Charles S. Greenberg, MD, is a hematologist at Medical University of South Carolina who focuses on classical hematologic diseases.
When did you start painting?
I started painting as a hobby approximately five years ago, not long after the death of my father. I had been extremely busy with my career and family, although, I used to tell my wife that I would like to try impressionistic painting. I always thought that I could develop the ability if I had more time. After my three children graduated college and my parents and in-laws passed away, I had more time to study and practice painting.
How did you approach learning to paint? Was it hard to do after focusing on science and medicine?
Since I was never formally trained, I first learned about impressionism and then the modern American abstract movement, which has its roots in Europe and developed in New York City during the 1940s. It became accepted by the art community during my childhood.
I taught myself by focusing on the individual artists, their works, and methods. While each of the artists had a unique style, they impressed me because they were dedicated to their craft, had to endure severe criticism, and found a path to success.
I was able to teach myself by researching, taking internet-based courses, and watching others paint. I approached painting as an intellectual and creative challenge. It was not very different from studying to become a physician-scientist and working on the structure and function of transglutaminases during my career at Duke. I needed a strong background of the subject matter and had to develop expertise and skill in the techniques to produce art.
When do you think your appreciation for art began?
My ability to appreciate art and the desire to create art was influenced by my parents and their careers.
My mother was an antique dealer and interior designer in Philadelphia. For several years my parents owned an antique shop just one block from our home. Growing up, our family made innumerable trips to explore antique shops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to find hidden gems. I especially liked the color and shape of Steuben Glass art.
My father was a civil engineer and became director of construction at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), where I attended college. He worked with Louis Kahn, a well-known American architect and a professor at Penn. Kahn designed one of the basic science buildings on Penn’s campus that was a very bold and impressive structure. The building was newly constructed when I was a biology student, and for some reason, its unusual modern style appealed to me.
An example of Dr. Greenberg’s art
illustrates his style of painting in layers
with glazing that creates depth and texture.
Did your parents encourage you to pursue art?
No, but my mother always told me I could do anything I wanted to do. As a child, I was curious about everything. I read Popular Mechanics and spent time with my go-kart and mini-bike. When I got to college, I read a Scientific American article about how viruses cause cancer, and I decided to spend my time in scientific research.
What do you enjoy about painting?
The thing I love most about painting is it remains a solitary activity where your creativity is not restrained. This allows me to work on several paintings simultaneously. I like producing art that people can enjoy on a daily basis. Art is healing and generates an immediate impact on one’s feelings.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I think my style is influenced by the art that interests me. Now, it probably falls in the category of American abstract impressionism. I also like to do impressionistic work since it is very creative to deconstruct the details of an image and produce an image using color and either a pallet knife or discrete brushstrokes. More recently, I have focused on developing a technique where I can simultaneously paint and create a more three-dimensional design on the canvas. Since I now live on the coast in South Carolina, I am influenced by the landscape, sunsets, and flowers around me.
What do you do with your artwork?
I enjoy making art for family, friends, and patients. I find it extremely rewarding, and I especially love to hear the stories from my patients about how it makes them feel.
Have you ever sold any of your paintings?
I have never sold my paintings, but I have donated them for fundraisers. I would consider creating a nonprofit with the goal of helping families and loved ones suffering from medical or psychological illness.
How does your passion for art intersect with your career in academic medicine?
Hematology practice and research are very rewarding endeavors because they use your education and experience to help solve complex problems that cause illness. The goal of medicine is to make patients healthy and happy. Academic hematology practice is a career of dedicated service and requires complex and challenging interactions with patients, colleagues, and administrators.
In the case of producing artwork, I think your mind is less constrained and more open to imagination as a way to create art that is enjoyable. Since art does not require me to meet deadlines, achieve quotas, revise manuscripts, or write grants, there is more pleasure in the process than the daily challenges in academic life. The final impact on others is more immediate and very rewarding.
When do you find time to paint?
I can now paint on the weekends. Preparing the canvas, developing the rough composition, and deciding on the pallet takes time. I like to paint in layers with glazing to create depth and texture. Once I get started, I can paint several pieces at a time. Since I use acrylic paint, I do not have to wait long to paint the next layer.
Do you have any major goals with your painting?
One goal is to have a hobby I enjoy when and if I retire. I would also like to volunteer in art therapy in hospitals or clinics.
How do you encourage your students to be creative?
I have tried to encourage students, residents, and fellows to use humor and hobbies to relax and enjoy their careers. The current sense of burnout in medicine is to some extent a function of losing control over your time and work. Physicians today need to realize that medicine is more constrained and more difficult than they ever expected. They need to find a way to enjoy the challenge and do the best work possible. Making time for hobbies is something we can control and enjoy to enrich ourselves.