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AAAS Art Show Communicates Lasting Impression of Healing

The Art and Science of Healing exhibit at the AAAS Art Gallery
Through his artwork, Ted Meyer hopes to empower healing individuals and enrich interactions between doctors and their patients.| Juwon Song/AAAS.

Survivors of psychological and physical injuries are showcased in “The Art and Science of Healing” exhibition that captures the human healing process in monoprints and photography as part of artist Ted Meyer’s “Scarred for Life” art series.

The exhibition, being held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, will be on display in its gallery from July 11 to October 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The show is being presented in collaboration with the National Museum of Health and Medicine and will be accompanied by a colloquium talk on July 11.

In publicly displaying the healing process, Meyer said he hopes to foster connections within the healing community, empower individuals who share such experiences and inform medical students and doctors about how patients may carry scars after leaving the hospital.

“The main healing point for a patient isn’t necessarily the same healing point for a doctor,” said Meyer, currently an artist in residence at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. “Your skin gets sewn together; your bones knit back together; but it might be months or years emotionally and physically for your body to catch up with the things that the doctors tell you when they say you’re healed.”

As a child Meyer was diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a rare genetic disorder caused by a metabolic enzyme deficiency that came with an estimated life expectancy of 30 years. The disease’s daily, painful symptoms fueled his dedication to art.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health discovered a way to replace Meyer’s missing enzyme, effectively “curing” him, prompting a shift in the subject of his art to expressions of love and happiness.

Yet, a chance meeting with a survivor of spinal surgery reignited his interest in addressing healing relating to medical traumas. “It’s still part of who you are,” Meyer described in a TED Talk recounting how he restored the inspiration behind his art.

Three women taking part in the the Art and Science of Healing exhibit as art subjects and patients
The search for a matching kidney transplant brought Alexi Brock, left, and two other women together. | Ted Meyer

The “Scarred for Life” series chronicles the healing stories of more than 100 individuals. Scars of patients display a diversity of medical experiences, including New York public high school art teacher Alexi Brock’s donation of a kidney and the founder of a therapeutic yacht program Ted Haler’s wartime wounds.

The expanding collection has been displayed at the Chicago Cultural center, the Science Museum in Ireland, the San Diego Museum of Art, and in the United Nations building. Meyer’s work also has been highlighted in The New York Times, Public Broadcasting Service and Huffington Post.

“These are not individual stories in a vacuum,” said Brock. “A lot of people can see these artworks and relate to them in some way because everybody has overcome some difficulty and, yet, they are persevering.”

Meyer would like the exhibit to draw attention to what the works’ subjects consider to be insufficient interactions between patients and doctors, a trend attributed to several factors, from increasing demands placed on primary care physicians to the rise in technology used to facilitate the tracking of medical records, appointments, and payments, said Dr. Pamela Schaff, director of the Humanities, Ethics, Art, and Law program at the Keck School of Medicine. Schaff oversees Meyer’s residency.  

While technology has benefited the practice of medicine by increasing access to information and evidence, noted Schaff, technology and regulatory pressures place growing time constraints on doctors.  “That’s probably what distresses most practicing physicians and patients alike,” said Schaff. 

The Keck School’s integration of the arts and humanities into medical education offers a unique approach that is being adopted across the country to instill the value of the patient-doctor relationship in the next generation of doctors.

“Artists talk about disease and healing in a different way, and it just adds a new dimension to their work and to how the students can understand patients’ stories,” said Schaff. “The emotional and almost spiritual impact of these talks is just remarkable.”

As an artist in residence, Meyer has introduced medical students to “patient-artists,” who share the healing process through their artwork. The artists are chosen to align with the school’s curriculum and lecture alongside clinician specialists. During the cardiovascular chapter of the students’ education, for instance, Brock was brought in to speak about her artwork based on heart surgery she underwent when she was a four-year-old.

“What Ted is doing is extremely valuable in that it may help alter the way doctors address the patient,” said Haler, whose program focuses on veterans with disabilities. “Yes, after the surgery or procedure and recovery and rehabilitation, doctors are done with their job, but what they’ve done will last in the patient for life.”

[Associated image: Juwon Song/AAAS]

 

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Juwon Song

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