ART AT WORK: CAN ART BOOST PERFORMANCE?

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

 

Above: Two works by Laura Santamaria hanging at the London Trade Art office in London.

 

An example of a company who places art at its core is Deutsche Bank. The bank possesses the largest corporate collection of art in the world, with around 60,000 artworks across 900 offices in 40 countries. It also hosts talks by artists, created an app that gives employees more information about the work in front of them as well as set up an ‘Arthothek’ where employees can seek expert art advice. 

Interestingly, art in the workplace was found to have a stronger impact on stress, motivation and creativity in women than men. As cited in Victory Art (2018), 54% of women admitted that art had a big effect on their creativity, compared to 47% of men. In addition, 80% of women agreed that art in the office reduced their stress levels, compared to 66% of men. 

In addition to boosting motivation and creativity, featuring art in the workplace can also be the key to a company’s retention strategy, as highlighted by Alex Heath, Managing Director at International Art Consultants. His company advises workplaces on art and he has helped many brands boost retention. He also commissioned bright and bold artwork for recreational spaces and waiting rooms, which he says are good conversation starters. As highlighted  by Herman Miller director Mark Catchlove in Heath’s ‘Making Art Work in the Workplace’ report, which was commissioned by the British Council for Offices, if 80% of business cost is people, then it makes financial sense to make your employees feel as good in the office as possible.  

 

“Aesthetic in the truest sense means energy-giving which is what a workplace needs, rather than a bland, industrial environment which can be more like giving workers a dose of anaesthetic.” - Alex Heath as cited in The Guardian

 

Undoubtedly, art in the workplace seems to inspire engaged brain thinking and creativity; however, the key to its success appears to lie in the involvement of employees in the choice of which art to display. If the art selection process is more democratic and collaborative, it can encourage those same values at work. It can also boost team-building and help employees feel more connected, not only with one another, but with the company as well. 

 

‘Art can function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways.’ - Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, as cited in Heath’s  ‘Making Art in the Workplace Work’ report

 

In addition to displaying art throughout spaces where employees work (and not only in client-visited spaces, as often happens), offices should really aim to involve their employees in art-related activities. These can be in the form of artist talks, like Deutsche Bank; setting up democratic art committees; organising team museum or gallery tours; investing in interactive art, such as kinetic art; and even supporting any artistic talent within the team, such as through photographic competitions. 

In conclusion, just as we have seen that art in medical settings can help increase positive feelings and pain tolerance, recent surveys have also demonstrated that art can be a powerful tool in the workplace to encourage team bonding, reduce stress and increase levels of productivity as well as creativity. While motivational posters do not seem to have an impact on employee performance or satisfaction, investing in a varied selection of artwork can help retain employees and encourage positive feelings about their work environment and role therein. Displaying art throughout the workplace is the first step; however, the key  to successfully incorporating it in company philosophy is to allow employees to engage and interact with the artworks. Of course, there is still much research to be done in this field, but initial data shows a clear link between art in the office and overall employee satisfaction as well as wellbeing. 

 

Did you miss our last article on the relationship between art and mental health? Read it here now. 

 

Are you looking to add art to your workplace? Visit our online art gallery to view our selection. Our fine art advisory team would be happy to assist you by creating a bespoke portfolio to suit your company’s objectives. Contact us here

 

Aurelia Clavien - October 2020


Sources:

 

Cleveland Clinic, ‘Power of Art: Cleveland Clinic Collection’, http://www.clevelandclinic.org/lp/power-of-art/

Kirstie Brewer, ‘Art works: How art in the office boosts staff productivity’, The Guardian, Jan 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/jan/21/art-works-how-art-in-the-office-boosts-staff-productivity

International Art Consultants, ‘Making Art in the Workplace Work’, https://www.internationalartconsultants.com/iac/images/Making_Art_Work_in_the_Workplace.pdf

Menachem Wecker, “‘Fine Art is Good Medicine’: How Hospitals Around the World Are Experimenting with the Healing Power of Art”, Artnet News, July 2019, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/how-hospitals-heal-with-art-1606699

Victory Art, ‘How art in the office boosts productivity’, October 2018, https://www.victoryart.eu/blog/category/blog/article/how-art-in-the-office-boosts-productivity.xhtml


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