Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scars as art at UCLA medical school exhibit

From USA Today. In the picture, Joy Munch Powell shows her back scar in the UCLA medical center art exhibit: Empathy Through Art.

When Ted Meyer, now 52, began his art career, he says much of his work was "about being pretty miserable" — at age 5, he was diagnosed with Gaucher's disease, a rare metabolic disorder.

Years later, after lifesaving treatments and surgeries, Meyer's colorful mono-prints of real scars, and accompanying testimony, help his subjects tell the story of their life-changing injury or illness.

His collection, Scarred for Life, was the first in a two-year series of rotating exhibits at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Each piece includes a picture of someone with colorful paint over his or her scar, a print of that scar, and the story, often by the subject, about how he or she got it. The exhibits help train med students in care, professionalism and ethics, says LuAnn Wilkerson, senior associate dean for medical education.

About a year ago, Meyer approached Wilkerson about integrating visual art into UCLA's medical program. A few months later, the two began working to curate exhibits, and Meyer became the school's artist-in-residence. "My idea was really to have artists interface somehow with the doctors. Having been around them so much, they really do sort of speak a different language," he says.

Second-year med student Lauren Wolchok says: "I think it's really special that UCLA feels that it's important to have art in our learning spaces, and especially that it relates to what we're studying. It gives us a humanistic impression."

Wolchok attended an opening and luncheon with artist Daphne Hill, whose exhibit, Venereal Diseases and Other Cautionary Tales (on display through Nov. 10), includes scenes with people at risk for certain diseases, such as two people kissing, overlaid with an enlarged image of the microorganism that causes the herpes virus.

Meyer says that in his experience, he felt that certain doctors were not responsive to his concerns and had limited contact, and that medical processes are fragmented.

"Now, I'm seven years out of the (hip-replacement) operation. My leg doesn't hurt all the time, but I can't bend down and tie a shoe. I can't run. I can't sit for too long. But the doctor insisted that everything looked fine on the X-ray. I want the students to learn to listen to patients, to learn to explain and understand the long-term implications of a procedure."

Says Wilkerson, "I certainly hope the students understand that the patient is not experiencing a disease in the same way that they are as the physician." If an art exhibit "allows them another window into the patient experience, that would be my goal."

The next exhibit, which opens Jan. 14 at UCLA's medical school, will feature art created by developmentally disabled adults.