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Doctors, Collectors, Artists: Art and Science Converge


Doctors have been collectors and artists for centuries, expressing their artistic side even though they're trained as scientists.

Art and science are two sides of the same coin. Science is a discipline pursued with passion; art is a passion pursued with discipline.” — Arthur M. Sackler, physician and medical publisher, whose inaugural gift established the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, artists, science

The artist, Maria Sibylla Marian (pictured) (1647-1717), is believed to have made the design for this Chinese export porcelain teapot, circa 1760. She was not only an artist, but also a scientist. Collection: Shirley M. Mueller, MD; Photography: Thomas M. Mueller Photography.

Doctors have a scientific background and are thought to be left brained, while artists are creative either through training or by nature, and believed to be right brained. Until recently, it was thought that the 2 did not mingle easily.

Now, the direction of thought has changed. Like tequila and Grand Marnier mixed to make a margarita, the 2 are beginning to blend. This can be in the form of exhibitions, conferences, a brick and mortar office or an online presence.

One recent example is an exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, “Elegance from the East: New Insight into Old Porcelains.” The “insight” is a neuropsychological take, not about the porcelain — it's inanimate after all — but about the people who made and gathered it hundreds of years ago. This new approach is possible because our brains haven’t changed in last 2—400 years since the porcelain was made. Thus, our emotions are essentially the same as our forefathers, which includes pain, pleasure, fear, sadness, surprise and trust.

As a guest curator of this exhibit, and a neurologist, my objective in combining art and science is to increase interest in this exhibit at a time when visitors to museums are declining dramatically (up to 30% between 2002-2012). My premise is that although people may be less attracted to antiquities overall, they continue to be vitally interested in themselves. Thereby, an exhibition that enlightens visitors in this way, may not only be appealing and enhance attendance, but helpful as well.

A preview of how this is accomplished can be found in this 7-minute video here or on the Indianapolis Museum of Art website (by scrolling down below the description of the exhibit.) To my knowledge, this is the first exhibition of its kind.

However, the general idea of art combined with science (rather than neuropsychology specifically) is blossoming elsewhere. For example, there is a conference December 1—3, 2017 in New York City, entitled “Art and Science: The Two Culture Converging.” A co-sponsor for this event, the SciArt Center, also supports other initiatives including the representation of artists who utilize scientific ideas in their work plus a digital subscription magazine. Another promotor of art and science is TED (ideas worth spreading). It has no less than 42 such videos on YouTube ranging from “An underwater art museum, teeming with life” to “How your brain decides what is beautiful.”

An ironic twist for all of this, is that doctors have been collectors and artists for centuries, thereby expressing their artistic side even though they are trained as scientists, for example, Richard Feldman, M.D. is a collector of American Indian art and Irwin Labin, M.D., is a cardiologist and also a metal sculptor. In them and others like them, we see scientists who love art, it seems, long before science and art converged.

For more:

Why Med Schools Are Requiring Art Classes

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