A prescription for… art?

It’s safe to say that, when we think about personalized medicine, one of the last things that comes to mind is music. But, should it? These days, music streaming apps aren’t only organized by genre; you can easily find curated playlists that are designed to put you in a certain mood, or help you reach a goal (how about some “Cure those Monday morning blues” or “Songs to wake up happy,” anyone?). Many of us regularly use music as a tool to help us focus on the task at hand, or to pump ourselves up before a challenging workout.

Image courtesy of ShutterstockThere’s nothing particularly surprising about the fact that music affects how we feel. But, do we really understand what it does to our brains and bodies? The physiological and neurological effects of music are largely a mystery – one that Ketki Karanam, Head of Science at The Sync Project, is eager to solve. The Sync Project – whose Advisory board members include artists like Peter Gabriel, as well as neuroscientists and machine learning experts – is designing the first large scale data collection and machine learning models to understand these effects. It will identify how music’s structural properties – like beat and tempo – can affect our biometric rhythms, such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and brain activity.

The goal of the initiative? To identify potential music therapeutics that would serve as an alternative to drugs for health issues like insomnia, pain, and anxiety. Like Ketki, the relationship between music and medicine has also been a lifelong interest for Richard Kogan, who has led a distinguished career as both a psychiatrist and a concert pianist. A professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, Richard has developed a series of renowned lecture-recitals, in which he examines the influence of psychological and psychiatric factors on the creative work of great composers, like Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin. In part, Richard is motivated by a desire to destigmatize mental illness by highlighting savants with mental disorders, whose symptoms may have inspired their creative processes.

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Scarred for Life, Ted Meyer

For both Ketki and Richard, music and medicine are inseparable. But does the relationship between the two extend beyond music, to other forms of art? According to artist and curator Ted Meyer, it does. Having been diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a rare genetic illness, at age 6, Ted spent years in hospital rooms creating paintings that depicted the loneliness, fatigue, and pain he experienced. Decades later, after a new drug was discovered to treat those symptoms, the subject of Ted’s art has changed. Today, his 18 year old project, “Scarred for Life,” chronicles the trauma and courage of people who have lived through accidents and health crises. Using this mixture of personal stories and a love for art, Ted has set out to improve the doctor-patient relationship. As an Artist in Residence at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Ted curates patient-artists whose work ties to the medical curriculum; for example, an artist with asthma for a class on the respiratory system. Ted hopes to expand this program to other medical schools, with a goal of teaching future doctors to look at their patients beyond their diagnoses, and view them as complex, whole human beings.

We are delighted that Ketki, Richard, and Ted will each be speaking on the TEDMED 2016 stage, where they will share their discoveries and unique insights about the relationship between art and medicine. We invite you to join us this November 30-December 2, in Palm Springs, CA, to learn more from them and other extraordinary speakers.

The art of healing across cultures: Q&A with Laurie Rubin

Laurie Rubin works to promote healing across cultures.

Laurie Rubin

Performance artist and TEDMED 2015 speaker Laurie Rubin and her wife Jenny Taira founded Ohana Arts in 2014, a non-profit whose mission is to promote peace and world friendship through the universal language of the arts. They recently performed at a special ceremony in Hawai’i in memory of the recent 70th anniversary of the tragic Hiroshima nuclear bomb calamity. We caught up with Laurie to learn more about her and Jenny’s work to promote cross-cultural understanding and healing.

TEDMED: How did you first become interested in focusing on cross-cultural healing in your work?

