"I have found that with patients who have never made art before, there is a tendency to begin to equate the creative process with me and not as a standalone entity. "
The role of the Artist-in-Residence is an elusive one in many ways. While it is very important for us to be in "the moment" and present with patients, the relationship that develops can be difficult for an AIR to guide. This is mostly due to the fact that the relationship between an artist and a patient is unlike any other. For instance, if I were to meet someone I had never met before, I'd probably ask them where they are from or about their family or about their interests. As an AIR, I do the same thing, but for a different purpose. Of course, I want to get to know the person that I am working with, but I am mostly focused on making a fruitful creative experience for the patient and knowing more about them can be very helpful in doing that.
I have found that with patients who have never made art before, there can be a tendency to equate the creative process with me and not as a standalone entity. Some patients may believe it is due to my presence that their stress and anxieties are being alleviated and in part, that is true, but it is important for me and other AIRs to make the distinction that it is the creative process that produces many of those benefits. I have seen new AIRs get in over their heads in terms of this interaction if they have not set clear boundaries at the start of working with a patient. For instance, it is recommended that an AIR not invite patients to any of their art exhibitions or divulge too much about their personal life because the focus should be on the patient and the art. While it is a vulnerable time for a patient and an AIR may seem like a "soft place to land", the AIR should not fulfill that emotional role, the art should. This can be very unnatural for an AIR because it is common to want to take care of someone when they are sick.
A survival strategy that I have found to be important in my AIR work is the act of compARTmentalizing, both in developing an artful connection with a patient and in presenting the art materials! Although I, like many artists, do a variety of commission, freelance, teaching and now hospital AIR work, for the sake of the patients, I compartmentalize these things and only present myself as an AIR to patients. If a patient inquires about my other jobs or my family, I answer the question in as general way as possible and then steer the conversation back to the art making. I have also found compartmentalizing, in the literal sense, is useful in engaging patients with the art materials and making them look interesting and approachable. Depending on the nature of the patient, a messy art cart with supplies all over the place might intimidate someone who has never made art before and who doesn't identify as an "artist".
Many artists may try to become hospital artists-in-residence, but it is the artist that successfully can compARTmentalize their role and their art supplies who will be able to thrive in this setting.