For Artists Who Care


Years ago, I gave a speech at our graduating ceremony for nursing school... about the Art of Nursing. How it has very little to do with the technical skills - which nearly anyone can learn given the time, supplies and practice - and has everything to do with creative perspective, honorable witnessing, advocation, remaining centered and effective communication. I spoke about how easy it is to get caught up in the technicalities of the practice and forget the art involved that usually calls us toward caregiving to begin with - and the danger of losing the humanitarian nature of nursing in the profession's attempt to legitimize itself in a field predominated by science and proof.

"We have chosen a path that faces vulnerability in the eye and does not flinch. Because nursing is, above all else, the art of caring. And caring is the foundation of the sort of trust that can guide and transform the healing of a person." I said that, too, apparently (I recently came across my notecards from that speech, so it's fresh on my mind as evidence of spirals I travel)

When I first told people I was going into nursing, they would often say things about what a jump that was - from art to nursing - and how very different those fields were. I never saw it that way exactly. I didn't have the words back then to describe it, but I was following my intuition about life, down a path I didn't fully understand myself. I had a lot of love inside, and I wanted to serve others. To help.

At the time, I didn't know how to turn that love on myself very well - so making my art had come to feel like an empty and sometimes painful practice. Something in me decided to take care of myself by turning that caring toward others.

It was a time of disillusionment that, ironically, led me toward holding a light I needed to offer for to others in order to be able to truly see myself.

In nursing, I found myself smack dab in the middle of my creative process again, just like I'd always been, only in a different form. And I was still right in the center of my own soulwork, which I had tried to run from unknowingly, as well. All this awareness came in the context of connection. My heart cracked open to suffering in a tangible, daily way... mine and of others... eyes meeting, pain with no relief, the humility of not knowing how to help or answer, comfort in a touch, peace found in silent presence, dignity challenged through bodily function, trauma and {bad} decisions, having to let go of life itself, facing the inevitable un-answerable why.... Eventually, my perspective saw healing in all of it. In ALL of life (and death).

I began to FEEL this consciously as caregiver to one person at a time. I hadn't expected that a seemingly divergent path would lead me right back to my own healing, to my own art - to a calling in me that sees connections often long before I can actually feel them in my skin. The same voice that knew Art and Nursing weren't really that different - both methods of seeing that open pathways of connection.

You see, I helped my patients the best I could, just like I set out to do. But I believe that they helped me more by leading me back to my own heart and art-making. As a nurse, I found a deeper reverence for the creative process as an equal, valuable and deliberate art form of holistic caring - one that translates into all we do, how we treat our world, ourselves and each of our relationships.

So, I offer to you a slight variation on my words above, this time for Artists devoted to transformation through conscious creative practice and the power of its expression in the world:

We have chosen a path that faces vulnerability in the eye and does not flinch. Because creative practice is, above all else, an act of caring. And caring is the foundation of the sort of trust that can guide and transform the healing of a person or a world.