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The Art of Narcissists Earns More at Auction, Researchers Claim

(image via @Writers_Artists/Twitter)
(image by Benjie Escobar)

A new study confirms your suspicions that in the art world, delusional self-regard pays off: researchers found that work by narcissistic artists is likely to sell for more money at auction than work by their humbler counterparts. When you consider that today’s highest-paid living artist once made a sculpture of himself getting a blow job, these results don’t seem so surprising.

Led by Yi Zhou at Florida State University, the researchers based their methodology on past studies that suggest a strong correlation between the size of a person’s signature and narcissism: the bigger and more sprawling your signature, the more narcissistic traits you’re likely to exhibit. The researchers obtained the signatures of 815 modern and contemporary artists from Oxford Art Online, then used them as a measure of narcissism when comparing auction price datasets from 1980 to 2012. In their analysis of hundreds of pre- and postwar paintings, they found that narcissistic artists’ work sold for as much as 25% more than that by their less narcissistic peers.

In the abstract of the paper, published in The European Journal of Finance, they summarize their findings:

Using a unique auction dataset from artinfo.com, we find that narcissism measured by the signatures of artists is positively associated with the market performance of artworks. The artworks of more narcissistic artists have higher market prices, higher estimates from auction houses, and higher outperformance compared to the art market index. In support of this narcissistic view of the market performance of art works, we find that the higher recognition by art experts lead to more narcissistic artists having a greater number of solo and group exhibitions, more museum and gallery holdings, and higher art history rankings. More narcissistic artists also tend to make larger paintings and date their works more frequently.

They also break down the numbers in more detail:

At the painting level, the greater the level of an artist’s narcissism, the higher the market price of the art. A one standard deviation increase in narcissism increases the market price by 16 per cent and both the highest and lowest auction house estimates by about 19 per cent. In two subsamples for modern and contemporary artists respectively, a one standard deviation increase in narcissism increases the market price of art by about 25 per cent for modern artists and by about 13 per cent for contemporary.

The results, welcome news for the selfie generation, are in line with those of a 2013 study that found narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative and do creative things than their non-narcissistic counterparts (duh). The past century’s highest-paid artists provide plenty of anecdotal evidence for these claims. This new paper points specifically to Pablo Picasso, who famously proclaimed: “God is really an artist, like me … I am God, I am God, I am God.” His “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” last year became the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, at $179 million. Cindy Sherman, another of the top-earning artists, could be considered the art world’s original selfie queen. In 2011, her “Untitled #96” became the second-most-expensive photograph ever sold, at a price of $3.89 million.

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)
You might take the study’s findings with a grain of salt, considering that, whatever prior research says, the size of an artist’s signature doesn’t exactly count as a thorough psychological evaluation. Past studies have suggested that plucked eyebrows and “a cheery smile” are also signs of narcissism — how reliable are those as indicators of pathology? But if you’re a starving artist, to be on the safe side, maybe don’t give up that exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-importance just yet. 

Read the full paper here.

h/t the Telegraph

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