We Think Art is Better if the Artist is Eccentric

Creative people are all weirdoes, right? That’s why Daniel Day-Lewis lived in a log cabin during the shooting of Last of the Mohicans, Shia LaBeouf ran around a red carpet with a paper bag over his head, and Billy Bob Thornton does the things that Billy Bob Thornton does, right? Right?

Well maybe—but maybe not. A new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology has found that we think artists are better when we think they’re behaving eccentrically. In one test, students were presented with art, attributed to a fake Icelandic artist. If the students read a biography wherein the artist was depicted as eccentric—and presented with a picture of the “artist” sporting half a head of long hair—they judged the art as better than students presented with the same art but a more conventional fictional biography (and picture of the “artist” with short hair, dressed normally).

However, researchers did come up with a caveat: if told that the eccentricity of an artist is all an act or marketing ploy, people lower their judgement of said artist. Students looking at an image of Lady Gaga dressed as she is wont to do (i.e., in a weird latex thing with a mask) rated her music as better than students shown an image of Lady Gaga dressed in a normal little black dress—unless the first group was first told that Lady Gaga’s dress was all a marketing ploy.

With that in mind, we’re making a mental list of all the musicians, directors, actors, and whatnot whose work we love—because it turns out that we may just love their marketing departments.


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