Medical Illustration Deep Dive

Hello everyone!

Now that school has begun, I have started diving into my study. I have spent a lot of time exploring my resources, researching Medical Illustration, and browsing textbooks for artistic inspiration. I’ve enjoyed learning about my topic so much this week, and I have gained a lot of interesting information from my research, which I’m excited to share! So here is my introduction to medical illustration!

Because I love art history, what was most fascinating to learn about this week was the history and development of medical illustration over time. I found a TED Talk called “The Spellbinding Art of Human Anatomy,” where medical illustrator Vanessa Ruiz described how the practice of medical illustration has evolved over time.

Dissection of the Muscles of the Back by John Bell 1810

Medical illustration really emerged during the Renaissance, a period when humanism, individualism, and secularism became common values and artists looked back to classical Greek and Roman sculpture for inspiration. Anatomist Andreas Vesalius really defined our understanding of the human body and overthrew many misconception through the practice of dissection to study the body in detail. Medical Illustrations were originally created as investigations of the body for the sake of scientific documentation of human anatomy. These pieces generally feel very cold and gruesome because artists and anatomists often performed illegal human dissections and simply drew the dismembered remains.

From Atlas of Human Anatomy By Frank Netter, 1989

In the 20th century, medical illustration became almost exclusively used for medical education. These types of illustrations are very logical like diagrams as they were intended to be educational tools and not at all artistic.  

Facial Dissection by Danny Quirk using body paint, 2013

Today, medical illustrators are often choosing to merge science with creative approaches. Artist Jason Freeny dissects famous toys to reveal a skeleton and internal organs. Fernando Vicente explores femininity in his paintings, rewriting medical illustration history in a sense as women were historically not represented in medical illustrations. Danny Quirk paints anatomically accurate diagrams directly on human skin with body paint. All of these creative approaches make an understanding of the human body and anatomy much more accessible to ordinary people by creating emotion and giving meaning to human anatomy. Medical illustration is not just for memorizing anatomy anymore. It is for understanding the body on a more meaningful level and relating to it in a way you can’t from simply looking at a person.

Medical illustration can also play a significant role in patient advocacy by helping patients understand their conditions better. I read an article called “Educating Patients with Pictures” from the National Center for Biotechnology Information which explained the power of art in patient care. Oftentimes medical jargon creates a divide between doctors and patients, but illustrations are a universally understood language that can make a complex and foreign medical condition feel much more tangible. 

Thank you for reading! I know this post is super long, but I really wanted to share everything I found!

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