By Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN
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.”
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 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 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.
Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, is a nurse, artist and writer. She will be our guest on RN.FM Radio on Monday, March 18th, and will discuss the intersection between art, creativity and nursing. She wrote this excellent and thought-provoking blog post for our RN.FM Radio audience.
Carol, thank you for reaching out to me as a fellow (sister? No, too nun-like) writer and nurse. I want to begin by congratulating you on 12 years of cancer survivorship. We never know who will beat the odds, do we? I'm sure it's in part so you can continue your work promoting the image of nurses among ourselves, and to the public.
I like to think each of us holds a small piece of a larger map. Each piece is unique and important. The most difficult part of living happily, in my opinion is finding out the meaning of that map. I agree with you, Carol, writing is one of the best tools for figuring this out.
Thank you for putting your piece of the map out their for the rest of us to share, and celebrate in your book, The Nurse's Story, Nurse Bytes, and The Hopeful Healer. I hope we have the pleasure of meeting someday. With high regards, and hugs right back at 'cha, Julianna
Julianna, it was great listening to your interview with Kevin and Keith on Monday. What a great sigh of relief I had thinking that there are others of us out their who are trying to show the different faces of nursing. I love to Write to Heal because I think just validating our experiences on paper allows us to see new levels of healing...for ourselves and our patients. I had lung cancer 12 years ago, and I know because of all my experiences as a nurse, I didn't punish myself the way some other people do. I never thought I wasn't a "good enough" person cause there were people I'd me who were far better than me. I'd also seen miracles and so the doctors prognosis didn't frighten me. My hope is that as more nurses start telling their own stories (not all necessarily medical) the public will see different sides of us, and begin to formulate a new image of nursing. As it is, they don't know us and I believe part of it is because we haven't shared in ways they can understand. Thank you again for sharing, yourself and your art. With hugs, Carol
Thank you Karen. Congratulations on your ovarian cancer survivorship. By sharing your inspirational story through your book, you offer a map for other women to follow along their often frightening journey. That is a gift, and art. We're each led to use our gifts in different ways, none more or less important than another. Thank you for leaving a comment..
What a wonderful article, Julianna. I am a retired registered nurse and must admit I never thought about putting creativity and nursing together. I always thought of social workers and therapists in that realm. I am an amateur artist (no formal training) and have used my own sketching and watercolors to help me cope or face various issues. Since my ovarian cancer diagnosis I have used writing instead via my journal, published book, and blogs.
I particularly like your painting of the 5 female figures from childhood to angel-hood. Thank you for sharing.
Lauren, your James Elkins quote brings to mind one of my favorites by Robert Irwin: "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing that one sees."
Thank you for contributing your great comment, and I'm looking forward to a lively discussion with Keith and Kevin on Monday!
This is EXACTLY what has been on my heart and consumed my thoughts for the past several months. An excerpt from Seth Godin's "The Icarus Deception" that I'm reading now: "Author James Elkins writes of the three components necessary for someone to become an artist: seeing, making, and the tabula rasa. First, students need to learn to see. They have to see the world as it is, without labels, without knowing the name of what is seen. Second, they are taught how to make. How to use hands or voice or body to take what they see and reflect it back to the world. And third, and most difficult, the artist starts with a blank slate. Art must be done for the first time, not repeated, and that first stroke, those first words—this is the source of our fear. How can we not be vulnerable, when the work is ours, not that of another?"...I think we need to create art to express ourselves as nurses and because we need a better image, a brand, if you will, that expresses nursing in an accurate, updated way that we can proudly display to the world. Every industry does it. Great post! I look forward to listening to you on Monday.
This is an awesome post! Thank you for sharing it with us. I love hearing about the other modalities and avenues nurses use to gain insight, understand motivation, and cope with stressful situations. We really are all unique individuals and sometimes we just have to find what's going to empower and uplift us!! Great post, Thanks friends! Have a healthy day.
Thank you Elizabeth! You are so right. One of the best things about the nursing blogosphere is our opportunity to exchange ideas in conversation. There exists an entire palate of opportunities for self-expression. We don't have to wait for a prescription to begin!