Brushstrokes and Incisions: Exploring the Artistic Aspect of Surgery and Drawing in Human Exploration

24 Jan 2024

By Alessandra Yasumi Rodríguez Cárdenas

In exploring the profound relationship between art and surgery, it becomes evident that their interconnected narratives extend far beyond the realms of canvas and operating theaters.

To comprehend the significance of art, surgery, and their relationship, it is imperative to delve into their origins. First, most writers describe that the birth of art started in Europe with cave art, but most do not attribute these origins to one art genius. It is noteworthy that the development of art and drawings is often viewed as a result of cultural evolution and the dynamic interaction between artists and viewers. Indeed, Gombrich proposed that “art and drawings develop through artistic expression shaped by the continuous dialogue of various cultures”. On the other hand, the roots of surgery can be traced back to pioneering anatomists like Galen [129 – 210 AD], who dominated the first era of surgery in Rome and focused on anatomical structures rather than dissection techniques. Furthermore, Joseph Lister is credited as “the father of modern surgery” for his remarkable accomplishments, such as the preservation of limbs in case of compound fractures, using Pasteur’s fermentation theory to combat infections and gangrene, and opened the opportunity for the development of abdominal surgery.                                                                                                                                            

Subsequently, I  introduce an interesting example of the intricate interplay between a society’s artistic expressions and the evolution of surgical practices. Illustrated by an innovation in Perú, the striking procedure of “pre-hispanic” medicine was trepanation. Within the Paracas culture, this practice, now recognized as craniotomy, demonstrated a significant intersection between art and surgery, with a high survival rate for that age, serving as a representation of art for this culture.

In addition, drawing as a distinctive branch of art shares a profound relation with surgery across multiple facets that we will explain in the following paragraphs.

Consequently, sketching a human body elicits a magnificent feeling of satisfaction because, with each meticulous brushstroke that contributes to the completion of a picture, there emerges an artistic journey toward achieving perfection by an understanding of optimal proportions to render a lifelike representation, captivating viewers and evoking a connection to the artwork. Nevertheless, according to Richard Selzer, a parallel exists with surgery, where surgeons use a scalpel, the incisions delve deeper into the human body, akin to creating a visual composition of the internal body, as if it were a brushstroke, creating a picture of the inside and affording viewers the opportunity to peer beneath each successive layer.                                                                                 

In other words, an artist aligned with the realism movement conceives and constructs the human form, while a surgeon, armed with comparable knowledge of human proportions, undertakes a meticulous dissection through each layer. Notably, both endeavors evoke a sense of gratitude in their respective audiences. For instance, Leonardo Da Vinci was a supreme example of an artist who applied his skills in the study of human anatomy because he could create perfect proportions of the human body by understanding the layers under the skin. Numerous surgeons with a foundation in the arts affirm that the skills honed through drawing and painting enhance their precision, enabling them to discern intricate variations within the human body with meticulous detail.

Besides, when surgeons refer to viewers, those observers are patients. Consequently, surgeons leverage their drawing skills to elucidate surgical procedures to individuals lacking expertise in human anatomy, fostering a sense of inclusion and understanding. That mentioned above is an advantage for most surgeons who want to enhance an empathetic connection with their patients; at the same time, it is a benefit for patients who comprehend better about the surgery.

To sum up, the intertwining of art within various cultures and the field of surgery has been a longstanding association, involving notable historical figures in their development. Furthermore, the shared mission of comprehending the intricacies of the human body is the pursuit of both artists and surgeons throughout history.


Alessandra Yasumi Rodriguez Cardenas is a seventh-year medical student at the Cayetano Heredia´s University in Lima, Perú, an actual member of the Association of Women Surgeons, who will apply to General Surgery, with an interest in surgical oncology. Currently, she is involved in investigations related to robotic surgery and surgical oncology.  She loves playing basketball and painting.



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