Corporate Art – Part I (An Introduction)

There is this form of expression I recently thought of calling “corporate art”.

Normally when folks hear a term like this I suspect they think of abstract paintings in hotel lobbies and hallways, or strong looking works of sculpture, or maybe those inspiration posters, or something similar. I remember loki at one point in college mentioned he was sort of fascinated with that kind of thing, or at least the lobby-paintings aspect of it. If I recall this is what inspired the Red Room exhibit (of ’97 or ’98 probably).

Anyway, fascinating though this stuff may be, this isn’t what I mean by “corporate art”.

When I first started working at my current job, a semi-academic biotech firm associated with MIT, it was pretty boring. In college I’d gotten a dual-major in biology and sculpture, but really had no idea what I’d do with either of them. Learning about biology was fun, but really I don’t have the patience needed to be a full time researcher (it’s not so much a matter of coming up with ideas and experiments, but carrying out tests is an arduous chore).

Same with art really. I can make something creative, and will readily do so when the mood hits me. But if it takes more than a couple days to finish, there better be someone breathing down my neck to get it done or else it will languish somewhere in a half completed state. Also I really hate the ‘art world’ idea of having to constantly market your work to anyone and everyone. Some people have a knack for self-promotion. Personally I also crave a little attention, but trying to get it I end up sounding like a big whiney baby. This is another reason I couldn’t stand the idea of being a door-to-door art salesman (more on this later).

Anyway, back to the job front: Although the place I work is technically “biotech” more of the stuff I do is chem- than bio-, and these days more manual labor, data entry, and paperwork than chem-. But at least it’s got variety. Still it’s occasionally boring for my tastes.

Enter Corporate Art.

There’s all this stuff laying (or maybe lying) around work. Scrap plastic, metal, and paper. And in fact some not so scrap that has relatively low cost and won’t be missed if wasted sparingly. Also there are computers. Also, although I have a fair amount of work to do in a day I’m not always relentlessly busy (well, some weeks). So occasionally I get the idea that I’ll add a little a bit of color to my drab biotech surroundings through some creative expression.

Although possibly the most prolific, I’m certainly not the first person to use trivial office resources to brighten up drab environments. Early in my employment here a girl named Oahn (pronounced “wan” or like the spanish “Juan”) made a bunch of little origami flowers and stuck them on green-markered sterile toothpicks in 1.5-ml eppendorf tubes which she then taped to the wall like tiny vases, or floral sconces if you will (or perhaps “tube-shaped, plastic, wall-mounted scones designed to hold flowers instead of being eaten” would be a better phrase). Maybe this was what made me think it was ok to insert some random objects de arte (or however you spell that phrase) into my workplace. Or maybe it was the psychic weight of all those attempts subvert the spirit of Maria Crites’s assignments in design class.

During the next week or so I should be putting up a bunch of babble regarding “Corporate Art” with occasional illustrations.

I apologize for this. Really, I wanted to put up illustrations with occasional babble, but apparently I don’t swing that way.

About Peter

This guy lives in Boston MA with his beloved wife and two kids. You can get some idea of his likes and dislikes from posts on this website or elsewhere.

1 thought on “Corporate Art – Part I (An Introduction)

  1. You raise an interesting point when discussing the problems that face the artist who wants to makes a living (or at least a subsidized living) by way of their art. In order to do so, the artist must on some level approach their art with a business mindset: promoting it, looking at and evaluating current trends, etc. In writing Sanctuary (1931), for example, William Faulkner indicated he made a “thorough and methodical study of everything on the list of best-sellers. When I thought I knew what the public wanted, I decided to give them a little more than they had been getting; stronger and rawer – more brutal. Guts and genitals” (Joseph Blotner, Abridged 233-234). In other words, those trends that Faulkner felt were sensationalistic, were the same ones that could lead him to commercial success. Though not a “corporation” in and of himself (though perhaps Faulkner scholarship could be said to be one on some level), Faulkner had the same economic goals as most corporations: financial ones.

    What you label as “corporate art” on the other hand (or at least in you own creation of it) is not so concerned with wider commercial aspirations. Ironically then, the nomenclature “corporate art” doesn’t denote a group’s set of financial goals, but rather the actual items that one creates “corporate art” out of.

    I wondered though, do you extend the definition of “corporate art” only to the the use of supplies and tools specific to a place of business operation? For example, when discussing Oahn’s transformation of the 1.5-ml eppendorf tubes into origami flower vases, I’m guessing that the 1.5-ml eppendorf tubes are supplies special to, or representative of, the biotech business you work for. A person who has personalized their desk with pictures of their cat, and cartoons from the Sunday comics, isn’t however using supplies specific to that place of business operation. They are decorating and transforming their work place, but they aren’t using supplies and tools available specifically too and/or somehow representative of the processes of that work place.

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