Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Beauty of Anatomy: A Synthesis of Science and Art

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In a documentary that opens with the presenter wandering through what appears to be an archive of medical artefacts, with its close-ups of various specimens floating in glass jars, it is a pleasant surprise to see anatomical drawings being examined for their own distinct aesthetic qualities and as products of particular cultural and social contexts, rather than merely being used to illustrate a historic narrative of scientific advancement.

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In his introduction to the series, scientist Dr. Adam Rutherford describes The Beauty of Anatomy as an investigation into “the beautiful synthesis between discoveries in anatomy and the works of art that illustrate them.”

Rutherford provides a historic account of anatomical illustrations that converges both scientific and artistic narratives in equal measures. This in itself is striking in the respect that science and art are not often portrayed as close companions, with science operating within the objective world of rational knowledge and art within the subjective sphere of human experience.

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In an age before photography, anatomical drawings certainly had their practical use for students and medical professions, while also playing a vital role in expanding our knowledge of how the human body works. But what purpose do these works serve when examined from an artistic perspective?

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Death is a prominent theme throughout the history art. Many of these depictions serve as a form of memento mori, to remind us of the rather sobering notion that death is inevitable so that we might focus on cultivating the soul rather than attachment to material objects.

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However, it is this material world, rather than the spiritual, that is the inherent focus of anatomical illustrations, and as such it is hard to sever them from the somewhat grisly conditions in which they were conceived. In this regard it might be considered somewhat ironic that there is a notice on iPlayer that the series contains “graphic medical scenes”, presumably due to the footage of modern medical students conducting dissections.

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Our sense of unease with depictions of anatomy as the product of dissection is also reflected in the dark aesthetic style of the documentary itself. Many of Rutherford’s pieces to camera are shrouded in shadow, creating a film noir like atmosphere.

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At this point, it is also perhaps interesting to note that dissections have been the subject of television programming in the past. Some might recall that there was much controversy back in 2002 when anatomist Dr Gunther Von Hagens carried out a live autopsy on Channel Four. During the autopsy an audience member asked why he would not remove his hat out of respect for the dead, to which Von Hagens points to Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” which was hanging in the theatre.

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There is very much a sense of spectacle in the representations of dissections both on screen and portrayed by anatomical illustrations. The Beauty of Anatomy is part of a narrative that charts the history of this spectacle in a way that prompts us to consider where we draw the line between science and art, or if the two categories are even mutually exclusive.

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Q&A: Kip Jones on the Art of Academic Blogging

UntitledKIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years. Under the umbrella term of ‘arts-based research’, his main efforts have involved developing tools from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider public or a Perfomative Social Science. Jones is Reader in Performative Social Science at the Centre for Qualitative Research at Bournemouth University.

I recently interviewed Jones to find out more about how he uses social media to share his research and his advice for other academics who want to try their hand at blogging.

You have created quite a prolific online presence with regular blog updates and use of Facebook and Twitter to share your research. Why is this important to you?

I have always been keen to reach wider audiences with my work, both my academic and creative outputs. It seems a shame to spend months, sometimes years, working on a project, only to have it end up on a library shelf or in an academic repository. I first used a personal website to get my work out there in combination with email newsgroups. When social media came along, I then began to experiment with Facebook and then Twitter as well to build audiences for my work.

A good example is my PhD Thesis, which I uploaded to my website at least ten years ago now with little interest then. In the past year or so it has also been uploaded to Academia.edu where it has now been viewed more than 700 times. This did not happen not only because of the site, but also because I frequently tweet about it and post it on Facebook as well. The fact that an 80,000 word document can generate this kind of attention is, quite frankly, mind boggling and demonstrates the strength of both social media and the impact of open access publication resources more generally.

My watchwords for social media are ‘Repetition, repetition, repetition!’ Don’t expect an audience to necessarily see your post the first time and don’t forget that they live in different global time zones. I have also been experimenting with what are called ‘tag lines’ in film distribution in writing 140 character tweets for Twitter. Creativity helps in getting attention in a very fast moving (and limited attention span) social media audience such as Twitter! And followers: be good to your followers and don’t forget to retweet their posts as well. Retweets build the audience, I have found.

The film based on your research, ‘Rufus Stone’, has been featured in such media outlets as The New York Times and BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed. What role has social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, played in promoting your work and engaging with wider audiences outside of academia?

In terms of the NY Times or Radio 4, I think ‘networking’ more generally was responsible for those successes. It really was a case of who do you know and more importantly who knows about you. I suppose social media helps a bit too and the Radio 4 producer still follows my tweets as does a reporter from Times Higher Education. So I would say it is mix of networking and always keeping up contacts through social media, which is easier and bit less off-putting then barraging reporters with email messages. If you have an idea for a story for a media outlet, a direct message through Twitter or Facebook is many times enough to create interest, without being too ‘self-promoting’.

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Your blog KIPWORLD covers a range of topics from advice on writing a PhD thesis, to insight into your creative process. What advice would you give to other academics wanting to start their own blog?

KIPWORLD profoundly changed the way I write academically. I stepped into the waters of blog writing a bit sheepishly at first, trying to find both my style and what I might write about. I definitely did not want to make my blog a daily diary of my life or work (and I don’t have a cat). I tend to painstakingly write and rewrite anyway, so putting something out frequently was never going to work for me. I still write for my blog about once a month, although I now write for other blogs from time to time (LSE Impact blog, LSE Review of Books, Discovery Society, Sociological Imagination, Creative Quarter, The Creativity Post, Bournemouth University Research Blog) as well.

At the same time as I was beginning to write KIPWORLD, I was also turning to contemporary fiction writers (mostly to help with writing RUFUS STONE’s backstory). I particularly was attracted to the ‘Conceptual Novel’ approach of writers like Michael Kimball. His lean style and exquisite choice of phrase attracted me because it is similar to the necessity of brevity in script-writing.

Because I was also writing about my own story in constructing RUFUS STONE, I began to use the blog to write about my past as well. I began to develop what I call a ‘fictive reality’ or fiction based in a remembered past. At one point I realised that I had written creative fiction for the blog 11 times over five years and compiled it as one piece, Creative Writing Eleven (short) Stories from KIPWORLD 2009-2013.

All of this experimentation affected my more academic writing almost by stealth; I was writing more clearly, more simply, even more creatively when writing for academic publication. Probably the best example of this is: Infusing Biography with the Personal: Writing RUFUS STONE first published in the journal, Creative Arts Research.

My advice to others? Find your own voice, even your own subject material. Use your blog to develop your writing and your own style. Don’t just assume that it has to look and sound like a blog to be one. Include at least one picture with every blog article. Let people know about the blog through social media—don’t expect an audience to just find it on its own. Promote it. If the most important thing in your life IS to write about your cat, write about it as creatively as you possibly can. Enjoy the experience!