Written by Jory Gomes ’18
“So why can’t we just take pictures?” questions Dr. Shelley Wall AOCAD, MSC BMC, Ph.D., CMI, a medical illustrator and professor at the University of Toronto. She allows the audience a minute to reflect before swishing her scarf and turning to the next slide in her presentation. On the screen is a detailed illustration depicting the intricacy of the human brain. Next to this is what appears to be a picture of a pinkish, greying blob of gelatin. As she points out in the rest of her seminar, the difference between these two images is the job of the medical illustrator—to bridge the gap between medical knowledge and the visualization of medicine.
Perhaps one of the most eager audience members at Dr. Shelley Wall’s seminar “Medical Illustrations and the Language of Comics” was Dr. Lisa Safford, Hiram’s Professor of Art History. When asked about the importance of Dr. Wall’s talk, Dr. Safford responded that she hopes Hiram’s students left understanding that “there is a long history of art in medicine.” Both Dr. Wall and Dr. Safford talked about the importance of Vesalius. A 16th century anatomy illustrator, Andreas Vesalius was a pioneer in the field of medical illustration. In her reflection, Dr. Safford commented that a large part of his importance is that Vesalius was one of the first to publish his work. His work was had widespread dissemination that influenced understanding of the body for generations of doctors and physicians. “And you know, it’s not just Vesalius, in ancient Greece they were very curious of the body, they had a deep appreciation for body and the study of what lies beneath” Dr. Safford replied. Dr. Safford lamented on how it is important to know that graphic medicine isn’t just something that the medical illustrators of today made up and to recognize the history of art in medicine so that we can understand its importance today.
Concerning the importance of this field, in her workshop titled “Exploring point-of-view in graphic medicine,” Dr. Wall discussed that art can serve a variety of purposes in medicine. Medical illustration is still about illuminating our understanding of the old Greek question—what lies underneath?—the only thing that has changed is the context. We know what lies beneath our epithelial cells, so the medical illustrators of today must answer new questions. What does it mean to care for someone with Alzheimer’s? What does it feel like to have cancer? How do we inform people about the importance of getting a flu shot? Or even the basic question: why do we get sick?
These questions are just some of the questions Hiram students, and the general public, can answer by participating in the Graphic Medicine Competition. Hiram College’s Center for Literature and Medicine is hosting both the Graphic Medicine Series, a collection of seminars and workshops pertaining to graphic medicine, but also a Graphic Medicine Competition. Open to the public, this competition asks participants to submit their own graphic medicine narratives in the form of an 8.5″ x 11″ PDF of no more than 25 pages. To find out more information about either the series or competition, please go to visit the website. Submissions will be accepted until March 1, 2018, so there is plenty of time to get started. Like Vesalius did in his time, your work will help illuminate answers to the medical questions of today.