Art & The Personality of One’s Own

Why is it that some of us prefer paintings of realistic vistas, while others seem to find utmost beauty in pieces of abstract art, which make no sense to some? The answer to this question might be lying somewhere in our personality types, which, according to a convincing body of literature on the subject, are correlated with artistic preferences. Before delving into how our personalities affect our preferences, we must first define what personality is. While there are dozens of perspectives in the field of psychology (and thousands if other fields throughout history are to be considered), it is the Big Five Model which is most well researched and accepted by academicians. According to this model, there are five big facets to our personalities, namely, openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, the initials of which spell out OCEAN, hence the model’s alternative name the OCEAN Model. I will be briefly presenting its five dimensions. Mind you, when I speak of “high” or “low” scores in my descriptions, it is not a judgment of performance, and neither is necessarily good or bad, they merely imply different positions on the given scales.


People who score high on this scale tend to be more open minded, creative, liberal, and unafraid to try new experiences. They also feel more comfortable with abstract concepts and unusual ideas. Those who are on the other end of the scale tend to be more conservative, traditional, prefer linearity, keep to their comfort zones, and would rather deal with what is concrete and tangible than abstract.


People who score high on this scale tend to be more orderly, organised, disciplined, hardworking, and dependable, though they may also be stubborn and inflexible. Those who score low, on the other hand, tend to be flexible, easy-going, and spontaneous, yet at times messy, disposed to procrastinate, undependable and unreliable, and too much of a rule- breaker.


The high scorers of this scale are usually outgoing, energetic, friendly, and assertive; they enjoy building and maintaining numerous relationships, and most characteristically seek stimulation externally, hence the term extravert, whereas the introverted seek and find enough stimulation in their inner worlds, which is why they are more reflective, introspective, relish voluntary solitude, and keep a smaller but closer group of friends. In extreme cases, the former category might be perceived as having an insatiable thirst for adventure and others’ attention, whereas the latter as being too disconnected and aloof.


The agreeable among us tend to be friendly, cooperative, altruistic, accommodating, and make great team players, whereas those who are not are more individualistic, wary of others’ motives, and competitive. As with the other dimensions, at their extremes, the high scorers may be naïve, gullible, and obsequious, and the low scorers as dismissive of others’ opinions, anti-social, antagonistic, argumentative, and selfish.


Lastly, the high scorers of this dimension are more prone to negative emotional experiences such as anxiety and psychological disorders. They are often emotionally unstable and impulsive individuals as well. The low scorers, in opposition, are emotionally stable, self-confident, calm, and in control. To put a positive spin on the situation of high-scorers, if in moderation, they may be seen as more excitable, and the extremely low-scorers as stoic to an uncanny degree.


With the OCEAN model briefly explained, now is the time to explore the interaction between one’s personality and artistic preferences. In this section, I will be presenting the findings of two independent research groups regarding the topic. In their study, Cleridou and Furnham (2014) administered an OCEAN based personality test to about 200 individuals, presented them with 6 samples for each artistic style as seen below (that is, 30 designs each for art, architecture, and music, making a total of 90), and asked their ratings. The survey was done online, with a majority of participants being university students and females.

Their findings were that openness to experience is the best predictor of aesthetic experiences, and that high scorers show significant preference for the Sophisticated, Intense, and Mellow designs overall. In addition, in the realm of Art, the Contemporary designs, and regarding Music, the Unpretentious designs showed high correlation with one’s score on this dimension. They also found that those who scored high on conscientiousness did not like Intense designs, and instead preferred more conservative and representational works of art. High neuroticism scorers likewise disliked Intense designs, which Cleridou and Furnham suggest may be because anxious individuals wish to be exposed to as little stimuli as possible in order to reduce their anxiety levels, hence their preference for simplicity in art as well; with that said, the authors also discovered high scorers in this domain show a dislike for Unpretentious designs as well, and prefer abstract works of art.

As for agreeableness and extroversion, no correlations with any styles were found. Another discovery of Cleridou and Furnham was that people’s preferred styles for Art and Architecture overlap, possibly because they are both visual forms of art, while the same cannot be said of Music.

The findings of Chamorro-Premuzic, Reimers, Hsu, and Ahmetoğlu (2009), are similar as well, and it is worthy of note that their study was conducted with an enormous sample of more than 90,000 individuals. What they have to say beyond Cleridou and Furnham’s findings is that openness to experience is correlated with artistic inclinations in general, both on the creation and consuming ends, as well as positive attitudes and values regarding art. Chamorro-Premuzic et al. also discovered that conscientious individuals are less interested in art and activities related to art as a whole.