Art mirrors the soul. Our subconscious floats to the surface of the canvas (or sculpture, performance art, etc.) and reveals what was previously hidden. As such, art can be a tremendous way to access our interior worlds and gives us the power to shift and change what no longer serves us. Used this way, art can become a symbol of how we can create a more integrated self.

In this article however, I’m not examining art as a change mechanism, but rather how we can use the Instincts to understand the motivation behind how, why and what we create.

While joining the instinctual Ben Day Dots[i], in terms what drives us to create the way we do, I believe the Instinctual Drives or Subtypes, are a lot stronger than our type itself.

Self-Preservation Dominant Artists

If self-preservation is your dominant instinct, from an art perspective it will mean that you’ll be focusing your creativity towards making art that affords you a regular income, security, a safe place to sleep, and enough food to eat. When layered over the lens of a stressed or less integrated type, it could manifest as driving yourself too hard to achieve the above and worrying constantly about your survival, while neglecting the body’s needs. “Can I really survive as an artist? Let alone thrive.” “Perhaps I should change my style to something more commercial to sell more work?”

Depending on your Enneagram type, some Self-preservation artists may be minimizing their needs to live creatively, while other types may seek a more lavish lifestyle. I’m thinking of an SP Eight artist I know, where it’s very definitely about having all the trinkets of life, from a huge house, frequent travel, stylish cars…. Turned down by numerous galleries, and without any formal training in art, undeterred, he has found a creative way to be extremely successful.

Self-preservation types tend to be more serious and practical, which is helpful when building an art business. They can figure out what needs to be done to get their art to market, devise practical skills to create an object, or ensure that the studio’s bills are paid. They have better natural business know-how than the other two types, so will more likely be better suited to making a business of their art.

If this type finds a style of work that is making sufficient money, they may be less inclined to explore different directions, for fear of losing their income. The downside of this is that they may spend their art career focused on earning rather than on painting what arises from their creative heart. Art becomes formulaic and ironically in seeking a creative lifestyle, they can lose creativity.

Social Dominant Artists

Unconsciously or consciously our approach to art, the ideas and styles are a product of our environment (or rebellion against it).

Here the focus is going to be creating art that gets noticed, and as a result, creates fame, fortunes, and/or power in the art world. Here, we learn to balance the world outside’s expectations of us with our own expectations of ourselves. We also learn through the Social role lens, how we see ourselves and others in the hierarchy of art. We are not then simply all artists but view ourselves as more (or less successful), more (or less talented), and more (or less wealthy), for example.

The Social instinct also drives us to interact with other like-minded artists, sharing thoughts, techniques, and ideas. Schools of art, such as Abstract Expressionism, (also known as The New York Art School) were no doubt the result of Socially Instinctive artists. These artists examine who best to approach to succeed. “I believe he owns a gallery. What’s his name?” Social artists feel mortified when society sees their work in a bad light.

They generally are skilled at using social media to promote their work. “Is this work getting the response on Instagram I was wanting?’ “How should I choose hashtags?” “Is this work going to upset anyone?” “Which of these paintings should I post?” “How do I create a standout art post?”

Social Instinct artists ask questions such as: “What movement best defines my art?” “Do I belong in this art class? Is my work a fit?” “Can I even call myself a real artist?” “Did I make a connection with that curator at the exhibition opening?” “Will I make a fool of myself at my exhibition?” “How will my work be received?” “Will it make a difference in the world?”

It’s more likely that Social instinctually dominant types will be art teachers, heads of art societies, critics, or art lecturers. They enjoy being seen to be someone in the world of art. Being Socially dominant helps in these professions because you can understand the motivations and goals of your peers and pupils. “What does this person need to do to become a better artist?” “Was I overly critical of that piece?” “How can I be more supportive?” In art, this instinct can also show itself as: “Anyone who doesn’t create art in the style I enjoy, isn’t a “real” artist/has no talent.”

Sexual Dominant Artists

Sexual types desire to seduce individuals—it’s more personal. Sexual artists want to push boundaries. They want to elicit a strong response (positive or negative) from their viewers, cause controversy and shake up your world. There’s a buzz of connection when someone “gets” your work.

Their art itself can become part of the seduction—a way of tantalizing the viewer. The artist wants you to be shocked, aroused or excited. Art is foreplay. Whether it’s the erotic subject matter, controversial content, beauty, colors, emotional engagement, or the flamboyance of the artist him/herself, their art is there to attract your attention. Consequently, their art is likely to cause more of a stronger reaction in the viewer, (either good or bad). Even if you don’t like their art, at least it stirred you to respond. In getting a rise out of you, they have made a connection, which alters the way you see their art. The pleasure comes from your response. The worst thing would be for you to ignore their work.

If it had been about actual sex, you’d either have accepted their seduction or rejected it. Looking at the work as a Sexual dominant type, you’d be asking: “Does this work connect with me?” “Does it penetrate into my psyche?” “Do I desire to own it?” While as an artist you’d be looking for clues such as: “Are they turned on by my work?” “Are they interested enough to find out more?” “Does my work create a need for me?” “Does it create a reaction in them?”

Sexually dominant types can be more androgenous than the other two instinctual types—it broadens the scope of potential partners. The anima (the unconscious feminine side of a man) and animus (the unconscious masculine side of a woman) often appear in their work as orifices (female) or phallic (male) symbols. The feminine role is that of surrender. Creating in this space is one of flowing, receptivity, and openness. Creating from the masculine side of ourselves is a more penetrative, self-aggrandizing, attention-seeking, and provocative.

Sexual artists may make their work more personal, depicting themselves nude, revealing previously hidden aspects of themselves, or their physical or emotional wounding.

Sexual types want to leave their mark on you. The viewer then is not just a random passer-by, but in many ways intrinsic in their response, to the art itself. The artist could be said to objectify the viewer as part of the desire for their incorporation into the work. It’s not love-making as such, but a more basic grasping for fulfilment, unlike the connection or bonding of the Social type. “Can you feel the energy between us?” It’s obsessive, exciting, and even possibly addictive.

Ann Gadd is the author of Paint by Numbers – Art and the Enneagram.



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[i] The Ben Day process, named after illustrator and printer Benjamin Henry Day Jr. is a printing and photoengraving technique dating from 1879. Most known in the work of Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein didn’t paint each and every dot by hand. Instead, he used various kinds of stencils with perforated dot patterns.