Art & Nursing: At Scrubbed In Blog & in AJN

Because I’m an artist, one of the pervading themes of this blog is art.

This week, I had the pleasure of being recognized, along with two other artists who are nurses, in an interview by Meaghan O’Keefe, RN for Scrubbedin (the Blog) at Each of us share our perspective on art and nursing, and why they are uniquely paired.

In their April 2015 issue, the American Journal published Yazzie, a painting from my Urban Horses series, along with a short essay about selecting art for the health care setting. I’m honored to have a collection of my paintings and monotypes hanging the the oncology infusion clinic where I used to work, giving me a special opportunity to pair art and nursing in patient care.

JParadisi RN Painting in AJN Art of Nursing

The April 2015 issue of the American Journal of Nursing is available. On page 43 of the print version is Yazziea painting I made The Art of Nursing Column. In the accompanying  text I discuss the challenge hanging original art in a health care setting. You can view a pdf of Yazzie and the accompanying text at AJN Online.

The  paintings on exhibit in the clinic, including Yazzie, are for sale. I will donate 20% of the sales prices  to The Knight Cancer Challenge, dedicated to raising research money to find the cure for cancer. The fundraising ends in February 2016. You can learn about the Knight Cancer Challenge by watching their cool video here.

If you watched the recent airing on PBS of The Emperor of All Maladies, you’ll recognize Dr. Brian Druker, the inventor of Gleevec, as the face of OHSU cancer research.

If wishes were horses, this 17-piece collection titled, Works on Paper: Monotype Prints and Paintings would be purchased and donated to the walls of the clinic where they are now hanging, so the patients can continue to enjoy them.


Sometimes a Cigar Isn’t a Cigar

Dreaded Bathroom Mirror photo: jparadisi 2011

The painter Lucian Freud died last week at the age of 88. The grandson of Sigmund Freud, he was a portraitist, making images of friends, family, the famous and the not so much, splayed naked on ruined couches, chairs or ottomans; sometimes draped with animals, mostly dogs. I first learned of Freud in art school, during a figure painting class in which an instructor commented something to the effect of:

“He breaks a lot of rules of painting, but somehow it works.”

I like Freud’s portraits, and was a little shocked after he died to read that many art critics strongly dislike them. Jerry Saltz writes about Freud for NYMag:

“Which brings me to my personal taste. While I don’t particularly like Freud’s work (just last week I saw the Met’s current Freud show and thought, “Meh”). Yet then as now, I admire him greatly. I look at Freud’s intensely worked, eternally noodling oozey surfaces, the incessantly teeming little paint-brush strokes, the Morandi-like limited palette of flesh tones, and his claustrophobic vision of naked models forever posing in his famously dilapidated London studio, and am often struck by how the life of his art seems to drain away. Mostly what I see is nearly maniacal painterly control. Yet Freud is an important touchstone for the many of us who secretly fear that we are not naturally gifted; we who are not precocious geniuses, we non-Picassos who are always unsure that we even are what we say we are.”

Ouch! Those are some harsh words. Good thing I’m not thin skinned.

The opinion that best challenges my own comes from someone whose art critique I hold with regard. He wrote about Freud:

“I hated his work with a passion. Certainly, like everyone else, I could see the penetrating psychological deconstruction he was going for and nailing…his drab palette and ethos of anti-romanticism encapsulated everything I am against.”

(Note:  Romanticism refers to a philosophical movement within art history, not romance, as in sharing a good Oregon Pinot Noir and gourmet chocolates naked on the deck by moonlight…Hmmm. Hey, David.….?)

My friend’s words touched on something for me, and I’ll tell you what it is. I agree, Freud’s portraits are “penetrating, psychological deconstructions” of his subjects. They are disturbing because they coldly render the sitter into gobs of painted flesh, not pretty flesh, but swollen, loose, pale, sweaty flesh. Freud took months to a year to finish a portrait, literally “deconstructing” the sitter through the physically punishing act of posing for hours, days, weeks, and months.

Sometimes, he painted people we think we know, like pregnant super model, Kate Moss. I only know the painting is of her, because he told us it is. Through Lucian Freud’s eyes, I do not recognize her famous face. At times, his portraits remind me of the shock I feel seeing the reflection of my imperfect body emerge from the shower in the in the steamy bathroom mirror, or watching David’s unguarded face in the repose of sleep; in both instances wondering, “who is that person?” This feeling of astonished wonder, this anti-romanticism, is the price of intimacy.

Freud looked at people through the eyes of a clinician, reducing them to bluish veins under discolored flesh. I think that’s why I like his paintings. I am a nurse, and often, the first vision nurses have of a naked patient is similar to one of his portraits. The sensation brings a bit of shock to both nurse and patient. Part of nursing is gaining the ability to navigate within the intimate personal space of another human being. We use a clinician’s eye to assess problems readable in the naked flesh of our patients. However, it is inherent in nursing to turn off the clinical eye and relate to the person residing inside the ailing flesh, with the understanding that they come before us deconstructed by their disease process.

Our decaying flesh is the price we pay for being mortal.

Follow Up : A Personal Response to Moral Distress in Health Care


detail from Goldsmith Artists collaborative project 2008

detail from Goldsmith Artists collaborative project 2008


In  my post

A Personal Response to Moral Distress in Health Care (Feb. 7, 2009), I describe events leading to an uninsured, homeless man’s admission to an emergency department.

From there he was admitted into the hospital.

I was off for a couple of days after that event. When I came back to work, I was told that the man called our clinic from his hospital bed “just to check in” and to thank us, “his nurses.”

He will discharge soon, and I will see him again in the clinic. There are no indications that his lifestyle has changed. No miracle has occurred.

But I can’t keep from smiling about his phone call to us and my awareness that a simple human connection was made that day. It makes me feel hopeful. It helps me continue advocating for the voiceless.

I am reminded of an adage I heard some where:

If you want to change the way you feel about someone, change the way you treat them.