It could have been any art show opening. There was wine by
the glass, and cheese and crudites, and a jazz combo in the
corner that was largely ignored. There were big plans and small
talk and sometimes, whispers of careers and book deals and
The doors leading from the reception room to the gallery were to have been opened at 6:30 p.m. They remained resolutely closed until nearly half past seven, when the evening's sponsor offered a few words of welcome. There was a door prize drawing, a chance to refresh drinks, and then the doors swung open, revealing hundreds of pieces in a variety of mediums for the guests to scrutinize.
Only the content was a little out of the ordinary. Instead of landscapes and portraits and abstracts, there were eyeballs and heart valves and surgical procedures of the inner ear.
The Association of Medical Illustrators was in Baltimore for its 52nd annual meeting July 24 through 28, returning after 20 years to the town that claims to have given birth to the profession. In 1894, Max Brodel, considered the father of professional medical illustration, arrived at Johns Hopkins to join the year-old School of Medicine. Eventually, he would oversee the creation of the first medical illustration program in North America.
The university's Department of Art as Applied to Medicine was founded in 1911 with a donation of $160,000 from Baltimore philanthropist Henry Walters, for whom Baltimore's Walters Art Gallery is named. Current Hopkins faculty members helped host the AMI event, which featured a special retrospective of the works of Brodel and his Hopkins pupils. A major retrospective of Brodel's work was also displayed in a special exhibit at the Walters, which ran April 8 through July 27.
This year, as in years past, the highlight of the AMI meeting for many was the opening of the salon, a three-day exhibition of members' works, cataloging the best and most exciting efforts in the field. Many of the 400 AMI members attending the meeting had their works on display.
"The emphasis of this event has to do with the artistry of the rendering," said AMI member Kevin Somerville, a Jones-town, R.I., resident who serves as chairman of the organization's professional exhibits committee, the group that hangs the annual salon. "Basically, a heart is a heart is a heart. But some medical illustrators are better than others at interpretation-- conveying the most important information--and that's what this is all about."
With nearly 1,000 members in North America, the AMI is the premiere professional association of medical illustrators, professionals whose training includes not just anatomical drawing, illustration and graphic techniques, but advanced course work in human gross anatomy, pathology, embryology and neuroanatomy and other fields as well. Hopkins is one of only five schools in the United States and Canada to offer an accredited program in medical illustration. Students matriculating in the two-year program graduate with a master's degree in medical illustration awarded by the School of Medicine.
Like so much else in medicine these days, the medical illustration field is rapidly changing.
"We're incorporating the new computer and digital technologies, which create entirely new opportunities," said Cory San-done, assistant professor in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine and publicity chair for the AMI annual meeting. "We're developing new means of communicating information. Frequently, now, a medical illustrator will work as part of a team, with a medical specialist such as a radiologist or cardiologist, and a computer specialist who can help enhance images or provide animation. The net effect is that there are lots of new ways to visualize medical materials."
In addition to classic pen and ink illustrations, full color plates and various mixed media, a portion of the salon was dedicated to artist-created computer and video images. A row of computers offered guests an opportunity to explore interactive learning programs focusing on various aspects of human physiology, while a nearby television screen showed a series of short videos illustrating the causes of arthritis, the functioning of the digestive tract and other medical issues presented for middle school and high school audiences.
"Knowing the audience is critical to the medical illustrator. We can convey information at an extremely advanced level, for medical specialists, or at a more general level for students and patients," said Sandone, who teaches surgical illustration and watercolor techniques. "There is a growing market for patient education materials in particular.
"More and more of our students in the program are exploring interactive programs and animation work in their second-year thesis projects."
Hopkins' Department of Art as Applied to Medicine is small, and admissions are extremely competitive. Each year, 40 to 50 potential applicants vie for the five or six slots open in each incoming class. Once selected, the students are exposed to a rigorous program that starts a full month before the new medical students arrive (Most of this year's incoming class came to Baltimore for the AMI meeting and stayed through for the first day of classes Aug. 4.) In addition to studio work and art classes, the medical illustration students are enrolled with the first-year medical students in many of the same physiology and anatomy classes.
Yet as intensive as the course work may be, medical illustrators need continuously to refine their skills to keep abreast of the latest medical procedures and developments. A significant portion of the five-day AMI annual meeting is devoted to professional training, with courses ranging from trompe l'oeil painting (a French term meaning, literally, "fool the eye") in medical illustration, to introductions to 3-D computer modeling.
This year two of the AMI workshops were held at the School of Medicine. The first--covering the fundamentals of surgical instrumentation and suturing for the surgical illustrator--was taught at the hospital by Randy Brown, associate professor in Comparative Medicine and in Surgery. A second workshop_in illustrating techniques in endoscopy and laparoscopy_was also offered at the hospital, taught in part by Brown and Keith Lillemoe, professor of surgery in the School of Medicine.
"Medical illustration is the place where art meets science," Sandone said. "Often, what is left out of an illustration is as an important a decision as what is included. The object is to make a specific teaching point. This is a field that is constantly growing and developing. We are always still experimenting to see what works best."
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