Recently I had a unique experience as an artist and nurse. At the hospital, I was stopped by someone I vaguely thought was a former patient, or perhaps a family member or supportive friend of a former patient, I really don’t remember.
This person, however, not only recognized me, but knew I painted the art hanging in the infusion clinic where I once worked.
“You sold the horse print.The one over the reception desk.”
“I really liked it. It was good. It was a print, right?”
“Thank you. Well, actually no. It was an original painting. I used oil sticks to make it.”
“What are oil sticks?”
“They’re similar to oil pastels, but big, like cigars. In fact, painting with them feels like how I imagine painting with a big, greasy cigar might feel. But they air dry over time, unlike oil pastels.”
“That sounds really messy, but your painting looked neat and precise.”
“I really liked it.”
“Thank you. So what do you think of the painting of Mt Hood I made to replace it?”
The the expression on her face gave her away, so I threw her a bone.
“Not so much, right?”
“It’s okay. I liked the horse.”
“I really appreciate your comments,” and I meant it.
As an artist I’ve stood through many gallery openings and art receptions. It’s rare for anyone to ask about what inspired the art, or how it was made. No offense intended to anyone, but a common experience for artists at gallery receptions is being approached by people wanting to talk about themselves or their art, not yours. They didn’t come to view the art.
I’m enchanted by this woman who spends her time in an infusion clinic considering the artwork on its walls; becoming fond of a particular painting, and wondering how it was made. She wasn’t there to view the art either, but she did. Not only that, but she had access to the artist, who is a nurse going about her nursing duties, until this brief respite, when the two of us discussed the art.
I do not believe such things happen very often to artists or nurses. I am grateful it happened to me.
This year I took a summer vacation, one of the joys of which was time painting in the studio.
I’ve migrated to three different studios over the years, but a single constant in each was my old pair of nursing clogs, converted to painting shoes.
In their earlier life, they spent ten years traipsing across a PICU, and even flew in a helicopter a time or two while transporting sick children in Oregon to Portland.
When I transitioned from PICU to adult oncology, they retired. In their new-found leisure, they started a second career as my painting shoes, where we continued to do good work together.
Anyway, over the weekend I returned to the studio and painted, changing out of my street shoes into the old, faithful clogs. They felt funny. In fact, one foot was suddenly closer to the floor than the other. I looked down, and entire sections of the right foot clog’s rubber sole had disintegrated and fallen off in chunks. As I moved about, the left foot clog did the same. I stared at them in disbelief. I had not foreseen their imminent demise.
I did not have a second pair of studio shoes to change into, so I continued wearing them while painting, standing and walking, balancing on what remained of the core of their sole. We made one last painting together. I tried remembering the last patient I’d nursed while wearing these clogs, but could not.
When I finished painting for the day, I washed my brushes, and swept up the trail of black, crumbled rubber left behind on the studio floor. Removing the old, familiar clogs, I put on my street shoes, and placed the paint spattered, destroyed clogs into the garbage.
Move on. They’re just an old pair of clogs.
Besides, there’s another pair, retired when I left the infusion clinic for the oncology nurse navigator job, waiting in my closet at home to take their place in the studio.
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up is this week’s new episode of The Adventures of Nurse Niki. Niki’s easy shift while floating on pediatrics takes a turn. If you’re new to the blog you may want to catch up by starting here, Chapter 1
After a long hiatus, I’ve posted a new episode of The Adventures of Nurse Niki, Chapter 54. I almost forgot how much I enjoy writing her. Look for new developments in the life of the nurse blogosphere’s favorite fictional pediatric intensive care nurse in the weeks to come!
The April 2015 issue of the American Journal of Nursing is available. On page 43 of the print version is Yazzie, a 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.
In my mind, as long as the weather is good, summer isn’t over. However, the beginning of the new school year, and the return of football indicates that ritual outweighs my imagination.
It’s good to let an imagination run free from time to time, so I took the summer mostly off from blogging.
I think there’s a tendency to view creative work as less taxing, dare I say less challenging, than nursing. I wouldn’t say less, so much as different: Different types of knowledge, different sets of skills. The biggest difference, I think, lies in accountability. Harsh criticism of their work can damage an artist’s psyche.Missing a deadline for a post or art exhibition is unprofessional and negatively affects the editors and curators writers and artists work with. It leaves them in the lurch, which in turn negatively impacts the artist’s career.
In nursing, however, medication errors can seriously impact a patient’s health, with potential life-changing consequences for patient and nurse.
I discovered something this summer: Taking time off from creative projects creates a vacuum into which other projects, out of nowhere, are sucked in, filling the “free” time I worked so hard to create. I see this phenomenon in the lives of the retired too. In fact, I often tell my Mom, “You’re scaring me; retirement looks twice as busy as working life, without the paycheck.”
Mom just smiles, and says, “Remember, ‘normal’ is a cycle on the washing machine. Don’t wait for things to slow down. They won’t.”
