It’s a practice that pre-dates the time of Christ, and is one of my main pieces of evidence that, despite what the adults from my youth had to say, creativity is valuable to society. I spent hours and hours in high school and college pouring over this art work. Medical illustration – I’m certain I wouldn’t understand mitosis, meiosis, anaphylaxes or the Krebbs cycle without it. Perhaps its greatest gift to our culture is that it allows us to teach the wonders of human reproduction to children without live models. Considering my background in public health, there isn’t much more interesting to me than an exquisite rendering of a human urethra.
Early manuscripts from the medieval period and in ancient Arab are among the first samples of medical illustration. Many of these examples are now more art than science, having been drafted without direct observation or modern medical technology. In the 1500s, Andreas Vesalius, anatomist, physician and artist published a breakthrough, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body), which contained 600 woodcuts based on his observations of human dissection.
Today there are about 2,000 medical illustrators in the U.S. Most have Master’s degrees in medical illustration. Many have Ph.Ds. 3D modeling and animation techniques merge this art with modern technology and make the profession more valuable than ever. Medical illustrators use their imaginations to make sub-cellular processes too small to be seen with the naked eye come to life.
If I had more skill with drawing and computers, I’d love to try my hand at medical illustration. Life science has always been in close competition with art for my attention. It’d be fun to do both at the same time, every day, and maybe gross out some wimps at the same time.