Drawing Naked Bodies

Kathy Liu, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Road, Cambridge, CB2 0SP

Imagine a naked 50 year old man. Trust me here.

Do you feel repulsed or curious?
Offended or appreciative?
Embarrassed or inspired?

Now imagine you are holding a pencil against a thick sheet of white paper.

Look closely at the contours of his back, the folds of skin on his abdomen, the deep creases on his face, and now ask yourself the same questions.

Life drawing is the process of drawing the human figure from observation of a live model.

This practice blossomed during the Renaissance, with artists like Leonardo da Vinci making leaps in connecting art with anatomy. The idea of introducing life drawing into the medical curriculum is not a new one. Many medical schools including Southampton, King’s College London, and Keele (even Cambridge once upon a time) offer sessions in this valuable exercise.

A recent Student BMJ article in March this year listed the benefits of providing life drawing classes for medical students [1]. There is evidence that it sharpens observational skills - an eye for detail is key for identifying the patient with hyperthyroidism, a suspicious skin lesion, or recent weight loss. But it is not just about the medical bonuses; by encouraging appreciation of the human body in all its forms, life drawing incorporates art into the practice of medicine, which cannot be learned from a textbook. We realise that the scapula, the spine or the eyes are not anatomical entities in themselves but that they belong to a real person. And they harbour a beauty that increases with the depth of observation.

Medical students all over the country now attend life drawing sessions as part of their medical SSC, or within student art societies. If you are interested in trying it out, below are some
contacts you can explore. Perhaps it is time to revisit this fundamental practice, and allow it to complement our medical studies.

Links

King’s College Art Centre - Life drawing group http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/art-centre/

Life Drawing at Christ’s - http://www.christs.cam.ac.uk/college-life/visual-performing-arts/teachin...

Cambridge Life Drawing http://www.cambridgelifedrawing.co.uk/

References: 

1. Price-Kuehne, FE. 2010. Life Drawing for Medical Students. Student BMJ. 18:c1567 http://student.bmj.com/student/view-article.html?id=sbmj.c1567