Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Kings College London (2005) J Physiol 565P, PC1


A special study module: representation of the body in Western art

Forsling, Mary Louise; Vossen, Veronica ;

1. Women's Health, GKT School of Medicine, London, United Kingdom.

With the introduction of 'core and options' into the medical curriculum, it has been possible to include studies in which the body has been viewed from a more integrated point of view in the tradition of classical physiology. In this special study module (SSM) the question was addressed 'Is there a common approach to the theories and practice of art and medical science that can be productive to both scientist and artist?' There are many instances of individual artists drawn to specific medical and scientific subjects, from Leonardo's anatomical drawings to the work of Annie Cattrell on brain function and structure (Albano et al, 2002). We are collaborating on a science/art project with wide ranging discussion on both the polarities and commonalities of the disciplines of art and science. Recently there has been an increasing number of art/science projects, many of them on involving the science of the body, including neuroscience, with exhibitions such as 'Head On' at the Science Museum (Albano et al, 2002). These projects are a contemporary response to what has been, arguably, the major concern of Western Art -the representation of the human body. Historically, art representing the body can be read not only as a documentation of changing cultural, philosophical and moral ideas, but also as representing scientific concepts and attitudes to the human body. However, can aspects of art productively contribute to the study and practice of medical science? The discussions led to the development of an SSM for medical students.. The course provides an introduction to major concepts and themes in the representation of the body in western art. The aim is to introduce students to the subject through the study of visual art from the ancient to the contemporary, making reflective connections to the medical context. Main themes of the course included structure and form, the ideal and the ordinary, identity and difference, mutability and viscerality; the stuff of the body'. Learning also took place through visits to Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum and National Gallery. Journals were kept by students documenting lectures, seminars and visits, and plans for their own essay study and presentation. Many included accomplished sketches, drawings and design work attesting to the students' broad range of talents and interests. The student responses were thoughtful, analytical and perceptive . The discussion and analysis of the different attitudes and concepts enabled the students to reflect on contexts, questions, and approaches to the body and the individual persona. The course has run for two successive years and student evaluations have produced enthusiastic and positive responses

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements