Art As Expression, Part I: The Art/Work Balance

January 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm (2008)

Monet painting by FunFront (Flickr)

Whether it’s the subtle inspiration of nature, the wisdom and thought (and escapism) in books, the medley of colors in art, or the intense emotion that is provoked through music, I love every form of creative expression for the beauty and pleasure they provide. Art – through dance or musicals or sculpture or poetry – has the ability to evoke the senses, stir the soul, and even create debate (or controversy, depending on the audience).

For something that is such a huge part of me and my life, I find myself once again questioning the work/life balance in terms of creativity. How do you express your creative individuality in an office environment while maintaining that degree of required professionalism?

The question was brought up by Andrew Norcross, who wondered what kind of artwork would be appropriate for his office walls. Every office I’ve ever been in has the standard Monet, Renoir, or Degas prints, and though I personally love the Impressionists and would most likely choose one as an extension of my tastes, they absolutely don’t fit everyone.

And neither do ducks on a pond, lighthouses by the sea, or cottages in a field of wildflowers, which is the artwork I notice most often in doctors’ offices, usually for sale.

However, there seems to be a reason for why these prints are so favored in professional settings, and unfortunately that reason has nothing to do with personal taste, but everything to do with office politics. Not only do these works of art emphasize a sense of overall serenity, but they dispel controversy (which also means that they don’t create conversation, which is a whole other post you can look for tomorrow).

I see both sides of the coin. On the one side, the office should be free from something that could essentially create distraction and spark more stress. On the other side, most individuals have a desire to express themselves creatively, and, with eight hours spent at a desk, that is usually done through customizing their surroundings.

So how does one exhibit their individual tastes in this kind of professional setting? Do you compromise and strike a balance that will appease both parties? Do you rock out to your favorite bands at home, but play soft jazz in the office? Do you perhaps choose your favorite artist, but go for a print that is more professional?

Does that then stifle your individual and creative self?

Because my tastes are so eclectic, I’ve found that I’ve been able to easily compromise and find my own balance in this regard, but it’s not that easy for everyone.

How do you find balance?

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5 Comments

  1. Susan said,

    I work from home, so I’m lucky that I can decorate my “workspace” (ie corner of my living room) however I choose. But I did an article on a related topic this summer and some of the HR people I interviewed said it’s OK to put a personal stamp on your space as long as it’s inoffensive (read: no bikinis and beer kegs).

    So, maybe the sports fan could put up a little Red Sox pendant (even if people aren’t a Sox fan, they probably won’t be offended) or the travel buff could put up a photo of a beautiful Hawaiian sunset from a recent trip. People who take the time to put up a few items (not to excess) appear more engaged and give their coworkers the change to connect with them on a friendly level.

    Of course, this also varies depending on your company’s culture and policies, too, so it’s best to use your best judgement.

  2. Tania Hershman said,

    I don’t have much to contribute here, since I have never worked in an office, but I do like the idea of making your space your own, however small. What about your computer desktop picture? That makes a huge difference to me. But overall, I hate the idea of spending so much time at a desk….

  3. twentyorsomething said,

    Susan: I completely agree that personal items (especially art) provides the opportunity for people to connect on a personal level. I think that’s the greatest aspect/enjoyment of art.

    The question all this was leading up to is does art create conversation or controversy (which I talked about in my next post)? Because people have different tastes, is it possible to express that individuality in the workplace? Or is that stifled in favor of something that is more placid, that won’t create distraction and controversy?

    The answer, of course, is exactly why, as you said, there are HR policies in place. Which I understand but also lament, for what it means for individual expression. Seems that’s where seeking a balance comes into play.

    Thanks so much for your comments and thoughts!

    Tania: Thanks for commenting! I hate that idea, too, but unfortunately, so many people don’t have any other option. Changing the desktop background is a great alternative. Maybe, as Susan suggested above, finding the balance can be through small, but significant methods of expression. An on a side note, I’m so glad to see that you’re safe and sound. Keep writing! I’m so looking forward to reading. Much love.

  4. defygravity84 said,

    This makes me miss Phoebe’s artwork, always on display, always a little bit out there, but definitely always an expression of personality.

  5. twentyorsomething said,

    Sarah: I was actually thinking about Phoebe’s artwork when I wrote this…I think the department did a great job of showcasing talent and allowing for personal taste — makes me wonder if other companies display employees’ artwork like they did. It certainly provided a great foray into interactions/communicating with each other!

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