The avant-garde

Artists during the 18th/19th centuries tried to push away from old fashioned values such as myths and classical ideologies and move forward for a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately many artists also kept digging up the past, creating a see-saw series of reactions between trying to be new and modern and trying to be safe and keep with what we already knew. However, regurgitating the past only in effect holds us back culturally whereas instead we needed to split away and explore new ideas.

Between the short space of 1900 and 1937, several art movements erupted, grew and overlapped over one another, such as Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Modernism, Constructivism, Surrealism… and experimenting with the new technology being developed meant the ability of different ways to communicate be possible, such as posters, magazines and film began to appear which revolutionised the way we live and are common today.

Modern art was to take ordinary and boring old objects and tearing it away from its original context and turn it into something inspiring. “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp(c.1917), is a urinal turned on its back and signed, which is regarded by many as one of the most moving pieces of artwork of the 20th century, but which also crunched up the noses of many others. I personally love it, as it is very tongue-in-cheek and has surprisingly been taken seriously. Almost like some people’s impression of modern artwork, of how it is just gathering random every day things and calling it art.

This includes Adolf Hitler.

During the 1930’s the Nazi party began to rise with power and quickly grabbed hold of our culture, and changed it drastically. Adolf Hitler wanted to destroy but also wanted to take control of the art world, and expressed his utter hatred of modern art by dismissing artists, art teachers and confiscating modern artwork. Hitler was originally an artist but his work was ignored by the art establishment as his work was cliché and too ordinary, unlike that of the new modern art styles that were quickly taking over.

Four years into power, Hitler made a degenerate art exhibition (1937), exposing modern artwork and turning them into a laughing stock, in an attempt to show how the “enemy” were insane: “the exhibition was laid out with the deliberate intention of encouraging a negative reaction”( the exhibition was roughly slapped together with no effort to show how pathetic and cheap the work is, to give German people a distaste of modern art, and also to create propaganda. The exhibition featured works from artists who were not all Jewish, though the artworks were advertised as Jewish.

Artists featured, including Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Max Beckham and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, suffered events including ones that had them fired from their jobs, artwork taken away and driven out of the country; in some case suicide was even a by-product. Most modern artists had escaped to America, where they changed America’s view on art. Most artwork that were stolen by the Nazi party have been since uncovered, but possibly hundreds still remain hidden to this day.



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In the pursuit of Realism: Rococo, Neo-classicism and Romanticism

In the 18th century, art styles are the response to differing social climates of the time.

The art style, Rococo is overwhelmingly at nature and is not shy for having characters in paintings represented in a relaxed and informal state (such as being in casual clothing, or being outside, creating a peaceful and comfortable utopia), with flowing fabrics with generous amounts of colour: “all too flexible and fluid, and all too playful with charming colours and tones” (The social history of art, p132). “The Swing”(1766) by Fragonard(1732-1806) is a beautiful and colourful Rococo piece, which is made up of rough and quickly applied brushstrokes to make up the surrounding vegetation, which also includes the figures, creating a blurry, dream-like fantasy that’s full of life(similar to Impressionism). The viewer is drawn towards the main figure in contrasting pinks against the green vegetation, who swings playfully on a swing in a sensual fashion, between two male figures.

Rococo artwork also shows members of different classes together in a painting, and was popular with the majority of the public. A reaction to Rococo artwork was neo-classicism, where some artists rejected the ideas of Rococo art and were inspired by the uniformed and perfected ideals of Roman and Greek art: “sparse group of amateurs hardly big enough to make any difference in the art market” (The social history of art, p131) Neo-classical artists tried to bring back the past, and also brought back masculine bodies which was typical of Roman art.

“The Death of Marat”(c.1793) by Jacques-Louis David(1748-1825) is to move on from the Rococo style and to reflect the Political climate of the time- The French Revolution. The figure of Marat is too clean and appears stiff and appears almost sculptural, and even though the figure has been stabbed, there is an unconvincing amount of gore. The painting would not be to praise his death, so the blood is minimal. There is also the  minimalism effect with there being a large empty space at the top of the painting, forcing the viewer’s eyes to remain fixated on the lower half of the painting, where the body is, which is full of soft detail and dark shadows, creating a grim atmosphere.

