I couldn’t dive into the subjects of art and medicine without commemorating one of my favorite childhood shows: Art Attack. I would play you a whole episode if I could, but I’ll spare you the time. As a young girl, I would wake up every morning anticipating the start of a new episode. With just as much excitement as the day prior, I’d pull out my paper, paint, and art utensils.
While I watched tv I would create a new artwork, and in many ways, the world became a universe of my own. Art has always felt like home to me, creativity was like an itch I could never scratch. The older I got, my passions never seemed to waver far off the beaten path. Art stuck with me through it all.
CHILDHOOD & ART:
Through primary school, middle school and high school, art was my favorite subject. I remember feeling on top of the world the day I got an effortless A star in design and technology. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t that surprised.
I spent most days sitting in class, patiently waiting for the clock to strike my favorite time of day. When I could leave the world behind for just a bit, and explore the path of abstraction, creation, and self expression. That’s where I felt free.
Art was in my veins, it came naturally to me. But when I reached the end of grade school, decisions about my future became much more daunting.
FUTURE, CAREER, AND MAKING A CHOICE:
Like most young adults, you find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place. Do I follow my passion and my childhood dream? Or choose a reliable career and a guaranteed livelihood?
I knew the lifestyle of an artist has always been a risky road to choose. So I found myself stuck at a crossroads. Staring at the fork in my life path, wondering…which major should I choose? Which future should I create for myself? That’s a lofty weight to place on a young teen’s shoulders.
Standing here in front of you today, graduated from this college, you already know what decision I made.
Yes, I chose medicine.
You might be wondering, why didn’t I pick a creative field instead? Well let’s travel back in time to what was running through my mind a few years prior.
Art had always been the only thing in the world that was mine. It was my safe space, my internal abode, my escape from reality, and my catharsis.
I wasn’t ready to give that up for a job. To turn my creative safe space into a paycheck, a deadline, an expectation. So I chose to protect that part of my world, at least for the time being.
I decided to be selfish with my art, my self expression, and my adoration for the sacred world I could create by myself, for myself.
But, medicine on the other hand was the opposite. It was selfless, exciting, and impactful in entirely different ways.
THE SPARK OF MEDICINE:
Medicine is a place where I am challenged. I had to step out of my comfort zone in an entirely new way. With medicine, I am constantly curious, evolving, learning and growing. But in an entirely new way then with my art.
Medicine allowed me to learn discipline and determination. I could dedicate time, energy and knowledge toward helping others. I learned how to be calculated, intentional, and precise. Because somebody else was depending on me.
Medicine and art are on two different sides of the spectrum in that way. But there’s a beautiful duality to the selfless vs. the selfish. The devotion to others vs. the devotion to yourself.
The relationship between these two worlds always existed for me. But I didn’t know at first how to bring the marriage of art and medicine to life.
WHEN MEDICINE BECOMES ART:
Through medical school, and through being a physician, now working as an emergency medicine doctor, I began to see medicine in a different light.
I realized that being a physician in itself, is a form of art.
Everyday doctors work with patients and their families. It revolves around communication skills, history, examination, assessing the best diagnosis, follow-up plans, and treatments.
In a way, the intention is to eliminate suffering, promote dignity, advance wisdom, and recognize independence.
It is a unique representation of humanity working as a community, finding solace in our similarities, and facing hardships with resilience.
I came to realize through my years in the industry, that medicine is more than just science. It’s bedside manner as well, and the physician becomes an artist in their own way. Their craft, their process, their repertoire is all personal to them.
But I still had this fire inside me to merge the worlds of art and medicine. I was straddling the line between the two for so long, with an incessant need to understand how they can become one.
Instead of two battling counterparts, I wanted them to be different sides of the same coin. Standing in unison, using their individual strengths to heighten each other, instead of cancel one another out.
I knew there was a deeper connection between them then what reaches the surface.
SEARCHING FOR OTHERS WHO HAVE BALANCED THE SCALES:
On my journey towards discovering where art and medicine meet, I was looking for inspiration out of desperation.
Whether in modern figures or historical documents, I wanted to find mathematicians, physicians, scientists, alchemists, or chemists
who had a creative background that enhanced and energized their career.
Whether it be through poetry, art, music, philosophy or dance, I wanted to find connection in this space that felt so unrepresented.
I started thinking about historical polymaths, and how common it used to be to master multiple crafts. They would use that creative synergy to strengthen other areas of their work.
People like Da Vinci, Galileo, Einstein, Beatrix Potter, Benjamin Franklin, Socrates, Isaac Newton, and so many more prolific names fell into these categories.
ART AND MEDICINE STRENGTHEN EACH OTHER:
This balance gave them an edge. There was an area of uniqueness they could add to their field.
Art didn’t take away from medicine, it made it stronger. It added ideas of regeneration, invention,and imagination. If you think about it, this is imperative for discovering new solutions, treatments, and protocols.
If all of our historical figures settled for the facts, they never would have discovered all of the modern day cures and solutions we now know.
EXPLAINING THE STUDY:
A study was done at Brigham’s Women’s Hospital where doctors, nurses, and Harvard medical students were taken to a museum to practice team building, and help break down the hospital hierarchy.
As a result of interpreting and observing art, they ignited new problem solving strategies, communication techniques, creative and robust thinking, as well as the appreciation of opposing opinions.
While at face level, these medical workers were interpreting artwork. They were really working towards learning to understand a patient’s condition, collectively, in a clinical setting.
