Reactor

Want to Be an Artist? Try a Little Narcissism

by Jillian Steinhauer on October 9, 2013

Original work is John William Waterhouse's "Echo and Narcissus" (1903) (via Wikipedia)

Original work is John William Waterhouse’s “Echo and Narcissus” (1903) (via Wikipedia)

A new study has found that narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative and do creative things than their non-narcissistic counterparts. Um … we needed a study to tell us that?

The findings are published in an upcoming issue of the aptly named Thinking Skills and Creativity journal. They detail an experiment conducted by University College London psychologist Adrian Furnham and two colleagues, and although the results are behind a paywall, the abstract tells us:

The aim of this study was to examine the extent to which measures of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ personality traits predicted creativity, as assessed by the Biographical Inventory of Creative Behaviours and Self-Rated Creativity. … Results revealed similar personality relationships for both creativity measures. In support of previous research, Extraversion, Openness and Narcissism were positively correlated with creativity. Narcissism was most strongly related to self-rated creativity.

Pacific Standard‘s blog breaks things down a little more, explaining that 207 people were surveyed via a series of tasks: they took tests to measure the “big five” personality traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, and neuroticism); they self-assessed their own creativity and answered the question of how many creative activities they had undertaken in the previous year; and they took the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

In the end, people with narcissistic tendencies were not only more likely to say they were creative; they also were more likely to do creative things. The personality traits of extraversion and openness also corresponded to increased creative activity, which is telling about what this study really shows: that self-confidence goes a long way. If you believe you’re good enough at something, chances are you’ll do it, even if it’s unstable or difficult, as so many creative pursuits are. And chances are you’ll continue trying to do it even in the face of rejection, which is also required in creative fields like art and writing. In fact, this study brings to mind the ongoing discussion about why female journalists are published less often than male ones, which some have attributed to a lack of confidence on the women’s part.

Naturally there’s a point at which self-confidence tips into narcissism, and that’s where one needs to be careful. Then again, if making a sculpture of yourself receiving a blow job isn’t narcissistic, I don’t know what is — and Jeff Koons is laughing all the way to the bank.

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  • Guest

    This article should be titled “Want to express your narcissism? Call yourself an artist.” Most of the genuinely skilled artists I know are quite introverted and plagued by self doubt despite their success.

    • JojoMorice

      I was about to post the same thing.

      • Alan Longino

        Couldn’t self-doubt be the narcissist’s plaything? Or narcissism the facade of the self-doubter? There is no true definition to narcissism, just our perception of it via the myth. The daffodil’s genus is filed under narcissus, because of the greek myth. Yet, the daffodil is not (totally) reconciled with our understanding of narcissism. Semantics is a bitch, but I think when discussing adjectives to allocate to creatives and artists, more research should be done into how do we actually see or come to label these people. Also, this study, I can assume, only took into account Western creatives. I’d doubt that African or many Non-western artists, or those around them, would attribute narcissism to their work. Narcissism, or the gross level of confidence needed to achieve such, is a part of capital for artists and creatives in the west, today.
        (and, yes, I understand the irony in posting a long comment)

    • Soft Reeds

      “Introverted and plagued by self-doubt” is a very common trait among the narcissistic. The assumption that narcissism (aka self-obsession) is the same as haughtiness or confidence is a common misunderstanding of the condition. The reason substance abuse and thoughts of suicide are relatively common in the artistic community has to do with the fact that usually the individual in question is a narcissist with poor self-image. You’re obsessed with your ‘self’ (narcissism), but you don’t like your ‘self’. It’s an ugly combination.

      • johnwallis42

        claro que ci.

    • jbellucci

      Fully agreed. Furthermore, all of us are narcissistic. What is the point of this article? You’re not telling us something we didn’t already know. Perhaps the level of narcissism is something we may consider, but is typically overlooked and uncared for by the general public. Creative or not creative, this has absolutely nothing to do with self-confidence and achieving one’s goals. Artists get put under the microscope because we deal with visual interpretation, which is strongly associated with the notion of narcissism. May be be reminded, WE ARE IN A CAPITALISM, WHICH BREEDS NARCISSISM INTO OUR VERY FABRIC.

      • Stephanie Choya Guerra

        Yes, exactly!

  • Amanda Beck Mauck

    I should up my narcissism. Maybe I’d be more successful.

  • johnwallis42
  • Ryan Hill

    For me, it’s not about the personality at all – that just pathologizes the artist in a ways that dismiss an artwork’s affect beyond it’s creator. The real question is what does an artwork bring into the world? Does it continue to appeal to the narcissism of the people that collect it? Or does it posit another way of being in and enjoying the world?

  • Thomas Dodd

    It is definitely true that we have a larger percentage of them in the creative arts, although narcissists are easy to spot by their inability to genuinely show appreciation for anyone else’s work and by their often feigned attempts at humility (referred to on line as the “humble brag!”)..
    But the most important distinction is – a true artist is DRIVEN to do what they do as an integral part of their self expression and would do it even without an audience- a narcissist does it solely for fame and approval..

  • Helen Glazer

    I realize this article is intended more as amusement, especially since you state up front you declined to “go behind the paywall” and read the whole paper. But it begs the question of why research like this matters or what light it would shed on the creative process, since it seems to focus on reducing complex human beings to a handful of labels, e.g. “narcissistic.” Moreover, it is not clear from this article if the researchers made any distinction between those who self-describe themselves as “creative” as to whether they actually were committed to a creative life, or just liked to see themselves that way.

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