Atypical practices of crossing categories or genres are generally discouraged in the market, but the ideal of the Renaissance mind1 persists. Building on recent work elaborating the need to reward the greater risk associated with atypicality for it to survive, this article provides the first systematic, direct evidence for such a reward. We focus on stylistic inconsistency—mixing distinct artistic styles. In a between-subject experimental design, 183 subjects estimated the aesthetic and market value of consistent and inconsistent sets of artworks by Pablo Picasso in three status conditions. Controlling for cognitive difficulties posed by inconsistency, we show that inconsistency is rewarded (i.e., evaluated higher than consistency on aesthetic value) only at high status. Status cues guide perception so that inconsistent works by a prominent artist are given the benefit of the doubt and interpreted as a sign of creativity. The association with creativity leads to a reward for atypicality in the absence of tangible proof that it performs better than typicality. Link to the article
SGOUREV, S. and ALTHUIZEN, N. (2014). “Notable” or “Not Able”: When Are Acts of Inconsistency Rewarded? American Sociological Review, 79(2), pp. 283-302.