LAURIE: From the time I was seven years old, I was in Hebrew School learning about the Holocaust, and the devastating loss of six million Jewish people that happened less than half a century before I sat in the classroom. The Holocaust made several appearances in my history classes throughout my elementary, middle, and high school education. I learned then what war and hate could do to human beings, and how mutual understanding and the necessity to heal was part of the universal human experience. Therefore when my wife Jenny, who is Japanese American, told me the effect the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum had on her, as well as Sadako Sasaki’s story, I had many mixed emotions. I first thought, “Why have I never heard about Sadako and her international peace movement?” My second thought was about the message that was consistent throughout my Hebrew School education, “Never again!” It was of the utmost importance to hear from Holocaust survivors about the kinds of things human beings are capable of doing to other human beings so that future generations don’t repeat the same behaviors and make the same grave mistakes. Yet, the only unit I remember doing on Hiroshima was in the 8th grade, and it was just luck that I had that particular teacher put John Hersey’s book, “Hiroshima” in his syllabus at our progressive school where teachers had leeway to create their own curricula. I realized that as a Jewish artist, it is my responsibility to keep enforcing the message of “Never again” by telling more stories beyond those of my people. “Peace On Your Wings,” is a musical Jenny and I wrote about Sadako Sasaki, a 12 year old girl who died of Leukemia resulting from radiation caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and who became famous for starting an international peace movement through her thousand origami cranes. It is an example of how one’s universal story can help to heal others who suffer from the atrocities caused by war, and an educational step toward preventing history from repeating itself. I realized that if you educate the world about one piece of history, it would simply get placed into a box that people would take less and less seriously over the decades. However, if you make people realize that human cruelty has happened to many people and nations, it drives the point home that it could happen again, and to us. Jenny and I have been trained as classical musicians, and have realized over time that we could use art, music, and theater to make a difference. It is our life’s work and mission to make sure we accomplish this in our unique way by telling as many poignant stories as possible and providing a sounding board for underrepresented voices.

TEDMED: Could you share any experiences you’ve had that have shaped your drive to play an active role in cross-cultural healing?

LAURIE: As a blind student mainstreamed in regular schools, I received a great education, but often felt isolated, and at times bullied. My braille books and adaptive equipment often made me feel like the alien that had unceremoniously waltzed into the lives of sighted children, disrupting their sense of normalcy. It wasn’t until high school when I joined summer programs for advanced musical study that I started making the kinds of friendships I felt deprived of in my school setting. Music was the level playing field for all of us in spite of our differences. Jenny had also gone to similar summer programs. Music brought us closer to youth from other countries, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. When we moved to Hawaii, where Jenny was born and raised, we decided to start Ohana Arts to provide a similar kind of formative experience for the youth here, and the rewards we see are so incredible. We see ourselves through the eyes of the students we work with. We see how the performing arts fosters acceptance, self expression, and a safe haven for those who have felt “different.”

The future of infusing art into anatomy

Achilles_anatomy

Greek street artist, Achilles, used the rooms of an abandoned building to create a spatial journey through layers of a human head, from the skull to the face.

By guest contributor and TEDMED speaker Vanessa Ruiz

Eaton-Houdon Écorché by Scott Eaton

Eaton-Houdon Écorché by Scott Eaton

When we talk about the future of medical illustration and learning anatomy, it’s often tied to advances in technology. What advances in technology will allow students to learn anatomy faster, allow them to memorize terms more efficiently, or provide better methods for them to interact with anatomy without actually touching a cadaver? But if you look at all of the resulting technologies, such as 3D anatomy apps, augmented reality organs, or virtual reality cadavers, the foundation still lies within an established ideal of anatomical representation. We’ve simply moved the same anatomical imagery from a textbook page to a screen. But instead of trying to change the medium by which we learn to technology, why not change the mindset of the approach to an artistic one, to engage a broader audience? Why shouldn’t the public, rather than just medical professionals, have access to learning anatomy?

Nearly 10 years ago it was difficult to find many artists featuring anatomy as a subject in their artwork. And I’m not referring to “the figure” as it is studied in art. I’m talking about the muscles, skeleton and viscera— what lies beneath the skin. Today the acceptance of anatomical art in pop culture is palpable. It’s pulsing in the trends of film, street art, advertising, interior design, and even fashion. A quick web search for “anatomical heart necklace” yields an overwhelming amount of resulting iterations. What is fascinating is that this anatomical art movement has risen exponentially alongside the rather stagnant practice of anatomy education. With all of the advances in medicine, the time and resources allocated to teach anatomy to medical students is diminishing. This is why students often turn to technology such as anatomy apps to supplement their learning.

