Though scientists and artists may share an interest in anatomy—even working together at times—their approaches are different, said Roberto Osti, an anatomy instructor at both NYAA and PAFA, who authored and illustrated the 2016 book Basic Human Anatomy: An Essential Visual Guide for Artists. “For medicine, you want to know where things are, what they’re called, but you’re not so much interested in the form,” Osti told Artsy. “The artist is interested in anatomy for aesthetic purposes. The way we look at the same subject is very different.”
This becomes clear when artists and physicians interact during opportunities such as the NYAA course. “The art students look for very different things, anatomically,” said Bruce Hirsch, an associate professor in the department of neurobiology and anatomy at Drexel University’s College of Medicine. “I’ve been teaching anatomy for a long time,” he continued, “and I’ve never had any [medical] student ask me about the bumps on the back where the vertebrae make marks on the skin.”
It is this painstaking attention to aesthetics that makes artists ideal for illustrating medical reference books. The current gold-standard anatomical textbook for medical students, Atlas of Human Anatomy (1989), was illustrated and written by Dr. Frank H. Netter, who followed his high school studies at the National Academy of Design with enrollment at New York University’s Medical College, honing a unique constellation of skills as a medical artist.