Having spent the past nine months learning about what, and how we are, having passed both Fundamental Anatomy modules and the Neuroanatomy module, the final course on the online Anatomical Sciences course that I am studying with Edinburgh University is about where we come from – Embryology.
It, I think, is the most complex subject yet (neuroanatomy had that honour up till now) but no less interesting for that. There is very little time on the course to cover the subject in anywhere near the level of detail I’d like to but it is a really good grounding. It is fascinating even to begin to understand the divisions and the multiplications that our cellular structure undergoes throughout our development in the womb (or should I be totally anatomically correct and refer to uterus?). But the most interesting thing for me is the concept of ‘folding’, wherein the developing embryo quite literally folds itself into being whilst presenting a pretty good chronological progression from the form of a kidney bean, to a fully fledged human being.
A favourite philosopher of mine, Gilles Deleuze, uses the idea of the ‘fold’ in relation to his concept of our being, our subjectivity, as ‘nomadic’, always in the process of becoming within infinite folds and surfaces of space, movement and time.
Time is something I need more of – time to relate all of this science I have learned (objectively) to the art that I feel (subjectively). It is exciting. I am full of ideas… but I must divide my time as I was once divided – even before I came into being. Even though I am an artist to my last cell I have been loving this course and it has further convinced me that the relation between art and science is infinitely productive.
I’ve passed the second term of this online Anatomical Sciences course again with a decent grade! I am naturally well pleased and definitely feeling more confident in my anatomical knowledge, and my foray into the world of science.
In this third semester the first subject to focus on is Neuroanatomy, and in terms f how much information is coming my way it is complexity itself. Indeed, if anything is going to test my hard won confidence it is this, but I am braving the assault on my own cranial nuerons and reveling in a growing fascination for the subject.
As part of the assessment for the course there is a requirement for a presentation that focuses on an investigation of the neuroanatomical structural changes that can be observed in a patient with a specific neurological disease. I have chosen Huntington’s Disease and it has been a particularly moving subject. I have delved far deeper that is perhaps necessary for the assignment into the historical context of the disease itself and I have also looked at biographies and personal patient histories of sufferers. My presentation is entitled (in part) ‘The Magiky Tree’, taken from a quote from Woody Guthrie, the American singer-songwriter whose own story makes for painful reading.
Guthrie, who famously wrote This Land Is Your Land suffered with Huntington’s Disease (HD), which is a devastating disorder that causes part of the brain to atrophy and die. The part of the brain it affects most severely is the basal ganglia, which primarily controls movement, so Huntington’s sufferers are condemned to a progressive and irreversible loss of their motor function resulting in erratic, jerky and involuntary movements that prevent them from carrying out even the most innocuous actions such as raising a cup to their mouth. Antisocial behaviour and loss of cognitive function are all symptoms of HD, which, in perhaps the most devastating way, is genetically transmitted through families with a child of an affected parent having a fifty percent chance of developing the condition.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream Waters,
This land was made for you and me
As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me
Guthrie suffered with HD long before it was fully understood as a specific condition, at least by the general public. Having watched his mother’s decline into abject isolation and death, his own symptoms began to develop when he was only twenty-six. Hospitalized at Greystone Park State Hospital in Morris Plains, N.J. where he was finally correctly diagnosed and a previous misdiagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia was discarded. At Greystone he became a ‘shadow’. He spent five years at Greystone and endured subsequent stays at other hospitals until his death at the age of 55.
Guthries daughter, Nora, is an honorary trustee of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, which her mother, Marjorie Guthrie, founded in 1968.
Woody and Marjorie tried to maintain as much of the “joyousness that Woody had with kids” as they could, even on the hospital grounds. Each week, the family would picnic together under the leafy tent created by the sweeping branches of a large tree. “My father named it the ‘magiky tree,’ and we all loved believing it was,” writes Nora in the foreword to Woody Guthrie’s Wardy Forty: The Interviews. (1)
This is a small drawing I did some time ago now…before I began studying anatomy in earnest. As a piece that refers to the human heart and lungs it is drawn from two simultaneous perspectives, anterior and interior. It is part of a project entitled Osmosis that I have since – reluctantly – set aside. As a study of human anatomy as related to plant anatomy through the vehicle of ethnobotany the project drew heavily on my deep love of philosophical thought. It was documented in its very early stages here: C4RD . Maybe, someday, I will pick it up again.
I’m well into the second semester of the online Anatomical Sciences course and my studio walls are becoming as cluttered with anatomical ephemera as is my desk!
The cardiovascular system is a far more fascinating subject than I had at first imagined, and although my passion for musculo-skeletal anatomy is strong and getting stronger I am relieved to find that my interest and excitement for learning does extend beyond that, and into unfamiliar territory.
Drawing things out, visualising things as I read about them, is an important part of the way I learn and, interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, I get more from studying photographic imagery of cadaveric dissection than I do from more diagrammatic content. There is a profound beauty in the human form – both within and without – and , having carried out a fair amount of dissection both in the UK and the US, I see the process in itself as a form of art. This raises once again in my mind the whole question around the relation between art and the study of anatomy. Maybe the course should be entitled The Art of Anatomical Sciences!
I passed with a good grade the first term of Edinburgh University online Anatomical Sciences course and I am delighted! This news has come, perhaps appropriately enough, while I am attending the Anatomical Society winter meeting in Dundee, where I am showing some of my anatomical drawings, paintings and wax sculptures. The talks at the conference are interesting and inspiring and it is great to be able to show and talk about my work to so many like minded people.
Some talks linked anatomy and surgical procedure, which for me is fascinating as over the last few years, as part of the art and medicine projects I carry out, I have attended various operations as an observer. Below are some sketches I made while attending a procedure carried out by Mr Frank Wells, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Papworth Hospital.
Now back to preparing for the second term of the course!
Musculo-skeletal module over – here comes Respiratory. I am moving well out of my comfort zone in this Anatomical Sciences Diploma but it is an exciting journey. The last few weeks have been hugely enjoyable for me. The course is fulfilling expectations and I feel as if my existing knowledge, which was – excuse the pun – a little disjointed, has been given direction and a sense of cohesiveness that, perhaps, only the injection of a little science can really generate. Someone said somewhere, sometime, that art is feeling, everything else is science. I’m not sure that is entirely true, I’m not necessarily fond of binary division, and especially since for this next month, as visiting artist in CAHID at the University of Dundee, I am combining both art and science, feeling and thought/knowledge, in and around the dissecting room! Ethical considerations prohibit me from publishing the drawings I am making in the DR, so here are a couple of images from my course notebook.