Studio Art Direct conducts study to determine the art preferences of seniors in continued care community. Results are surprising. Many senior care communities are decorated with artwork chosen by interior designers, art consultants and the community’s executives. Seniors are rarely involved in the process. The results can create a firestorm of negative feedback from the residents. Especially those living in communities with a large contingent of independent living residents.
Often assumptions are made about the type of art that seniors (age 76-86) prefer. Still life, realism landscapes, florals and other artwork that does not challenge the viewer are status quo. However, research conducted by Studio Art Direct, a corporate art consulting firm in Portland, Oregon, found that today’s seniors want to be challenged and rate abstracts paintings as their number 2 preference for art.
When Studio Art Direct was hired to provide artwork for a 16-story continued care facility in Portland, Oregon, President Janelle Fendall Baglien went right to the source – the seniors – to find out what they wanted to see in the art that would decorate their common hallways, lobbies, and public areas. The effort, blessed by the management, garnered surprising results.
Gathering a focus group of 30 residents, Baglien presented an eye-popping visual show of art genres and styles designed to be part educational, part informational. Each category was split into easy to understand sections covering the various styles of paintings – from non objective abstracts to pure representation. Genres included, but were not limited to, regional landscapes, intimate floral and nature photography and paintings, print makings, glass arts, multi media, digital arts, and fiber arts. Baglien provided each person in the group with a simple to understand polling sheet that allowed them to privately and without
the influence of other members rate the art. Several options for rating were available. Members could check a box, make a comment, and/or rate by number. Though the results were sporadic because of the groups varying levels of cognitive ability, over-arching themes easily became apparent as Baglien privately reviewed and tallied the polling.
“The most surprising outcome of our research was that seniors preferred abstract paintings. It came in #2 out of 14 genres and styles presented,” explained Baglien.
Baglien’s research indicated the following:
1. Supporting the local art community was important.
2. Strong and uplifting colors were highly regarded.
3. Art that was “interesting” and did not become tiresome was of high
appeal. Therefore, works of art with varying degrees of abstraction were favored over very representational styles.
4. Abstract paintings rated high. It was a surprise to the management and even the peer group. Several comments were made “I like abstracts, but other people living here will not.” Yet, abstracts rated #2 overall.
The following genres received majority voting:
#1 Regional (Oregon) landscape paintings in varying degrees of expression. Paintings with uplifting color pallettes were preferred.
#2 Abstract paintings that were soft, colorful and lyrical in style were highly regarded. Replies included “I like to see something in the painting I can relate to.” Completely non-objective and geometrical abstracts with harsh lines and color were not preferred.
#3 Modern color photography of the region including urbanscape shots with varying degrees of abstraction were preferred.
#4 Historic photography of region – though interestingly rated high, several comments indicated lack of color.
#5 Intimate floral and nature photography and paintings. Many were attracted to bright colors but several commented that florals were “tiresome”. Yet this category rated high overall.
#6 Fiber arts with texture such as highly artistic quilts.
#7 Graphic prints such as mono-prints and other printmaking techniques.
Works of art that rated low in overall polling were: figurative & drawings, colorfield abstracts, minimalist works, modern digital arts and mixed media.
The presentation was specifically designed for seniors. Large images and print, easy to understand categories, a dialogue that assumed a basic knowledge of art, state-of-the-art presentation equipment including a microphone were key factors in the success. Artworks presented were those of the great masters and regional artists.
The process required a considerable amount of extra effort for Studio Art Direct but the results were price-less. “The feedback has helped us hone down art options and create a program that will feature one regional artist per floor. All artworks are designed to be rotated yearly,” said Baglien. The process also provided the seniors a voice. “What started out as a potentially contentious issue, ended up being educational, fun and inclusive for the seniors.”
Studio Art Direct is in the process of selecting 18 local artists and photographers for the project. Each floor within the community will choose the artists they want to hang. All artists selected will attend a wrap-party where community members will get to meet their artist and learn more about their processes for creating. Meeting the artist will further the seniors experience with art. “As we grow older, it is important to continue learning. I think it is great for artists to mingle with the seniors and share their knowledge,” said Baglien.