Art and personality

Different (brush) strokes for different folks

Do you look at a painting like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and find yourself transfixed? Or are you more likely to see a canvas simply painted red and think, “What’s THAT supposed to be?”

Did you know that what kind of art you like (and don’t like) can be influenced by aspects of your personality? Gender and age can play a part as well, but what makes you gravitate towards Impressionism versus Renaissance relates to what influences how you behave at a party or how long you leave dirty dishes in the sink.

Art and the Big Five personality traits

What kind of art someone likes can sometimes indicate certain personality traits. Many scientific studies analysing how people respond to art use the Big Five personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. At its simplest, personality assessment using the Big Five ranks people as being high or low for each trait.

Wondering where you sit on the Big Five’s spectrums? Find out with our Who am I? personality quiz.

Openness plays a major part in how someone responds to art. The more open someone is, the more likely they are to be imaginative, liberal and have non-conventional attitudes and preferences. Not surprisingly, artists tend to have personalities with a high level of openness. But even in non-artists, high openness correlates to an appreciation of aesthetics and the arts in general. That’s not to say that a lower openness is a negative thing – there’s no “right” or “wrong” with the Big Five. People on the other end of the openness spectrum are likely to be down-to-earth, straightforward and conventional. And just as capable of enjoying art.

What does your kind of art say about you?

Abstract

Abstract art doesn’t represent something as it truly appears in the world. For example, paintings can be large swaths of colour, simple shapes or a cacophony of squiggly lines. For example, art like Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings belong to a specific movement known as Abstract Expressionism.

 People who prefer abstract art tend to score high on openness and neuroticism. They’re untraditional, get stressed out easily and express their emotions freely (unfortunately, sometimes by yelling).

Impressionist

Some of the most widely-known works of art are Impressionistic, such as Monet’s paintings of water lilies and Degas’ studies of ballerinas. In general, Impressionist works rely on the play of light, undefined edges and the intermingling of colour.

People who like Impressionist art tend to score high on agreeableness. They’re compassionate, optimistic and will probably let their dinner companion pick the restaurant.

Cubist and/or Pop

Some of the most well-known works of art are Cubist or Pop. For Cubism, think of Picasso’s people with eyes and noses where they don’t belong, and his guitars deconstructed into a million tiny pieces. Pop Art is best represented by Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book inspired paintings and Andy Warhol’s soup cans.

Those who are drawn to Cubism or Pop tend to score low on agreeableness and high on extraversion. They’re good leaders, express their opinions freely and approach people and problems with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Realistic/Representational

Realistic and representational art spans centuries and artistic movements. It can be seen in Renaissance artists’ rendering of perspective and light, and the Romantic’s depictions of nature as an unpredictable force.

People who gravitate towards realism in art score high on conscientiousness. They’re detail-oriented and more likely to tackle chores head-on and adhere to a schedule. They also tend to strongly dislike Pop and Abstract art.

What if you don’t like art at all?

We admit, that question is a bit misleading. It’s unlikely that someone is incapable of appreciating art in some way. Besides the genre or medium (for example, photography, architecture or sculpture), various factors can influence how a person responds to art. The environment in which the art is displayed, the historical context of its creation and a knowledge of the artist’s intentions can add depth and meaning to a piece of art, even if you don’t enjoy looking at it.

Despite the large number of scientific studies on the matter, we think this exploration of the intersection of art and personality is far from over. If we’ve got you thinking, tell us what you’d like us to cover in a follow-up post.

If you’d like to see examples of the genres we discuss here, check out our Pinterest boards.

Sources

Chamorro-Premuzic,Tomas. Who art thou? Personality predictors of artistic preferences in a large UK sample: The importance of openness.

McCrae, Robert and John, Oliver. An Introduction to the Five-Factor Model and Its Applications.