Other Features: Teaching and Learning Moments
As a faculty member at Indiana University School of Medicine, one of my goals is to incorporate the arts into the curricula. By paying attention to the arts, we can help students to develop and nurture the skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection that are essential humanistic attributes for humane medical care.
In addition to studying art, the process and products of actually creating art can increase awareness of self and others. The practice of art therapy, for example, can aid us as healers and facilitate our patients in coping with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences. The arts give people a tool for self-expression and provide a way of processing emotions that we may not fully understand or that have been so overwhelming that they can only be handled indirectly or in small increments. Creating art is an important vehicle to help understand social and cultural differences that exist in society. The arts can also provide us insight into the human condition, suffering, and personhood, as well as foster a feeling of our responsibility to each other.
My own colorful and often whimsical glasswork transports the observer to a place that reflects my personality. Each piece I make is a new expression, as I constantly evolve forms, sizes, shapes, and colors. It is the process, however, which attracts me as much as the product—taking ordinary ingredients like sand, ash, and heat, and transforming them into feathery, lilting works of glass, I am intrigued with how this amorphous material can change proportions according to its environment. In glasswork, one continually has to deal with the force of gravity as the honey-like glob of molten glass has an energy of its own and needs to be coaxed into the desired form. By incorporating small bits of color and texture I create functional works of beauty that evoke the fragility inherent in life, which I experience all too often in my profession. Through my work in the “hot shop” (and yes, it is hot—really, really hot), I have learned patience and the true joy of artistic expression. Each piece I make is a unique work of art, just as each patient that I see is a unique human being.
Medicine as a discipline is finally beginning to recognize that we deal with people, and an understanding of literature, the arts, history, ethics, and philosophy is essential to becoming a better, more empathetic physician and caregiver. My hope is that I can continue to translate my avocation and experiences as an artist into my vocation as a physician.
The author would like to thank David Jaynes for photography of the original work.
Jeffrey M. Rothenberg, MD, MS