Friday, January 1, 2010


Before I could leave my practice to “become an artist” (that is how I thought about it) I had to secure part time employment to meet my financial obligations to home and family. I approached the director of our local ER who made me a rather extraordinary offer, filling in for the vacation time for the growing staff I could work full time for 3 months, alternating with 3 months off. I quickly accepted the offer and spent the next 4 years alternating between three months in the ER and my studio.

It was an incredible experience, moving readily between two contrasting environments: the chaotic demands of medicine in a busy city ER, and the quiet, peaceful solitude of an artist’s studio. Survival in the first required blocking out the emotional impact of dealing with so much human pain and suffering, while creativity in the studio demanded an openness to my surroundings, feeling and experiencing the landscapes that I wanted to paint. It was more than simply changing hats every 3 months, it called for a complete reversal of my psyche; the 2 states of mind could not easily exist together. Attempts at working in the studio on my days off during the ER tour were totally unsuccessful and I soon stopped trying.

An interesting thing occurred during this time. Being self taught, I was at a very steep beginning of the learning curve, and after advancing my point on that curve with three months of studio work, I anticipated that it would slip back a bit after my stint in the ER. Too my surprise that didn’t happen, in fact upon returning to the studio I found myself even a little further along than when I left. Clearly things were happening internally, the changes that Rilke describes so eloquently in his letters.

Reflecting on those four years, my first thought was I was working both sides of my brain, the creative right side and the rational left side, but I have since come to recognize that this was an inaccurate distinction. Although the descriptions of each role are easily distinguishable, the person performing them remains the same, and inwardly there was no separation. For me, medicine and art are seamless, each one enhancing the other.

Here are several examples of work from my "ER" days.

Philadelphia Merchants of my favorite buildings in Philly

The Pennsylvania Academy of fine Arts...watercolor...I love Frank Furness's work.
Behind Quaker Hill in Wilmington, DE...watercolor...I was big time into architecture.
My Sketch book was a constant companion during my ER days.


Helen Read said...

Glad you followed your dream! Nice work posted! :)

Linda said...

Bill, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to move between two such different worlds! It's interesting that your skills improved with the breaks -- reminds me of something a friend said once about the same thing (although we were talking about playing the piano), comparing it to a field that lies fallow so that it can be more fertile in the spring, or something like that.
I'm glad you're sharing this story. It's interesting to know how you made your change.

Oh - and I just especially love the Philadelphia Merchants Exchange painting - wonderful brilliant color work on that one!

William F. Renzulli said...

Helen and Linda, thank you for your kind words.

If you are not familiar with his work, I strongly recommend Rainer M. Rilke's LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET. It should be required reading for all artists. It was an important aid in my journey.