“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
— Pablo Picasso
Some of the fundamental values that drive art — compassion, humanity, empathy, creativity and expression — are the very same values that influence nursing. The creation of art is a wonderful vehicle for nurses, whether the goal is to unwind, replenish the soul or share the nursing experience with the world.
Today, we celebrate three nurse artists Laura Miller, ADN, RN; Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN; and Lynda McLeod, RN, BScN, MALT, CPCC. Each values art and creation, but with unique styles of expression. Read what they have to say about art and nursing and let it inspire you to nurture your own creative seedling. Everybody has one — it just needs to be cared for and cultivated.
What makes art and nursing so uniquely paired?
LAURA: Nursing and art are similar in that they both require you to use your intuition, keen observation and a sense of curiosity to continuously learn. Also, through research, it has become known that there is a healing effect in creating and observing art. I call it “creative wellness”… using art and creativity to improve your life.Rainforest
By Laura Miller, ADN, RN
JULIANNA: A lot has been said and written about nursing and art. When comparing the two, it’s important to understand that when an artist puts a brush to canvas or chisel to stone an interaction occurs between the artist and the medium. Writers know that a blank page stares back in deafening silence. Art is a result of the interaction between the medium and the artist, taking on a life of its own. As an art student, I once told an instructor, “I just want what I paint to look like what I see in my head.” She replied, “That’s what all artists want. It never happens.” Likewise, interactions occur between nurses and patients. A nurse whose only priority is a checklist can’t impress nursing care on a resistant patient. Being a nurse requires intuition and sensitivity, not simply completing rote tasks. Intuition and sensitivity makes art and nursing uniquely paired.
LYNDA: I believe that art is the soul of nursing. It gives us permission to tap into the right side of our brain igniting our imagination. When we use our imaginations, we can truly be present and empathize with another person. Art makes you see. Art makes you feel. Art makes you connect human to human effortlessly. Dr. Jean Watson coined the phrase “artistry” describing holistic nursing assessments. I believe this word underscores our ability to think creatively and “be” natural nurse artists. Without art we will become lost technicians in a healthcare system that is driven by scientism rooted in the biomedical paradigm. Nurses need to embrace both the art and science of nursing to lead the way toward a more inclusive approach, an integrative healthcare system based on holistic nursing.
What do you get out of creating art? What role has art played in your life?
LAURA: Not only does it give me a sense of accomplishment when I complete a piece of artwork, but creativity in general takes me to a place where I lose myself to the process. I forget the worries of the day, even if for a brief time, and relax. I have personally experienced this when I used painting and art journaling as a “good distraction” to get through a diagnosis of kidney cancer after having donated a kidney to my brother. I like to say I was “self medicating” with art.Lung Ta (Wind Horse)
Mixed media on vellum
2007 by Julianna Paradisi
JULIANNA: I’m inclined toward self-expression. Making art is the tangible evidence of my internal conversations. I also really enjoy exhibiting and publishing art work. I joke about this with my mom. I tell her it’s the next step now that my paintings are too big to hang on her refrigerator. Art has created professional opportunities for me. It has also connected me to people I don’t know that I wouldn’t ordinarily have had the pleasure of meeting.
LYNDA: Endless joy! When I am creating, the world stops. I am in one moment ONLY. That moment becomes much, much, more than a moment. I become ALIVE. Ann Patchett the writer of the book “Belcanto” describes this as “stunned and shivering silence.” It is in that silence that I unpack the hard moments in nursing. Using my paintbrush, I reflect on the vivid images of extreme grief and suffering to express the inexpressible. It isn’t until I am finished a painting that the lesson reveals itself and the healing story emerges. Art makes me whole. Without art, life is linear, boring and predictable. It has given me a process to survive in nursing. It has given me the vision to see everything differently, to challenge the status quo, to crave collaboration and more importantly connect totally unrelated concepts both personally and professionally. Art has helped me recognize that creativity is our birthright and the main ingredient to becoming an authentic leader. Art making made me curious about creativity, which led me to develop courses on “Creativity and Higher Education” and Creativity and Health.” Teaching and learning about the creative process has expanded my understanding of the connection to health and fueled my passion to find out more.Painting: Just behind you
By Lynda McLeod, RN, BScN, MALT, CPCC
What do you hope that those who view your art get out of it?
LAURA: Life can be difficult so I hope that viewers not only find my artwork beautiful but also that it is joyful, nurturing and inspiring. I hope that by looking at it, it also provides them with a “good distraction” on a difficult day. I love the outdoors, so nature is often the theme of my work. I hope it might inspire others to get outside, too.Healing Meadow
By Laura Miller, ADN, RN
“The painting “Healing Meadow” was part of a fundraiser for my sister (a surgical nurse) who has leukemia and is a bone marrow transplant recipient … a very special piece to me.”
JULIANNA: First, I hope they find the viewing enjoyable and, perhaps, thought-provoking. Secondly, I hope they see that being an artist and a nurse are deeply entwined in my life. I’m not an artist only when in the studio, or a nurse only at the hospital, no more than I stop being a mother when I’m not in the presence of my child or a daughter when I’m not in the presence of my parents. How I live my life reflects all of these roles. I think happiness flows from a fully integrated life.
LYNDA: I hope that my art makes people think, feel and question life. My secret hope is that it will disturb and spur something inside each person so they will go forward to create, create, and create.
What would you say to nurses who want to create but are holding back?
LAURA: Please don’t hold back. Follow your intuition. You are missing out on the joy it can bring to your life. Nursing is challenging but just as we do with patients, use your nursing skills to assess and make a “self-care plan” on how to include creativity in your life. Make a list of small steps you can take that will lead up to your larger goal. You can do it!
JULIANNA: Recognize the difference between critique and judgment. Critique speaks to skill, and clarity of thought in the work. Judgment, however, views an artwork as good or bad. Judging inhibits creativity. Critique strengthens it. When we release ourselves from the grip of our inner critic we stop caring so much about what others think. We develop compassion toward ourselves, making room for creativity. Creativity is not the same thing as self-care; historically, many great artists didn’t practice good self-care. Self-care is a result of self-acceptance. Learn the difference between critique and judging, and you’ll find it easier to let go and create.
LYNDA: Get out of your own way. Push through fear so you can taste the addicting feeling of creating something that was never there before. More importantly, push through the fear so you can stay ALIVE and promote your own health.
What does art mean to you? Do you like to express yourself creatively? If so, how?