Carl Bretzke, “Exxon Ford,” oil on linen, 18 x 24 inches

There are many plein air artists who simply don’t have the luxury of painting full-time and, as a result, keep other employment to make ends meet. Be that as it may, I would venture to guess that there are also many who find themselves in a situation where painting and profession aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Details here.

In addition to meeting many of the world’s best painters at home and abroad during PACE17 in San Diego, I also took the opportunity to connect with my local Minnesota cohort of creatives, which led to an interesting conversation I think our readers will enjoy. It was suggested that I explore the juxtaposition, or symbiotic relationships and benefits, that are passed between the “day jobs” of artists and their real passion: plein air painting. Their thoughts?

Well-known artist Carl Bretzke hasn’t had the most typical path to plein air. “As a full-time artist, I look back on my 30-plus years as an interventional radiologist and wonder if my interest and accomplishments in both are somehow related,” he suggests. “A typical day in my medical specialty included standing sometimes for hours in an operating suite at my patient’s side, watching a video screen in front of me as I manipulated wires, tubes, and low-profile instruments into my patient’s bloodstream, body cavities, or vital organs in attempts to fix something without subjecting the patient to major surgery. As most readers know, plein air painting similarly requires hours of standing and concentration. Some degree of hand-eye coordination is also common to both.

Jack Dant, “Oregon Coast,” oil on canvas, 9 x 16 inches

“Radiology is also one of the most visual of all medical specialties. Throughout my medical career, I have analyzed thousands of two-dimensional and real-time moving images, looking for abnormalities but also, in the case of interventional procedures, trying to ‘three-dimensionalize’ the 2D image on the video screen in my mind so that I could better determine where to guide my instruments. Painting seems to be the reverse of that — trying to ‘two-dimensionalize’ from a 3D plein air image. I believe one skill probably helps the other.

“Many people tell me that art is a right-brain thing and medicine is a left-brain practice. I have my doubts. Either art is more left-brained than people think or medicine is more right-brained. I favor the former. I think most plein air painters agree that painting requires intense concentration and ongoing analysis utilizing most of our cognitive abilities.

“Finally, as in a successful medical career, there is no substitute for dedicated learning and hours of hard work improving your skills. Patients and art lovers both recognize quality. To maintain a medical license, one must attend at least 25 hours of continuing medical education classes each year. As a painter, I also intend to maintain and develop new skills through occasional workshops and other educational opportunities.”

Another artist who shared his thoughts with me was Jack Dant, a product development engineer working with medical devices. “I find that painting is more of a complement (blue-orange) than a companion to my work,” he begins. “I deal with the design of very technical, tiny, tight-tolerance devices in my workplace, where documentation is critical and there are serious (health) implications to doing our jobs well. This has very little to do with painting! That being said, I think spending my day in this world makes me appreciate, all the more, the chance to flex different creative muscles, paint, and enjoy sharing this with friends. It is true that there is a through-line with both of creativity, achieving excellence, and continual learning.”

Dant’s and Bretzke’s accounts are but two in extremely specialized medical fields. Even so, they can’t deny the connections between their creative and professional endeavors. Where do you stand in this equation? We’d love to hear about it!


  1. This really resonates with me. I hold a B.S. in Computer Science and have worked as a software developer for over 30 years. That has always been the part of my life I use to make a living, my day job. But from as far back as I can remember, art and creative activities have been my lifeblood. I am an artist at heart and always will be. People say to me, how can you do two things that are so different. They site the whole left-brain, right-brain thing, as you point out. Recent studies show that this is bunk, and I tend to agree. Aside from this, I see both things I do as creative endeavors in which you create something out of nothing. Both programming and painting require that I analyze a situation or problem and come up with a solution through research and sometimes trial and error. They both require analysis and creativity.

  2. I totally agree with Margaret. I too work in IT, and my passions and expertise lie in analysis and problem solving and helping others to do so. Painting and preparing to paint or participate in an event require this as well, and I also find I enjoy helping others who are not as experienced as myself. It’s all very complementary and so satisfying to be able to have both my full-time IT career and also my second career – my lifelong passion now being realized as a second career – as an artist.


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