I am an INFJ (I guess that cat’s out of the bag). And, while an artist, I don’t truly consider myself a “painter” artist. First and foremost, I am a storyteller; a “novelist, playwright, and a poet”. And yet I could not imagine life without my art; it is my right arm, the extension of my very being. Creativity is the very air I live and breathe, even as writing is second nature; running through my veins as surely as my own blood.
And so, it comes to be that in my eyes, art—the visual, creative, and experimental arts—is one of the most pure and beautiful expressions of imagination there is.
I assume, if you’re reading this, that you yourself are an INFJ, or otherwise interested in Jungian / Myers Briggs typology (if you’re curious, I’ve always found Human Metrics a good site to take the test). There is a chance that I may be a miss-typed INFP, or otherwise. However the differences between the INFJ, and the INFP (at least) are more than is often assumed. This can be seen when comparing the function stacks:
But, when one goes deep enough into psychology, there are a number of learned behaviours and preferences which may influence or otherwise override our inherent selves.
For the sake of this article, I will assume I am indeed an INFJ. It is a collection of research I have done, as well as my own experiences and observations. By it I hope to advise other struggling INFJ’s as to how we can illustrate our dreams (for they are, indeed, dreams or visions arising from our subconscious), and achieve balance with our inferior function: Extraverted Sensing (Se).
Why We are Drawn to Art: The Mystery Revealed
As I have touched on above, what draws us to creativity is our desire, or inherent need, to achieve wholeness between our primary and inferior functions; Introverted iNtuition (Ni), and Extroverted Sensing (Se). You can read more on this interesting subject in Dr. A.J. Drenth’s INFJ Personality Profile, where he goes into great detail as to the development of the functions over a lifetime, and the roles our inferior plays in career choices (especially as Se develops in Adolescence-30s).
“Unfortunately, its influence peaks in Phase II… which happens to be the same time INFJ’s are making life-altering decisions about their careers and relationships”. These words have certainly given me pause to think, but I trust the path I walk.
INFJ Type (Function) Development:
The personal development of the INFJ goes as follows. During childhood (Phase I), we develop our dominant function: iNtroverted Intuition. During this phase there can also be significant growth in our auxiliary, Extroverted Feeling, and Drenth writes that this pair is what allows us to make and express judgements.
It is during Phase II, Adolescence to 30s, that our inferior function develops, rather than Ti (which is our Tertiary). I find this deeply interesting, and best explained in Drenth’s own words: “the inferior’s undue influence derives from its bipolar relationship with the dominant function”.
After this begins Phase III, which is the 30s, 40s, and beyond—this is the supposedly final phase, and one not all reach / complete. It involves finding balance between all functions, especially the Tertiary and Inferior.
The Role of Se in Making Art:
It is well known, or at least supposed, that INFJs make good critics—and I certainly can dissect most movies from the back of my hand (though oddly enough, the flaws are something we learn to live with, as everything is flawed, or the gems are so few. But it is what helps in our development of “eclectic tastes”). But I do not like this gift (Fe) of looking at things in a critical eye, and seeing the multiple ways of others to interpret it.
I call this the Eye of the Editor. And in my view, this way of looking at things is enhanced and veritably sharpened by the educational system—that very phase of adolescence in which it develops.
Being so close to this phase myself, I remember clearly the very unaware joy of expressing Ni in Se, without expectation, as a child (this was, of course, before Fe developed—or at least my sense of extraverted feeling). And now, with fully fledged Fe, and developing Se, it has taken me a long time to return to myself, and find balance in my art.
Art is a part of me, and has always been; I would not part with it for anything in the world. But it was certainly a struggle for me after Fe began to develop, and it took me a long time to learn to work with it. Extraverted Sensing is all about surrendering and living in the moment, almost through the eyes of a child. But Fe, in my experience, seems to contradict that. Therein lies the disparity between the creation of our art; it is not only in the pairing of Ni ideals, and Se reality, but the judgements (Fe) from how we believe others will perceive that outcome. We can pick flaws in our creation before it is even finished, and be painfully aware of our own lack of talent in our inability to meet our own goals / visions. Because, of course, we don’t merely create art for our own enjoyment, as INFPs with their blessed Introverted Feeling (Fi) do—we create art, and tell stories, with a greater view on the world:
We do it for others.
