The topic of this article might elicit a couple of negative responses. One is doubt. Can workplace artwork really do all that?
The other negative response is unsettling. Can art really let bosses do all that?
By “that” I mean improve employee satisfaction and performance. And by “that” I mean empowering employers to re-orient workforces to focus on company priorities, show employees what they should be caring about, and get them to behave the proper way.
All of these are capabilities, apparently, of artwork created by Gapingvoid, part consultancy, part change agent and part interior decorator.
'Making a Dent in the Universe'
The firm, located in Miami Beach, Fla., and co-founded by social entrepreneur Jason Korman and artist Hugh MacLeod, doesn't produce your typical office artwork: The images of the rock climber hanging by one hand off a cliff, with “Tenacity” printed below ... or that same word paired with a picture of a kitten dangling by one claw from a thread.
Doodlely, fantastical characters worthy of a newspaper comic strip populate the Gapingvoid art. They share the frame with sayings like, “That's why we're here, to make a dent in the universe," and "Have you hugged your client today?" — written in warm, casual, undercase fonts.
The art functions, according to Korman, on a number of levels:
- Design Thinking: Begin by understanding what and why the employer/employee wants, then build around it. "So our stuff is human and connecting, not fancy high art meant to confuse people," he said.
- Neuroscience: "Change is not just an emotional reaction, it's a cognitive one. When humans experience a change in their external environment, their brains begin firing danger, unrest, increasing irrational activity and, yes, causing negative emotional states," said Korman. The Gapingvoid alternative is to be the change agent, the inspiration.
- Psychology: Based on theories about the importance of "work meaning," such as from management titan Peter Drucker, in the very least workplace art can help "people feel less crappy,” according to Korman. At best, it can help people find greater meaning and purpose in their jobs.
- Marketing: Office artwork can help management apply the emotional sell to the science of business administration.
- Measurement: Before trying to inspire a workforce, the Gapingvoid team collects data on them, to understand their "deeply held beliefs."
Emotion + Art = Productivity
As a whole, the artwork is not your father's office artwork. It aims to touch employees at the level of tensions and "blocks," as Korman puts it, that inhibit them from performing and collaborating at their best.
"In reality our work has little in common with the old-fashioned version of inspirational posters," he said. "We address communication, collaboration, fear, so that we can work better as teams."
You don't need to take his word for it, and you don't have to think that Gapingvoid is the only effective office art around. Jonathan Sposato, an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, former Microsoft employee and now CEO of PicMonkey, has commissioned art for his workplace because he is a believer.
"Art's very reason is to forge an emotional connection with the viewer," he says. "Much like architecture itself, a work team's physical surroundings can significantly impact mood, productivity, communication and overall well-being. Art can be an especially poignant reminder to the team about their company mission, values supported, or simply how much fun working together can be."
He recalls art commissioned during his days as a member of the original Xbox team: interpretations of the Xbox logo, which reminded the team of how special they were.
He has also commissioned "monkey art" from Troy Gua for his PicMonkey office that is "a daily evocation of our values."
So it appears that art can really do all “that.” Or at least the bosses believe so.
The remaining question is: Do employees really notice, and is so, do they mind that art empowers their bosses to do all that on them?