Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Alison Craig
The Art & Anatomy "Student Selected Component" in Medical Humanities at Keele University Medical School was inaugurated in 2010. We offered four academic modules plus life classes for 3rd year students, and ran the course for two years. The modules were cancelled by the University for 2012.
# 63 [22 October 2012]
Probably the last entry for this project blog:
Although a faceless person at the University cancelled the Anatomy and Art SSC for 2012, student demand was such that the life classes took place anyway. I was not involved personally, as no money was available for a fee or travelling expenses. However, the classes themselves generated enough income to pay the model.
As the two members of staff who were the initiators of the project have retired over the summer, it seems highly unlikely that this particular SSC will be running again.
Despite the negative response from An Administrator, I think the SSC was successful overall: students found the academic research challenging and interesting, even if some of them struggled with writing a Humanities essay rather than a purely scientific one. Although one or two obviously thought they had chosen an easy option (wrong...) most started with enthusiasm and managed to maintain the momentum for the duration of the module. The life classes were viewed with a mixture of eager anticipation and trepidation, but provided a rare opportunity for concentrated effort which didn't involve the memorisation of abstruse knowledge.
As for me, I have been drawing bones like mad, and have been scavenging the local fields for animal bones.... which may provide a new topic for a blog.
# 62 [24 February 2012]
A couple of weeks ago I altered the blog heading to read "...Year 3...". All was well, we had a student for each block and the life model was ready and willing. I filled in my application form for access to the Keele IT system, and was about to post it when I learned that the Anatomy and Art SSC has been cancelled this year because it isn't cost effective for one student per block. This is interesting, since they effectively pay me by the hour. The ways of Academe are strange indeed, and none of us heard the goalposts being moved.
Fortunately I hadn't put a stamp on the envelope with the IT form in it.
I await developments..... (and have deleted a paragraph, and changed several adjectives in the above, this being a semi-public forum.)
# 61 [1 December 2011]
The "Anatomy and Art" exhibition is now up, after considerable organisational problems. Some of the students had indeed disposed of their work (sounds better than "thrown away", but that's what they did). Another poor soul had had a disaster moving house, someone else has apparently dropped out of medicine completely, and others turned out to be untraceable (very odd, that.) Add to all this the logistic problems I didn't have to deal with personally and it's amazing that the thing turned out as successfully as it did.
I went in to the Medical School last week merely to reassure myself that all the drawings had arrived, and that I knew where everything would be on the dayof the show, and founc that most of the A1 sheets were so tightly rolled that it took two people to hold them open -- a problem since solved thanks to a large board and a lot of heavy weights.
Dr. Lisetta Lovett, co-ordinator of the Humanities SSCs, had undertaken the bulk of the organisation (and lived to regret it, I think) and also helped in the final selection and hanging of the work. In the end, we mounted a modest but representative selection of students' drawings with a couple of pieces from members of staff who attended the life classes. We also had room to feature some work on "Art & Wellness" from the Trentham Mews General Medical Practice and Treetops' Children's Hospice who participate in the Medical Humanities SSCs. Compromises had to be made in view of the restricted display area - loads of space in the evenings but tightly packed with bodies during working hours. Interesting to discover, too, that foyer lighting is not quite the same as gallery lighting....
The exhibition was opened by Ann Roach, a local artist, and was very well attended. Mark Fahmy, a medical student who chose to go to the New Vic Theatre in Stoke for his Humanities SSC, performed an insightful monologue about mental illness. The expected music didn't make an appearance, but the wine & canapés were pretty good. Lisetta had the bright idea of suggesting that the drawings could be "sold" in aid of Operation Smile, a children's charity: the resulting crop of red dots would have done credit to a commercial gallery.
Very many thanks to all concerned, especially the students, Dr. Lisetta Lovett, and Mike Mahon, Fliss Dunn, Paul Clews and the Anatomy team for their help.
