Science Says Narcissism Pays


Picasso’s signature Image: Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a blockbuster piece of art investment advice? Here’s one: “It is more profitable to invest in the artworks of more narcissistic artists.”

That a line from a new paper in the European Journal of Finance by Yi Zhou, a Florida State University professor who studies empirical asset pricing.

“You know, my data does support that: Narcissistic artists will have higher prices and they will have more recognition in the art world,” Zhou told me earlier today in a phone interview. “If I had a large pool of money, I am pretty confident that this result holds strongly.”

Maybe it’s no surprise that art actually rewards the self-absorbed. But how to prove it?

Zhou’s answer: Measure their signatures.

I’m no scientist, and this strikes me as shallow at the very least.  There is one thing I can seriously agree with though:

Zhou cites one definition of clinical Narcissistic Personality Disorder: “an exaggerated sense of entitlement, exploitative tendencies, empathy deficits, and a need for excessive admiration.” Sounds like behavior that is rewarded in the art world to me!

Yep, absolutely. If you’re looking for pretentious assholes, the art world is a great place to find them.


  1. says

    Because they’re artists? Also, define artists in politics -- art and politics have a long history of being entwined. Ever heard of political cartoons?

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … define artists in politics …

    Persons who produce work(s) called “art”, who run for office or spend much time promoting political cause(s).

    Richard Nixon’s and Condoleezza Rice’s piano playing, as basically private activities until after they reached high positions, don’t count. Likewise GW Bush’s post-presidential painting.

    On the obverse of this coin we might find, e.g., Picasso making a major political statement with “Guernica” or Billie Holliday with “Strange Fruit” or John Steinbeck with The Grapes of Wrath -- yet none of whom came to be considered as political figures per se.

    Ever heard of political cartoons?

    A good example of a borderline case -- though offhand I can’t think of a single such cartoonist known for narcissism. Columnists and commentators (a few of whom occasionally craft creative turns of phrase), however…

  3. says

    Gosh, maybe you aren’t aware of narcissism in the art world because you aren’t part of it? Artists aren’t politicians because they are…wait for it…artists. And golly, politicians aren’t artists because…can you guess…they are politicians.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Yet both groups include many egotists and attention-seekers -- and apparently those features lead to success in each field.

    To my limited knowledge, only a handful of actors have done well on both sides of this fence.

  5. AlexanderZ says

    oh FFS
    Pierce R. Butler
    It takes time and work to turn

    basically private activities

    to recognized art.
    It also takes time and work to become a successful politician. If you do one you can’t commit to the other. Hence why politicians practice art as either a hobby or after retirement. Same true for artists -- every single one of them have political views (often very foolish, but it’s true for all people). They don’t go into politics because while they work in art they don’t have the time for it. For example, Reagan became a politician once his acting career was over.

  6. Tethys says

    Modern politics is the province of lawyers, which is why both modern US political parties are so out of touch, and also why they tend not to attract artists. Tedious and pointless work with people you dislike intensely holds little appeal for creative types.

    The Death of Marat is how artists do politics. The civil rights era was fueled by people like Andy Warhol and Joni Mitchell. Beyonce’s video “Formation” is absolutely political.

    Valuing art according to narcissism? Yeah, that sounds exactly like the sort of stupid thing people in finance and investments would say. I prefer Monet, Van Gogh, and Artemisia Gentileshi’s work over Picasso any day.

  7. says


    Valuing art according to narcissism? Yeah, that sounds exactly like the sort of stupid thing people in finance and investments would say.

    Yes, it is, but they have a solid point. It’s often the most objectionable people who end up as collectible stars in the art world. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a narcissist or at least have an ego the size of a planet. If you think your work is worth X amount of money, others will think so too.

    I’m broken in that respect. It about kills me to attach a 13K tag to something of mine, even though I know it’s worth more.

  8. says


    Tedious and pointless work with people you dislike intensely holds little appeal for creative types.

    Fuckin’ truth.

  9. AlexanderZ says

    Caine #9

    13K tag

    As in 13,000 USD?
    I’m not being jealous or judgemental -- it’s just that I’ve never known an artist of this caliber. The people I know struggle at selling art for less than 100$. Now I can brag that I know a high-class artist!
    So awesome.

  10. says


    As in 13,000 USD?



    Even that mild response makes me cringe, and feel like I’m making too much of myself, even though I know I’m not, and it’s not what you meant at all. Most of my stuff takes 6 months to 2 years to finish, so in perspective, it’s not even a living wage for most pieces. I have smaller, less expensive pieces, but every piece costs money to make, and I doubt most jobs have such a high material cost as artists have to deal with. Art supplies are sold at gouging prices. Then there’s the labour. On top of that are all the regular needs -- shelter, food, and so on.

    It’s a tough way to make a living, at least until you get a break or manage to build up a clientele. That’s why the narcissism stuff makes sense -- people in general are reluctant to pay for art, and even less so when an artist tries to sell for what they think is a reasonable price. You’re much more likely to sell a piece you put a fucking outrageous tag on, because then people think they are getting “for real” art, and something that is unique. Honestly, it’s a fucked up way to make a living.

  11. Tethys says

    I don’t know if a talent for aggressive self-promotion improves the art, but it is true that it helps to influence people who have enough money to consider art an investment. People expect artists to have the enfant terrible stereotype. I don’t know if it is accurate to call it narcissism. Most artists I have studied, and the ones I know personally all struggle with the opposite of narcissism. Picasso is an outlier.

    Frida Kahlo and Alexander McQueen are both artists I admire. I don’t think either one qualifies as a narcissist, but they both had a very well developed sense of worth, coupled with doubts about their skills as artists. Becoming a commodity often becomes a tragedy for the artist.

    Diego Rivera probably qualifies as a narcissist, but I don’t tend to like his art, although his technique is astounding.

  12. Tethys says


    Art supplies are sold at gouging prices.

    This, this, this. One way to make my art perceived as valuable is to use silk and cashmere, high quality beadwork, and high end archival materials. Prices for some of the luxury fibers alone are more than the price of mass produced and sold products. It is really hard to be an artist and constantly hear complaints that your handmade, one of a kind art is not priced like the cheap imitations made by sweatshops in Asia.

    I wish I could afford a few different expensive machines. If I had the proverbial dollar for every time I have had to explain that there is no machine that does what I do, or that heirloom quality goods do not come with walmart price tags I would be well on my way to an awesome multi studio workshop.

  13. says

    Tethys @ 14:

    Prices for some of the luxury fibers alone are more than the price of mass produced and sold products.

    Oh fuckin’ A. I wanted to do a fairly large piece in silk, but after calculating the amount of hanks (45 meters per hank) of Soie D’Alger I’d need, at $26.00 a hank, well, that idea was out. It’s even worse with gold work, at least if you want to use high quality gold thread. Berlin Embroidery Designs has some exquisite quality gold, silver, and copper threads, but the cost? It’s bloody prohibitive unless you’re doing very small work.

    It’s bad enough that I use a fair amount of batiks in my pieces, as they usually run around 13 to 15 dollars a yard, and I never use less than 3 yards per piece.

    I don’t even want to get into the separate cost of fabric paints. The Jacquard dyes and paints are fab, but the cost? Holy shit. And people never stop moaning and complaining about the cost of art.

    I’ve put off doing one piece I’ve wanted to do for around four years now. It would be on a wood base, which I could sort of do cheaply (relatively speaking, because it would be around 80″ x 90″), but everything else needed? I have to sell more stuff first.

Leave a Reply