“The Death of Marat”(c.1793) by Jacques-Louis David

Romanticism emerged around half way through the 18th century, a reaction from the comeback of a classical approach to artwork. Romanticism presents emotion, especially that between man and nature. Figures that are seen appear feminine and are posed in  sensual positions, to portray erotic charm or love . Romanticism also introduced portraiture of figures facing entirely away from the viewer, and with their backs turned, creating an unwelcome or even an approachable atmosphere to the painting, as the viewer is not addressed or is just simply observing from a distance, creating an emotional response to the viewer.

Théodore Géricault(1791-1824) enjoyed to enhance his paintings by playing with strong colour and lighting, for painting which subject matters were typically horrifying. In “The Raft of the Medusa” (c.1818/19), Géricault acquired several corpses of criminals for the figures in this piece to appear realistic, as the painting is based on a real event: “he obtained body parts of executed men in order to study the changes in color that take place at various stages of decay”(Painting of the Romantic Era, p98), which I believe was effective as it emotionally achieved a sense of human suffering and vulnerability, which was the case for the survivors of the Medusa.



Hauser, Arnold (1951) The Social History of Art Volume 3: Rococo, Classicism and Romanticism. Great Britain: Routledge

Wolf, Norbert (1999) Painting of the Romantic Era. Taschen


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In the pursuit of Realism: Portraiture and symbolism

The Renaissance period (1300-1602) brought about artists, such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael who had pushed the sciences into more realistic perceptions, by studying everyday subject matters including nature: “These men had not only made great advances in naturalism – through investigation of anatomy and emotional expressionism- but had brought a fresh approach to the old forms of religious subject matter.”(The world of Leonardo, p14), people were moving on from old fashioned folk styles (although religious artwork was still being created, there was a prominent change) and pushed the world into more intellectual studies based on the real world, focussing on the detail of everyday subjects.  Also portraiture soon became a thing whereas previously was only for religious and royal faces. Portraiture was used as a status symbol, and was created for (wealthy) families and would typically contain symbolism to represent their family name(could be used for advertising their knowledge or power).

Leonardo Da Vinci revolutionised portraiture, whereas portraits before him were dull and frozen in nature, typically completely addressing the viewer and so were not very inspiring. Leonardo’s portrait of Cecilia Gallerani: “Lady with an Ermine” (c.1483) is rich with symbolism and is great example of a portrait with a pose that feels more natural: “her face is keenly attentive and intelligent, her fingers long and sensuous, those of a musician and a voluptuary.”(The World of Leonardo, p77), the painting suggests a sexual desire as she faces away from the viewer, with the Ermine in a twisting pose in her arms as she strokes it with gentle fingers, symbolising lust and pregnancy. The painting is a pleasure to view, as it contains such delicate detail typical of Leonardo, however has been altered slightly by lesser talented artists after him.

Jan Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini portrait”(c.1434) is also rich in symbolism, including how the painting itself is wholly a symbol of marriage and childbirth, even though the relationship of the couple featured is unclear: “Giovanni and Costanza had no recorded children and Costanza had died by 1433, the year before the portrait was painted. Is this a memorial to Costanza, who might have died in childbirth? Artists liked to pose women in a pregnant stance, whether they were or not, as fertility was an essential quality in a wife.”( Costanza could either have been pregnant, or is just depicted to be to symbolise fertility- a desired trait, especially for wealthy families to produce male children to carry on the family name. I enjoy how the painting is filled with symbolism, as the room is littered with rare items such as oranges and a mirror (that might not noticeably stand out at first glance), to emphasise their wealth, as well as the choice of rich colours such as reds and blues. Jan Van Eyck was an arrogant character and added a personal touch to the painting- a signature. The mirror contains lettering which translates as “Van Eyck was here 1434”.

