The Power of Art to Educate
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Art is universal. It’s a bridge that ties all people, regardless of language, education or essentially any other barrier that divides us. Anyone can look at a piece of art, be it a mural on a building wall, a graphic novel or an anatomical illustration and they can have an emotional experience. In creating anatomical collage art, it’s my intent that someone could look at my art and in doing so, understand a little more about the natural world that we all find ourselves in.
When I was in high school, I saw the image below, and it knocked my socks off and pushed me down a rabbit hole of questions…
How was this created? What did the woman die of who was pregnant? How many gestational months was this fetus?
I imagined what the rest of the body looked like at the time of this drawing. I wondered what someone's mind functioned like, who would not only observe the whole form, but also intricate details of the lining of organs. Someone who would look so closely at a cadaver that even 300 years later, people are still learning from those drawings and idolizing that artist.
This visual observation, reminded me both then and now to slow down and take it all in. It also taught me what a powerful tool visual imagery could be to both teach and to learn.
Teaching others through art:
I am lucky enough to be an educator that has been able to merge the subjects of science and art to create art courses that explore the anatomical structures and physiological functions of the body. While creating these courses I learned that the origin of the modern medical field, really ties back to early anatomical theaters throughout Europe, where amazing illustrations documenting internal physical form were brought out from under the curtains of the skin. I’m dazzled and delighted by illustrations, like the one below, drawn by Nicholas Henri Jacob (1782-1871). The power of an illustration like this to give context to internal anatomy is what excites me as a teacher who sees students struggle with this kind of abstract visualization.
As a creator, my goal is to give new life to vintage anatomical illustration, to elicit an emotional reaction in my audience and in turn, to teach. After all, emotional experiences strengthen our working memories of events or other stimuli such as an art piece. In surrounding my anatomical structures and vintage medical illustrations with fanciful animals and insects and using contrasting colors and textures, my hope is to not only create a piece of art that someone has an emotional connection to, but to create an experience that allows them to more closely consider and emotionally respond to internal anatomical structure. It’s my way of re-imagining the typical learning experience.
“Under the Sea” Amy Salomone, 2020
“Memories” Amy Salomone, 2020
Learning through creating:
Anyone can pick up a pencil and create. I think the most valuable lesson I could teach is that you don’t need to be a trained professional to draw, and that drawing is the most valuable tool in learning and teaching of abstract concepts in the medical and scientific fields. It allows you to take text, summarize it, pick out the key points that would most effectively communicate a concept and transfer them to paper. In doing so, think of all of the questions you would have to ask yourself about that concept regarding how to best communicate that idea to an audience? It transforms you from a learner into a teacher, and from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that the most powerful tool in learning is to figure out how to teach something to someone else.
Whether you are a teacher or a medical professional, the power of a picture to communicate cannot be underestimated. Years ago, my father had open heart surgery and while we were in the ICU, his heart surgeon explained the surgery to my mother and I by taking out a pen, and drawing on my fathers bed while he lay there unconscious. For various reasons I will never forget that moment. I was just utterly struck with how effective that simple drawing was, at communicating the process of the procedure. I will always appreciate him for that moment.
More recently, I noticed that many of my friends and family were concerned, confused and fearful of the Covid vaccination process, and so I chose to create a blog post, that more simply explained the process of vaccination to them. In it, I created simple, but effective illustrations using an online platform. This is one of those illustrations. Rudimentary? Yup...but, it helped many of them, along with my text, to better understand the basic process and in turn, many people communicated to me that they felt confident in getting vaccinated as a result.
How should I get started?
Questions you could ask yourself in transferring text to image include, who are the main players (nouns) in this text? What are they doing (verbs)? Once you pick out those pieces and put them on a piece of paper in front of you, it makes it easier to move them around, to use symbols to communicate direction or to help tell a story.
So what are you waiting for? Pick up a pencil, grab your textbook or medical journal and rather than rely on the illustrations you see before you, read a section and draw it yourself. It doesn’t matter if you start out with stick figures and squares. It doesn’t matter if you end up there either. The important part is in creating that image of that concept, you are learning to internalize information at a whole other level. Who knows? One day, you might be drawing surgical processes for patients' families in the ICU. You never know where your pictures could take you?
If you like my post and/or my artwork, please visit me (Amy Salomone) and subscribe to my site at:
About the Author:
Amy Salomone has a B.S. in Microbiology and an M.A.T. in Biology Education from Brown University. She has been working for the past 16 years as a secondary educator, teaching every possible science discipline and two science based art courses of her design. She is now a STEAM coordinator, bridging the fields of science, design and art through innovative curriculum initiatives. Amy resides in Warwick RI with her two puffy, muppet-like dogs and her non-puffy husband.