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Health Humanities - Art History

Art History as a Discipline

The field of art history as an academic discipline dates to the 18th century. Formally, its origins can be traced to the writings of Johann Joachim Wincklemann (b. 9 December 1717 - d. 8 June 1768). His most notable work, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (The History of Art in Antiquity) published in 1764, became one of the first books in the German lanauge to become a classic of European literature. Wincklemann was born into poverty but began his scholarly pursuits in theology, then attempted medicine and private tutoring, before at last finding employment as a librarian in Dresden and later in Rome. Throughout his life he was driven by a love of the ancient world, specifially the art and literature of Greece. His appraisals of frescoes, statuary and architecture influenced the budding Neoclassical aesthetic movement which postively took over European and American designs for centuries to come. The methods he used to describe works of art, coupled with an assessment of ancient history & extant works of literature, would come to form the bedrock of not only visual analysis but contributed to another fledging field - archaeology. Upon visiting the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneaum in the 1760s, his letters containing details of the excavations spread details to other scholars on the latest discoveries therein. Though he was fanciful on some details, adding in bits when first-hand documents could not (something not uncommon in the past) - his did set the standard to be followed for years to come.  

  (Portrait of Johann Joachim Wincklemann by Raphael Mengs, after 1755) 

Academic Resources

Graphic Medicine

"It has long been known that comics are “not just for kids”. Over the past decade this underrated medium has begun to receive recognition and acclaim from literary critics, academics, and broadsheet reviewers...I think is high time that graphic fiction was taken as seriously: comics and graphic novels could be used as a resource for health professionals, playing a valuable role in:

Reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine
Relating the subjective patient/carer/provider experience
Enabling discussion of difficult subjects
Helping other sufferers or carers." 

Dr Ian Williams
Comics artist and physician, Editor of Graphic Medicine.


Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture

"...Open access & peer-reviewed journal that publishes scholarly and artistic explorations of the diverse ways in which the complexities of being in time are expressed. It is based in the department of the History of Art & Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and emerges from its innovative constellations program. We publish question-driven research that resonates across disciplines, interrogating diverse visual material from across time using multiple methods."


Journal of Art Historiography

"The Journal of Art Historiography, an open-access peer-reviewed e-journal, is dedicated to the self-critical exploration of art history as a methodological practice...As a discipline, art history has long been acquiring new roots beyond its parochial European beginnings. Many of the concerns touched upon in the guest-edited issues relate to the challenge of incorporating peripheral art historical narratives into a ‘global discourse’...Bringing into dispute the scholarly assumptions, aesthetic concepts, and meta-narratives which have shaped art history – including the narrative frameworks of periodization, the ‘canon’, style evolution – is a necessary task of art historiography...The need to embrace ‘modern’, and ‘contemporaneous’ art forms such as film, digital imaging and photography, is revealed as a priority in various papers. The loosening of the very definition of ‘the art object’ in the twenty first century has given rise to an increased consciousness of the entrenched hierarchical paradigms existing within art history." 


Saint John's Bible

"The Saint John's Bible is a work of art and a work of theology. A team of artists coordinated by Donald Jackson in Wales and a team of scholars in Central Minnesota have brought together the ancient techniques of calligraphy and illumination with an ecumenical Christian approach to the Bible rooted in Benedictine spirituality. The result is a living document and a monumental achievement. Back in the 1990s, Donald Jackson observed the monks of Saint John's Abbey processing with their Book of the Gospels for Sunday Mass, and he recognized the importance of "their book." To create a Bible that would capture the beauty and tradition of centuries of liturgy and carry it into the future—that is the vision that united a calligrapher in Wales with a group of Benedictine monks in Minnesota."

Visual Formal Analysis

Elements of Art in Famous Artworks

Articles of Interest 

Memento Mori in Medicine

Stephanie Jiang (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 

Submitted for the 2022–23 Medical Student Essay Contest and Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 15, Issue 3 – Summer 2023

"It is easy to believe that humankind’s greatest fear is death. From our humble beginnings to now modern-day society, we have learned that Death will always chase us. Few professions explore our mortality so candidly; in most Western occupations, death is seldom mentioned. Dying is spoken of in hushed tones, and sickness and illness are but temporary. We act as though we will live forever. Time seems infinite.

Yet, in both art and medicine, we look our mortality in the eye, shake its hand, and promise to respect it. As patients lie dying, we imagine our own deathbeds, wishing for more time. We are constantly presented with memento mori—“remember that you will die.”1 This awareness has long been present in art and literature, with a significant impact on medicine and its practitioners."

Using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to Enhance Interprofessional Education

Hope Torents, originally pubnlished 14 January 2021

“I wish your husband came to me 5 years earlier.” That’s what the Whipple surgeon said to me after my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From 2010-2016 my husband was in and out of the hospital 40-50 times. And after 5 surgeries and a trip to Mayo Clinic for recurring blood infections I was steeped in navigating someone else’s health care. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone but in spite of the challenges, it furthered my interest and commitment to collaborate in developing an inter-professional program that uses art to hone clinical skills. Working at the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, for over 20 years helped me fine-tune my own skills in observation, communication, critical thinking, navigating ambiguity and cultural humility–Important skills for anyone and equally valuable for those who are working in health care."


The Methodologies of Art are the lens through which a work is observed, analyized and critqued. Said lenses can be combined or utilized alone.

Biography - focuses on the life of the artist and important events of their lifetime  

Critical Theory - a blanket term for several methodologies that consider a work by the societal structures in which it was made 

Feminism - examining works by women and/or through the lens of inequality & power or lack thereof 

Formalism - studying the formal elements of of art within a piece 

Iconography - focuses on the symbols in a work & uses them to form an interpretation 

Marxism - uses Marx's & adjacent theories to interpret a work based on economics & class structure for assessment 

Postcolonialism - examining the impact of colonialism and the creation of art 

Psychoanalysis - attempts to determine subconscious bias of an artist by looking their work 

Queer Theory - using the impact & contributions of sexual minorities to re-evaluate art  

Semiotics - identifies symbols & attempts to figure why they hold the meaning they do  

Elements of Art

Getty Education Elements of Art PDF

The 7 elements of art can be applied to a great many things from descriptive sections in studies (of various fields) to the placement of equipment in a professional environment. 

Line - a mark moving in space from one point to another for direction and orientation

Shape - a two dimensional design having its own measurements and structure

Form - a three dimensional design with its own volume and depth

Space - refers to the perspective and proportion between shapes

Color - a visualization of hue consisting of intensity and value, all colors being present is pure black & total absence is pure white 

Texture - the tactile nature & surface quality of an object

Survey of Styles & Documentaries

Classical, Modern, and contemporary Movements and Styles

No matter the time or place, artistic styles have evolved, fallen out of fashion and new movements overtake the old. To understand the culture of a people, one must look to the art they make/made and how that art is received. The Art Story is a nonprofit that makes art accessable to the lay person, with definitions of historical movements, their background and vivid examples of the works that made those styles important markers on the visual art timeline.   


Want to Learn Art History? Here Are 9 Absolutely Classic TV Series That Will Give You a Solid Education—and Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat

"From Kenneth Clark's 'Civilisation' to Mary Beard's 'Shock of the Nude,' there is a whole lot to see.  If ever there was a time to hunker down with a good old-fashioned TV series, surely that time is now. What’s more, you can combine your love of binge-watching with your love of art history with these absolutely delightful and informative programs. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite art-related series."