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The Arts and Medicine
April 18, 2017

Look. Listen. Receive.Surrendering to the Art

Author Affiliations
  • 1Duke Divinity School, Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellowship, Durham, North Carolina; and University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia
JAMA. 2017;317(15):1508-1509. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.2397

The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)

In 1899, Louis-Ernest Barrias (1841-1905) completed his sculpture La Nature se dévoilant à la Science (Nature Unveiling Herself Before Science)—featured on the June 16, 1993, cover of JAMA. Nature is personified as a beautiful woman, veiled in layered robes of bronze, caught in the midst of removing her outermost cloak.1 Her breasts are exposed, but any suggestion of eroticism is lost in the modesty and elegance of her form. She stands gently, humbly removing her gown, but seems aware of us, observing our repose, character, pride, and motives. She is eager to show us her mysteries, but protective of her dignity. Through this personification, Barrias teaches us an approach to art and nature that forms the patient-physician relationship: patients reveal themselves to us as physicians just as nature reveals herself before science.