A hidden talent

Writer: 
August 18, 2017

It takes a leap of faith to put aside a lifetime of reason and science and jump into the arts. Particularly when so much time, energy, and study has gone into the rigorous training necessary to become a doctor. But several years ago, that’s what I did. I finally revealed a hidden part of my personal picture. In medicine, as a doctor, I sought to unlock the secrets of the body; in art, I am unlocking the secrets of my soul.

From a young age I had harbored a love of art, from my blue ribbon of “Little Bo Peep” in first grade through the many art projects of elementary and middle school. But like all humans, my interests and strengths fanned across many colors of life’s spectrum. I excelled at math and science, I had strong family role models in medicine, and I wanted to help others. So I tucked my affinity to art into the background while I focused on my medical career.

But just as the background balances the foreground in art, my hidden draw to the humanities was a necessary balance to my life in science. Duke was the perfect choice for college, precisely because the institution actively supported a broad-based understanding of both the humanities and science. I double-majored in zoology and religion and explored literature, religion, and art history alongside biology, chemistry, and research.

It was during my intense training in medical school and residency that I began to feel something was missing. My creative side felt faded. In private practice as a dermatologist, I began taking night classes at an art college nearby and felt restored.

I enjoyed being a dermatologist and taking care of the health of my patients for seven years. But when my family situation compelled me to step back from private practice (I still volunteered at the Free Clinic then), my artistic side began to push out of the shadows. I began painting whenever possible and ultimately decided to get my B.F.A. rather than return to medicine.

We interpret life through the lens of our experience. Science and the humanities have influenced my art as I incorporate images like a sonogram, eye, text, and landscape into a single piece (“Eye of God”) or reflect cows and clouds across historical newsprint in a river (“Columbus Reflections”). There is a mind-body connection that is essential to good health. When I create art, I have a sense of well-being that lets me know I was right to bring my secret side to light. And if my art evokes a sense of contemplation or peace in others, then I know I am still practicing the art of healing as well.

Darwin ’83, M.D. ’86 makes art in Columbus, Ohio.