the secret to art world success is being a narcissist, says study

New research links commercial art market success with how often artists talk about themselves.

by Blair Cannon
22 March 2016, 5:00pm

Kim Kardashian's Madame Tussaud's wax figure via @kimkardashian

A new paper from finance professor Yi Zhou, published in the European Journal of Finance, provides evidence that the economic success of an artist is related to his or her level of narcissism. Using data from, Zhou found a correlation between the market performance of artworks and the egos of the artists. Some of the criteria for artistic success is recognition from the art world elite, quantity of group and solo exhibitions, and the amount of museum and gallery holdings of the work of a specific artist. The criteria for narcissism, on the other hand, is signature size (linked to self-regard), number of self-portraits, and frequency of the word "I" when giving interviews.

Zhou says that an increase in self-portraits raises the market price of an artist's work by 13%, and the use of first-person pronouns relates to an increase of 4% in market price. Zhou does not offer a reason why this is the case, but a quick glance at human history (leading up to our current selfie culture) could offer up some explanations. It seems that being self-absorbed pays off because these artists are simply better at (or more comfortable with) demanding attention.

Artnet suggests that artists with high self regard are better at convincing others of their genius (think both Pablo and Kanye). Zhou's peers in corporate finance research have observed that the narcissism of CEOs is beneficial to their careers, and their companies, even though it is typically predicted to be a negative indicator. So while narcissism is off-putting, it also allows CEOs and artists alike to gain power, attention, and ultimately, higher compensation. In our contemporary world of raging narcissism and famous narcissists (you can probably name a few), this study aligns not only with our perception of art, but with our culture in general.


Text Blair Cannon

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