Perspectives of workshop participants:

The medical community is often thought to be devoid of empathy and compassion. I believe this to be a fallacy. The interactions and experiences I have shared with my fellow medical students have convinced me that we all share a common desire to help others. While driven by compassion, we tend to think scientifically and subsequently tend to evaluate our patients in a systematic manner. Thus, the incongruity of our professed feelings and the way in which we are perceived as a community may be explained through our inability to convey empathy.  Through observation of art, we, as medical students, are presented with a unique opportunity to reflect on our understanding of human emotions. Each painting allows us to evaluate the artist’s subject with the benefit of quiescence, which truly allows us to contemplate the emotions of both the subject and the artist and discuss this with our peers without distraction. If we are unable to critically evaluate art, we cannot hope to grasp the complexity of that which art so frequently depicts, the human experience. 

Brett  Clark

Georgetown University School of Medicine '18


Excerpts from student essays, undergraduate seminars, Professor Aneta Georgievska-Shine:

Art is essential to life. I am a senior Neurobiology and Physiology and Studio Art double major on a Pre-Med tract and I am so glad that I have been able to explore my artistic side while also taking my science classes.  Being able to look at and analyze art allows you to think more deeply and outside of the box. The amount of observation and discussion that is done on one image in an art class is outstanding.

A class can spend hours discussing one image allowing them to see or understand details that they would not have been able to see if they just briefly looked at the image. Deep analysis is necessary for understanding a certain subject and it allows you to understand it from different point of views.

This skill can be used in the medical field and would also help medical professionals interact with their patients on a more insightful level. By having the background of being able to discuss a subject matter for an extended period of time, the health professionals will be able to discuss a certain patient's situation and approach it from different directions. This practice will also help their communication skills. The individual becomes more well-rounded and approachable, and is knowledgeable of things other than just science and medicine.

Chika Esochaghi
University of Maryland '15
Candidate for B.S. of Physiology and Neurobiology
Candidate for B.A. of Studio Art
Honors College


The most significant similarity between Art History and Medicine is in the processes used to diagnose a patient and uncover the meaning behind a work of art. Art Historians look at the formal features of a painting and compile them to develop its meaning or expressive effect. This is surprisingly similar to how doctors observe and compile symptoms to make a diagnosis. Both involve an investigative stage where information on physical features is gathered and a processing stage where a conclusion is drawn by creatively linking the information together. It is as if Art History students diagnose art. Artists do not add any details to their images for merely aesthetic effect. Each aspect of a piece contributes to the artist’s story. Art History students are trained to recognize the symbols commonly used in art, and put them together to determine the artist’s message just as doctors are trained to recognize which symptoms result from which illnesses. 

Two related skills within the fields of Medicine and Art History are looking closely for meaningful details and noticing changes characteristics overtime. Doctors need to look closely when examining their patients to find the key symptom needed to make the diagnosis. My Art History courses are fantastic, early training for this ability to observe in detail. If we Art History students did not study the details of an image or thoroughly inspect an image during a timed exam, the essays would be very difficult. Art Historians also study how the technique of an artist changes overtime or how methods in general evolve, even subtly. For example, if an Art History student is unknowingly given one painting by Nicholas Poussin from the 1630’s and the another from the 1660’s, she could identify which image is from which time period because Poussin’s later paintings have somewhat darker shades. Developing an ability to notice subtle changes in the patient’s symptoms overtime is important for doctors. Many medical conditions, like Alzheimer’s, involve a slow onset. If a doctor does not pay attention to how an Alzheimer’s victim’s memory loss is worsening, he may misdiagnose as a transient ischemic attack. In order to succeed, doctors cannot glance at a patient and miss a development in their symptoms. They must be like Art Historians and recognize even subtle changes in details.

When an Art Historian or Doctor is drawing a conclusion, there are certain signs that lead to an obvious conclusion. In both cases, closely looking at the subject to find as many signs as possible will help one determine then consider all possible conclusions. The more diagnostic possibilities a Physician can determine from ambiguous symptoms and run tests for, the more likely she is to identify the correct illness. Considering all possible meanings of a painting can also help a scholar discover the artist’s overall message.  

The connection between Art History and Medicine that will be more important as years pass is the ability to understand people and their unique cultures. Many concepts from the Art History courses I have taken also overlap with my Psychology classes because both focus on human behavior and culture. 

Samantha Fritts,

University of Maryland, '15

Candidate for B.S. in Biology and Psychology

Candidate for B.A. in Art History