In his excellent book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, my good friend and colleague Geoffrey Miller argues that men use artistic expression as a form of peackocking (see here, here, and here for earlier posts wherein I discuss various forms of male peacocking; I cover the topic extensively in my trade book The Consuming Instinct). In other words, artistic ability is a sexually selected trait driven by female mate choice. It is not surprising then that many rock stars have proclaimed that one of the advantages of their chosen profession is the amount of sexual access that they can garner from willing and able beautiful women.

In a recent paper published in Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences (subsection of Frontiers in Psychology), Helen Clegg, Daniel Nettle, and Dorothy Miell empirically tested some of Miller's theoretical claims. Specifically they investigated the link between artistic success and mating success for both male and female artists. They hypothesized that greater artistic success would translate into greater mating success but only for male artists. Additionally, they proposed that more accomplished male artists (i.e., higher status in the art world) would be more likely to engage in short-term mating strategies (as a greater number of mating opportunities would present themselves to more successful male artists).

Data was collected from 236 visual artists (men = 85; women = 151) stemming from a large age distribution (18 to 78 years old). Artistic success consisted of a composite metric made up of responses to questions such as time spent on art in a given week, number of days that one's work had been publicly displayed over the past five years, and the minimal and maximal cost of one's artwork (see page 2 of the article for the full list of measures that were used). Self-reported number of lifetime sexual partners was used as the measure of mating success (data on number of offspring were also collected but apparently were not analyzed due to a large number of missing responses). Finally, the penchant for short-term versus long-term mating strategies was captured by having participants state the number of relationships that they've had for each of eight duration types ranging from one-night stands to ten or more years. These were assigned points from 1 to 8 respectively and were then added up and divided by an artist's number of relationships to obtain the final score for a given individual.

Separate multiple regressions were conducted on the data of men and women to gauge the relationship between artistic success and mating success. The dependent variable was mating success while the independent variables were artistic success, artist's age, his/her income, and the length of his/her current relationship. Both regression models were statistically significant. Of note, the sole significant predictor of mating success was artistic success but only for men's data. Bottom line: One's standing in the art world translates to a greater number of sexual partners but only for men.

Separate multiple regressions were also conducted on the data of men and women to explore the relationship between mating strategy (short versus long-term orientation) and artistic success. Recall that the authors hypothesized that more successful male artists would be more likely to adopt a short-term mating strategy. The dependent variable in this case was mating strategy while the four independent variables were artistic success, artist's age, his/her income, and the length of his/her current relationship. Both models were statistically significant. For men's data, artistic success was the sole predictor of mating strategy whereas it was not significant for women's data. Of note though, the direction of the relationship between mating strategy and artistic success (for men's data) was contrary to that hypothesized. Specifically, more successful artists reported a greater penchant for long-term relationships. This results seems to contradict the earlier one linking mating success to artistic success although as the authors state one possible explanation is that successful male artists engage in long-term relationships whilst cheating more profusely with other women! Based on the celebrity tabloids, this sounds like a feasible explanation.

Bottom line: To those who are wondering why so many women swoon over otherwise less than attractive men including Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith and judge on American Idol), Mick Jagger (lead singer of The Rolling Stones), and the late Pablo Picasso, now you know! Artistic success is very sexy to women. This explains why a starving artist, who otherwise shows much promise for ascendancy in his/her chosen art form, will oftentimes still manage to attract a sizable number of female suitors.

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