What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Do Great Artists Have More Sex?

November 26, 2011, 12:12 AM

Although I risk impinging on the territory of fellow Big Think blogger Marina Adshade of Dollars and Sex, I can’t help but comment on a recent report in The Guardian titled “When art breeds success in the bedroom: Does success as an artist bring you more sexual conquests? Well, yes and no, say researchers.” Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and chief organizer of the humorous and thought-provoking Ig Nobel prize, stumbled across an article in the Frontiers of Psychology titled “Status and Mating Success Amongst Visual Artists” written by UK researchers Helen Clegg, Daniel Nettle, and Dorothy Miell in which the trio argue that successful male artists have a lot of sex, whereas less successful male artists have less. When you talk about female artists, however, success means pretty much nothing at all when it came to their sex life. At the risk of going against their findings (and of sounding like Carrie from Sex and the City), is really true that great male artists have greater sex?

Clegg, Nettle, and Miell describe their study sample as 236 heterosexual artists (85 men and 151 women) ranging 18 to 78 years of age (mean age, 42.67 years) and 91% of which hailed from “a white western background.” The artists in question volunteered via online questionnaire and self-reported both their studio and bedroom prowess—easy areas for bragging. You can look at the full article here if you wish to brave the statistical jungle, but suffice it to say, as Abrahams helpfully explains, the researchers wielded “a tool that mathematicians count among the sexiest of mankind's inventions… The logarithm.” Said logarithm helped neutralize those over- and under-reporting their numbers.

I don’t think that you can argue with the idea that great artists have great (if by “great,” you mean prolific) love lives. If “chicks dig the long ball” in baseball and Wilt Chamberlain of basketball fame slept with (as he claimed) 20,000 women, it only stands to reason that makers of masterpieces were also on the make. Picasso changed mistresses and wives as frequently as he changed painting styles. When the fine ladies of Viennese society ventured into the studio of Gustav Klimt (shown above) for their portrait, it was almost expected of them to have an affair with the artist himself, who allegedly kept a supply of naked models strewn about to inspire his art and simultaneously stoke his libido. The idea that a nude female model naturally transitioned from muse to mistress stretches back to the earliest days of painting and lives on today, at least in the public imagination.

What I take issue with is the idea that female artists can’t enjoy the same “fruits” of their labor. If creativity makes a man more attractive to a woman, how can that same creativity fail to make a woman less attractive to a man. Lee Miller’s killer combo of drop-dead beauty and hard-edged creativity won over Man Ray, virtually the entire male side of Surrealism, and even Picasso himself, although her sexual activity may have been hampered by Ray’s obsessive possessiveness. Frida Kahlo suffered during her marriage from Diego Rivera’s philandering, but she had her share of sex on the side—both with men and women—including sculptor Isamu Noguchi, dancer Josephine Baker, and political revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Kahlo’s pure charisma, both in her art and in the artful persona she crafted, drew people to her in an intimate way that few men could match. Even a lesser-known female artist such as Suzanne Valadon could cut a sexual swath through the male population of an art period. After a fall from a trapeze ended her circus career, Valadon turned to modeling, eventually posing (and in many cases mistressing) for artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Puvis de Chavannes, and Degas. Along the way, she learned the painting trade from her famous friends and lovers. When she gave birth to a son in 1883, the identity of the father hung in the air—which great artist was the dad? When Miguel Utrillo y Morlius stepped forward as the father, the joke (as told by Diego Rivera) went that Utrillo didn’t mind signing his name to a creation by Renoir or Degas. That son became Maurice Utrillo, a fine artist troubled by alcoholism and mental illness.

Do great artists have more sex? Probably. Do women artists have less sex? Maybe. Or maybe they’re still conditioned by society to keep it a secret. But as Wilt Chamberlain later said after making his six-digit boast, making love to the same woman 20,000 times is greater than making love to 20,000 women once. If artistic greatness is an elusive thing to measure, scientifically labeling sexual creativity can be just as, if not more, slippery.


Do Great Artists Have More ...

Newsletter: Share: