Wednesday, August 29, 2007

on the creative spirit...the role of distress, despair, and melancholy

I have often said to my friends that I will never be a great artist because I am too sane. Although spoken in jest, there is an element of truth in that notion. I am sure that if I took the time to research the biographies of renown artists, which I am not going to do, there would be support for this position. I will, however, share with you some personal, anecdotal experiences for such support.

In 1981 I left my 9 year old practice of internal medicine to pursue a career in art, working part time in a busy metropolitan emergency room. My role was to cover the vacations for the full time staff, and I did this by working full time every other quarter, and working a variety of shifts with no particular pattern. It was very haphazard and usually left me exhausted at the end of the three months.

Before the first year ended, my marriage of 18 years came to a sudden end, and I found myself in a struggle for emotional survival, facing what was to be the worst years of my life. I was a wounded soul posing as an emergency room physician.

Several years earlier, as I began the task of releasing the artist I was sure was buried somewhere beneath the years of medicine, I began carrying with me at all times, a
small sketch book. I continued to do so while on duty in the ED, and whenever possible, sketched and/or wrote about by experiences. In the 4 years I worked there I filled about 6 or 7 of these books, which in retrospect, have become a vivid journal of my life, as well as a repository of some of the best on the spot drawing that I have ever done, at least in my not so humble opinion.

But even more impressive to me was what soul healed, my sense of well being improved, I fell in love and married a wonderful woman, and I left the emergency room. I began working in an urgent care facility with no evening or night hours, about 20 hours a week, seeing only minor illnesses, injuries,and aches and pains. I continued to carry my sketch book, but to my surprise and dismay, found that I was no longer inspired to draw and write, and when I did, it was worthless dribble. The cutting edge was gone, the tension, anxiety, and stress all but disappeared, leaving only pabulum in its place. And nowhere was this more evident than in my sketch books, which I eventually put away.


GPS said...

Bill, I found your comments about your ED notebooks very interesting.
I have found that some of my best work, or, perhaps some of my favorite or most genuine work came from times of stress and trauma. These paintings were done for me alone, no plans to share them with the world in general.
But I also find that there are several favorites that come from joyful times, as well.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. xxxooo, Deb

ragracers said...

I enjoy your writing, having linked to this site from your wife's blog.

I have long pondered the role of despair on melancholy. I have concluded that we were never guaranteed happiness. Guaranteed happiness seems like a good clause for the Contract of Life, but I can't seem to find that document. Don't mistake my words: I am not adverse to people finding their happiness -- I have come to the conclusion that happiness wasn't meant for everyone.

Keep up the writing -- I enjoy it.
PS I believe wounded souls have a place as healers. Although the process should NEVER be about the healer (it is always about the patient seeking care), the wounds of the healer provide a genuine foundation for the healer/patient relationship. I hope you will write more about your life in medicine.

William F. Renzulli said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I plan to followup on your remarks in a new post in the near future.

I will also be writing more about medicine, and more specifically, the art of medicine.