An unexpected project close to my heart this summer was the opportunity to hang my paintings and monotype (one of a kind) prints in a health care setting. It is a very satisfying experience to work with a design team to select and hang art with the intention of improving patient experience. In the past, I’ve sat on selection committees choosing artists for hospital art commissions, but this was my first experience as the selected artist.
For me, it came together when a patient, unaware that I am the artist, made this remark about the art, “It makes me think of other things than why I’m here.”
Bingo. That’s exactly the result I was looking for.
The Adventures of Nurse Niki is back too. The latest episode, At The Raleigh, posted Monday.
Summer vacation brought fresh insights, generating posts for AJN’s Off the Charts. In a drop-in life drawing studio I drew a connection between art and nursing. A road trip with my husband inspired this post. And a close call with danger inspired yet another.
Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine.
JParadisiRN blog began by discussing art and nursing. For the most part it remains so, through observations of the way science, humanity, and art converge, transferring these observations into blog posts.
Nursing is a tactile profession, at least when practiced at the bedside. It’s difficult to do the work of a nurse without actually touching people. Nurses learn that some skin or veins are so tough they almost repel an IV catheter, while other types are so fragile, even the paper tape used to secure a dressing or IV can easily tear it.
Nurses bathe the newborn’s firm, plump flesh, or rub lotion into the loose, wrinkled flesh of the elderly to prevent its breakdown. We measure and weigh the under and overweight, then calculate body surface area to administer the correct dose of chemotherapy.
This summer, I enrolled in an open life drawing studio. A model sits for a few hours, while artists, in meditative silence, draw the human body on paper.
Drawing is also a tactile experience: holding charcoal against toothed paper, making shapes and lines into limbs and torso, adding shadow to give them volume.
Patients and models allow nurses and artists into the sacred space of their nakedness. This privilege demands respect. Administering nursing care to a patient, or capturing the model’s likeness on paper requires concentration, skill, and love of humanity.
I’m having fun re-prioritizing a few things, one of which is my other blog, The Adventures of Nurse Niki: fiction so life like, it’s almost real. I’m enjoying writing fiction more than I’d expected. Niki and her friends have integrated into my waking life, and the story lines come faster than I can write them down. Therefore, The Adventures of Nurse Niki will post on Mondays instead of Thursdays.
I am not shutting down JParadisiRN blog. This is a shift, not an ending. I’ll still post thoughts and images. In the meantime, tune in on Mondays for new episodes of The Adventures of Nurse Niki: fiction so life like it’s almost real, starting today.
You can discuss or interact with Niki on The Adventures of Nurse Niki’s Facebook page. Please don’t forget to “Like” it too. Show Niki some love! Thank YOU!! to the readers following The Adventures of Nurse Niki, the retweets of @NurseNikiAdven (Hashtag #NurseNiki) and those who Like Nurse Niki’s Facebook Fan Page. The support is very much appreciated!
May is all warm and fuzzy with Nurse’s Week. May renews love for what my mentor once dubbed “The noblest of professions.” May also marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. I am a fan of Nightingale, her work, her integrity, and her devotion to nursing’s science.
So, please, don’t misunderstand when I say there is a quote by Nightingale from 1868 in which I find the tiniest flaw:
Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold marble compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s Spirit? Nursing is one of the fine arts; I had almost said, the finest of the fine arts.”
The troublesome part for me is describing “canvas or cold marble” as “dead.” As an artist, I tell you that there is no such thing as a dead canvas or sculptor’s stone. Yes, both are inanimate objects — no disagreement there. But anyone putting brush to canvas or chisel to stone knows that an interaction occurs between the artist and the medium. Writers know that a blank page stares back in judgmental and deafening silence. Art is a result of the interaction between the medium and the artist. As an art student, I once told an instructor, “I just want what I paint to look like what I see in my head.” Sympathetically, she replied, “That’s what all artists want. It never happens.”
Michelangelo said it best:
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
The personality of a canvas, stone, or blank page is manifested by its grain (tooth), flaws, and innate characteristics. Artists do not simply impose their will on canvas or stone. Art is the interaction between the artist and the medium.
So what does any of this have to do with nursing?
The art of nursing lies within a broader spectrum of skills than IV starts, and medication administration. It requires a nurse to discover the unique characteristics of each patient asking for help. Nurses chisel away at fear, pain, and grief to reveal a patient’s inner strengths and natural resiliency. We hold up a mirror, so our patients can see the beauty of the human spirit that we uncover.
Like canvas or stone, some patients are resistant to brush or chisel. Through devotion to our craft, we adapt our nursing skills to the realities of their character. Artists and nurses know a vision cannot be impressed upon a unreceptive surface, so we do what we can, knowing the result may fall short of our vision.
The nurse’s art, much like that of an artist or sculptor, utilizes the naturally occurring strengths and flaws in patients to create beauty from potential. The art exists within this interaction.
Happy Nurses Week!