Scientists in Europe may have found a way for struggling artists to gain more respect: act weird. In a study published last month, researchers from the UK found that people tend to hold a higher opinion of a piece of art if the artist behind it is perceived to be eccentric, suggesting that at least in some cases, preconceived notions wield significant influence over reactions to art itself.

The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, sought to unpack the relationship between art valuation and the perceived eccentricity of artists — something the authors call the "eccentricity effect." To do this, they ran a series of experiments involving works from both well-known and fictitious artists. In one experiment, they gauged viewers' reactions to Vincent Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers painting; one group of subjects was told that the artist had cut off his ear lobe and the other was not. "As predicted, the art was evaluated more positively when Van Gogh's eccentric behavior was mentioned," they write.

Experimenting with eccentrics

Three other experiments involved fictional artists, and the results were largely the same, with some important caveats. Viewers who were told of the artist's eccentric behavior held his work in higher esteem, as did those who were shown an image of the artist in a disheveled state — wearing a thick stubble and with "half-long hair combed over one side of his head." The final experiment involved Lady Gaga: viewers were shown either a photograph of the musician in a standard black dress, or one of her "in a crouched position, wearing a tight black suit, black boots, black gloves, and a large, shiny mask." Those who saw the latter image held a higher opinion of her music, except for those who were told that some critics see Gaga's weird persona as a marketing ploy, suggesting that the effect only takes hold when the eccentricity is perceived to be authentic.

The researchers also note that they only observed this effect with "unconventional" art, implying that the work must correlate to a certain degree with the artist's persona. Nevertheless, they say their findings underscore longstanding perceptions linking creativity with eccentricity, suggesting that artistic stereotypes at least partially influence art appreciation.