Danny Quirk paints the musculature of the forearm on Anna Folckomer of Immaculate Dissection

Danny Quirk paints the musculature of the forearm on Anna Folckomer of Immaculate Dissection

But, as the boundary between science and art blurs, it is no longer sufficient to talk about either on their own. We need to see how each informs the other. This crossover between medical illustration, art, and anatomy learning is beginning to take place. We’ve gone beyond the “Anatomy Coloring Book.”

The dramatic anatomical body paintings by medical artist Danny Quirk, of Immaculate Dissection, are now used to teach anatomy to anyone from physical therapists to athletic trainers to bodywork practitioners; the technique has been so popular that it’s been replicated in anatomy classes around the world.

Sculpting anatomy by hand from the skeleton outward has become a means for not only artists to learn anatomy, but for medical students as well. This is where the distinction between viewing a body in 3D versus tangibly building a body becomes clear; building by hand requires spatial knowledge and memory– tying doing with learning instead of looking and memorizing.

The truest delivery of anatomy to the public takes the form of street art. A growing number of artists are vibrantly broadcasting anatomy on the streets in a vast array of styles. Street artists are pushing their work to be site specific and interactive.

heArtbeats by Lanoc

heArtbeats by Lanoc

Imagine the immersive experience of learning anatomy by walking through rooms of an abandoned building. As dynamic as Achilles‘ warehouse anatomy above, this piece by Croatian street artist Lanoc shows an anatomical heart pumping blood through industrial air ducts. It is site-specific street art, pulsing with life.

Austrian street artist, Nychos, is famous for his explosive views of anatomy. He recently started a series of anatomical charts using his edgy, hard metal style.

The Human Skeleton Anatomy Sheet by Nychos

Imagine seeing this in a doctor’s office: The Human Skeleton Anatomy Sheet by Nychos

While the public is embracing anatomical art, there are many medical professionals that still see medicine and art as two separate subjects. A radiologist approached me after my TEDMED talk and excitedly told me that she creates art from X-rays. When I asked her to see it she said that she never shares it because she doesn’t think it is special or it might be looked down upon by her peers. I encourage artistic expression in medical professionals because it is natural and deeply tied to medicine.

It can be argued that there are only so many ways to represent anatomy, but I counter that by all the astounding ways that artists are able to portray anatomy in their work. Artists have broken anatomy out of the confines of the medical world and are now beginning to reintroduce it back in with a whole new approach and style. The future of medical illustration doesn’t depend solely on advances in technology; it begs to be pushed further by artists. I feel compelled to showcase and catalog contemporary anatomical art, as well as promote the artists and medical illustrators that are pushing the boundaries of anatomical visualization. Because one day, they will be part of the history that leads to something greater– when the public will fully appreciate and understand its own anatomy.


Watch anatomical artist and curator Vanessa Ruiz’s TEDMED talk, in which she shares how she fulfilled her dream to take anatomy to the streets, and make medical illustration– and the resulting public knowledge of the human body– intersect with contemporary art. Check out her website, streetanatomy.com, which showcases human anatomy in art, design and pop culture.

Charting the Next Course: Women Speak from a Mighty River

By Christine McNab, guest contributor. Can Tho, Viet Nam

She’s petite, yet stands tall and steady, strong shoulders and arms steering eight foot-long oars through a swift Mekong current. It’s dawn, and many women do the same, navigating their low wooden boats through a jigsaw of vessels at the Phong Dien floating market. Women here do a brisk trade in produce, exchanging pounds of watermelon, daikon, pineapple, cabbage, morning glory, onion and squash for Vietnamese Dong. The bounty from the Mekong Delta provides much of the food energy for Vietnam’s 90 million people. Women are at the heart of this essential commerce.

“Vietnamese women are often in charge of driving the small boats, and buying and selling at the fruit and vegetable markets,” says Maru, my guide. The work is taxing – a technique combining crossed arms and oars to nudge the boat through narrow spots; a one-legged start of a long motorized rotor for speed, and hours under a searing sun. Our driver, Tay, has been steering boats for more than twenty years. “Women here work very hard,” Maru tells me.

I want to find out a lot more about Tay and Maru, and I will this week as part of my new multimedia project, A River Runs with Her: the Lives of Women and Girls on the Mekong.