An influence of Van Eyck is the incredible Hieronymus Bosch, whose artwork is disturbingly similar to modern day surrealism.  As a reaction to the Renaissance’s realistic approach to artwork, Bosch created paintings of intriguing fantasy worlds. I find the artwork inspiring and the complementary opposites of horrific and beautiful is nicely balanced, however both mysteriously imaginative. The figures displayed in the busy paintings each seem to tell their own story across the artwork, letting your eyes wander to see every section of the panels to take in all the detail. The paintings are well done and the subject matters are painted realistically, however in unrealistic situations or of fantasy creatures and demons. Fantasy features like this in the paintings, including melting or floating objects, screams surrealism and inspired those in the surrealist movement.

The imagery is difficult to interpret and has been debated for years. Attempts of analysis by those of different disciplines about the imagery seen in Bosch’s artwork has been long discussed. Any sort of original meanings have obviously been lost over time, although some symbolism can be relatable to spirituality in Christian ideology or of folk-tales: “… the supposedly enigmatic character of Bosch’s work, which has compelled many people to seek out and communicate a solution. This has given rise to some intriguing theories, but also to some bizarre ones.” (Hieronymus Bosch, p8) There are theories of Bosch being members of cults or using drugs, but there is no way to uncover the true mental state of Bosch. However, he is widely admired for his work. “The Garden of earthly Delights”(c.1510) is made up of panels of several “gardens”, for example a heavenly garden of Eden or of a chaotic hell. Each painting is filled with medieval symbolism.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (1510)

As the 17th century dawned, portraiture is much more common around families and to lay people who could afford it. Artists had the problem of whether to make the subject matter be as physically beautiful as possible to please them, or be as realistic as possible.



Koldeweij, Jos., Vandenbroeck, Paul., Vermet, Bernard(2001)Hieronymus Bosch. The complete Paintings and Drawings. NAi Publishers (p8)

Wallace, Robert(1966) The World of Leonardo. Time-Life  International. (p14 and p77)


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Mise en scéne is French for everything that would be on a film or play set and what would be seen by the audience in the film’s frame. To create a successful set you need all the obvious equipment in place such as lighting, scenery, cameras, costumes and where the actors are placed on the set. This creates an atmospheric state of mind for the viewer and the illusion that it is playing in real time, when in reality several takes of a shot would have been taken during the course of filming and then the preferred clips would be then put together through editing. Editing film was traditionally done by hand using a pair of scissors and tape, creating a physical montage of film pieces, whereas today computers would be used for editing film.

To make a film successful, you need to make the viewer “believe” in the story that is being presented to them is in what appears to be a consistent movement, as if it were all in the same time frame. The Mise en scéne would need to be kept the same, and factors such as the characters appearing to be maintaining eye contact or moving around the set (even on separate shots by separate cameras) would need to be kept fluid. In the film Psycho, the famous scene of the female character being stabbed in the shower, is made up of several different compositions that does not show any violence, but certain elements (such as dramatic sound effects to go with clips of a dark figure behind the curtains, a blade, woman’s face screaming, the shower head and blood flowing down a drain) makes up for not being able to show what could otherwise be graphic imagery, but still creates the illusion of action taking place in a fluid space of time.

The Kuleshov effect is a film-making concept by film editor Lev Kuleshov, where an actor’s face (that appears to be looking at the objects in question) can be recycled and edited to look like the actor is looking at different objects that are on a separate clip, but the viewer would believe the clips even though they should not belong together or did not originally belong there. This creates an illusion of a consistent movement through time and also how a character can be changed depending on the situation (character could be looking at food on a plate and react with a smile (character appears hungry), or could be looking at a woman lying provocatively and react with a smile (character appears lustful).

The Kuleshov Effect, showing images of a grave, a bowl of food and a provocative female




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With the ability to communicate through speech, telling stories is part of our nature as humans. Stories people tell could be based on real life events or be fictional but can also hold moral messages. Whichever the case, stories are either told orally or read: “In any culture, one discerns two areas of communication: (a) there is the casual and ephemeral converse of daily transaction and (b) there is the area of preserved communication”(Preface to Plato, p134/134) We are social animals and telling stories verbally such as legends or songs can be passed on and a “Chinese whispers” effect can occur where the original can be lost through several alterations. As stories are told to an audience, different people may tell the story in a slightly different way to keep the audience entertained. Folklore are usually told to children as they are imaginative and sometimes humorous but also hold subliminal messages which can be helpful for easing children into the adult world.

