Leonardo 500 at the Wangensteen Library

Healthcare is firmly rooted in science. We cannot, in good conscience, provide care or propose policy that does not have evidence that it is safe and effective. But science has limits when it comes to understanding how best to work with human beings to ensure good outcomes. People are complex and infinitely varied. Our individual experiences and our capacities for empathy are also unique.

We have a powerful tool to improve our understanding. One of the ways humans have historically communicated and shared experiences, emotions, and viewpoints is through art. But for many years, there has been an artificial barrier between science and art, as if they were almost opposite worlds rather than different ways of viewing the same world.

I would like to encourage you to return to a time before this great separation took place. Dr. Francesca Bortoletti, an assistant professor in the History of Medicine, has organized a series of events for the commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. We have the good fortune that one of these events, an exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci and the Natural and Ideal Beauty of the Body, will be on display here on campus in the Wangensteen Historical Library in Diehl Hall from Oct. 21-25. This will include a workshop on Oct. 24 at 10:30 a.m., where artist Mark Balma will demonstrate the great master’s historical painting techniques. This doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. This can be part of your work and your growth as a curious person.

Leonardo da Vinci continues to fascinate for many reasons, in particular, how fluidly he mastered and mingled everything from engineering, physiology, and science to drawing, painting, music, sculpture, and architecture. He provides an excellent example of how innovation can come from unexpected sources and how accessing both hemispheres of our brains can reveal solutions that are hidden to the sides individually. In his drawings of the internal workings of the body, one can also sense something else: how dissecting the human form to its most vulnerable and intimate state can help us both understand and feel compassion for others.

Art is not only to be observed—listened to, felt, viewed—there is also great power in producing art, in expressing the feelings that are sometimes too great to be described by words. This is why we are reaching out to our fine art colleagues across campus for collaborations: sharing music in the clinic, teaching expressive art to help recalibrate the adolescent brain, and observing the almost tender observations da Vinci made about the human body. There are many more ways we can reunite art and science, and I would appreciate your sharing ways that you have or that you envision integrating art into your field.

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