Near Can Tho, Viet Nam, March 2016. Photo: Christine McNab

Tay has done the hard work of steering boats on rivers and tributaries of the Mekong Delta for more than 20 years. (Near Can Tho, Viet Nam, March 2016. Photo: Christine McNab)

I’m devoting 2016 to this self-funded project for many reasons. For one, I believe attaining gender equality is at the heart of international development. Many studies, history, and a lot of common sense tell us that we can only make progress when women have the same rights, access to education, health, jobs and justice as men. Women have made great strides in much of the world, but in too many places, women and girls are simply valued less. Equality means equal value, and it also means equal voice.

We don’t hear from women enough. The Economist recently published an excellent essay on the importance of the Mekong River to biodiversity, culture, and Asia’s economy. I admired the reporting, but noticed there wasn’t a single female voice in the piece. Instead, women were in the kitchen making soup or in bars serving beer. I want to hear more from these women.

The newest international Global Goals for Sustainable Development, set by international leaders last September, include important targets for women’s equality, for education, health and participation in governance. The goals are hopeful and ambitious. I wondered what women living in communities along the Mekong think about these goals? What do they need to achieve them?

And then, there’s the mighty Mekong itself, a legendary, 2700-mile artery connecting six countries, many cultures and one of the most bio-diverse areas of the world. Its waters are a lifeblood for millions. As the climate changes, the Mekong, and the traditions and economic lives of millions are changing with it.

Tay doesn’t speak much as she drives her boat down a Mekong Delta tributary. But I want to know what she thinks about all of this. I think it’s her time, and time for all women, to tell the world what they think.

Learn more about A River Runs with Her project in this 1-minute video.

To follow the project, see www.ChristineMcNab.com, add http://www.christinemcnab.com/her-stories/ to your RSS feed, or follow along on Facebook.
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Christine McNab is a global public health worker and communications expert. Her TEDMED talk illuminates the story of how she combined her passions and partnered with the Gates Foundation to create what might be the most artistically crafted vaccine promotion campaign ever.

Discovering Beauty in Science: Q&A with Zachary Copfer

At TEDMED 2014, microbiologist and artist Zachary Copfer tells delightful stories about how bacteria became his artistic medium of choice.  We recently caught up with Zachary to hear more about him, his TEDMED experience, and what lies ahead.

Ultimately, I hope people see my work or watch my talk and say "Wow science is awesome, give me a lab coat because I want in on this!" - Zachary Copfer. (Photo by Jerrod Harris, for TEDMED).

Ultimately, I hope people see my work or watch my talk and say “Wow science is awesome, give me a lab coat because I want in on this!” – Zachary Copfer. (Photo by Jerrod Harris, for TEDMED).

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

I hope the talk will have the same impact that I strive for my artwork to have on viewers: to get people excited about science. Science is amazing, fun and beautiful! In my artwork, I have found a way to play with science to inspire in others the overwhelming sense of awe I feel when I step back and think of how complex and amazing the universe is.

Please list the top 3 TEDMED2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you, and why.

Naming the top three is almost impossible; I couldn’t even keep track of the number of talks that made me think “oh wow” or gave me goosebumps. Two speakers who instantly come to mind are Diana Nyad and Kitra Cahana. As amazing and awe-inspiring as I feel science to be, nothing can match the power of hearing stories about the human spirit. These talks both gave me goosebumps and had me tearing up a bit. Peggy Battin’s talk was another that left me thinking as I walked out of the auditorium. The issues she explored were issues that a lot of people don’t like to think about, let alone discuss. That makes it all the more important to have people like Peggy discussing them publicly so that others may start to feel more comfortable with them.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

The simplest way to put it would be to say that I want my legacy to be a smile. A shared smile evokes in other people an almost indescribable sensation. A genuine smile is a selfless act that makes other people feel welcome, connected and cared for in a way that few other expressions can communicate. A smile also says that life is fun and is meant to be enjoyed at every moment. To live a life that makes people feel the same way they feel when they receive a genuine smile would be the greatest legacy I believe one could leave behind.

What’s next for you?

To keep playing with science. To explore the aesthetic possibilities of scientific theories and to find ways to share them with others.