The Art of Influence: When and Why Deviant Artists Gain Impact

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Some artists rise to fame, while others sink into oblivion. What determines whether artists make an impact? Considering deviance in its sociohistorical context, we propose that artists whose work deviates from their own previous style (intrapersonal deviance) and other artists’ styles (interpersonal deviance) gain greater impact than nondeviant artists, as long as deviance is directed toward a progressive style. A preliminary study showed that in western cultures nonrealistic styles are considered more progressive than realistic styles (Study 1). Five more studies provide evidence for the effects of the two types of artistic deviance on several aspects of impact (i.e., perceived influence of the artist, valuation of the artwork, and visual attention to the artwork). First, individuals considered artists who deviated from their previous style more impactful than artists who consistently followed a single style (Study 2), effects that were stronger when artists transitioned from a retrogressive style to a progressive one (Study 3). Second, artists who deviated from their contemporaries’ style were considered more impactful than artists who followed the predominant style, effects that were stronger when artists strayed from a predominant retrogressive style by using progressive means of expression (Studies 4 and 5). When the historical context prevented observers from inferring the progressiveness of the deviant artists’ expressive means, artistic deviance enhanced perceived impact regardless of the means by which the artists deviated (Study 6). Supporting our theoretical model, the effects of intrapersonal and interpersonal deviance on impact were mediated by perceived will-power (Studies 3, 5, and 6).

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