Intuition is a fascinating and rather enigmatic feature of human psychology. Germane to its mysteriousness is its knack for surprise. Its ideas and insights can feel sudden and unprecedented, revealed, as if by magic, “out of the blue.” Intuition serves as a portal to the unconscious mind, to a world of images and ideas typically held under lock and key.
Intuitive (N) personality types have readier access to the unconscious than their sensing (S) counterparts. Instead of attuning to concrete realities, Intuitives engage with a subjective world of ideas, insights, and possibilities. They see beyond “what is” in order to apprehend deep patterns, broad connections, and alternate realities.
While intuition is often linked with artistic creativity, it also plays a central role in scientific and technological advancement. In Holland’s “RIASEC” model of career interests, these two strains of creative activity are respectively dubbed “Artistic” and “Investigative” careers. Empirical research has shown that Intuitive types predominate in both of these domains, suggesting that creating and investigating are key roles of intuition. Similarly, another personality model, The Enneagram, has nicknamed its type 4 “The Artist” and type 5 “The Investigator.”
Due to its role in abstract ideation, intuition plays a central role in both Artistic and Investigative careers. Despite their overlaps, there are important differences in purpose and approach between these two domains. This wouldn’t be an issue if Intuitives’ interests were exclusively aligned with one domain or the other, but many feel torn between the two and thus struggle to find a satisfying career path. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at these concerns.
Products of Intuition
Intuition can yield at least two different types of ideas. The first type—insight—is convergent in nature, serving up answers and solutions to perceived problems. Insights are usually accompanied by a sense of conviction—an “aha moment”—suggesting that the sought-after solution has finally been laid bare. It’s easy to see how this sort of ideation might predominate in Investigative careers, where the primary goal involves finding solutions to key questions or problems.
In addition to birthing insights, intuition can function divergently. So instead of searching for a singular solution, it brainstorms lots of ideas and options. Divergent intuition is on full display in Artistic and creative careers, where diverse and novel approaches take center stage. Artists seem less concerned with finding convergent answers to problems than with exploring and expressing their own ideas, tastes, and preferences. That said, artists do seek a sense of “rightness” or “goodness of fit” between their tastes and their work. Hence, one can discern a tacit convergent attitude in their effort to align their work with their inner vision and personal standards. In this regard, Investigators and Artists aren’t as different as we sometimes think.
In his classic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert Pirsig depicts a man’s search for a common philosophical denominator between art and science. After years of intense searching, the narrator concludes that the notion of quality is the missing link. He suggests that quality is the metric by which we recognize both good art and good science. So here again it seems that artists and scientists aren’t diametrically different, as well-honed intuition can lead to excellence in either domain.
Determining Quality in Artistic & Investigative Careers
Earlier I suggested that artists and investigators have different purposes for their work. On closer look, this may only be partly or superficially true. It’s sometimes said that artists are concerned with beauty and scientists with truth. But in order to determine whether something is true or beautiful, we must weight it against some sort of established standard, be it internal or external. In either case the goal is to approximate the standard, producing high quality work and an attendant sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.
Perhaps the key difference between art and science is the nature of their standards. Some like to say that science has more objective standards, while art is more subjective. But again, this may only be superficially true. Great art is considered great for a reason, namely, its ability to resonate with people in an interesting or meaningful way. While the standard for great art exists primarily within human beings, its inner locus doesn’t mean it’s not real or reproducible. Similarly, it may be hard to scientifically measure how humans experience the taste of a given food, but this doesn’t negate our shared understanding of what it tastes like.
In light of the above, it may be most accurate to see scientific criteria as more explicit and clearly defined, while artistic criteria are more implicit and experiential. In Jungian parlance, scientific standards are more extraverted (i.e., revealed), artistic standards more introverted (i.e., concealed). In particular, we might associate science with Extraverted Thinking (Te) and art with its typological complement, Introverted Feeling (Fi). We’d thus expect to see more Te types (i.e., TJs) pursuing science and more Fi types (i.e., FPs) in the arts. In some cases, the reverse can also hold true, due in part to the allure of the inferior function.
Straddling Art & Science
There’s also a world of investigative and creative opportunities straddling the border of art and science, namely, fields like religion, philosophy, and personality psychology. While some NFPs and NTJs may seek to unite their Fi and Te functions in these fields, they are particularly attractive to NTPs and NFJs. This is because neither Ti nor Fe fit squarely into the traditional molds of art or science. For all intents and purposes, Ti and Fe are equally left and right-brained and are thus drawn to careers that simultaneously engage both hemispheres.
One problem NTPs and NFJs commonly encounter is most universities and organizations operate according to Te protocols. So even if these personality types are confident about their college major, they may struggle to stay interested because of the way the program is being run and organized. In other words, they experience a personality – environment mismatch. Rather than making room for implicit logic (Ti) and explicit feeling (Fe), universities seem partial to the use of explicit logic (Te) coupled with implicit feeling (Fi).
All personality types seek a career path that allows them to utilize their preferred methods and standards (e.g., Ti, Te, Fi, or Fe), but also carries the promise of integrating their non-dominant functions. In the case of INFJs, for example, it’s not merely a matter of engaging their Ni, but also finding ways to incorporate Fe, Ti and Se.
