At Georgia Regents University and Health System, we are in the midst of consolidating a liberal arts master’s-level locally focused university and the state’s academic health center/health sciences university to create a wholly new comprehensive research university—a consolidation that will yield its fruit as the faculty recognize and embrace the great power of our interdisciplinary synergies. As I speak to our many liberal arts faculty about how this union will make us stronger, I am constantly reminded of what refuge the visual arts have been to me since an early age, allowing me the refuge of hiding in surreal worlds that reflected my nomadic immigrant childhood. And paradoxically, as I developed my own themes and styles, I found myself following in the traditions of this most irreverent of art styles—that of Ernst, Tanguy, Dalí, de Chirico, Duchamp, Masson, Buñuel, and Magritte, that of automatism, of chance and random motion, of random thought, of frottage and collage and found objects, of differing perspectives and fragmentation.
I am also reminded of how strongly and intimately the visual and medical arts intersect and synergize. Notably, the visual arts have been instrumental in furthering our understanding of what modern medicine is today. From ancient Egyptian steles, to Roman bas-reliefs, to the medieval illuminated Five Anatomical Figures, to the pen-and-ink work of Leonardo Da Vinci, to the anatomic drawings of Vesalius, to the obstetrical representations of Hunter, to the woodcuts of Paré, the rich illustrations of Netter, and finally to modern-day graphical representations of molecular processes and videos all have served to enhance our comprehension of what the human body, visibly or not, is.
But the visual arts and medicine not only intersect on how we demonstrate to others the processes, functions, and diseases we address, they also serve to enhance our ability to visualize, in our mind’s eye, what we as practitioners of the art are dealing with. The health and biomedical sciences require a significant ability to visualize those flows, structures, and signalings that our eyes cannot see. From the ebb and flow of hormonal homeostasis to the growth processes of malignant tumors; from the insertions of tendons and sinew during muscular contractions to the signaling in our brains when we read, or stroke, or become schizophrenic; from the counterregulations of our metabolism to the placements and locations of our inner organs, and to the potential consequences of trauma, disease, healing, or prevention—we must use our third eye to see things and processes that are not readily apparent.
This is a skill that I have stressed to many medical students, residents, fellows, and young faculty—a skill that can be developed through exercise and training in graphical representation. For this reason, having a strong liberal arts education in general—and in the visual arts in particular—can be critical to the formation of a successful health care provider and biomedical scientist (and many would argue for the formation of a thoughtful and contributing citizen).
It is this intersection between the visual arts and the biomedical sciences that presents extraordinary new opportunities for synergy and collaboration exposed by our universities’ consolidation. The artwork on this month’s cover reflects just that intersection, depicting in the surrealist tradition what we, as health care professionals, often do—visualizing in our mind’s eye the plasticity and graphic nature of our patients’ diseases while simultaneously distancing ourselves from them by dissecting and labeling what we envision.
Ricardo Azziz, MD, MPH, MBA
Dr. Azziz is professor of obstetrics–gynecology and medicine and president, Georgia Regents University, and chief executive officer, Georgia Regents Health System, Augusta, Georgia; e-mail: email@example.com.