And this, paired with the Eye of the Editor, is a deadly pseudo-rational mix (remember—though we may do it for a while, Thinking is not our strength). While all artists have inner critics, we can see the logic of ours; if what we make can’t be read by others, how is it ever expected to have the effect we want it to? And, of course, when we plan everything ahead and get a great, crisp, clear and logical vision (Ni), it suddenly becomes boring, and meticulous to execute. With the heart of the Dolphin, an INFJ’s inner world is something of fun, and joy. And, in the words of Carl Jung “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves”.
Yes, we can pre-plan everything. Yes, it can make perfect, rational sense, with artistic twists and structures and fantastic plays on all we ever known (the wonders of the analytical mind). But then what is left is it’s creation (Se). And when we know everything, and can see that vision so clearly, so beautiful, in our heads (Ni), it is depressing. We fall far short of our own goals, and the very act of creating anything then becomes a forced, stressful endeavour. We no longer find ourselves leaping to the page, or the canvas, or even the digital screen, because today we might not be good enough, and we should wait until we are in a better mood. Each paragraph is a write and re-write from hell, as we struggle to perfectly articulate that which we saw so clearly.
The solution? Integrating Se, through finding a balance in “being in the moment” when creating, and learning to see yourself and your own desires through developing a kind of Introverted Feeling. Take this as almost conscious meditation while you work—train the way you think through positive reinforcement, and perhaps contemplate your greater world view / the meaning of life, and therefore your art.
I will expand on this below.
How to Deal With It:
As I have said before, art is who I am. Being an extension of my being ( 😉 ), I was loathe to put it down when the hurdles of Fe and Se came into play. But it was a long and arduous journey to get where I am now, and indeed took much spiritual insight and pondering over the nature of the world, and the very meaning of life, to draw my conclusions. My strength now comes from a very different perspective, for my art, and indeed my work, has become spiritual in nature (though I do not ascribe to any religion).
A lot of the Fe / Se struggle comes from the ego (and not in the psychological “sense of identity”). We are prideful creatures, and want to be good at what we do—as good as those wonderful things we ourselves so love, so rare amongst a world which we can analytically dissect. But there is no way to win with this perspective, for if we fail to meet our own standards it is heartbreaking, and when we do perfectionism comes into play, due to the success feeding our ego (and the standards go up even higher).
INFJ’s love the finer things in life. It is a beautiful experience, and what is life if not to be cherished and celebrated in all it’s beauty? Who are we, if not collectors and appreciators of this beauty, in whatever form?
This desire often leads us to collect antiques, rare and exquisite things, dusty old first edition books, and a wonderful array of “foodie” and otherwise fantastic, cultured experiences. We are people who often use grammar (“well, thank you”) to an annoying extent, provided our structures of the world and morals are not founded on something different than our society’s opinion.
And that is exactly what needs to happen (to found them on our own carefully-considered opinions, rather than those of our culture). As INFJ’s, we are naturally gifted towards this. But as my own little life revelation lead me to see (and what I have now seen reflected in other INFJ’s I have met), we can have some pretty major, and self-righteous, blind spots. I ask you now to carefully consider your world view, and truly ask yourself, “Why do I believe this? Where does this judgement of right and wrong come from?”.
If the answer is instantly bad or good, and in a strong, emotional “I just know this” way, challenge it further. Chances are those emotions are a block stopping you from considering something which, deep down, you are unsure of, or have simply taken for granted.
As in grammar (correct spelling being, for the most part, a status symbol—we wouldn’t have the vast array of words and similar-meaning synonyms we do today if people hadn’t kept mixing things up for, literally, ages), we need to relinquish the strength of our cultured Fe by truly considering it’s basic foundations. Extroverted Feeling means we are strongly aware of others, their perspective, and—paired with Se (Extroverted Sensing)—their expectations and cultural norms, more so than ourselves. I’ve found that the best way to work with them (it would be foolish to mistrust our auxiliary function) on this is to construct an entirely new world view. This is what we do best, what we spend our lives searching for, and is nothing less than continued growth on our eternal search for (human) truth.
Keep things in perspective, and don’t let your ego get involved. Humility is the artist’s greatest friend. After all, why are you here, on this Earth? Why does this planet, this Universe, exist? What is the meaning of life?
You need to consider these things for yourself, for everyone’s answer is different. My own is to live and experience this wonderful thing called life. Yes, the struggles of the world are a challenge to behold, but they are the very by-product of living. “Social Justice” wouldn’t exist if we ourselves didn’t. And yes, perhaps our very burning desire to make the world a better place is part of this wonderful experience of living—it can be debated on many levels. But ultimately, decide where your art is coming from, and why it is you are called to make it. It can come from two places: the desire to change the world (empowering Fe / Se self-criticism), and the desire to celebrate life (which manages them knowing that whatever we do, it is achieving it’s purpose in it’s very creation).
