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The Art of Four: The Enneagram and the Creative Mind

Personality typing is no foreign concept. It’s an industry of its own, carried out in boardrooms and retreat centres around the world. Chances are you’ve done your Myers-Briggs, you’ve ranked your strengths, you know your Beavers from your Sloths. The Enneagram is another personality typing system, but it’s one with a long and enduring history, capturing the physical, psychological and spiritual. We love it for its simplicity and holistic outlook, and it has provided valuable insights for both us and our artists.   

The Enneagram: A Brief Overview
The Enneagram has roots that go as far back as Pythagorean mathematics and the ancient Greeks. It has been used by esoteric Judaism and the Franciscans. The 21st Century version of the Enneagram was developed by Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo and psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo.

There’s a long tale behind the system (which you can read here), but the short story is that the Enneagram outlines nine interconnected personality types:

  1. The Reformer

  2. The Helper

  3. The Achiever

  4. The Individualist

  5. The Investigator

  6. The Loyalist

  7. The Enthusiast

  8. The Challenger

  9. The Peacemaker

While you’ll mostly identify with one of these types, the Enneagram is built to reflect the dynamic movement and growth of our personalities. Each type has a related wing, and in times of growth or stress, your personality will incorporate traits of another number. When it comes to creatives, however, there’s one number that just keeps cropping up.

The Number Four
While a roundtable of the nine types could fill a novel (here’s an overview), we’re honing in on the Number Four, because it’s a predominant type in the creative world, filled with artists, poets, songwriters and actors. The Enneagram Type Four is a member of the “heart centre” of the Enneagram, and it’s an apt description. Fours think with their heart. They’re called The Individualist or The Romantic. They’re sensitive and introspective, expressive, dramatic and temperamental. Fours have a fundamental need to “express themselves and their individuality, to create and surround themselves with beauty.” This need to be unique comes from their drive to be emotionally honest. They see the world with unprecedented depth – and they feel that depth. In terms of artistry, this emotional expanse  is both a blessing and a curse; it’s the place where great art is found, but it also lends itself to melancholic introspection. Their feelings are the captain of their internal ship; they need to feel life, its romance, its tragedy, its full beauty. For Fours, life is a deep pool, and at times they’re overwhelmed by the need to drink it all in.

It’s no wonder that Type Fours make great artists. They have a direct line to inspiration, a unique way of seeing the world. But this deep complexity can also be problematic: it’s not a giant leap to correlate this way of seeing the world with the alarming rates of depression and mental illness in the creative community.

So how do Type Fours live a healthy creative life?

It starts with knowing. As the Proverb says, “physician, heal thyself” – knowing how you’re wired goes a long way towards taking care of your unique personality. If you resonate with the Type Four, go on the journey of figuring out what makes you tick, and how you can operate as your best self.

Luke Oram