Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Inner World of Art Collectors: A Personality Perspective

Exploring the personality characteristics of a collector

Key points

  • Someone's personality can strongly influence the ways they engage with and collect art.
  • The Big Five personality traits are linked to specific collecting behaviors and styles.
  • Art collecting can also be used to communicate identity, status, and cultural sophistication.

In the past, I wrote about collector personalities and their relationship to specific art preferences. For example, what can we tell about the traits of someone who tends to collect cubist art (like Leonard A. Lauder)? However, this focus on specific traits in collectors who specialize in one area of collecting does little to inform about the traits of collectors in general. Here, I go beyond a specific type of collecting and explore the interplay between personality and art collecting. To do this, I draw on recent psychological research and observations from cultural studies and past work on collectors.

Source: Thomas M. Mueller Photography, Used With Permission
Thomas Kuebler, an eclectic collector
Source: Thomas M. Mueller Photography, Used With Permission

What We Know From Psychological Research—General Personality Traits

Openness to Experience: Among the Big Five personality traits, openness to experience is often most associated with art collectors. This trait encompasses a broad range of interests, curiosity, and a deep appreciation for aesthetics. Collectors with high levels of openness are typically more receptive to new and diverse art forms and ideas. They are often driven by the desire to explore and understand different cultures, epochs, and artistic expressions.

Conscientiousness: Conscientious individuals tend to be organized, methodical, and detail-oriented. In the context of art collecting, this trait manifests as meticulous research, careful curation, and the diligent maintenance of their collections. These collectors often have a systematic approach to acquiring art, with a focus on authenticity, condition, and provenance.

Extraversion vs. Introversion: Whether someone is an extrovert or an introvert can often influence the social aspects of collecting. Extraverted collectors might be more engaged in the social scene of the art world, attending openings and auctions and actively participating in the community. Conversely, introverted collectors may prefer a more private relationship with art, focusing on personal satisfaction and contemplative appreciation.

Agreeableness: This trait might not be as directly influential in art collecting as others, but it plays a role in the social interactions and networks that collectors build. Collectors with higher agreeableness might be more collaborative, often sharing their collections through public exhibitions and loans to museums.

Neuroticism: Collectors with higher levels of neuroticism could be more prone to emotional attachments to their collections. Their collecting behavior might be driven by a deep passion, which sometimes leads to impulsive acquisitions or an intense focus on specific artists or genres.

Narcissism and Status: Some collectors may be driven by narcissistic traits, seeking recognition and admiration through their collections. For them, art becomes a symbol of status and a tool for social differentiation.

What We Know From Cultural Examinations and Past Studies Prior to 2000

Cultural and Economic Capital: According to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory (2010), collectors often possess high cultural and economic capital levels. Their taste in art reflects not only their personality but also their social standing and education. They often use their collections to communicate their identity, status, and cultural sophistication.

Past Examinations Prior to 2000 and Today: Freudian perspectives might suggest that collecting is a way to regain control, stemming from the childhood pleasure of collecting objects. Carl Jung’s theories might interpret art collecting as an expression of the subconscious and a manifestation of the individual’s internal world. My work, based on recent scientific information, is that we collect because it gives us pleasure.

In conclusion, art collecting is a multifaceted activity influenced by various personality traits and psychological motivations. A collector’s personality shapes their approach to collecting, their interaction with the art community, and the way they perceive and value art. It’s a complex interplay between individual psychology, social dynamics, and cultural context. While general patterns can be observed, every collector’s approach to art is as unique as their personality.


Bourdieu, P. (2010). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Routledge. (Original work published 1986).

Mueller, Shirley M. (2019) Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play. Lucia/Marquand.

More from Shirley M. Mueller M.D.
More from Psychology Today