Belkin Curator discusses new flexible learning course combining art and medicine.
Shelly Rosenblum, Curator of Academic Programs at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, is the co-founder of Art and Medicine: Rounding at the Belkin, a new flexible learning course that invites UBC medical students of all year levels to consider how engagement with art can strengthen observational and communication skills.
Through a series of six weekly meetings, the program draws from the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery’s permanent collection and exhibition program, combining this with activities on campus and across Vancouver’s art milieu.
Facilitated by Dr. Rosenblum and co-sponsored by Dr. Carol-Ann Courneya, Assistant Dean, Student Affairs, Faculty of Medicine, this course will encourage students to look at and ask questions about the artwork in the Gallery, thereby expanding their abilities in observation, description, analysis and critical thinking skills. These abilities can provide a powerful platform in the medical profession for diagnosing and physical examination, humanizing medicine, improving communication, as well as increasing empathy, awareness and sensitivity to the art of medicine.
How did the idea for this course first come about?
My position at the Belkin was established to develop initiatives focused on teaching and learning, research and scholarship in the arts and across the curriculum – in short, initiatives that speak to the abiding educational value of an academic gallery. It really grew out of a diagnosis of a problem at many universities: why are so many excellent campus museums not better integrated into the university’s mission, pedagogical research, outreach, and experience? We had some obvious partners at the Gallery with the departments of Art History, History, and English, to name a few. But I wanted to make an argument about how the kind of work that goes on in an art gallery is also fundamentally useful to people across campus who didn’t necessarily see themselves as our partners.
The medical school was an obvious place to start, as there’s a lot of research on the generative relationships that can happen between art and medicine. So we started talking to the medical school, and they were very excited to see the empirical evidence of how this has worked at other universities. It’s become standard practice at some medical schools to work with galleries. But we want to build on the advances that have already been made in the field. We specialize in contemporary art and there is something particularly useful in a collection that specializes in post-war avant-gardes and contemporary art in the work of better training medical students.And what was really serendipitous is that last fall, the medical school launched a new curriculum. One of the innovative aspects of the new curriculum is that it structures in flex time, which is enhanced learning in addition to the regular curriculum. So the students have a lot of choice about what they’d like to explore. And quite a number of these courses fall under an arts and humanities category.
As part of UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Flexible and Enhanced Learning (FLEX) Program, Art and Medicine offers students the opportunity to expand their visual thinking strategies and collaborative skills. The FLEX course was introduced at UBC’s Vancouver Fraser Medical Program in September 2015 as part of a larger provincial curriculum renewal project of medical undergraduate education. The course allows students to follow their own particular learning interests by providing scholarly experiences in the clinical or biomedical sciences, community service, global health, and art and medicine, among others. In consultation with their advisors, students develop their own learning plans that reflect their individual learning interests and needs, selecting activities from the FLEX repository of courses or designing projects of their own.
For Art and Medicine: Rounding at the Belkin, students are invited to think about how we observe and communicate by looking at works drawn from the Belkin’s permanent collection and current exhibition. For instance, students visited artist Rodney Graham’s Millennial Time Machine (2003), part of the University’s Outdoor Art sculpture collection. Working with myself and Dr. Courneya, students shared in a structured group inquiry that looked to art as a means to develop and reflect upon our processes of attention and sensorial awareness. Future classes will look at artworks by B.C. Binning, Jack Shadbolt, Shary Boyle, Roy Kiyooka and Judith Lodge, among others.What can neuroaesthetics teach us about the importance of art and science?
I’m doing a lot of research at the moment on the relationship between neuroscience and art. In 2018 we’re going to have an exhibition built around the drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. He is considered the “father of modern neuroscience”, and his drawings illustrating brain cells are very exciting to artists, curators, and neuroscientists. They are still used for educational purposes – and are very concrete examples of the overlappings of neuroscience and art.
So our work on neuroaesthetics will be part of our participation in art and medicine, in addition to this course. This course is not specifically about neuroaesthetics in that way. This course is a workshop for medical students developing a toolbox to become medical practitioners; it expounds a belief and an investment in the value of creativity, and looking at art as a way to expand fundamental skills for their work: observation, communication, empathy, ambiguity.
What are the expected outcomes for students in this course?
The purpose of a course like this is to hone observational skills, which is obviously connected to diagnosing; to enhance the desire to communicate well, which is a fundamental part of the doctor-patient relationship; and also to enhance the tolerance for ambiguity. That’s one of the great challenges when we look at contemporary art; to try to make sense out of something where we don’t have the buttressing and help to tell a story about it. What we’re seeing requires a lot of active participation of the viewer, and there’s a lot of ambiguity in the practice of medicine; there’s so much we don’t know. And that’s what really resonated for the medical school: that increasing an ability to tolerate ambiguity is a fundamental part of medical pedagogy that we have to find avenues to look at.
In addition to this work on developing skills in observation, description, and meaning-making, we’re trying to develop speculative thinking. And we hope that in further flex periods, some of the students might take on seeds from this experience for research in any avenue – whether it’s neuroaesthetics, or work in thinking about medical pedagogy or other connections between art and science. If that means they’re going to work with the university art collection, that would be wonderful. If that means different kinds of research that will culminate in research and publications that share where this work can go, that would also be wonderful.
So all the work happens in the gallery, but ultimately they’ll be bringing this back to the medical school. We hope that their work disseminates in ways that further research and come back to the pedagogical aspects. And we hope to partner in more projects that come out of it.
Story Credit: Melissa Huang, Faculty of Arts