Thanks to written language, stories can be safe from being changed around and be kept in their original state in scrolls or books. However, since stories (folktales, legends etc.)  have been told verbally long before they were written, they were changed over time through translation or even altered depending on the time and location the storytellers lived, as all stories are pulled together by people with different knowledge from other stories and events: “…each element may also be encountered in another application and may have its own history”(Morphology of the folktale, p115). Characters in a fairy-tale, for example, could take the form of an animal in one country or they could be human in another.

Even though stories can change, the structure they are told in are typically the same. German Playwright Freytag created a pyramid, where according to Freytag, most stories are constructed in a similar pattern.

As most lay people in the past were illiterate, artwork was created that could tell stories that could be “read”, without any need for another person to tell it. These could be basic images, or more detailed, which can hold symbolism that were created for a particular audience, for example members of a religious community.



Havelock, Eric A. (1963) Preface to Plato. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.(p134 and p135)

Propp V.(1968) Morphology of the Folktale. University of Texas Press(p115)


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Animation Origins

There have been early images expressing “motion” since Prehistoric cave paintings, where the animals will have multiple ghostly legs to give a sense of the creature’s limbs in motion while running, or multiple ghostly heads as if it were moving in to bite it’s prey. Though people will interpret “animation” today as a series of moving pictures in film, which is a fairly modern invention thanks to camera technology. However, the oldest example of animation would actually be around 5,200 years old. The ancient Iranian earthenware bowl discovered in the 1970’s has a series of 5 images of a goat around the outside of the bowl, and when each picture is read as the bowl is spun around, the goat appears to be jumping and eating from a plant.

Latin for animation is “breath of life”. So what is animation? For every practitioner, there is an individual definition of what animation really is and it’s relation to culture. Steven Mill Hauser quoted in his book “Little Kingdom”, that animation is “a deeply ambiguous life, a conjurer’s trick, a crafty illusion based on an accidental property of the retina, which retained an image for a fraction of a second after the image was no longer present.” The retina captures and holds onto an image for one-tenth of a second, before even the next image presented is even registered by our brains. If a succession of images is flashed before our eyes, it creates an illusion of movement. This principle , the persistence of vision, was discovered by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 130 A.D. Throughout history we have been able to discover more about how the eye and the brain functions, and how we perceive light and darkness.

Early examples of animation are flick-books, where the pages “flash” an image and the speed is controlled by how quickly your thumb flicks through the pages. A thaumatrope (Greek=wonder turner) is a basic toy that consists of a card disk tied between two strings. One side of the disk (for example) will contain an image of a bird and the other a cage and twisting the two strings quickly together with your fingers will make the disk spin, creating an illusion that the bird is inside the cage. In 1834 the Zoetrope was invented by W. G. Horner, where a series of images are placed inside a drum with windows cut into the outer wall so that when you look into the drum and spin it around , a “flashing” of the images inside creates the illusion of movement. Modern examples of Zoetropes are the stunning 3D model zoetrope created by Studio Ghibli and by Pixar. Each model is created with a slight difference, just like how an image in a zoetrope would be, and are placed on a moving chandelier and spun around. The figures begin to “move” before your eyes when a flashing light is activated (one tenth of a second for the retina to capture), as if it were the windows of a traditional zoetrope.

When photography was invented, the ability to record a moment in time was massive. Being able to prove evidence of situations in moments of time to those who were not involved became possible. In 1872, Eadweard Muybridge was able to answer the question of whether all four of a horse’s legs lift off the ground at once while they run: “he wanted to prove that a horse lifted all four feet off the ground when it trotted – something that had evaded human perception for millennia” ( photographs of each individual movement were needed for the experiment to work, to give a sense of fluidity as the stage when a horses legs could all be lifted off the ground was unknown.

Funded by the governor of California, Leland Stanford, Muybridge set up an installation of 24 cameras in a row, with shutters that were activated by the horse itself as it ran past, creating a series of photographs showing the horse’s exact leg movements.

