Cantankerous Contrariety: The trait of LOW Agreeableness amongst visual artists

When I consider the very definitions of creativity, direct experience with my peers, mentors and students, and historical study of artists, I chaff against the notion that visual artists don’t to some degree struggle with a disposition leaning toward LOW Agreeableness. I think what is important is not equate low agreeableness and likability. For many artist buffer their contrary positions and cantankerous cultural chaffing with humor, silence or profound intelligence. I make this claim from experience with my peers versus empirically produced datasets.

Certain aspects of my character that have always been mysterious to me—the occasional but intense bouts of sadness, my romanticism and tetchy sensitivity, the plodding work ethic, and my tendency toward Talmudic hairsplitting, fractiousness, and unrest.
— Photographer, Sally Mann (Mann, 2015, p. 203)

Photographer Sally Mann


I was a Cockney from London, and I came to America when I was about twelve and did not fit. I was quite unruly. So, I think probably there’s a fantasy or a romance in these ideas of real beauty and form coming out of a sense of the land I just love. I was such a scrapper. I still am. I still have a street urchin mentality, even though I know better. There’s no reason to have those feelings anymore, but I think you keep a lot of stuff from your past. So, I think those other kinds of glorious ideas and those really sane visions of the universe intrigued me because, probably, essentially I didn’t have that. The work has always had those two components in it. There’s organization and finesse, which always sort of surprises me, and then this roughness in it and a sort of put-together aspect, too. But I think both of those things interest me. One is probably more who I am, and the other is who I would like to be.
–Judy Pfaff

Installation artist, Judy Pfaff


Sculptor, Anne Truitt

Painter, Agnes Martin

Artist, Louise Bourgeois

Sculptor, Eva Hesse




Performance Artist, Carolee Schneelman


Performance Artists: Ulay & Marina Abramovic

The more I glean from reading artists notebooks (the Big-C practitioners), the more I trust my gut impression.



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