A pretty successful artist named Pablo Picasso once said to one of his friends: "God is really an artist, like me... I am God, I am God, I am God."
Some people might qualify a statement like this as a sign of gratuitous and perhaps delusional self-obsession. In essence, it's a bit narcissistic. Yi Zhou, a Florida State University professor, would agree. And while such exceptionally high self-interest isn't the only characteristic that led to Picasso becoming one of the most iconic names in the history of art, it certainly didn't hurt.
Zhou recently conducted a study examining the correlation between an artist's narcissistic tendencies and his or her success. And according to her findings, you may want to invest in your most self-absorbed artsy acquaintance, because narcissistic artists were determined to have higher market prices, higher estimates from auction houses, more museum shows, and more recognition from the art world.
As Zhou explains in her abstract: "We find that narcissism [...] is positively associated with the market performance of artworks."
To test the correlation between narcissism and success, Zhou honed in on a particular manifestation of an artist's ego: the size of their signature.
Following 2014 research that established an area-per-letter measure is correlated highly with the score on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory scale, Zhou's team measured the dimensions of artist signatures sampled from Oxford Art Online. The team then compared them to the market success of the artists as determined by auction data from Artinfo, Artprice.com, and websites of various auction houses.
Turns out what they say about artists with big signatures is true -- literally writing your name bigger correlates with becoming a bigger name yourself. As Zhou's study determined: "A one standard deviation increase in narcissism increases the market price by 16 percent and both the highest and lowest auction-house estimates by about 19 percent."
To confirm her hypothesis, Zhou then looked into two additional marks of inflated ego: the use of "I" in published interviews and the number of self-portraits.
Zhou ascertained that a one standard deviation increase of self-portraits increases the market price of art by 13 percent, while a one standard deviation increase in first-person pronouns will increase market price of art by 4 percent.
Zhou's findings, it should be noted, found a stronger correlation between narcissism and success in modern art as opposed to contemporary art, or post-war art. While a standard deviation of narcissism yields a 25 percent market price increase for modern art, contemporary art only saw an increase of 13 percent.
In an interview with artnet News, Zhou could not explain the shift, saying, "It would be a very good research topic to try to find out why this is the case." Could it be related to a more diversified art landscape, perhaps less stuck on the idealized image of the artist as a solo male genius? Or are self-portraits just going out of style?
Regardless, there does seem to be an overall correlation between self-adoration and monetary success and exposure. A 2013 study similarly claimed that narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative, and thus take part in creative endeavors like art, than their non-narcissistic counterparts. And as Zhou's study concludes: "More narcissistic artists are offered a greater number of solo exhibitions and more group exhibits. They are included in more museum and gallery holdings and they are ranked higher by art scholars."
There you have it, aspiring artists everywhere. Keep at it with the big signatures, self-portraits and self-congratulatory language. You'll be on your way to MoMA in no time!