The Indian Artist, Revamped: At The Precipice of Art & Medicine

I take a few steps back to really take in what I have created in front of me. I scrutinize each and every brushstroke while searching for the likeness that I am striving for. There’s something missing, something not quite right in the eyes of my subject. I pick up my smallest filbert and place a speck of white on the canvas. There. I think I got it.

I have always been made to feel like a walking contradiction, an antithesis of a being where dichotomous passions mix and find a unique juxtaposition. I had to pick, I could not pursue a career in medicine while also being a producer of art. When I tell people that I am a Molecular Biology major with a double minor in Art & Design and Sociology, I usually get looks of curious wonder mixed with confusion and doubt.

“Well that’s a different combination, your parents are forcing you to be a doctor then, huh?” asked an elderly gentleman with whom I found myself engaging in conversation at the Union. I reply with a smile and a light laugh, “I am very passionate about both. There is more in common than you might think!”

This was not the first time that I had encountered a similar line of questioning. We have been told that art is connected to our right brain and science our left, separated, immutable, immiscible. The practitioners of science and art are forever segregated with no opportunity of crossing over.

Science and medicine allow us to understand the fundamental inner workings of human beings. However, art allows us to navigate deeper emotions such as pain, love, and hope. Art is the avenue through which I communicate my culture, dreams, and inner machinations that oftentimes cannot be put into words, a symbolic language meant to illuminate the human condition.

I awoke from my appendectomy with a sharp pain and an overwhelming feeling of cold. I was panicky, covered in sweat, and… itchy? What was that, paper underwear? I remember displacing the stress and pain that I was feeling in the form of frustration over incoherent undergarments. It was odd that the calm I had felt before surgery, the calm that allowed me to pat my mother’s hand and reassure her that the surgeon would take care of me at the tender age of nine, had been replaced by what I can now only describe as a temper tantrum. I remember that I was feverish and irritated, inconsolable even though the laparoscopic surgery was successful in removing the ruptured vestigial organ. I remember feeling alone, cold, and in pain.

At that moment the surgeon handed me a pencil and a small drawing pad. A small smile danced on my lips. As I occupied my hands, my mind cleared. Of course, a pair of my own underwear sweetened the deal.

The surgeon’s actions spoke volumes more than any words of comfort could have. She must have remembered that I had said that I loved drawing before the surgery. It was at this moment that I understood the power that art can have.

Years of keen observation, studying the human form, and perfecting it into the craft of hyperrealist art has allowed me to deeply understand the art form that is medicine itself. Medicine is a practice, one that is meant to be extremely personal, patient-centered, culturally informed, and flexible. Just as every painting, every sonata, every tango has an intended audience, so too does every patient. The unique craft of each physician is honed over years of study. Each move in and out of the operating room is perfectly crafted to the subject, aimed at producing a masterpiece in caretaking, confident yet malleable, reaching yet refined.

“Good morning, my name is Riya and I will be your nursing assistant today!” As I introduced myself to Robert at the beginning of my day shift, I knew right away that I had found a fellow art-lover. Prints of beautiful paintings covered the walls of the hospital room and light sketches showing the signs of an aging, unsteady hand were strewn across the overbed table. Over the course of the next twelve hours, I came to learn about my patient’s favorite mediums, the collection that he acquired over the years, and his overall love for art. I shared with him my own portfolio, teaching him about the aspects of my Hindu culture that I integrate into my paintings. I showed him the progress that I had made on a hyperrealistic colored pencil piece depicting the festival of Holi. Was it possible that the years of cultivating creativity, years of teaching myself to approach each model from every perspective, had allowed me to offer something even more in patient care, the next level of conscientiousness where I empathized with his pain and worries, was receptive of his unique background and culture, and lacked any judgement whatsoever.

This is what I wish I could have told that man at the Union. This is the reason behind my seemingly dichotomous endeavors. I am privileged that art has given me the empathy, patience, detail-orientation, perspective-taking, and cultural competency to be able to approach science and medicine with fresh eyes.

I would like to think that there is courage in putting one’s imagination on display. There is dedication in the time and years of repetition that it takes to foster creativity and curiosity just as there is in the time it takes to cultivate a career in medicine. Like flexibility, these are things that need to be practiced and reinforced so that they remain malleable, understanding that no one treatment, no one approach to the composition, suits every subject. There is uneasiness in speaking your mind and exposing yourself to vulnerability and criticism, but there is even more humility in learning to accept fingers that are pointed directly your way. Art has taught me more about myself that I could have ever imagined and instilled in me the values I use to benefit those I serve.

Riya A

My name is Riya and I am currently a Senior at U of M studying Molecular Biology with a double minor in Art & Design and Sociology on the pre-med track. Art has been a huge passion of mine from a very young age and in the final iteration of my column, I look forward to sharing my passions as they connect to my culture, medicine, and art.

Leave a Reply

2 Comments on "The Indian Artist, Revamped: At The Precipice of Art & Medicine"

1 year 2 months ago

It is truly incredible that you have been able to find some way for art and medicine to compliment each other! I hadn’t really thought about it before but I can see how being an artist really does help you connect with others more so than just being a regular physician. Besides the connections made with patients, is there another avenue where you think being an artist will help you in the medical field? Also, have you ever done art therapy at a hospital? It seems like you got a taste of it after your surgery and were able to feel the impacts that it can have.