A Celebration of Visual Art – Thoughts on Art and Medicine

Color photo of Dr. Ron Israeli and his oil painting teacher, David Peikon, posing next to a piece of art.

My painting titled “Training the Next Generation” (seen in the photo) was just on exhibit at the 5th annual Zucker School of Medicine “Celebration of Visual Art.” This year I was asked to speak at the art exhibit reception.

I chose to share my thoughts on art and medicine:

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed expressing myself though visual arts. As a child, I could sit for hours, drawing. And when it wasn’t drawing, it was photography. And when it wasn’t photography, it was sculpture… I guess I have always somehow expressed myself through art. And as I decided on a career in medicine, it seemed natural for me to gravitate toward surgery. More specifically, plastic surgery.

When asked to say a few words tonight, I thought about the connection between art and medicine. I could condense that connection into one word – Empathy.

The purpose of medicine is to relieve suffering and heal the sick. Patients carry fear and anxiety with them when they visit their doctor. So part of our responsibility is to calm their fears and provide hope. This requires us as physicians to be very observant – to be understanding, humane, compassionate. To have a sense of empathy.

We can say that empathy is “the ability to be aware of the feelings and emotions of other people.” Because of that, I think you really need empathy to understand patients. Similarly, you really need observational skills and understanding when you create art. This is a form of visual empathy. Such observational skills are critical for the successful artist creating art. In the same way, they are critical for the successful physician caring for patients.

Not only do skills and practice as an artist improve one’s skills as a physician, but skills developed in the practice of medicine can make one a better artist. In more scientific words, the neural pathways that we develop to become good doctors are in many ways the same neural pathways that we use as artists.

David Peikon, my oil painting teacher (with me in the photo) has pointed this out to me numerous times in the studio. David tells me that I’m a better artist because of my abilities as a surgeon. But is it vice versa? Am I a better surgeon because of my artistic instincts?

Regardless of how you think about it, there is more to medicine than scientific critical thinking – the work of our “left brain.”  Just as important are the “right brain” characteristics that we can develop as artists, which is why we can say that the practice of medicine is not just a science. The practice of medicine is an art.


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