Gross anatomy is exactly as it sounds. You learn anatomy, and smell gross afterwards. You spend 6-8 hours the day before studying and preparing for a 2-hour dissection the next day. When an exam approaches, you double the 6-8 hours each day and sometimes forget who you, your friends, and family even are. Not to mention the perpetual question, “Why am I doing this?”
A portfolio of watercolors by Danny Quirk, aptly named “Self-Dissections: revealing the inner self,” remind me of why anatomy is fascinating. Quirk is a photorealist painter depicting scenes which the “camera can’t capture,” and he sure does.
At first glance, Quirk’s surrealist images leave the viewer with a macabre feeling. To a first year medical student taking anatomy, these pieces represent a lifetime of curiosity wondering what lies beneath the skin. Each subject feels that same curiosity, meticulously dissecting themselves to see what they are made of underneath.
A few of Quirk’s paintings are not anatomically accurate. In “Back Dissection,” Quirk is expressing what appears as a total laminectomy. Quirk seems to bury the spinal column deeper than normal, which may be the fault of rather thick back muscles. Also, the spinal cord does not depict the conus medullaris or cauda equina. However, these errors do not detract from the powerful impression these paintings have on viewers, accomplished by Quirk’s otherwise impeccable and engaging style.
Gross anatomy is a medical student’s “ABCs” to medicine; our first journey in a new frontier with an almost foreign language. It is easy to get buried in an atlas, analyzing images to compare against the cadaver. However, it is refreshing to look at an artist’s approach to the material we are learning, and instead of comparing the paintings to the cadaver for accuracy, compare them to your own thoughts, feelings and yearning questions. You may be surprised by the effect.
Take a look at Quirk’s full collection here.
Michael Chorney is a medical student at New Jersey Medical School.