Art and medicine essays explore diversity, bias, suffering

It’s a thought-provoking prescription for reflection and learning, and you don’t have to be an artist or a clinician to enjoy it.

Every Monday, the project sends subscribers an email that includes a piece of art work and a short essay that delves into challenging themes that connect the art to medicine. The essays are reflective and wide-ranging, covering uncertainty, death, suffering, salvation and more. Each is accompanied by a list of sources so that readers can learn more.

One recent newsletter included a reflection on permanence and the participation of AIDS patients in their own care tied to “Strange Fruit,” an installation by artist Zoe Leonard that was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998. Another featured Henri Rousseau’s “Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest” and tied it to questions of colonialism and diversity in medicine.

In a reflection on Horace Pippin’s 1940 painting “Supper Time,” the team reflects on cultural bias. Pippin, a Black artist who used his work to reflect on racism and slavery, regularly had his work branded as “primitive” and “tribal” by art critics. The essay connects the art world’s disquieting reception to Pippin’s work to clinicians’ implicit biases and the use of terms like “noncompliant” or “unmotivated” to describe patients.

“We’re trying to weave an interesting multidisciplinary lens of clinical medicine and anthropology and social justice,” Lyndsay Hoy, assistant professor of clinical anesthesiology and critical care at Penn Medicine and the co-creator of the project, told the Daily Penn.

Sign up to receive the weekly email yourself — or just tool around the intriguing list of themes the consortium has already explored — at rxmuseum.org.

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