Why Nurses Need to Make Art

The first thing people usually say to me when they find out I’m an artist is, “Gosh, I can’t even draw a straight line.” My response to that statement is, “Nobody can. That’s what straight edges are for.”

Detail of oil painting by jparadisi

Detail of oil painting by jparadisi

When these same people discover I am also an oncology nurse, the second thing they say is, “Painting must be so therapeutic, after dealing with so much death.” My response to this statement is more complex than the first.

First, there’s not really “so much death” in oncology, as treatments improve and many cancers are managed as chronic conditions, which is great. There is still sad sorrow, however. Ironically, when I’m most engaged in a real life human drama, that’s when I find it the most difficult to unleash my creativity. On those days, I’m more likely to calm myself by going for a long run, or knitting, which I consider hobbies.

For me, the creative act of painting is often as uncomfortable as a difficult day of patient care. This is because, I believe the difference between art as therapy, and art as art, is that art as art usually begins with a question or inquiry, and most importantly, results in an insight. Art as therapy requires neither. However, if art as therapy results in an insight, it can also meet the status of art as art. Simply speaking, strong works of art, like strong nursing, involves critical thinking, not simply performing rote skills.

Attaining insight is the reason I believe it is so important for nurses to open up to creativity. Insight leads to an understanding of motivation, our own, and that of others. When we understand our motivations, we are better able to communicate with others. In this dynamic time of The Affordable Health Care Act, nurses need to publicly communicate our role in health care now more than ever.

For instance, the nurse blogosphere is full of posts championing Advanced Practice Nurses as primary care providers. Proponents focus on filling the gap created by a shortage of Family Practice physicians, and reducing the cost of care. While these goals are admirable, the time is now to take creative control of the Nurse Practitioner image by promoting the characteristics differentiating medical science from nursing science: an emphasis on preventive care, in-depth patient teaching, and patient-centered care, which are in some ways superior to that offered by medical science. By creating an image, or branding, if you will, for APRNs, they are appreciated as a unique profession, not as a watered down brand of medicine, or “doctor lite.”

Unflattering, and inaccurate images of nurses are created through tradition, novelists, and outside observers, but rarely by nurses themselves. In order to dispel the nursing stereotypes we despise, nurses will need to rise up and create new ones through visual art, novels, screenplays, and films of such quality that our vision of ourselves transcends into mainstream culture.

Note: This post originally appeared in March 14 2013 on RNFM Radio: Nursing Unleashed!

Snobbery, Andy Warhol, and Healthcare Reform

White Tower (2004) oil on canvas From the Greetings from Slabtown Series. artist: JParadisi

     Last First Thursday, I was at  Anka Gallery .  The group show, which runs until January, is a benefit for P:ear and Outside In. The  opening was well attended, despite competition from the historic Civil War match in Eugene.   I meant to visit Tribute Gallery , but  became distracted by Olaf Gambini. Then, two separate and intense conversations with two not so different people kept me at Anka.   

     A conversation is intense when the persons speaking start looking around the room, wondering if  they’re being overheard, and if so, what the fallout might be.  

     I met an activist who is still advocating for single payer Healthcare Reform.  I have to admit my disappointment in Healthcare Reform, as the plan I read about becomes increasingly confusing while serving only a part of the uninsured population, for an increasingly incomprehensible amount of money.  The activist has not given up on single payer Healthcare Reform, and I felt hopeful again, even if it’s just my idealism showing. 

     I met an artist earning his living outside of his fine arts career.  I’m intrigued with how other artists pay the bills while staying true to their artistic integrity. It’s a touchy subject for some of us. While accepting commissions for art is considered “acceptable”, working as a nurse, or even in a totally art related field such as graphic art, is sometimes looked at with condescension.  

     Andy Warhol withstood this type of snobbery while trying to break into New York’s art scene.  A successful magazine illustrator, Warhol’s fine arts peers negatively labelled him  a “commercial” artist.  However, the outsider Pop Artist  proved himself a master of marketing, possessing an uncanny insight of American consumerism, by creating The Factory. It became the exclusive hotspot for everyone who was anyone.  You needed an invitation to get in.  Suddenly,  Andy Warhol became an icon and decided who was hot and what was art.   

     Snobbery crosses all societal lines, whether it’s deciding who’s a “real” artist, or who deserves healthcare.