Many believed the images were nothing but a hoax. A zoopraxiscope (invented by Muybridge in 1879) was required to animate the sequence of photographs to prove the motion of a horse lifting all of its legs while running was infact true. The discovery was revolutionary. A zoopraxiscope is an early form of displaying motion pictures, similar to a Zoetrope but the images were on a transparent film and could be projected onto a screen, to allow more than one person to view the clip.

Tomas Edison invented the Kinetoscope in 1888 were the film displayed could go on for much longer (a projecting Kinescope was invented in 1912 to be viewed by an audience). The Kinetoscope camera opened the doors to the ability to film drawings. “Lightning sketches” was were an artist drew on an easel. The camera allowed this to be recorded and for little “tricks” to be performed that cannot be done in front of a live audience such as the artist interacting with the cartoon , for example taking a glass from the cartoon and drinking it himself, as seen in James Stuart Blackton’s “The Enchanted Drawing”(1900): “the artist rapidly draws on the paper a clever sketch of a bottle of a wine and goblet, and then, to the surprise of all, actually removes them from the paper on which they were drawn” (A quote from The Edison catalogue, from “Emile Cohl, Caricature and Film” by Donald Crafton) the paper is merely torn away to reveal a drawing underneath that no longer has the drawings of the bottle and goblet, but as this is not seen by the viewer, so it creates an illusion that the artist had taken them himself. A clichéd trick, but was successful at the time.

Émile Cohl is well known for being a film-maker and the father of cartoon films. The interest to record drawings was filling the gaps that live-action could not accomplish, such as “recording” imaginary dream-like scenarios that cannot be performed on a stage. The film “Fantasmagorie”(1908) is a great example of a cartoon dream sequence. This film was tiresome to achieve: “the film contained 1,872 drawings and had taken a year to complete” (Donald Crafton: “Emile Cohl, Caricature and Film”)even if the drawings took no longer than a few months to make, the production would have taken longer and without the technology of line testers and the slow process of early photography, the process would have been a long one.

However, the drawings are just stick-men characters and the physics of the characters movements are crude.  Winsor McCay appeared in the spotlight and was the first “Classical” artist to arrive in animation, whereas the artwork in animation until this point was not very inspiring. He had originally created illustrations in comics and posters. Vaudeville acts (more than one type of an act on a stage)were common during this time as sound in film was not yet possible, yet people wanted to experience the new film technology. McCay’s first animation experiment was “Gertie the dinosaur”(1914) were he stood before the audience in live-action and interacted with his animation of a dinosaur on the screen.  The dinosaur had its own personality, which was something previous animations failed to create. The vaudeville act was like a circus performance that would be done with animals, but instead with an extinct creature. Gertie would respond to commands and do tricks for McCay, which was creative as it appeared as if they were co-operating together. At the end of the film, he stands with a whip and is moved on top of the projector, creating an illusion that makes it appear as if he was riding the Gertie off the stage.

Most animations created were merely experiments with the new technology and were typically humorous in nature. However, as WW1 began, most animations from this time onwards were created for propaganda and training videos. For the first time documentaries made through animation allowed viewers to see reconstructed war-time events for themselves that were not filmed on sight and being able to see videos in this nature would have been very emotional for the viewer.



Crafton, Donald  (1990) Emile Cohl, Caricature and Film. Princeton University Press  (p121, p128)



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Medical Art and why this still exists today.

Throughout history we have explored the human body, what it is, how it works and figuring out cures to diseases and injury. Thankfully nowadays we know best not to look up zodiac signs for cures on body parts, however in the past dissecting human bodies was illegal. Most primitive images were very basic crude guesses, based off the insides in animals such as pigs. As you can guess, these were not accurate but were used in medical practices. Thanks to the invention of the printing press in 1440, there was an improvement in accuracy and work was more available to get a hold of but of course this was not good enough. People needed accurate images of the human body.

