A key question in scholarship on evaluation is the extent to which the role of social construction is constrained by objective reality. This question is addressed in an analysis of the evaluation of artistic excellence. In an online experiment, we manipulate the subjective social status (both artwork and artist) and the degree of aesthetic complexity of the artwork. The results confirm the independent role of the objective aesthetic factor in art evaluation. Most importantly, we document an interaction between subjective and objective factors whereby aesthetic complexity serves as a credibility lever, amplifying or attenuating the credibility of the status labels. Excessive praise (i.e., a masterpiece by a world-famous artist) tends to reduce the appreciation of aesthetically simple artworks when status labels are questioned. However, the association of aesthetic complexity with the capacity to provoke thought may encourage respondents to take the paintings more seriously. Complexity is typically discouraged for standard products, but it can be instrumental in the process of singularization by stimulating visual exploration and sustaining interest over time. Link to the article
SGOUREV, S. and ALTHUIZEN, N. (2017). Is It a Masterpiece? Social Construction and Objective Constraint in the Evaluation of Excellence. Social Psychology Quarterly, 80(4), pp. 289-309.