The Artist as Dentist

The Artist as Dentist

Rutgers dental student’s professional detour helped reaffirm his priorities

Meulener watercolor of his niece.
Brian Meulener began drawing prolifically when he was 4.  Above, a Meulener watercolor of his niece, Cece, 4.
Photo: Brian Meulener

'I was never truly satisfied as an art director because it was difficult to be as creative as I wanted to be, and still I found myself working around the clock.That’s the nature of the business.' 
– Brian Meulener


Brian Meulener thinks visually – constantly.  The moment he begins reading or listening, he imagines how to illustrate the message.  He often must curb the impulse to start drawing, lest he lose focus on the task at hand.  

Meulener has been drawing prolifically since age 4, when his Big Bird sketches, watercolor paintings and cartoon illustrations set him apart from his peers as a wunderkind.  He studied with the noted New Jersey artist, the late Evelyn Leavens, some of whose works became part of President Eisenhower’s and Count Basie’s collections.  He won numerous competitions and earned an art scholarship to the University of Delaware and a Master of Fine Arts from New York’s highly selective School of Visual Arts.

Ad campaign for pharmaceutical client
An ad Meulener created for a 2006 pharmaceutical client campaign.
Photo: Brian Meulener
An art career beckoned, but today Meulener is nearly halfway through Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. Though his creative passion remains as strong as ever, he was compelled to reassess priorities.

Newly married and intent on avoiding a starving artist’s life, Meulener became art director in 2003 at the Pace unit of the Lowe + Partners health care advertising agency, part of the giant Interpublic Group.  Salary and responsibilities kept growing along with his successes for such major health care clients as Pfizer, Schering-Plough and GlaxoSmithKline, but, increasingly, he felt constrained creatively.

“I was never truly satisfied as an art director because it was difficult to be as creative as I wanted to be, and still I found myself working around the clock. That’s the nature of the business,” he said.

When Meulener knew it was time to exit advertising, his wife, Kristin, helped him decide what to pursue next. The fact that his father, uncle and cousin are dentists influenced them significantly. That he needed a year to satisfy science requirements before applying to Rutgers did not discourage him.

Meulener is looking forward to a career practicing general dentistry and continuing to tell stories through a variety of art forms as a recreational pursuit.

Helping to ease the transition, Meulener’s father, Carlos Meulener, has been a major supporter. The likelihood of one day sharing his practice with his son and helping him launch his second career, has given dad a “second life,” Meulener says, prompting him to digitize systems and update equipment.

Brian Meulener in class
As he prepares for his second career, the dental school challenge requires Meulener to sacrifice significant time with his family.
Photo: Jeff Tolvin
The intense dental school curriculum leaves Meulener little time for illustrating.  But on the train between his Little Silver home and the Newark Campus, or during a brief break from class, Meulener savors moments to create for his own enjoyment or to work on special projects for the school.  Because class mates and faculty know of his talent, Meulener has become the school’s go-to guy for highly creative needs.  His recent creation – poster-size faculty caricatures to promote the school's annual student gala – caused quite a buzz on campus.

His new career goal now within reach, Meulener is appreciative that he discovered a profession less chaotic than advertising before it was too late, one that will afford him time for family and art. “I gave away a relatively successful and comfortable career so that my family and I could grow and have more enjoyable time together,” Meulener says.  “We’ve faced some difficult times along the way, but I am happy we were able to keep our eyes on the horizon.  I’m excited because it’s getting so close.”