This print entangles the sense of touch as an ethical imperative to care. More than any other sense, to touch is to know. Tact is what connects us with others and moves the soul. Since touch is our most complex and fundamental sense,1 what is at stake for the doctor–patient relationship when haptic knowledge is subsumed by our reliance on biomedical imaging technologies? The goal of my artwork Reaching In, on the cover of this issue, is to counter the predominance of sight and to perform empathetic touch as a way to make meaning from medicine.
In the center of this print is a ghostly white head emerging from a dark blue background. The lower half of the face is mostly opaque with fine details of the skin texture. The top half of the head is completely transparent, except for the outline of the skull. Upon close inspection, the bones depicted around the nasal cavity are taken from an MRI scan of a patient. A hand reaches in from the top left corner of the picture field and comes to rest on, or perhaps inside of, the patient’s head. We can connote that this figure is a patient, because she is lying on the floral pattern of a standard hospital gown. Taken together, the elements of this print show the physician’s ethical touch as a means of gathering knowledge of the body and giving care to a patient who seeks healing.
The hand depicted here feels for the inner truth of her patient’s anatomy. Although an MRI machine exposes the signs of illness, lesions can never truly be understood if they are not held. In this case, the goal of truthful touch remains outside the reach of the patient and her doctor, which is represented here by the empty and darkened space where the lesions reside. However, by creating a tangible piece of artwork about a medical encounter, I can materialize experience and create my own tactile meaning that medicine could not provide.
Although this finished image is a visual piece of art, the process to make it is grounded in delicate, as well as arduous, touch. The face and hand are a careful stamping of my own skin on the surface of paper. These bodily impressions are then overlaid with the patient’s MRI scan through the printmaking process. I then repeatedly hand-ink and pull the plate through the etching press to edition the print. My body’s labor to create this image is an act of performative empathy for the theoretical patient I seek to care for.
By reinforcing tactility in our communi ca tions, through medicine as well as through art, we can achieve more compassionate interactivity with those in our care.
To see more of Darian’s work, please visit her website: http://www.dariangoldinstahl.com.
1. Herder JG. Gaiger J. Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form From Pygmalion’s Creative Dream. 2002.Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.