# 60 [8 August 2011]
We've been given the go-ahead to mount an exhibition of student drawings in the Medical School later in the year. This is going to call for a certain amount of long-distance organisation.
First off, contact all participants to get permission to use their artwork. Will they have thrown it away? Myself, I'm drowning in a sea of paper & canvas at home, but I do have a home to keep it all in. I remember the turmoil of moving from student flat to hospital residence and back, with the Mini loaded up to the level of the windows with Stuff. Then I moved to my first job & bought a stereo (speakers, receiver, Garrard deck) and it was even worse. At least an iPod doesn't take up much space.
Next job: design poster & invitations....
# 59 [24 June 2011]
Block 2 is now (as of 12 midday today) officially finished, the essays have been handed in and the students are off to their next posting. We managed to finish on a high after a slight blip in the life drawing last week. As usual with these things, the attendance falls off towards the end as people realise they have more pressing things to do, so last week there wasn't anywhere to hide. With only two students left in the class I think they were feeling a bit exposed and a slight crisis of confidence ensued. I had been racking my brains (unsuccessfully) for a stratagem to get round this for the final week, but fortunately the class was back on form on Wednesday. We have parted friends, although I did wonder, after last week....
We've been assessing the students' sketchbooks in the category of "use of learning resources", but the standard has been so high that it seems a shame to lose them under a catch-all heading. I've suggested we could invent a sub-category exclusively for the sketch books, and this should be in use next year. To my surprise, the idea seems to be popular with the students as well (based on a study group of two).
I'm hoping that one of the students may submit an abstract for the Graphic Medicine conference in Leeds in November, although I think a certain amount of brachial manipulation (arm-twisting to you, guv) may be required. Let's see what the essay looks like when it's finished, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. More info from http://www.graphicmedicine.org/
# 58 [13 June 2011]
Block 2, week 3 (or 2 and a half, depending on how you count it.)
I haven't posted anything recently as I'm rather running out of new and intelligent things to say. The current batch of students has chosen interesting topics to write about (Death, culture & anatomy, and Neuroanatomy and illustration for patients) and everyone is doing really well at the life classes. There's a good, relaxed atmosphere in the classes which (I hope) suggests that people are enjoying the experience even if/when the actual drawing is proving frustrating.
I may have said written this before, but drawing isn't always easy, and surely it's better to struggle and be successful in the end than to produce slick, stereotyped accuracy. After all, if you could get it "right" first time, and every time, there wouldn't be much point in drawing anything more than once, or possibly twice. The more you look, the more you learn (cliché, cliché).
Our professional model was on holiday during the first week of the present Block, and one of the students from the last Block volunteered to pose - fully clothed, I hasten to add. She claimed to have enjoyed it (I was giving her a lift home at the time, so she couldn't really have said anything else), and found it difficult - as expected - and enlightening - as hoped. It is a strange experience to have people staring at you intently, and recording their thoughts about you graphically for you to inspect. Somewhat analagous to being on the examining couch, rather than standing by it?
No new drawings to add to the blog this week, but the bunting was out again on Dr. Bellyse's memorial in Audlem. This proably wasn't anything to do with Dr. Bellyse himself of course, but it would be nice if it were.
# 57 [26 May 2011]
Another day, another dollar (I hope - haven't had a contract yet).
We are at the half way point of this year's SSCs: the first module finishes tomorrow and the second begins next week, after yet another Bank Holiday. Several students have vowed to return to the life classes, even though they are moving on to different things on Tuesday. However, their loyalties must be to the next teaching block (anaesthetics, audiology, General Practice etc.), so it's debatable whether they will have time to travel, on public transport, to the Medical School after finishing at locations in other parts of the Potteries.
The life class produced yet more strong drawings, firstly from the model on the move, and then from a long pose. The movement drawings were particularly impressive. Feedback has been positive (to my face, at least!) with comments about the value of the classes in learning to look and see; the luxury of being able to spend 2 hours doing something quite different from medical study; and the benefits of experiencing a different kind of concentration and effort. Medical Humanities continue to be regarded as a soft option in some quarters (academic as well as student), but the work put into these drawings surely contradicts that. It ain't easy...
