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The fine art of anatomy

Adina Kleiner, Jenny Keating, Kit Wise, Terence Haines

Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Department of Physiotherapy and Department of Fine Arts

Project aim

This project was designed to assess whether anatomy students could improve their grades by taking classes in anatomy drawing. Adina Kleiner had discovered that teaching anatomy to fine art students greatly improved their drawing skills and their capacity for visual analysis. This finding raised the question: would teaching drawing skills to physiotherapy students improve their understanding of anatomy and the human body?

Physio students undetaking drawing lessons

Project background

The researchers hypothesised that drawing sessions taught from a fine arts perspective could deepen a student's appreciation of the relationship between the simple lines in a drawing and the concepts those lines represent. This could improve students' understanding of anatomical relationships and, therefore, their clinical skills.

This new approach diverged from the traditional didactic teaching of anatomy - in which students learn by listening to lectures and reading textbooks - to include the more hands-on activity of drawing. A pilot study used qualitative methods to evaluate the effect of drawing classes on student learning and engagement.

In 2007, 67 undergraduate first-year physiotherapy students were randomly allocated into two groups. The first group (drawing) received anatomy drawing instruction during five of the 52 hours allocated to anatomy teaching in the first academic semester. Students allocated to the control (computer) group completed anatomy tasks on the computer during concurrent periods. The same staff taught both groups of students with the exception of the art lecturer who worked only with the drawing group. 

Five drawing sessions were held during the semester. The final session involved life drawing with live models where students were encouraged to use their current anatomical knowledge to drawing the bodies they could see in the room. The opportunity to compare the living body with anatomical resources, such as anatomical skeletons and images from anatomy books, was the primary focus of this session.

Student Jess Williams' drawing of the anatomical model

Results and benefits

The study found that the students who received drawing classes did achieve higher scores on their written anatomy exams.

Although some students were initially apprehensive due to their perceived lack of artistic ability, most reported the drawing classes to be both enjoyable and extremely valuable and many have continued using their drawing skills to further their study of anatomy.

The strong interrelationship between art and anatomy has led to the initiation of a cross-faculty program AnaRtomy 2009 in Prato, Italy this year.

Additional details regarding this research can be obtained from:

 Adina Kleiner
+61 3 9905 9096  

Research at Peninsula
Research at Monash