The latter comes from the perspective that the journey is the destination. We are not making work for a perfect result, but rather enjoying it’s purpose as perhaps something enriching for us on our journey through life (as spiritual beings). And by enjoying the creation of your work, you will in turn make more, and by it hold a greater sphere of influence—for even a playful INFJ still holds serious insights into the world, and it’s meaning. These will bleed through without effort, adding the depth we so crave.
This is touching on Carl Jung’s essay, Psychology and Literature (from his work Modern Man in Search of a Soul), and in finding a balance that may, in my opinion, override the narcissistic tendencies of artists (tendencies he writes about in said essay). In taking care of ourselves, and finding balance within, we will make better work. Don’t expect it, or hold yourself to standards; just let go, and it will happen naturally. As we enjoy what we do, and by doing so do more of it, we will improve. Practice is the only true way to get better at anything—theory is only useful to a certain extent, and more often than not (I’ve found) trips us up (Ni/Se).
Remember: “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves…”
And so, this leads me to the very purpose of this article:
The Practical Guide for the INFJ Artist:
1. Work only in the final medium of your painting. Do not sketch (unless it is to be finally presented as a sketch), or preconceive your work. Doing so will create stress between your Ni vision, and the Se reality. You will always fall short of your own expectation, and due to perfectionistic tenancies this often leads to rage-quitting and / or depression.
Live in the now, and trying to get that final version out onto the canvas—each stroke then becomes mist wiped from the veil between worlds, and you will see your own imagination clearer and clearer as it unfolds before you.
Don’t worry about the structure, either (no Leonardo DiVinci’s here). Just paint what you see.
This will finally achieve balance and wholeness between your functions, as it is truly living, and experiencing, and discovering the Se world. Ni is within you inherently; let it go, and it will still guide you. But working like this is a most wonderful experience.
This theory can be carried across different mediums. Let every moment be an exploration, or—in acting—rediscovery. Let each rehearsal of lines open your eyes to something new insight of perspective you didn’t see before. Allow yourself to grow, and be flexible. Release your rigid sense of right and wrong, “should’s” and “should not’s”; your subconscious will guide you still.
2. Release your expectations / standards (don’t judge your creation). This again touches on the purpose of why it is you’re making art, and needs to be approached from the right perspective. If you do it because it’s fun, and how you want to spend your time, you will encounter a lot less resistance. If you embrace humility (because, hey, you did your best, and you’ll always be improving) and let the work flow through you, this will happen naturally and you will find much greater enjoyment. For further research in this area I really recommend reading Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way (which made a big impression on my own life and work).
3. Love yourself, and value your unique contributions to this world. Yes, you have an highly analytical eye, but not everyone values the same things you do (and, even more amazing, they’re as cultured as you are to their own tastes!). A lot of people really love your work, and are waiting for exactly what you have to offer. They exist. They’re out there, waiting. And they will really value what you have to show them, even if it doesn’t meet your own eclectic tastes.
But give it time. Your work will grow on you, and by learning to let go, explore, and be yourself you will realise you are your own favourite artist. After all, no-one combines all your favourite things together so well as you (only by truly letting go can you ride the wave of creativity, and take hold of something completely natural, and alive). And, in surrender to Se, it is like the discovery of your own, perfect world.
I wish all of you happiness and great (personal) success as you follow your own path through this life. There is only ever one of you, and you exist for a reason—whatever that may be. Trust in your own self-knowledge, and that happiness and play may hold the deepest meaning of them all.
Dare to dream,
The Dreaming Sentinel.
As an end note on Typology, I am quoting something from Adymus at the INTP forum (who wrote a brilliant article on The Many Faces of the INFJ) as I feel it couldn’t be said better:
“The INFJ personality type is by in large most misunderstood type. This is mainly do to the incompetence of MBTI implementation, by introducing personality types by a single description. Nobody was ever meant to match up perfectly to a single description. The MBTI descriptions are really only describing what the personality type will be like if they have only their top two functions developed. You see if a personality has well developed lower functions, or a well developed Tertiary and under developed Auxiliary, then they will contradict the description. The only real way to grasp a personality type is if you took a whole free range of many different models of said personality type, and let people swim around in it. But you can’t really do that on the internet, or in a book now can you? This is why I advise you all to stop relying on matching people to internet descriptions, and start experiencing the Cognitive functions and personality types on your in, in the real world. To quote the great Carl Jung:
“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” -Carl Jung“