Week #4: Art, the Body and Medicine-Jeff Poirier

“I will remember that there is art to medicine, as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

The above quote, as taken from the Modern Version of the Hippocratic Oath by Louis Lasagna, is an outstanding summation of the interwoven disciplines of the artist and the doctor of medicine.

In past weeks, we have discussed the influence of mathematics and science on art. Such influences include the usage of the Golden Ratio and Golden Rectangle, the Fibonacci Sequence, and fractals to enhance the visual aesthetics of art. We too have discussed the artistry of science, with such things as the robotics of Stelarc and Ken Feingold to the medically inspired works of Orlan. Also, in considering the two cultures, we discussed the reality of the schism and stereotypes that have developed between the two disciplines, art and science. Below is a depiction of the fabled “mad doctor.”

I believe that Lasagna had a very accurate vision of what medicinal integrity truly should be. Whether or not the characteristics and qualities of doctors of medicine discussed in the Oath are applicable to today is another question entirely. With so many lawsuits of malpractice stemming from today’s hospitals, it is doubtful that the Oath is in full effect. Interestingly, the role of a surgeon since the days of Hippocrates has changed drastically. For example, the age of silicon and plastic surgery has increased the number of “unnecessary” procedures taking place, a practice likely unthinkable in 400 B.C.E. with every medicinal procedure a question of life or death. Yet another dynamic change from the Oath of Hippocrates is the mention of contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. Hippocrates explicitly denounces these practices, which even today are topics of heated debate regarding medical ethics. In the Lasagna version of the Oath, no predispositions regarding such debates are presented; a much more open perspective, indeed.

Science has made its way into a fair share of artwork as well. For example, the work of Gunther von Hagens in Body Worlds is awe inspiring from both a scientific and artistic perspective. The plastination process utilized in these exhibits is of the most advanced nature in science, while the artistry of the “sculptures” arouses a broad spectrum of emotions and education.

The work of Gunther von Hagens in Body Worlds makes one consider the Hippocratic Oath on a whole new level. In the days of Hippocrates, I am sure that such a presentation (and potential defacement) of the human body would have been deemed to be of the most unethical nature. However, in today’s society, a society with a much more open mind, such exhibitions are accepted as artistic genius.

In summation, I believe that the human body and medicine as an artistic medium closely relates the Two Cultures, mathematics in art and mechanization as art together. The Oath of Hippocrates and the modernized version by Lasagna pose interesting questions regarding medicinal ethics that continue to be applied today. Surely, the work of a surgeon is an art form and the exertion of an artist is a science of precision, with both intertwining and growing within one another and independently.

Below is an article discussing the ethics of Body Worlds:

http://www.chicagomaroon.com/2007/4/24/professors-explore-ethics-of-body-worlds

-Jeff Poirier

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