Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art,
it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation,
as any painter’s or sculptor’s work;
for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble,
compared with having to do with the living body,
the temple of God’s spirit?
It is one of the Fine Arts:
I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.

[Florence Nightingale]

My mother and aunt received fine arts degrees back when few women thought of going to college. Not being competitive by nature, when my turn came, I went to nursing school instead. Imagine my surprise when the first classroom I entered had a sign on the door that read, “Nursing Arts Lab.”

The first thing I learned was that Florence Nightingale’s word was almost sacred so, if she said nursing is an art, then nursing is an art. I had to rethink my idea of art. I’d always thought of it by its traits—creative, innovative, excellent craftsmanship, personally expressive . . . . I usually ascribed it to visual arts, performance arts and writing. How does nursing fit into that?

Forty-five years and a subsequent art degree later, I still haven’t answered that question to my satisfaction. Although nursing is heavily based upon science (microbiology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, etc.), it doesn’t strike me as being a science so the closest I can come is to think of nursing as a performance art.

Here is another thought which might sound heretical to some. For me, nursing and art are both trades. I studied information and practiced skills to learn these trades. I’ve strived to meet high standards in these trades. I’ve kept a roof over my head and food on my table earning a living plying these trades. At times I’ve even been able to show the traits I listed above, but mostly, I’ve enjoyed my work and it has enriched my life no matter what I called it.

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