From healthcare to corporate settings, various studies speak to the positive impact of art on user well-being. These observations are informed in large part by the recognition of the aesthetic appeal and interest that art brings to an interior environment, influencing the way that it’s appreciated and experienced. Often not explicitly acknowledged in many of these discussions, though intimated, is art’s fundamental relationship to brand perception. Studies demonstrate that art in healthcare settings can influence a patient’s perception of the quality of care; and that it can help attract and retain employees as well as consumers in healthcare, hospitality, senior living, and corporate settings. Hagtvedt and Patrick (2008) point out that by “its very nature, visual art exudes an aura of culture, luxury, and prestige, and stimulates creativity, imagination, and cognitive flexibility” and that “at a general level, art is associated with a heritage of culture, it has historically represented a special kind of quest for excellence” (p.212; 214). They point to art infusion theory to explain the way that these perceptions of art are transferred to objects, products, and by extension brands, asserting “that these general connotations of visual art underlie the art infusion effect, regardless of the specific content/depiction of the artwork” to favorably influence consumer evaluations of brand image (p. 214). The simple presence of art is understood to convey an investment in the quality of organizational space, culture, and service; it is a way to stand out and to connect to current and potential consumers. Recognizing interior art programs as not only a means to create an aesthetically pleasing environment but also as an extension of branding offers the opportunity to develop art programs that reinforce brand associations through strategic engagement with the language of visual art and its mediums.
Beyond the mere presence of art, content and depiction are highly significant. Art doesn’t exist in a bubble; and as Dr. Jonathan Schroeder (who examines the intersections of branding, identity, media, and visual culture) points out, for centuries artists have built visual vocabularies resulting in traditions and conventions of art in which other facets of visual culture, such as advertising, have developed in close contact with. The art world interacts with other spheres of visual culture on a daily basis, and this is especially relevant in today’s image-saturated world where individuals engage artistic expression and design through sharing their images on social media platforms. The visual arts “are an impressive cultural referent system” and understanding the traditions, conventions, production, and consumption of images leads to a greater ability to comprehend their signifying power in articulating cultural meanings and associations of brands (2005).
Drawing upon art history, cultural studies, and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation), Schroeder asserts that the effect of representational conventions, which he defines as “common patterns of portraying objects, people, or identities,” on viewers’ perceptions is an important consideration (2008, n.p.). Though viewers may not be aware of these conventions, familiar visual traditions can ground images for them. In the same way that we can speak a language without understanding how it developed over time or have an awareness of what shapes our use of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, “[m]ost consumers are not necessarily visually literate” and the art historical references and conventions that shape art and other forms of visual communication may not consciously inform their viewing of an image. “However, historical conventions shape communication. This does not imply that all consumers read images in the same way…rather that each image carries with it a historical and cultural genealogy that helps us to understand how it produces, reflects, and initiates meaning” (2008, n.p.).
Schroeder observes that cultural, historical, and representational tropes are activated across art and visual culture, such as the use of the visual language of architecture and classicism by the banking industry to communicate stability, strength, and security; or the snapshot aesthetic deployed by lifestyle brands to connote the “here and now” and the natural as opposed to the posed or artificial (2008). “Photographs often appear as if they just are, mere visual records of what has happened, how people look, or where events took place. Upon reflection, however, “all photographs are representations, in that they tell us as much about the photographer, the technology used to produce the image, and their intended uses as they tell us about the events or things they depicted” (McCauley 1997, 63) (2008, n.p.). These observations also apply to images and depictions of nature. In the case of their incorporation into interior settings such as healthcare environments, such images are often approached with an emphasis on the positive physiological effects and/or familiarity of their content rather than as products of art historical and cultural traditions. The emphasis on realism in the images in these spaces often ignores that it is a representational convention with a complex visual, cultural, and ideological history.
The complex legacies of visual conventions can also be seen in abstract art. For some abstract art provokes a negative reaction. Its lack of representation, or reference to nature or an object, occasionally gives rise to the assumption the artist has the insufficient skill to produce a picture or sculpture of recognizable reality; or that they have thoughtlessly placed paint or other media on a surface. While sometimes the title of a work gives an idea of its subject, with no familiar, visual point of orientation to tell the viewer what it is about, abstract art is perceived as incomprehensible and evasive rather than intelligible and engaging.
Debates about abstraction have surrounded it since its emergence (now traced to works by English painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)), sometimes with far reaching implications and consequences. From the 19th century, artists sought to move away from description in art to a focus on the formal aspects of form, line, and color. Scientific theories from this time, such as studies of optics and the qualities of light, contributed to this new approach. In the 20th century, theories of motion such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, and new understandings in psychology about subjectivity and the subconscious were embraced by artists and informed their creation of abstract works. These sources of inspiration were complemented by exposure to the art of other cultures through ethnographic collections in newly founded public museums as well as new spiritual beliefs such as Theosophy. The manifold sources artists looked to for theoretical grounds for their work reveals why there are vastly different styles of abstract art.
Further, it was very much at the center of debates about the role of art in societies in the early and mid-20th century. In Russia, in the period after the Revolution of 1917, it was advanced as a means of transforming consciousness and encouraging a focus on the utilitarian in form and aesthetic. It was later rejected as a vehicle of individual and social transformation in favor of socialist realism – a style embraced by socialist and communist parties throughout the world as representational art was perceived as more accessible and thus a better medium for their message. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, abstract art was declared ‘degenerate art’ in 1933; and during the Cold War, it was promoted as illustrative of American freedom and democracy, as in the works of artists such as Jackson Pollock. Contemporary abstract art at times references this historical legacy and at others abandons it, reflecting the dramatically different circumstances of present-day life, including the transformations brought about by the emergence of new nations and economies, scientific and technological shifts, and increasing awareness of environmental issues.
Artwork comprising an interior art program carries these historical and cultural legacies as well as the influence of visual tropes established by prominent artists across time periods and cultures. An awareness of the expanded cultural dimensions of selected artwork, like history, literature, and belief systems, can reinforce brand identity and associations in a more sophisticated way. Geometric abstraction carries a historical and cultural genealogy that is distinct to that of organic abstraction; and realism as a representational convention works to different effect in a painting of everyday life versus that of a surrealist work. Understanding these distinctions allows for the selection of artwork that not only aesthetically enhances an interior to promote wellbeing but also resonates with target audiences on deeper intellectual, cultural, and emotional levels. The collection below creates a dialogue between historic works of art and contemporary pieces to explore the continuation and transformation of traditions of visual art.
Hagtvedt, H. and Patrick, V. (2008). ‘Art and the brand: The role of visual art in enhancing brand extendibility’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 18 (3), pp. 212-222.
Schroeder, Jonathan E., The Artist and the Brand. European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 39, No. 11, pp. 1291-1305, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=690270
Schroeder, Jonathan E., Visual Analysis of Images in Brand Culture (2008). GO FIGURE: NEW DIRECTIONS IN ADVERTISING RHETORIC, Barbara J. Phillips, Edward McQuarrie, eds., M.E. Sharpe, pp. 277-296, 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=941431