Could Wearing a Painter’s Coat Make You a Better Painter?

A view of the finale of Marina Abramovic's "The Artist Is Present" performance at MoMA with her lab coat wearing assistants all around (screenshot of the livestream video)

LOS ANGELES — We all wear uniforms. Some are imposed on us, like a school uniforms or dress codes. Others are subtly influenced by our environment and social networks. Even the most artsy, alternative people I know tend to dress like other artsy, alternative people.

Anyone who’s changed outfits multiple times the morning before an important interview or presentation knows that clothing affects how feel about ourselves and how others see us. But can clothes also affect how we think?

An interesting article in the New York Times pointed at research that suggests that if we think differently when wearing a white coat that belongs to a painter vs. one that belongs to a doctor. Even if it’s the exact same white coat:

In the second experiment, 74 students were randomly assigned to one of three options: wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat or seeing a doctor’s coat. Then they were given a test for sustained attention. They had to look at two very similar pictures side by side on a screen and spot four minor differences, writing them down as quickly as possible.

Those who wore the doctor’s coat, which was identical to the painter’s coat, found more differences. They had acquired heightened attention. Those who wore the painter’s coat or were primed with merely seeing the doctor’s coat found fewer differences between the images.

The test doesn’t look for how wearing a painter’s coat might affect attributes we’d expect of a painter, like greater attentiveness to colors and hues, or heightened experience of emotions.  But it does make me wonder if there’s something to the white coats of Marina Abramovic, the slick suits of Jeff Koons and the ever present uniform of the arts professional the world over:

#CAA2012 is the hashtag for the College Art Association, the annual gathering of folks involved in the arts and academia.

I’d love to hear what Hyperallergic readers think. Do you wear “artsy” clothing to do art? Do your artist friends? Do you find that you have to dress like an artist to start making interesting art?

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