By Victoria Tate, director of Arterial
Art appreciation is often dismissed as a leisure activity rather than something which has a wider value to society and commerce. It is an activity that ladies who lunch, debutantes and retired people get up to. Art is seen as relaxing, something that goes hand in hand with travel, lunching and bucket-list museum visiting. Art has been denied the status and role it could achieve in the sphere of non-leisure pursuits, in the world of work.
In some ways this is the art community’s own fault. There seems to be an attempt to push people away from art, not draw them closer. Writers and curators are often responsible for helping to both create the mystique and intellectual aura which surrounds exhibitions and shows but ultimately belittles and alienates people.
Language plays a big role in what has become a rather unfriendly style of communication. The blurb on the wall as you enter many galleries is as likely to be incomprehensible as it is pretentious. Amanda Sharp, founder of Friezemagazine and the fancy art collector fairs of the same name, is keen to change this: ‘You don’t need to dumb complicated ideas down – you just have to explain them clearly.’
Contemporary art can appear daunting and a world apart from offices, meetings and spreadsheets but this is not the case. Many artists produce work that comments on the world of work as we know it, use digital material to create debate or understand the commercial applications of their craft in disciplines such as design and advertising.
However, the alienation created by gallery jargon actively undermines its value in workplace interventions. Communication in businesses and workplaces has become a well-developed discipline where clarity is needed in order to meet business objectives. These organisations operate in an environment of as much certainty as they can whereas art seems to be a field which is open to interpretation, full of uncertainties and questions.
Although art can be a powerful agent in the business world for creativity, staff engagement, brand building and the formation of customer relationships it is still underused to meet business objectives. Beginning to look at artworks, reallylook at them, is a thoughtful exercise and creates the sort of meditative intelligence and excitement which is only just starting to be a valued.
Companies and employers are waking up to the benefits of how art can create a conversation, provoke debate and produce what has been called ‘soft diplomacy’- in other words, an ice-breaker. There are many case studies, from banks to hospitals, where art has made a real difference: in the health sector it’s properties to diminish anxiety and enrich environments are noted; in businesses, productivity and engagement are increased and communities are reached out to; and in property, the ability to establish a destination is recognised.
Art in the workplace needs to be communicated in a straightforward and engaging way with people who need to be inspired rather than estranged. In a smart business, art is an agent to good communication and leads to a happy and productive workforce as well as enlightened and curious customers. These are not the only things that a business values, but it’s not a bad start.
Victoria Tate is director of Arterial, a consultancy focused upon bringing art and artist into workplaces. www.arterial.co.uk