While the desire to integrate our non-dominant functions is both normal and healthy, it can introduce additional conflict. Not only do we experience tensions from without, but also from within by way of our own functions. So even if an INFP is predominantly an artist (Fi), she may find herself intrigued by science (Te) and unsure of how to reconcile the two. This may inspire a search for an intermediary bridge, one which allows both needs to be met simultaneously. While one might argue that fields like psychology or philosophy are intermediaries between art and science, the solution to integrating opposing functions is often more subtle. In some cases, a shift in attitude or perspective may be most beneficial. This is not to downplay the value of finding the right career, but to remind us that psychological integration is just as much an art as a science.
If you’re an Intuitive wanting to better understand your personality, career path, and much more, be sure to explore our online course: Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP.
Holland Career Interests & Personality Type
The 8 Functions: Roles, Images & Characteristics
Creativity & Personality Type: Myers-Briggs, Big Five, Art & Science
leen gyselinck says
Very interesting, thank you. I am an INFJ woman and have tried several professional paths. The artistic side has to be present, but I also like to find solutions, so I like applied arts. And I like to reframe everything as a problem, so I can solve it ;-) I am very happy now as a garden designer, which combines problem solving, esthetic creativity and, whenever I want, physical activity in garden work.
A.J. Drenth says
Artistry combined with finding solutions: sounds perfect for INFJs.
Thank you — this excellent article resonated strongly with me. As a particularly sensitive INFJ, and a practicing computer engineer, I continually struggle with the field’s organizations and personalities.
And yet, the profession (which I practice mostly as an intuitively-driven craft) feels correct, in large part because of what I perceive as the unity of objective truth and aesthetic beauty, which also drive the principles of the field. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has been a guidepost.
Thanks for writing about these apparent tensions, which are not necessarily so.
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks so much for sharing Julian. Glad you enjoyed the post.
Nancy Jaynes says
I, too, am an INFJ. This article helped me understand more about Te vs. Ti, and I wish I’d understood this years ago! I’m an Enneagram 4 wing 5, an English (lit) teacher, and I love solving puzzles and investigating /researching to find information. I joke that I should have been a private investigator. I have had a pattern of clashing with school systems because of their impersonal, top-down approach. The poster above that mentioned garden design made me smile because that is also a hobby of mine. I also dabble in visual art and writing. It makes sense now. Thank you!
Hello, INFJ woman here. After scoring high on SAT’s and IQ tests, my dad was very disappointed that I didn’t go on to college. I looked into programs, but as I told him, they didn’t seem to offer anything that I wanted to know. I wanted to know where theology, philosophy, Nature and science intersect, and I wanted to swim around in there. Thankfully, I studied on my own and swim around whenever I need to. But, money wise, I kept it simple, because I knew the world operates on a different level… For now, anyway. 😉
Julie Tara says
This is such an excellent subject matter to tackle. Thank you! I am an INFP, though I’m close to E and J on the scale. I have found the balance of art and science to be an ongoing fascination, and have chosen the careers of professional ballet (great combo of art and physical science), and natural healing, utilizing magnetic fields, negative ions, far-infrared rays etc. (another awesome combo of science and art). I also write poetry and create videos with the poems, music and art. Now I’m wanting to write a book or two, but find it challenging to sit for long hours at the computer to do it… I think I’ve got to find the way to make the process more artistically compelling I think (aside from word choices and formation of course).
I think this is my favourite article of all that I’ve read of yours. Thanks again :)
A.J. Drenth says
Thank you Julie for sharing your experiences as an INFP and for your kind remarks.
Arienne Kozak says
Your writing is always deep and provocative. As a person who is strangely equal between ENTP and ENFP, (and therefore more at home claiming Enneagram Type 7 than either of the MBTI types) — this article really helped me to see that that situation is not as opposing as I had originally thought — I AM both an artist and MacGyver! Since these are very abstract concepts, it’s easier for me to see the difference between, say Fe as a tertiary vs Fi as an auxiliary when concrete daily life examples are used, like choosing a profession or dealing with a common problem. Thank you for all you do!
What sort of shift in attitude or perspective do you mean? Towards prioritising your dominant function rather than trying to reconcile the two within your career? I love your articles (and books) but you always seem to end the article right when it’s getting to the most important and interesting bit – I always wish you would go just a bit further!
As an intp just finding somewhere Ti can happily exist as work is challenge enough. Even within this article Ti-Fe are left with no real guidance on where they fit in as careers – just where they don’t. You were spot on about the struggle with universities (which complicates intp’s approach to religion, psychology and philosophy in a practical career sense) – I’d really love to hear more of what you think about dealing with personality-environment mismatch.
Eric Fosgard says
As an INTP with many INFP’s in my life, my late wife, my daughter, my new partner, I am quite interested in the different approaches towards creative pursuits. I had thought of my late-life patent efforts as a creative endeavor, but it certainly is of a different nature than “being an artist”.
I have thought a lot about Leonardo da Vinci who seems to be an INT (?) but as much of an artist as an inventor.