Business Columns & Blogs

Nancy Napier on Creativity: What your art says about you

I had two “meetings” recently that got me thinking about artwork and what it conveys about a person or organization showing it.

My first “meeting” was to have my teeth cleaned. As I was grunting and making odd noises, I looked at the ceiling. For years, my hygienist has changed the art posters on the ceiling to match the season (that day, it was all about autumn and winter) or maybe her wish for patients: sit on a deck chair and relax. (She also has a Snoopy cartoon, which makes me chuckle, but then I thought perhaps young kids may have no idea who Snoopy is.) The posters reflect her personality — she’s warm, upbeat and relaxed. (Then again, I have terrific teeth — one cavity, maybe two, in my life — so it’s easier for us both to be relaxed).

Afterward, I went to a business firm’s conference room for a two-hour meeting. United Heritage is an Idaho-based but regionally focused insurance firm. Its leaders are fiercely interested in developing a global perspective in their employees. And the artwork plays a role in that.

The walls in the building are covered with gorgeous stone slabs from places like Brazil and woven rugs from Afghanistan. The conference room had a triptych of photos from a mountain scene in Switzerland. This is a firm with a CEO who grew up in Germany and speaks fluent German, and who urges senior managers to travel — for business and, when possible, for vacation — around the U.S. but also around the world.

Now why would a firm in Idaho care so much about the world beyond the U.S.? As one senior leader said, “because the people we insure may themselves be active globally, because our clients — and our competitors — may be affected by something globally, and that could in turn influence us. And also, because our investments may reach beyond our borders, we simply have to know about the world.”

And the firm’s artwork helps send that message: Be global in your thinking.

Of course, those visits led me to look at my own office with fresh eyes to see what I might unintentionally convey by the art or photos I have. For instance, I have a photo of The Gang, remarkable leaders in Boise I’m lucky enough to work with and learn from. The photo reminds me to try and do things differently to get better, as the Gang does.

On the wall, I have photos from the Angkor complex in Cambodia, a cluster of spectacularly different temples, built over 400 years. Suddenly, about 1200 A.D., the people who lived there vanished. Those photos remind me to think long-term but also to avoid getting too smug about it, because what happens today may not be such a big deal in 400 years.

Whether we think deliberately about it or not, artwork speaks to what’s important to us, to our organizations, to our cultures. So think about what you have in your office, on your desk, and maybe what you wear — what do those symbols convey about what you value?

And next time you get your teeth cleaned, look up.