Author: Russell Lonser
The artistic depiction of neuroanatomy, biology, and surgery plays a fundamental role in neurosurgical education, development and understanding. Throughout time, illustrations and other art forms have been used to facilitate the ability of neurosurgeons to visualize critical anatomy, understand biologic/ pathologic principles, and describe surgical approaches. Our early specialty pioneers, including Harvey Cushing and Walter Dandy were outstanding illustrators in their own right. To this day, their—as well as others,—renderings of anatomy, pathology, and surgical management of neurologic disease provide the foundation for our understanding as a specialty. Without these illustrative efforts our field would not be where is it is today.
Albert L. Rhoton Jr, the premier educator of our generation, not only embraced the critical intersection of art and neurosurgery for educational purposes, but he extolled the exquisiteness of neuroanatomy through his lifelong illustrator David A. Peace. His use of outstanding illustrations coupled with brain dissection photographs will leave an indelible mark on current and future generations of anatomists, medical students, trainees, and neurosurgeons. Dr. Rhoton developed and expanded the use of 3-dimensional (3D) neuroanatomic visualization to educate neurosurgeons around world. His concept of the 3D educational platform is now evolving through advanced imaging and illustration coupled with augmented and virtual reality.
Art intersects with neurosurgery in a variety of ways that go beyond the educational perspective. The intrinsic beauty of neuroanatomy has been illustrated and depicted for artistic purposes by individuals across the basic and clinical neurosciences as an artistic outlet, a way to transform understanding of biologic principles, and to express the intricacies of the nervous system to both specialist and lay person. Neurosurgeon Kathryn Ko uses art to capture the essence, as well as define and depict the life experiences, associated with neurosurgery. Her work provides an important example of using complementary passions that enhance personal and professional excellence within the context of a demanding neurosurgical career. The discipline of medicine has also served Shelly Timmons, Keith Kattner, and Audrius Plioplys well in their artistic endeavors. They have found that the intense training in neurosurgery and/or neurology influenced their art in profound ways.
Because of the fundamental nature of neuroanatomy and characteristics innate to neurosurgeons, our specialty will optimally reside at the most developed intersection of art. The advent of emerging technologies and techniques is also narrowing the gap. New collaborative initiatives are exploring crossovers and serve to further integrate and blur the lines between these seemingly disparate fields. Emerging technology shows us neuroanatomy in a vivid artistic palette that rivals any Van Gogh, while artists use a range of new technology to evoke the intricacies of human systems. Whether traditional or abstract, the art linked to our field will evolve in ways that are directly and indirectly tied to us as surgeons, anatomists, and scientists. What we know for certain is that art not only enhances our personal experiences, it also serves to improve and influence our professional experiences—and those of our patients. We can only expect the cross-fertilization between neurosurgery and art to grow and inspire us in the future.