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Lessons in Anatomy: Dissecting medicine and health through visual and literary arts collaboration

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Collaboration with Dr Eleanor Holmes, funded by a-n New Collaboration Bursary

Drawing on my 2 years experience as artist in residence (AIR) at Newcastle, Northumbria and Durham University anatomy labs, and success as a multidisciplinary artist working within the fields of medicine, medical humanities and health, I have been awarded the New Collaboration Bursary from a-n to establish an innovative collaboration with Dr Eleanor Holmes; practicing GP, clinical educator and writer (pen name Eliot North).

Together we will investigate the creative potential for collaborative engagement across the visual and literary arts and explore the interface between medicine, health, the arts and humanities through the exchange of experiences as artist and writer, whilst also developing a strong dialogue addressing anatomy and medical education, clinical practice and human health.

The bursary will subsidise valuable time spent exploring each other’s creative disciplines and methodologies – drawing, sculpture, performance, creative writing and teaching – and our specific interests driving our research – anatomy, pathophysiology, medical education, clinical practice and bioethics – to inspire new ideas for joint visual and literary outcomes. It will afford collaborative study in anatomy, medicine, medical art, history of medicine and related contemporary art and literature, visiting University medical schools, medical museums, libraries, art galleries and exhibitions nationwide with the aim of compiling a comprehensive record of research resources for continued study.

I strongly believe this opportunity is crucial to my artistic and professional development at this point in my career. Since 2011, I have been practicing purely on an independent level as a visual artist, conducting research and devising projects with affiliates from medical education and medical humanities, which has involved the development and application of various arts methodologies into anatomy teaching and learning. I feel it’s important to further interrogate this conversation between academic and non-academic disciplines by continuing dialogue with medical institutions, but also reach further out to the professional field of medicine by collaborating with a practicing GP. This aspect of research is absolutely crucial to my interdisciplinary practice if I am to continue to produce high quality (and challenging) artwork that communicates the affairs of medicine, health and what it is to be human to broad audiences. Likewise, I recognise that the literary arts as a humanities subject that study’s human culture, is equally applicable to my artistic investigations; literature has the potential to broaden and enrich my visual ideas. Considering this, I foresee the benefits of collaborating with Eliot North whose methodologies differ from that of me as visual artist, providing a context to shadow, mirror and exchange experiences of working.

Eliot North feels passionately that collaboration with the arts and humanities is essential to public engagement with medicine and health and that a more open dialogue with the creative disciplines is the future of medical education:

“I have always considered the practice of medicine to be an art underpinned by science, and that creativity is integral to the teaching of medicine and clinical practice. I hope both concepts will be communicated to a wider audience through the dissemination of our collaborative work to our artist and writer networks and to the wider public.”

A visual artist collaborating with a writer to explore human health and medicine is strategic and significant; the convergence of visual and literary practices will serve as investigative grounds where two different methods of representation and communication meet, which both I and Eleanor have not previously experienced. The interdisciplinary nature of this artist-writer/GP collaboration affords the prospect of engaging not only with the network of peers within the arts, but also the literary and medical humanities communities. Ultimately, peers from these networks will learn how visual arts and creative writing practices can complement, enhance and challenge each other in communicating the principles of medical humanities, sci-art and public engagement in health and medicine; with the latter also benefitting the wider community in general. In turn, this bridging of disciplines could encourage further collaborations in my network of peers through the sharing of contacts, research, funding, education and methods of interdisciplinary practices, as well as inspiring other artists to look further than their immediate artistic community in terms of collaborators.

a-n Artists Talking - Project blog