A recent study supported a number of findings indicating that the work of both musicians and visual artists is received more favorably if the artist in question is perceived as "eccentric." But if perceived as using eccentricity for marketing purposes, favorable ratings dropped. Or something like that. It may be science, it may not but it's certainly food for thought and my thought is that you should let your freak flag fly as long as you sew the damn thing yourself.
The Possible Science of Eccentricity
Priceonomics does their usual mixing and matching of scientific insights with everyday thoughts regarding "From Van Gogh to Lady Gaga: Artist eccentricity increases perceived artistic skill and art appreciation." The research paper is behind a paywall but the abstract seems to sum things up pretty well if Priceonomics got the examples right:
"Based on the notion that artists are typically perceived as eccentric, creative and skilled, we tested the hypothesis that eccentricity increases perceptions of artistic quality."
"In Study 1, Van Gogh's Sunflowers painting was evaluated more positively when he was said to have cut off his left ear lobe than when this information was not presented."
"In Study 2, participants liked art more when the artist was eccentric."
"In Study 3, the evaluation of fictitious art increased because of the artist's eccentric appearance."
"Study 4 established that the eccentricity effect was specific to unconventional as opposed to conventional art."
"In Study 5, Lady Gaga's music was more appreciated when she was displayed as highly eccentric; however, the eccentricity effect emerged only when the display seemed authentic."
"These novel findings indicate that art evaluations are partly rooted in perceptions of artists' eccentricity and evidence the importance of perceived authenticity and skills for these attributions."
If we combine Priceonomics' discussion of some of the examples in the paper, such as the difference in perceptions of Lady Gaga's music when presented with a bio accompanied by a picture of her in costume and in more everyday wear, and the points from the above abstract, we might conclude that:
Being perceived as eccentric improves people's rating of your music if your eccentricity is perceived as organic and somehow in keeping with your music.
If your eccentricity is perceived as manufactured, then it works against you.
Whether this rating or favorable impression translates into anything more is outside the scope of the study so the actual ROI is unclear beyond a possibly short-term response.
None of this seems too difficult to agree with especially since the results aren't tied to anything very important happening in the world. But it does raise some points about eccentricity in relationship to how people view you and your music.
Thoughtfully Contrived Eccentricity
Lady Gaga's costume/presentation shtick is drawn almost entirely from the intersection of avant garde art and high fashion. It's extremely contrived but that comes with the territory to some degree.
While her constantly changing public presentation, often treated as highly constrained performance art moments, does give her a public image of creative eccentricity, it doesn't actually relate that closely to her music.
However her audience is likely to understand putting a lot of creative energy into one's public image in order to heighten one's impact upon appearance.
But that's a dangerous path requiring constant reinvention and a great deal of work to provide a series of photo opps that seem less relevant to Lady Gaga's music and message than this one video (shown above).
And even David Bowie ended up wearing suits.
Failed Eccentricity: Not Going Full Out
Despite the clearly manufactured nature of Lady Gaga's approach, it works due to a complete commitment on the part of Gaga and what must be quite a team.
Remember that guy at the big street event or festival or similar setting who had the giant zany eccentric Cat in the Hat hat on with his t-shirt and jeans?
That's an example of failed eccentricity. He didn't take it all the way and instead relied on something he bought at the store.
But, wait, if everybody who sees him on the street gives him a positive response then it's not failed eccentricity at all even if the response is more for his big smile and booming voice.
A related example of failed eccentricity apparently perceived as a success would be Pharrell's Hat of which I will speak no further.
Organic Eccentricity: With Style and Ease
For example his recent appearances on "Treme" were mini-blasts of realness in an already real narrative. He was just being Dr. John but his presence overshadowed those scenes like a unique bird from another planet taking the lead while the humans around him worked things out.
I can't really capture it in words so we'll leave Dr. John be.
But Will People Like My Music If I'm Eccentric?
If it fits you and it fits your music, then people should be cool with your self-expression whether it's highly stylized and thought out or clearly organic and like a second skin.
And if that works and they're from a similar social and cultural context as the likely undergrads studied in the above referenced report then they may be more likely to like your music for at least a brief period of time.
It's your choice so make it yours. But if you're going to be eccentric, go all the way.
Above all else, don't end up being that dude in the Cat in the Hat hat and the Makin' Bakin' tee.
[Thumbnail image detail of Cat in the Hat Performance courtesy Franklin Park Library.]
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is currently relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.