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When Rule Breaking In Art Falls Flat: Cultural Tightness Deflates Deviant Artists’ Impact
Previous research in western countries shows that artists whose work deviates from their own previous style (intrapersonal deviance) and other artists’ styles (interpersonal deviance) gain greater impact than nondeviant artists (Stamkou, Van Kleef, & Homan, 2018). However, aesthetic norms are embedded in cultural contexts that shape the meaning of artist deviance. Deviance is compatible with the ideal of innovation endorsed by loose cultures, yet incongruent with the ideal of conformity prominent in tight cultures. Here we examine how cultural tightness-looseness influences the effect of interpersonal (Studies 1-2) and intrapersonal deviance (Studies 3-4) on various indices of impact, including perceived artist influence, artwork valuation and purchase intention, and recommendation of the artist’s work to a museum. Study 1 shows that Italian participants (looser culture) perceived artists who deviated from the motif used by their contemporary artists as more impactful than Chinese participants (tighter culture). Study 2 shows that the more US participants’ community tightened to comply with COVID-19 rules, the less impactful they considered deviant artists. Study 3 shows that US participants high in tightness mindset were less likely to recommend artists who deviated from their previous style to a company than artists who consistently followed a single style. Study 4 shows that US participants high in tightness mindset were less likely to recommend deviant over nondeviant artworks to a museum. Cultural tightness attenuated the effect of deviance on impact by reducing the experience of prototypical and epistemic aesthetic emotions (e.g., awe and interest) in response to deviant artworks (Studies 2-4). We discuss the cultural contingencies of personal taste and the potential for deviant artists to initiate change.