Project ANATOME: When artist meets anatomy education

Article text
VESALIUS CONTINUUM, 21st century art of human anatomy, Zakynthos, 4-8 September 2014

The application of arts in anatomy education continues to flourish worldwide, with ever increasing institutions recognising the value, importance and reward of artists’ integrating visual and sensory learning into the dissecting room. But what happens when this practice is reversed and anatomy pedagogical methods, strictly confined to hermetic laboratory spaces, are encountered in art galleries and museums? And what is to be surmised from this cross fertilisation of arts and anatomy practices?

Situated within an extensive discourse addressing the role of art as a lens for examining human anatomy and medicine, I consider my work as a means to achieve more richly-textured ways of understanding the human condition in relation to our individual bodies and subjective experiences. Anatomy and medicine are my objects; visual art is the enquirer.

The paper focuses on these enquiries by presenting the undertakings and accomplishments of a self-directed project to date. Launched in 2011, Project ANATOME emerged from the interest in opening "up" (ANA) and "a cutting" (TOME) of anatomical and medical pedagogy, to create a dialogue between arts methodologies, the sensory approach to anatomy and clinical studies and the undergraduate experience of anatomy education. Outcomes of the project take shape as exhibitions, interdisciplinary conferences and symposiums contributing to the arts and medical humanities, publications and participatory workshops engaging with undergraduate medicine. Drawing on my experience as artist in residence (AIR) in university anatomy laboratories, I present significant findings from my research as AIR and workshops that engage medical students with artistic learning processes such as drawing and visualisation; inside and out of the dissecting room. Evidence has been drawn to identify that learning through the arts can have a significant impact on students’ understanding of the body (Phillips 2000, Collet and McLachlan 2005, Gull 2005). Furthermore, creativity and the process of making art can grant access to emotions, for both medical student and educator, by giving physical or metaphorical form through image making, literature, improvisation, narrative and discussion. It is my role as AIR to tune-in to the frequency of these emotions, to perceive and ascertain the stimuli from which these emotions arise, and to seek the provisions for creative engagement; observe, relate and create. I have the ultimate advantage of seeing things in the ‘flesh’.

I question to what extent art methodologies can shape how anatomy is understood and represented, and how my visual art can address personal, societal and ethical concepts of health relating to the human body. These questions are pivotal to my artist practice and give rise to artworks that explore the visual, intellectual and emotional facets of the human anatomy lab. I believe the convergence of art and anatomy practices is not exclusive to the enhancement of medical education and practice – a defining movement of medical humanities research field – but a means of expanding our capacity to consider human anatomy as fruitful material to examine issues such as body ethics, mortality and morbidity in contemporary western society.

Collett, T., McLachlan, J.C. (2005) Does doing art inform students’ learning of anatomy? Medical Education, 39:521.
Gull, S. (2005) Embedding the humanities into medical education. Medical Education, 39:235–6.
Phillips, P.S. (2000) Running a life drawing class for pre-clinical medical students. Medical Education, 34:1020–5.