Portraits can be instrumental in explaining and representing medical pathologies, pathophysiologies, and trauma.
Portraits and healthcare can be used to introduce innovative strategies for perceiving ethical and aesthetic value.
Most importantly, it can ignited a more diverse understanding of the experience of patients, physicians, and other healthcare workers.
Many medical schools are recognizing the power of teaching the arts to medical students. It helps them sharpen their observational skills and enhance their empathy.
Art has always been a necessary counterpart in medical education. It’s a powerful tool in solving communication dilemmas.
There will always be a need to medical concepts, as long as there are practicing doctors, and students eager to learn.
Visualization is quickest method of displaying and simplifying the human body and its complex functions. It’s a fundamental part of understanding, and catalyzing the learning process.
Whether it’s anatomical drawings from Grey’s Anatomy, or historical documentations of structural layers of the skin. Visual illustrations have always been the guiding force in medical teaching and expansion. They help students digest information in small segments, by turning complexity into simplicity. Simultaneously, they help doctors shift the paradigm toward new discoveries, and ways of thinking as our knowledge about the body has evolved.
As humans, we are so much more than a body. We are our stories, memories, passions, traumas, interests, and personality. So what if we could look at our anatomy from a deeper perspective?
A perspective beyond the anatomy, the histology, and the science. What if we could connect our stories, our humanity, and our individuality in a relatable way.
BODY WORLDS EXHIBITION:
A powerful example of that is the Body Worlds Exhibition by Gunther von Hagens where you can take a chilling journey under the skin.
Although the exhibition debuted in Japan, the idea for the displays began in Germany, where anatomist Gunther von Hagens invented a technique for plastination in the 1970s. After years of research and small-scale presentations of his work, von Hagens created Body Worlds.
The entire idea of the exhibition is educate the public about the inner working of the human body. It shows the effect of both healthy and unhealthy lifestyles.
Encouraging visitors to admire the anatomical beauty that lies within all of us, while also acknowledging our inescapable fragility, mortality, and life cycle.
ARTIST DUSTIN YALEN:
Another example of how art can make us see the human body from a more memorable and meaningful manner, is through the artwork of Brooklyn-based Dustin Yalen.
He has always adapted works that inspire new ways of seeing and being.
Through a body of work, which includes object making, animation, pedagogy, and the forming of institutions, Yellin draws attention to the paradox of how everyone and everything is interconnected, and yet alienated at the same time.
Here is an example of one of his figurative collages, which which he refers to as psycho geographies, because they feel like maps of psychology. While in reality, they spark a much more diverse conversation.
Yellin bridges the gap between two worlds that intimately coexist, but aren’t always recognized in daily life as being interconnected.
DOCTOR AHMED MATAR:
Another artistic example is from a fellow physician himself, Dr. Ahmed Matar.
He uses photography, calligraphy, painting, installations, performance and video to explore history, storytelling, and the changing culture of the Islamic community. He uses art to address the changes that are happening today, while using it as a vessel to connect and relate to the hearts of other like-minded individuals.
Matar once said, “I am a doctor and confront life and death every day, and I am a countryman and at the same time. I am the son of this strange, scary oil civilization. In ten years our lives changed completely. For me, it is a drastic change that I experience every day.”
Matar uses his platform as both an artist, and a doctor, to bridge these two worlds together. Allowing his identity to seamlessly exist in two places at once.
ART IS WHATEVER WE WANT AND NEED IT TO BE, FOR US & OTHERS:
Art restores empathy, communication, and humanity to all parts of life. It knows no bounds, limitations, or restrictions.
Art is also a natural healer, and a form of therapy. Art therapy allows us to assess the progress of treatment on our patients. It’s a warm companion for individuals going through both mental and physical traumas.
Art is a window that helps us understand how patients feel about their recovery process. We witness how their emotions change depending on the day, and are able to utilize art to promote even stronger within them. It’s a peaceful catharsis, a road to deeper understanding.
Art therapy is utilized in copious hospitals to help enhance the wellbeing of patients, and their experiences through the ups and downs.
As for me, art has always been what I lean on through the good and bad times. Whether it was from the stress of medical school, or the overwhelm from a hard night shift as a physician.
I would always come back and use art to unwind, connect with myself, and feel grounded again.
So on those days of burnout, take a break. Think about your dreams, ambitions, hobbies. What is it that you truly want to do?
FOR ME, THERE WAS ONE DREAM, AND IT CAME TRUE: I wanted to put together an exhibition where doctors and artists meet on common ground. An exhibition created by medical students in collaboration with both local and international artists.
The goal was the reflect medicine while honoring Islamic art, merging these two worlds together in a way that has never been seen before. The whole idea was displayed in an international book fair in Jeddah.
We had exposure to a diverse audience of different ages, backgrounds, and communities. We had the opportunity to share with them everything we had to offer, and receive feedback, and community engagement.
It was a proud moment for me, to see the two things I love and admire, come together.
IN CONCLUSION, I INVITE ALL OF YOU TO BE CURIOUS:
Learn as much as you can about the topics that interest you, and keep an open mind.
As doctors we spend countless hours improving and extending the lives of our patients. Taking time to explore art, is a form of self care.
Open your eyes to the beauties that give life it’s spark. It helps us appreciate our hobbies, and the things our patients hold dear.
This perspective can foster empathy. For example, when we diagnose and treat arthritis in a patient that has difficulty using their hands, this new perspective keeps us going through long days, nights on calls, and tiring shifts.
Above all, never forget, doctors are also humans.