An audit of last year's students has demonstrated that they were "normally distributed" within the ranks of academic achievement, and at least one has had work published as a result of taking the Medical Humanities option. (I've forgotten whether the term "rank" is appropriate here - I do dimly remember having to rank results for statistical analysis, but it might have been for something different. Anyway, I'm not trying to imply that they're smelly or rotten in any sense.)
So on to the next phase, and new students to guide through the minefields of wordprocessing and charcoal manipulation.
(And a Happy 90somethingth Birthday to my father, who qualified in Medicine in 1942, and whose copy of Gray's Anatomy - now covered in trendy 1970s wrapping paper - has been worn to rags with 70 years of use)
# 56 [24 May 2011]
A slight delay in posting this week as my computer is poorly. It's been creaking for a while, but the stress of downloading various software add-ons to update Microsoft Office has proved too much. In a sinister turn of events, I can't re-install any anti-virus software. Is this analagous to the phenomenon seen in bacterial culture plates, where the colony of bacteria produces a defensive ring around itself so that nothing else can get in? Do computer viruses do the same? As there's yet another Bank Holiday coming up, I don't think I shall be able to get the computer sorted out locally, and my Family Computer Adviser is several hundred miles away and rushed off his feet.
Last week's life class went with a swing again, although the ambient temperature was definitely a bit chilly. Having mastered tonal drawing in 3 minutes in the previous class, the students had no trouble with negative space. I only wish we could use messier media and be a bit more adventurous.
The essays are also taking shape nicely, about which more later. There was an intriguing found drawing on the wall of the seminar room, just behind the door. Some sort of oscillating pencil mark, made by a very small person defying gravity?(or more likely something swinging from a chair).
# 55 [13 May 2011]
Half way through the second week, and another very successful life class, from my point of view anyway - I'm not sure that the model would agree entirely as he got very cold feet (literally). Most of the students came back from last week, as well, which is always a good sign.
Last week we started off doing the "tearing A1 paper into progressively smaller pieces" thing at the beginning, in order to allay the Terror Inspired by Large Pieces of Paper. Within about 15 seconds of the students beginning to draw on the A5 size, it was obvious that they would have no trouble filling an A1 sheet. This week they dived into the "entirely tonal drawing" exercise with enthusiasm, and mastered it immediately. I am going to be stuck for things to challenge them with at this rate. Perhaps I will actually have to teach some anatomy?
# 54 [5 May 2011]
Week 1, Year 2
Here we go again...
The new sessions have started, and the three students in Block 1 have some interesting ideas with great scope for development. During the first week they are supposed to research widely and generate even more stuff which they can then refine during the following weeks while they write and revise their essays. Ideas thrown into the melting pot of our first tutorial include the role of plastination in medical & public education, notions of the "freak show", exploitation, consent, the increasing public availability of medical images; feminism, infertility; artists' interpretations of their own bodily and mental distress; the anatomy and function of the brain; evolving cultural mores;;;;
I delivered my expanded talk/woffle about drawing and was embarrassed to note how many of my own drawings I'd included. My defence is that a lot of the images I'd wanted to use were "unavailable for copyright reasons" (mainly on the Tate Gallery website) - which reminds me that I still haven't heard from the publishers of Gray's Anatomy about using Henry Carter's illustrations. I think I shall just go ahead, and see what happens.
The life classes got off to a good start (thanks, Trevor) and we had three returnees from last year. Once again, I was impressed by the rapid increase in confidence evident in the drawings produced over the course of the two hours. None of the new students had been to life classes before, although all of them aready show considerable ability. So - I hope we will go from strength to strength, and with any luck I will remember to charge the battery in my digital camera before next week.
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