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) during the Renaissance period performed over 30 dissections himself and created very detailed studies: “He used the freely available bodies of dead criminals to anatomise the structure of muscles and nerves.”( he studied from life, which provided an accurate understanding of the human body. The Renaissance period was a time artists created work as realistically as they could, a revolution in art history and also medical. Da Vinci’s studies of the human body was a leap forward in the medical world, but sadly none of these works were published in his lifetime so people at the time still used crude images as references. Da Vinci’s medical studies continue to inspire people today as there is, shockingly, very few flaws, leaving Da Vinci years ahead of his time.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1554) created the book De Humani Corporis Fabrica. He stressed his students not to rely on past teachings or what they have been taught by others but to discover for themselves, which helped push people forward to experimenting. Medical studies at this time remained at an good level of understanding for the period.

An example from Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica

By the 17th century, harvesting cadavers (a corpse used for medical reasons) became illegal and the only source for fresh cadavers was criminals from the gallows. Dissections were needed for first-hand teaching for students and exploring the body for medical and scientific reasons and dissections were usually performed in front of an audience. As operations usually failed, no matter how quickly the operation was performed, doctors required more bodies than what was available for research(of course they usually failed for a lack of knowledge about hygiene and other factors). Corpses of recent deaths at the time were vulnerable to grave robbing and being used illegally as cadavers, with doctors usually in on the act. The infamous murderers Burke and Hare made money from doctors looking for cadavers by murdering innocent people.

As corpses were not yet possible to preserve, wax models were created as they were not illegal to obtain and would not rot away.

In the 19th century there became a vast improvement with colour printing and its availability to the masses. Henry Grey (1827–1861) was a surgeon and thanks to his friend Dr. H V Vandyke Carter (who was also a surgeon) who had created 363 illustrations, Gray published his famous book “Gray’s Anatomy” (First Edition, “Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical” (1858)).

Medical Art was not recognised as its own profession until the 20th century. Thanks to technology advances, such as the x-ray was invented (1895), which enabled us the ability to view a “live” image of the inside of a patient. However students struggle with researching from 2D profile views and photographs can only show us what is directly in front of the viewer and x-rays can only provide information on certain tissues.  Only artists can create visuals concerning accurate 3D explosive views “cut into” figures and also those that the human eye cannot always see such as fetuses and powerful imagery of anatomy all laid out in”floating” poses. Doctors use images by medical artists to use as references, guidance and also to demonstrate performances to patients and students. Many medical artists work alongside doctors and create studies first-hand in hospitals.

Frank Netter (1906-1991) is known as one of the most influential medical artists and surgeons and produced over 4000 illustrations in his career. His images are beautifully created and show the behavior of patients (those could be suffering from depression or asthma for example) and the images of diseases on a cellular level and also how to apply medicines or perform specific operations: “Netter’s work was voluminous, covering a vast array of topics and diseases.” ( his work is still used today and has always been free to obtain. I find his work powerful and stunning to view and take in all the colourful detail.

Today, Medical art can be used to communicate to the public about messages around personal health and medical procedures through adverts in posters, leaflets and animations for tv (for example flu vaccines, no smoking campaigns). 3D modelling (computer based virtual reality simulations and physical transparent models) are used for training operations such as surgery and CPR. Traditional wax and latex models are still used as dummies for medical and dentistry training to allow work on a physical object that is not a living person.

Also photographs being shown to patients in question can be horrific, especially to younger patients. Medical Artwork is created for older generations who may have no access to the internet as well as the visually impaired, children and so forth, so the patient can understand what is going on, to also ease the nerves. Medical artwork is useful for researching theories and for displaying visual information for the news.

Forensic artists are needed for forensic reconstruction, to create a view of a persons face, whether they are a victim of crime or when unidentified skeletal remains have been uncovered (for example from historic sites). The artist will have a knowledge of body construction and will be able to create a drawing and/or a 3D model based off of the remains, such as the skull. Scenarios involving bodily injury of victims can be reconstructed by Forensic artists based off of the angles of flesh destroyed and other factors, so the police can discover the cause and possibly the time of an injury.

Of course, human bodies can still be donated as cadavers and even shockingly for entertainment(kinda reminds me of how surgeries were once performed in front of an audience). In Gunther von Hagens’ famous “BodyWorlds” exhibition shows anatomical figures of donated bodies that have been preserved. It is artistic, educational but can also be viewed an un-ethical and visually horrific.

Medical Art is a powerful tool which  provides us with life-changing visual information about ourselves.



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