The Art of Anatomy

Remember those  anatomy and physiology lectures that tortured you? Remember all that terminology that was relentlessly thrown at you for  hours every week? Remember the pop-quizzes? Remember wishing there was an easier way to store all the information you were given?

Of course you do.

A few institutions have employed a rather novel way of encouraging learning by doing, by combining art and anatomical learning. Cathal Breen of Analyse fame kindly sent me a copy of the University of Ulster’s journal outlining a study he was a part of, that brought the two disciplines together.

The study focuses on exactly what I outlined in the first paragraph: the difficulty in learning anatomical names and information via textbooks and lectures alone. Students from radiology and cardiac physiology formed groups and learned by painting anatomical structures on each other, using textbooks, presentations and spoken word.

By encouraging students and staff to engage in the teaching and learning process in this creative manner yielded incredibly positive results: student feedback referred to the sessions as “enjoyable”, “helpful” and “interesting”, citing the experience as one that makes things clearer, too. The study humorously points out that the first three statements are not things that have been used to describe A&P before (thanks to my own experience, I imagine this to be an indisputable fact).

Obviously, there may be issues with inhibition when it comes to each individual, so to get around this, painting onto clothing; t shirts, gloves etc, is an option. Lecturer participation is a must, so the whole thing seems to lend itself to full participation from everyone and bonding in a shared learning experience.

Students pointed out that this style of learning made them aware of discrepancies between actual anatomy and the pictures contained within the textbooks they used, and that gave them a better understanding of the internal geography present in the body. In recent years, the practice has been adopted by numerous institutions, and the twitter page @artandanatomy showcases some of the wonderful body-painted works of art that have cropped up across the globe.

So, what do you think? Would this be something you feel would make the learning process easier for you? Sound off in the comments below and let us know.


Breen, C., Conway, S., Fleming, K.,. (2010) The Art of Teaching Anatomy – A Case Study. Perspectives on Pedagogy and Practice 1 (1), pp. 17-30.

Images courtesy of @artandanatomy 

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I'm a qualified clinical physiologist with a keen interest in free open access meducation (FOAMed), pacing and electrophysiology.

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