Does Abstract Art Belong in Senior Living?
Spoiler alert: yes.
When I entered the field of art consulting seven years ago, which coincided with my entering the field of senior living, I was explicitly told by the first interior designer I ever worked with, "Absolutely no abstract art in senior living". I remember feeling so annoyed and heartbroken. I had graduated art school three years prior and I was literally bred to love contemporary artwork; abstract painting, conceptual art, performance art, and installation art. To be told flat out "no abstract, period" sent me down a dramatic career crisis. Was corporate art consulting for me if it was going to present restrictions to my artistic truth?! [insert dramatics]. I was brand new to the field, self taught (with a few amazing mentors), and learning on the job. All too quickly was I served the reality: there are rules. Corporate art is not any art. Senior living art is not any art. I was led to believe that art for senior living had to be metaphorically smashed through a sieve twice until soft and mushy and palatable for anyone. "Pretty art". It felt like a hard pill to swallow at the time. And I did go on to place exclusively pretty art for my first project, at the approval of aforementioned interior designer. I have to admit, it did feel a bit soul crushing. Or like wading through hummus or something. It felt heavy and wrong.
Little did I know that senior living is a rapidly changing scene, and only a few clients following my first would I be demanded to place MORE abstract art. One high end community in Southeast Denver later, my portfolio was changed forever. Giant, bright abstract paintings printed on plexiglass hang in the sky lounge on the top floor. A six foot commissioned painting on canvas by a Boulder local artist, actually requested by my client himself, hangs over the reception desk in the front entrance. This project was a game changer for me. And from then on, I have never had a client or collaborating interior designer tell me, "no abstract art".
Fast forward seven years, we're in ~the now~, I can confidently and unequivocally say YES, abstract art does have a place in senior living. A lot has changed even since my first senior living project. Most of that change points toward demographic. Baby boomers are making their way to senior living, and baby booms are abstract art, baby! They're jazz. They're The Beatles and The Stones. They are groovy cats! We designers have a lot more allowance for fun and sexy and all the things senior living has never been before. But absolutely is now. The general attitude about senior living communities has taken a huge leap- we as designers and developers are breaking down ageism barriers. The era of stepping on eggshells around the "poor old sensitive seniors" is largely O-V-E-R. Specifically Active Living residents, these seniors are lively! They want full bars in their piano lounge, they want outdoor bocce ball courts, they want a woodworking shop and cocktail hour and excellent cuisine cooked by a professional chef. They want REAL ART. The good stuff. Diverse, colorful art with a punch that catches your eye and your breath.
Senior living has a threshold for some types of imagery and I still have to be very sensitive to that. Remember the first lesson we learned- there are rules. I am required to peel back layers with every single art piece I select. Is the art piece too dark or ominous? Too sharp? Too red? Too empty? It may be a painting of a beautiful park with lively trees and a sunset, but that empty bench is a big no-no. Is it haunting? Does it convey sadness or loneliness? Art consulting for senior living is a surprisingly physiological field. I am grateful I no longer have to exclude an entire art genre from the communities I decorate, but I am still required to pay close attention to detail.
Senior living is a wonderful, unique unicorn that truly keeps me on my toes as a designer. That even feels surprising to write! Probably the complete opposite of what someone imagines when they think "senior housing". These communities are beginning to demand modernity in amenities and interiors. The appeal for powerful and intriguing art and interior design is booming. So I'm going to continue pushing. Still some pretty art, but a lot more abstract!