Humanistic Anatomy

Jackson Arn in The Point:

ScreenHunter_2989 Mar. 14 19.53I discovered anatomical drawing years before I could understand what I was looking at. When I was in the first grade, my grandfather took my interest in crayons and colored pencils as a sign that I might follow in his footsteps. He’s a doctor, with charmingly old-fashioned ideas about the unity of art and science, and looking back, it feels inevitable that he should have introduced me to Leonardo da Vinci.

I was too young to hold the book myself, but when he lifted it from the shelf and held it in his lap it seemed almost sacred, too complicated for any single person to comprehend. I still remember the yellowish sketches: ribs and tendons cross-hatched into three dimensions; perfectly rounded skulls that made me furious with my own clumsy hands; the fetus cleanly sliced from its mother’s womb. Mostly, I remember my envy for the man, centuries dead, who’d drawn all this so effortlessly—envy that was deeply bound up in awe and confusion and discomfort with how deeply he’d gazed into the body.

I felt similar emotions when I visited “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery. Ramón y Cajal, the Spanish doctor often considered the father of modern neurology, won the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his twenty years of research on the nervous system.

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