Art in the Professions
What is it?
Ever since humans started to explore the world around them, they have tried to come up with ways to record what they have seen and found. We capture the movement and grace of the animals we have hunted on cave walls. And when we need to communicate to each other, we start with a picture. The field of biomedical communications really started from these humble but tremendous beginnings and it has exploded into a vibrant and constantly-evolving field. Biomedical communications is a bridge of technical know-how that spans the body of scientific knowledge with artistic expression to get the message across. This means anything that you can think of that involves using art to get a message across can be technically considered as biomedical communication. The sky is really the limit.
The art of life is roughly divided into medical illustrations and biological illustrations, but the borders are usually blurred in the industry today as artists trained in one field may also decide to pick up freelance work in a related field. In general, medical illustrators are held to a higher, more stringent entry criteria as compared to biological illustrators.
The beginning of a field:
In the beginning, artists are generally hired to illustrate story books and text books. No one could accurately trace the very beginnings of biological illustration as a career. The real turning point probably took place with Darwin publishing his The Voyage on the Beagle
in 1839 with his lushly hand-drawn illustrations of the wildlife he had seen during these voyages. Closely following that, German polymath Ernst Haeckel published a volume of over 100 hand-drawn and full-coloured lithographic prints covering hundreds of plant and sea life known as Kunstformen der Natur
(English: Art Forms in Nature
)in 1904. It described some animals that no one had seen before, and thus leading the way of using art to represent the amazing world that we live in.
A number of amazingly detailed anatomical folios exist that dates all the way back to ancient times. The Renaissance gave us the first glimpse of what medical illustrations could be in volumes such as Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum
in 1542 and Leonardo Da Vinci's technical drawings which used cut-away and exploded views that we still use today. Medical illustration as a profession started in the late 1890s with Max Brödel. He was a talented artist from Leipzig who was brought to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to illustrate for a team of talented surgeons and physicians as a way to record experimental and exemplery new techniques in medicine as well as serve as education material. In his career, Brödel became a pioneer and an inventor himself, creating new technique such as Carbon Dust to better suit the demands of his new profession. In 1911, Brödel became the leading force and the first president of the first academic department of medical illustration, which exists to this day.
What's considered as Biomedical communication?
As our understanding of the world around us evolve, we have developed a lot more ways to communicate as well. Today, the field of biomedical communications encompass the very big and the very small, the very new and the very old. Traditionally, biomedical communication consists of 2D illustrations (both traditional and digital) and photography. They are usually used to illustrate text books,posters, treatises, nature guides, scientific journals, museums, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums. However as our media expands, the scope of biomedical communication also grows to include 3D models, animation, instructional videotapes and films, web-based media, computer-assisted learning programs, even high-fidelity virtual-reality simulations. These media find their way into classrooms and operating theatres as well as high-stakes drug companies and bio-engineering firms. We also regularly consume some forms of biomedical communication in our daily media as well. Think of all the "CSI animations" in popular medical and crime shows. That's yet another way to bring the expertise of biological and medical advances right to your doorstep.
How do I get involved?
Biological illustrators can enter the field without a specific degree, however most people still do have some form of formal training. Having a related degree may also increase your chance of being employed as well. Biological illustration can be pursued as a degree in the undergraduate, graduate, and technical college levels. Preparation for a biological illustration career can include a background or art or science, or a combination of both. Skills development in biological illustration can involve two-dimensional art, animation, graphic design and sculpture. Compared medical illustration, biological illustration have a more limited employment opportunity. Therefore a lot of artists involved in the field will do freelance jobs and short-term contracts. Many of them take up commercial graphic design as well as biological illustration.
Most medical illustrators in the profession have a Master's degree from an accredited graduate program in medical illustration or another advanced degree in either science or the arts. Currently there are five accredited Programs in North America: The Biomedical Visualization Program in the University of Illinois, The Medical Illustration graduate program at the Medical College of Georgia, The Biomedical Communications program in the University of Toronto, The Biomedical Communications graduate program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Department of Arts as Applied to Medicine in Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore.
The best place to start, however, is to check out the AMI's website. The AMI regularly publishes the Medical Illustration Sourcebook. This book is usually distributed annually to comapnies and professionals who regularly hire medical/scientifi image makers for various projects. A companion source book also contain searchable illustration, animaltion and multi-media portfolios from hundreds of artists in the field.
1. Flipping through the pages of ancient medical texts: archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/b…
(Courtesy of the National Institute of Health, USA)
2. The remastered facsimile of the 1918 edition of Gray's Anatomy: www.bartleby.com/107/
(Courtesy of Bartleby.com)
3. Ars Anatomica: Imagining the Renaissance Body: www.arsanatomica.lib.ed.ac.uk/…
(Contains examples of Renaissance medical illustrations)
4. Some pages of Haeckel's lithographs can be seen here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunstfor…
Resource and Bibliography:
1. The Association of Medical Illustrators: ami.org/ (Covers the history of medical illustration, qualification to enter the field and available certified programs in North America. The FAQ also lays out answers to common questions including average annual wage.)
2. "I am a medical illustrator"
by Monique Gildersen, May 2002. Published in the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/…
3. "How to become a medical illustrator" Academic Invest. www.academicinvest.com/arts-ca…
4. Guild of Natural Science Illustrators: gnsi.org/ (Covers history of scientific illustration, some entrance criteria and portfolio requirements and article resources.)
5. Wikipedia: "Medical Illustration" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_… "Biological Illustration" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biologic…
and "Medical Photography" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_…
6. The BioCommunications Association: www.bca.org/ (Professional association for all fields of BioCommunication. A contest is held every year called BioImages. Past winners can be seen on the website.)
7. The Journal of BioCommunication: www.jbiocommunication.org/ (Published by The BCA, this is a monthly journal showcasing the advances and future directions of the field.)
Questions for you:
Are you surprised at the scope of BioCommunications around you?
Have you ever considered a career in BioCommunications?
What do you think of the entry criteria? Is the bar too high? Too harsh? Or not enough?