewing room” online viewing room dedicated to artist Rashid Johnson whose works were available for purchase online only. The first to launch online rooms in 2017 was David Zwirner, which is offering online viewings of several live exhibitions, among which one dedicated to Donald Judd. David Zwirner also offers a very interesting podcast in the section "Dialogues".
Podcasts are in fact another very helpful tool, both to generate positive reflections and to stay up to date with the latest news of the art scene.
Other podcasts have played on the nostalgia people have felt for pre-Lockdown, care-free afternoons at the museum, such as an Art Fund podcast Meet Me at the Museum, where writers, tv presenters and actors walk around art institutions with a companion, offering viewers a virtual afternoon out. Another such podcast is Talk Art, which aims to virtually reproduce the glamour of an opening night private view. Actor and collector Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament invite various celebrities, including Elton John and Tracey Emin, in each episode to discuss their personal relationship with art. The result is light-hearted, truly enjoyable entertainment. Similarly, the BBC Radio 4 podcast, Only Artists, stages dialogues between two artists from different fields, resulting in an interesting, free-flowing conversation.
Moreover, while most online exhibitions have been limited to curated web pages of images and videos, some organisations are developing virtual reality and game spaces to support galleries, making the experience interactive. One example of this is Occupy White Walls, which presents itself as a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. They have had the idea of creating a fantastical art gallery, using a method similar to that in The Sims, whereby each player is able to create their own space and fill their walls with recommended artworks, which are selected according to the artworks the player has previously viewed from a database controlled by the system’s ‘Art Discovery AI’. It is free to play. Another platform is called AcuteArt, which brings together international and very popular artists, such as KAWS, Christo and Olafur Eliasson, new media and technology to produce works in VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) and that enables you to place yourself inside immersive environments through the use of an app that has already been downloaded by millions.
Probably the greatest platform for enjoying art on different levels is Google Arts and Culture, where users can choose among multiple experiences, such as visiting the biggest museums of the world, discovering more about their favourite masterpieces or experiencing innovative arts-leaning VR projects. This has included the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s award-winning video series, the Met 360 Project, that invites viewers to explore the Temple of Dendur, among other attractions, using spherical 360° technology created by the celebrated producer Nina Diamond. Also, during the pandemic, Google Arts & Culture has partnered with over 500 global art institutions to open their virtual doors to the public. With the ability to go between the British Museum in London to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in a matter of seconds, within the same platform one can ‘travel’ the world to walk through world-famous destinations in a manner never before possible in human history using the same technology developed for the Street View feature in Google Maps.
Also annual and biennial art fairs, festivals, and exhibitions were forced to completely alter their operations, with Art Basel Hong Kong being the first annual art fair to move to a digital setting in response to the pandemic, with the controversial Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms which proved so popular when it launched that the site crashed. The virtual fair, which features 234 galleries and a combined 2,100 works, with perks like ZoomRoom, which enables galleries and artists to walk through viewing areas with potential collectors, appeared to be the most logical response to the unprecedented disruption. They give the possibility of virtually going around the fair, visiting the booths and still experiencing the vibe of the latest art trends at the most followed art events of the year, having the chance to see art that also expresses the current times.
Frieze London and Frieze Masters OVRs (October 9-16), plus several of the industry’s other fairs, have also opted for alternative online editions. One remarkable example is Italy’s most important contemporary art fair, Artissima, which usually takes place at the beginning of November. Artissima this year combined a mixed physical and digital format, proposing an unusual cross-media platform covering the curated sections, called Artissima XYZ, which also includes tours by curators, podcasts and other events, accompanied by 3 physical exhibitions dislocated in some of the most renowned art institutions in Turin.
The current online fairs are becoming also more conversational for visitors, with video and Live Chat functions. The last main event was Art Basel Miami, which took place from the 2 to the 6 of December in the ‘OVR: Miami Beach’ format: an iteration of Art Basel's Online Viewing Rooms featuring galleries accepted to the 2020 edition of the show and accompanied by a program of online events, including talks and gallery Walk-throughs.
Art Basel Hong Kong will be, if confirmed, the first fair to go back to physical in May 2021: the OVR was a success, but, of course, nothing can substitute the feeling of physically being in front of an artwork, enjoying it to the fullest. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the dramatic Covid situation brought the art industry to finally start to fill the technological gap which was forcing it to lag behind other businesses. The bright side of this unfortunate condition, in fact, is that visual arts are finally more accessible with the important consequence that, thanks to the online channels, art can now also be enjoyed by all those who would never physically visit an art fair, a museum or a gallery because those are considered elitist and uptight places or just because they wouldn’t be willing to travel to experience art.
Developing online team-building activities through art
Art can also function as a great tool to enhance team-building. Now that corporates are struggling to keep the teams unified and aligned, art contributes as a sympathetic instrument to connect people. An example is provided by the company Zalando, which has developed the programme ArtNight, inviting their employees to create their own artwork in a couple of hours with the support of a local artist. It would be very important if these initiatives would be available also online with the use of Zoom or other platforms, which allow us to be simultaneously connected. These kinds of initiatives are precious to make employees feel more bonded and to improve relationships, making them feel to be part of a community, hence evaluating more their sense of belonging to the company. Other activities can be in the form of artist talks, like the ones promoted by Deutsche Bank; setting up democratic art committees; investing in interactive art, such as kinetic art; and even supporting any artistic talent within the team, such as through photographic competitions.
For sure, one very effective art initiative could be virtual team museum or gallery tours or even virtual tours of the offices, possibly with the support of an art expert able to explain the importance, meaning and characteristics of the art hung on office walls.
Having gone through all the physical and digital art initiatives you can exploit from home, our suggestion is, whatever is the way you want to experience art, just do it! It will benefit your mental and working wellbeing. Art has the power to bring you to an alternative dimension, to enlighten your day and to make you feel relaxed.
Aurelia Clavien - December 2020
Lazarus, R. S. (2001). Relational meaning and discrete emotions. In K. R.Scherer, A.Schorr, & T.Johnstone (Eds.), Appraisal processes in emotion: Theory, methods, research (pp. 37–67). New York: Oxford University Press.
Russell, P. A. (2003). Effort after meaning and the hedonic value of paintings. British Journal of Psychology, 94, 99–110.
Tan, E. S. (2000). Emotion, art, and the humanities. In M.Lewis & J. M.Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., (pp. 116–134). New York: Guilford Press. Quoted in: Paul J Silvia, Emotional Responses to Art: From Collation and Arousal to Cognition and Emotion, 2005, Review of General Psychology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232468613_Emotional_Responses_to_Art_From_Collation_and_Arousal_to_Cognition_and_Emotion