Today, and yesterday, I have been working on this painting. It is a new style for me, and very different, in that it is almost cartoon-like, painterly, in it’s etchings (but I really like it; it is natural).
The piece is still not done, which is why I have not shared all of it. As it is, I am currently using my newly-fortified knowledge of Personality Type to change my approach to art, and try to find greater happiness while doing so.
As an INFJ my attraction to art, as I have found, has been best summed up in Dr. A. J. Drenth’s article on the INFJ Personality Type, in discussing our inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (which is, for the most part, a subconscious function):
“Despite its characteristic elusiveness, it is impossible to achieve psychospiritual wholeness without the inferior function, since wholeness demands that all four functions be intregrated. Because we all know this intuitively, each personality type can be seen as striving to integrate its inferior function.”
Now, I have always been attracted to art; even as a kid, I was always drawing, living in my fantasies, or otherwise doing crazy creative sh*t out in the backyard somewhere. It’s just who I am.
Yet reading what he’s written on Function Stack development in the aforementioned article has helped explain a great load of the issues I have been experiencing, and working through, with my creativity in the past few years.
My Function Stack Development:
As a child, I never had a problem painting, drawing, or bringing unique and amazing things into existence through my creativity. That’s because I had under-developed Extraverted Feeling (Fe), and as I was still in school, art was simply art; it meant nothing, and was merely a complete surrender to Extraverted Sensing (Se) without needing an end result (Introverted Intuiting). Because of this, I decided I would be an artist and creative as a career; it was clearly my calling in life, and it is something I still love to this day.
However, come High-School it seems Introverted Intuition (Ni) peaked, and then Extraverted Feeling (Fe) began to develop. And this, paired with what I was learning at the time, absolutely crippled my creativity. Before that I had honed the use of my fully-fledged Ni to bring wonderful things into the world—though still very much in the realm of Se (Extraverted Sensing), as there wasn’t any perceived pressure (Fe) and it was still a process of using and discovering my own vision through Ni.
Yet as Extraverted Feeling (Fe) walked into my life, I suddenly became aware of how others might (or were) perceive me or my work as, and what it was like to stand in their shoes encountering the entirely alien realm of my imagination.
Paired with the bullying I attracted for being unusual, and the misunderstanding I met when presenting my creative work, the best way I can describe what I went through was a reversal of my Primary and Auxiliary function stacks; from a healthy Ni – Fe relationship, to Fe – Ni. From then on, and for a number of years, the way I perceived myself or my work was—for the most part— through everyone else’s eyes, rather than my own.
Suddenly I struggled to see my own Ni vision over my own inner criticism about what others would or would not be able to understand, and how clearly a message was given (the lingering source of my issues with editing today).
Nothing can be created from this standpoint, and it is a state of being that only Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, got me out of years later. But during my last, and most important years of High-School, it seemed that the development of my Fe peaked with the beginning of the development of my Se (the development of Ni & Se with Fi in overlapping the two: …….::::|::::……).
The pairing of such strong Fe and Se (the latter of which is currently still developing), for me, were a creativity-killing combination. I couldn’t create listening to my own inner voice (Ni), and had a great analytical mind for putting myself in my client’s shoes and figuring out what they really wanted. In this way, I became my own cruel boss, and did not allow myself any creative freedom out of what had become a sort of sickened Ni determination, paired with overdeveloped Ti (Introverted Thinking) logic, thanks to a close teacher and guide who’s an INTP.
The good news is that once Fe peaked it seemed to slip back into it’s proper place as an Auxiliary function, behind Ni. But the consequences of this is that I still had the perfectionistic combination of Ni and Se, leading to a rather fascist artistic vision which I always fell short of (perfectionism stems from the Ni attempt to control the inferior Se; the physical embodiment of our vision in reality), and a great eye for editing—both of which are the antithesis of fun, healthy creation.
You cannot write, let alone paint, “with one eye on the audience,” as Julia Cameron says. There was a reason Editors and Artist’s have always had separate roles, though you can read my further article on my rather extreme stance on editors here ;). So, it took me a long time to tone down and balance Fe beneath my Ni again; this is the point, I believe, where the switch back into their normal, healthy places finally occurred.
The Interrelationship between Developed Ni, Fe, and Developing Se:
Even then, with Fe back beneath Ni, I still had developed Ni and developing Se, a relationship which often causes perfectionism. I was unaware of this until last week, as my current “return to self” (return to Ni, as opposed to loss of vision induced by over-active or developing Fe) felt wonderful since Fe had only recently resumed its normal place in the function stack. My creativity has been so much better since I stopped questioning myself and my impulses with my inner Critic (Fe), yet it was still not perfect, and I began to have other problems. Problems which, as you will read, I find are perfectly summed up in the paragraph below (which is from Elaine Schallock’s article, The “Other Side” of the INFJ):
“INFJs can get particularly tripped up…. in their attempt to control the Se world to meet their Ni visions. This method stands in direct opposition to the natural flow of their functional stack (i.e., letting the Se world inform their Ni visions). INFJs operating in this mode can be particularly stubborn and perfectionistic about how a plan materializes.”
This is what I wanted to talk about today. That paragraph above blew my mind, and put a finger on the pulse of exactly what I was left experiencing even after I had learned to work with my developed Fe, as it seemed that the less I used Fe, the more my weight shifted to Ni, and thus my perfectionism was still great—though more rewarding for it was my vision I was following (rather than Fe induced insecurities).
Elain Shallock actually compares this perfectionistic Ni – Se relationship to a gambling addiction in her other article, INFJs as Artists:
“On the rare occassion that the art actually manages to capture the idealism of the Ni conception, that release of psychic libido is so intoxicating that it is enough to cause us to forget the hell we endured to get there – thus starting the cycle all over again.”
However, reading her earlier words that I should “[let] the Se world inform [my] Ni vision” provides what, I think, just might be the answer. Art, and it’s enjoyment, is all in the approach; I think I went wrong when I tried to become an illustrator for others (Fe), rather than submerging myself in the fine art (pieces that can be appreciated for what they are, rather than logical meaning and clear interpretation of message) I had grown to love.
It is easy for me to let my visions run away with me; without much thought (seemingly), I can have a whole book planned, complete with how many illustrations there will be and what they should look like. But then, the act of bringing this (Ni) vision into (Se) reality is hell, and—even if the rewards are good—like gambling, the cost isn’t worth it.
I think I can still finish TLC as I had planned via approaching each page without limitations, expectations, classifications or genres, and thus empower Se while still, for the most part, fulfilling my Ni vision. But I think in the future it would be best to write my books, and—if at all illustrated—paint only those few images which come to me. Art’s not something I can plan or logically order, and I hated having to force myself to create illustrations I’d already preconceived in a manner that was legible to the reader. And I have always been much more skilled at writing than I have been the visual arts; it’s something I can do quickly and really enjoy, while my illustrations are more the spice to the piece.
It’s frustrating, but I cannot illustrate nearly as fast as I can write. They’re more like the thunderclap to my lightning, and it is a bolt that is very, very far away (therefore the thunder takes longer to reach us).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article, and I look forward to sharing with you the results 🙂
The Dreaming Sentinel