In the Eye of the Beholder

I came to my art appreciation awakening when I was 13. In the days after my Bat Mitzvah, we had relatives in from another continent, so we all piled into the car for the four-hour trip to Chicago to see Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings at the Chicago Art Institute. I threw a tantrum. It was my Bat Mitzvah, it should be all about me, and I didn’t want to go to some overcrowded art exhibit.

Once I went in, I was, of course, blown away by the canvasses, one of which was wall-sized. It was also fun to compare what I saw with and without my glasses (this only really works for the Impressionists). Eventually, I came to appreciate more than just impressionism – the pre-Rafaelites, glass blowing, sculpture, photography. Now the walls of my apartment are covered with art, and I even have a miniature of a Rodin sculpture.

In a recent conversation, I realized I may be privileged to have access to a more unusual form of art. My friend was talking about how, after her recent shoulder surgery, she had several x-rays that she would likely never use again. The conversation devolved into a rather silly set of proposals of what to do with them and other leftover medical records. I joked that she should make a collage and hang it on her wall.

Da Vinci Study.jpeg

We forget sometimes in all of our fear and frustration with bodies that don’t work properly, that the human body really is a work of precision art. Not the outside, the inside, the things we can’t groom or enhance with cosmetics.

Once I had to go in for an ultrasound. (I have cystic breast tissue, which is very common and benign, but they do like to check periodically to make sure everything is ok.)  There was a mix-up and they had to do it a second time. While I waited and chatted with the tech, he offered to show me the heartbeat in my leg (femoral artery) and all of the blood vessels. I’d never thought about a heartbeat in my leg before. It was fun to see, but not really something I could hang up with my posters and paintings.

But there was also the lightning storm. Once, after I had my second set of surgeries for retinopathy, my doctor wanted to check that everything was stable, so he injected me with a dye that lit up the blood vessels in my eyes. While the blood vessels in my legs were cool, these were stunningly beautiful. They looked like a lightning storm against a sepia sky. I could see the smudges of laser scars, which were in high contrast against the sharpness of the blood vessels. It wasn’t what I expected of one of my biggest problem children (my retinas).

I liked it so much, my doctor printed off a copy for me, which I still have a decade later. For a while that page lived on my office wall at work. I couldn’t tell them what it really was; that might have been a little too much for sensitive stomachs (not as bad as that time my middle school history teacher made all of us watch a video of his ACL surgery. Eeew.).

For all the years I’ve been poked and prodded – or I’ve poked and prodded myself – for the sake of good health, I don’t get to see inside very often. Probably a good thing.

So, if you ever have the opportunity, I recommend taking it. As with more common forms of art, a view under the skin may not be to everyone’s taste, but you also may find it as fascinating as I do. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.