Most companies underestimate the impact art has in the work environment. The majority of the time an interior design firm has selected the artwork to match the design and color scheme, which is often done at a cost to the work environment.
The healthcare industry has been practicing Evidence-based art for several years in an effort to create a more healing environment that allows shorter recovery periods for patients. People can have a physical reaction to colors and the healthcare system takes this into consideration for their designs. The color red causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, the color red can cause digestive issues and emotional distress for those dealing with health issues. The color blue is a more universal color that has the opposite physical reaction by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. This too can become challenging since it could cause patients to become cold or drowsy.
Red and yellow color combinations are traditionally used for fast food restaurants since yellow is the easiest color to see, and red is a color that increases appetite.
The color blue is typically used for spas since it is a color that creates a relaxing sensation for guests.
Corporate culture has become a fairly new term used to define the work environments of corporations. We are currently living in a Conceptual Age as the result of abundance and overwhelming amounts of sensory information in our lives.
“In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical, and functional needs is woefully insufficient. Engineers must figure out how to get things to work. But if those things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them. There are too many other options. Mastery of design, empathy, story, play, and other seemingly “soft” aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”
Companies are not only missing opportunities to better their work environments by selecting appropriate artwork and images that reflect their culture. In fact, some companies are harming their work environments by underestimating the impact art can have on individuals in a work space. There is a misconception that employees want to see images of sunsets and beach scenes in an effort to create a more relaxing and pleasant atmosphere; however, this actually has an opposite effect in the minds of employees as they are constantly reminded of a place where they would rather be and that they are indeed not there!
Furthermore, art provides an opportunity to inspire people and reflect the values the company wants to create within the space. Employees that work in a health insurance office would better benefit by artwork that reflects the diversity of people that they are helping by doing their job. Mirroring is a technique often beneficial to enhance positive emotional experiences.
Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individuals' notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others.
This can also be used in advertisement and artwork to provoke a defined response from individuals. Using the health insurance company example, images of diverse people engaged in receiving care with a simple graphic message that reads, “Your work makes a difference in this person’s life.” The images could link to an online platform where the stories are told.
Landscape and nature-based art can be beneficial in promoting health and wellness through biophilic design. Biophilia is the human tendency to interact or seek connection with nature. And, having a collection of artwork with images from all around the world can reflect the diversity within an organization.
Once the Greek and Roman sculptors created the “perfect” human body, they quickly abandoned the perfection for a more abstract representation. The mind is more attracted to exaggerated features. This is why abstract art evokes an emotional response.
While abstract art is subjective, there is scientific research that supports our attraction to images that are distorted, especially of the human figure. V.S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, is best known for his work in behavioral neurology. He has explored the connection between the brain and art and has identified the Peak Shift theory that helps explain our interest in the abstract world of art.
“This psychological phenomenon is typically known for its application in animal discrimination learning. In the peak shift effect, animals sometimes respond more strongly to exaggerated versions of the training stimuli. For instance, a rat is trained to discriminate a square from a rectangle by being rewarded for recognizing the rectangle. The rat will respond more frequently to the object for which it is being rewarded to the point that a rat will respond to a rectangle that is longer and narrower with a higher frequency than the original with which it was trained. This is called a supernormal stimulus. The fact that the rat is responding more to a 'super' rectangle implies that it is learning a rule.
This effect can be applied to human pattern recognition and aesthetic preference. Some artists attempt to capture the very essence of something in order to evoke a direct emotional response. In other words, they try to make a 'super' rectangle to get the viewer to have an enhanced response. To capture the essence of something, an artist amplifies the differences of that object, or what makes it unique, to highlight the essential features and reduce redundant information. This process mimics what the visual areas of the brain have evolved to do and more powerfully activates the same neural mechanisms that were originally activated by the original object.
Some artists deliberately exaggerate creative components such as shading, highlights, and illumination to an extent that would never occur in a real image to produce a caricature. These artists may be unconsciously producing heightened activity in the specific areas of the brain in a manner that is not obvious to the conscious mind. It should be noted here that a significant portion of the experience of art is not self-consciously reflected upon by audiences, so it is not clear whether the peak-shift thesis has any special explanatory power in understanding the creation and reception of art.
All of the above taken into account, your artwork should never be an afterthought to your organization’s design. Your art selection should not be left up to the executive team. It should be placed in the hands of a professional art consultant that will understand the ways to best enhance the culture, vision and mission of the company.
 David Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Riverhead Books, 2006), 34.