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“What a lift to one’s morale”: Stanford physicians take time from busy schedules to discuss art

faculty art engagement - cropped
When Stanford physician Nawal Atwan Johansen, MD, read here on Scope about the Art Observation and Clinical Skills course offered to medical students, she thought, “This would be great for faculty, too.” Johnson, a member of the Stanford Committee on Professional Satisfaction and Support, and colleague Bryant Lin, MD, asked me about the possibility, and the School of Medicine’s inaugural Faculty Art Engagement Series was soon born. The initial event in the three-part series was a gallery talk with Alexander Nemerov, PhD, chair of Stanford’s Art and Art History Department, on a recent acquisition by the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Edward Hopper’s New York Corner.

Late last month, more than 35 School of Medicine faculty engaged in a lively discussion in the Hopper gallery, as Nemerov invited the doctors to share what they observed in the iconic painting and to describe the mood or emotions the painting evoked. Nephrologist John Scandling, MD, commented that the painting evoked a feeling of socialism, and Nemerov noted that Hopper had painted at a time in American history when Eugene Debs, founder of the American Socialist Party, had run for president five times. Nemerov told the group that Debs ran for president from jail in 1920, after being arrested for publicly denouncing United States’ involvement in World War I.

During a discussion of the shapes present in the piece, Lin noted that the uniformity of the rectangle building windows contrasted with the lamp post which figures prominently in the forefront of the painting, despite the eye being drawn to the center of the painting. Commenting on the figures of the people in the painting, Irv Yalom, MD, a professor emeritus of psychiatry, noted that the figures were fairly static and uniform, evoking a somber feeling in the painting.

Eva Weinlander, MD, was happy to have an organized event with colleagues at the Cantor. “We have these great museums right here, not far from the medical campus, but it is often hard to get here, so having something like this with colleagues is wonderful.” In an email to the organizers, Sara Gandy, MD wrote, “What a lift to one's morale and wellbeing!"

The next two events in the series will be a discussion of framing and seeing utilizing photographs from the Cantor collection, led by Connie Wolf, director of Cantor, and Maren Granger-Monson, MD, a physician and filmmaker; and a docent-led tour of the art of the late Nathan Oliveira in the beautiful new Windhover Contemplation Center.

Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of Stanford's Medicine & the Muse Program in medical humanities and the arts.

Previously: The art of observation – and how it benefits clinicians and non-clinicians alike, Engaging with art to improve clinical skills and "Deconstructed Pain:" Medicine meets fine arts

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