The art of influence: When and why deviant artists gain impact

Past event — 13 December 2017

Kühne Logistics University
Grosser Grasbrook 17, 20457 Hamburg, Room EE Lecture 2

Spoken language

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Prof. Eftychia Stamkou

University of Amsterdam


Some artists rise to fame, while others sink into oblivion. What determines whether artists make an impact? Drawing on theories of deviance, we propose that artists whose work deviates from their own previous style (intrapersonal deviance) and/or other artists’ styles (interpersonal deviance) gain greater impact than non-deviant artists. Given the progressive development of artistic styles from realism to non-realism in the western art history, we expected that deviance will be more effective when it is directed to a progressive style. A preliminary study showed that non-realistic styles are considered more progressive than realistic styles (Study 1). Five more studies (N=993) provide evidence for the effects of each type of deviance on several aspects of artistic impact (perceived influence of the artist, valuation of the artist’s work, 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 realistic style to a non-realistic one (Study 3). Second, artists who deviated from their contemporaries’ style were considered more impactful than artists who followed the predominant style of their era. These effects were stronger when artists strayed from a predominant realistic style using non-realistic means of expression (Studies 4 and 5). When deviance was stripped from progressiveness and the cultural-historical context was neutralized, deviance enhanced artists’ impact regardless of the direction of deviance (Study 6). Furthermore, perceived willpower mediated the effects of deviance on artistic impact (Studies 4, 5, and 6). These findings have implications for promotion, branding, and marketing in the realm of art.


Eftychia Stamkou is an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam and coordinator of the Cultural Psychology master’s program. One of her main research interests is the interplay between social power and norm violating behavior across different cultures. This line of research has investigated how cultural tightness and collectivism influence people’s power perception of norm violators and how the concept of power may be bound to cultural values. Eftychia is also interested in empirical aesthetics and reactions to works of art. Another line of research investigates people’s reactions to deviant artistic content and how deviant artists can gain influence and rise to fame.

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Birgit Kappert

Program Manager