Visionary Anatomies is an exhibit currently displayed at the National Academy of Sciences. According to the Academy, “… the Visionary Anatomies features the work of contemporary artists who use anatomical imagery and concepts to express aesthetic, social, and cultural ideas.”
From a statement by the curator of the exhibit J.D. Talasek:
Throughout history, the education and understanding of the human anatomy have been directly influenced by our ability to visually depict the body’s ingenious design. Since the earliest recorded dissections, anatomists have worked with artists to advance the study of medicine through detailed, and even beautiful, renderings, the very sight of which are intriguing, not only due to the inner workings of the body but also due to the ability we posses to discover and depict such wonders.
The histories of medicine, art, and technology are tightly intertwined, each discipline sharing the purpose of explaining and improving the world around and — in the case of this exhibition’s subject matter — within us. A study of the intersection between these three disciplines at the point of anatomical representation reveals a complex and contributory relationship.
With the evolution from woodcuts and etchings to X rays and angiograms, our understanding of the body has also advanced. As technology and understanding have progressed, so has an idea that rational understanding of the body should be separate from the emotion and bias of the interpreting artist.
Despite ideas of separation, some artists and scientists continue a dialogue. These practitioners discover powerful metaphors in medical images and the insights that they contain, weaving them together with the history of art and ideas. Collaborations of this nature often lead to medical and scientific insight, but there is an element that may be overlooked for the sake of advancement. These collaborations often produce work that has the potential to remind us of our humanity and to keep alive our sense of wonder and awe.
The exploration of anatomical images, the diversity of their meaning and interpretation, is the focus of this exhibition.
The Visionary Anatomies, presented by the Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs at the National Academy of Sciences, runs through May 20.
The essay from the exhibition catalogue, titled “Visionary Anatomies and the Great Divide: Art, Science and the Changing Conventions of Anatomical Representation, 1500-2003” by Michael Sappol, Curator-Historian of the National Library of Medicine, is available here.
Take a stroll through the official website of Visionary Anatomies…