Art Preferences: What Sort of Pictures do You Like?

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Art Preferences: What Sort of Pictures do You Like?

What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. (Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of Soul)

Once I drew like Raphael, but it has taken me a whole lifetime to learn to draw like children. (Pablo Picasso, Le Dessin d’Enfant)

What sort of art do you like? Abstract, Pop-Art or Representational? Does your preference in art relate to your tastes in music or even architecture? What does your taste say about your personality?

Aesthetic experience is an integral part of everyday life; however, it does not merely represent a simple, perceptual interaction with the artistic stimuli. Rather, it reflects a continuous pattern of personal choices which embody the critical evaluation of art and signify the appreciation of beauty based on taste.

This area of research is called aesthetic preference and has interested psychologists for years. Why, they ask, do some people love and others hate the paintings of Picasso or Dali? Art is part of everyday life: some love it; others are indifferent. Some can’t get enough of galleries, watch art programmes on TV and devour artists’ biographies, whereas others are simply not bothered at all.


Studies into art preferences have looked at individual difference correlates of likes and dislikes and investigated concepts such as conservatism, openness, schizotypy, tolerance for ambiguity and, in particular, sensation seeking. These studies have shown that there are predictable links between personality and specific art preferences, notably the correlation between conservatism or conscientiousness and preferences for traditional/representational, rather than abstract or cubist, art. Conversely, openness to experience has been linked to preferences for non-traditional styles.

Demographic variables influenced preferences, too. Men tended to prefer cubist and renaissance art, whereas women preferred traditional Japanese paintings and impressionism. Younger people preferred the more modern forms of abstract and cubist art, whereas older people preferred impressionism and Japanese art. Overall, preferences seemed more dependent on personality traits than on demographic factors.


A second approach has focused on artistic interests or the extent to which individuals engage in artistic activities, such as visiting museums, watching art programmes, buying and reading art books, etc. We know that individuals who invest in one domain of art (e.g. fine or visual arts) are also more likely to invest time and money in others (e.g. music, performing arts, theatre, etc.)

But which personality traits may account for this relationship? The trait that underlies individuals’ art interests seems to be captured mostly by the openness to experience dimension. Thus open individuals are more likely to both enjoy artworks and engage in art-related behaviours.


Art judgement is essentially thought of as a measure of ability rather than taste, which requires participants to distinguish between a genuine artwork and a fake or experimentally modified replica. For instance, participants can be presented with a real painting next to a modified version of this painting (in which one of the abstract objects appears in a different colour or place) and are asked to identify the genuine painting. Both their accuracy and reaction time can then be measured.

Although there remain doubts about the validity of such measures (i.e. what it actually means to have a higher art judgement score), studies have shown that cognitive ability measures are significantly related to art judgement. The personality trait that was found to be most strongly associated with art judgement ability is conscientiousness — lower conscientiousness is associated with higher art judgement scores.


It seems that curiosity and problem-solving facets of open individuals make them interested in, and willing to explore, widely different forms of art. There is a cluster of traits associated with conservatism and conscientiousness which seems to determine lower interests in arts as well as a preference for traditional, representational styles.

Openness, low conscientiousness, etc, may affect both preferences and interests; cognitive ability factors will correlate with both knowledge and judgement because individual differences in the capacity to learn and retain facts will influence these outcomes.


Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Burke, C., Hsu, A., & Swami, .V. (2010). Personality predictors of artistic preferences as a function of the emotional valence and perceived complexity of paintings. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4, 196—204.

Chamorro‐Premuzic, T., Reimers, S., Hsu, A., & Ahmetoglu, G. (2009). Who art thou? Personality predictors of artistic preferences in a large UK sample: The importance of openness. British Journal of Psychology, 100, 501—16.

Rentfrow, P. J., Goldberg, L. R., & Levitin, D. J. (2011). The structure of musical preferences: A five-factor model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 1139.