It was an elective class for those in their senior year of a medical degree, but the members of the course learned more than just art. The three students who were part of this year’s Artists in Residence program also learned about human emotions and how they also can be healed through music and sculpture.
Three medical students at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine did something a little different on the night before graduation: They showcased their art.
It was part of the annual Artists in Residence elective course that takes place at the university’s School of Medicine. A public reception at Renown Regional, included as part of Renown’s Healing Arts Program, featured sculptor Chris Robertson and two musicians, Dan Ignatiuk and Gerrit Dunford, presenting or performing their final projects.
Despite the disparity in their art forms, Robertson, Ignatiuk and Dunford each found a connection between art, healing and medicine in their individual projects. An appreciative crowd cheered on the students as they showed the results of their art.
Here’s a quick look at what each artist presented:
Rhythms of the Heart
Trumpet player Dan Ignatiuk has been playing music since he was a child, including the trumpet from age 11. For his Artists in Residence project, he composed a suite in jazz/blues music that used samples of heartbeats in its three distinctive sections. During his performance, he played the suite along to a rhythm section he recorded in a computer program.
Ignatiuk selected the heart rhythms to also affect mood. The mid-tempo blues section, for instance, had congenital heart defects, while the final section had regular heart beats and was therefore happier in chord choice and style.
The trumpet player and composer says the experience opened his own eyes in both process and the emotional responses it brought forth.
“I had more respect for a patient’s emotions and what they are going through,” Ignatiuk says. “And for me, it was also a reflection of the whole journey, what it was like to join the profession of medicine. You start out not being comfortable with what you are doing, but by the end you feel that you can make a meaningful impact.”
Grief through Song
For singer/songwriter Gerrit Dunford, who will soon be moving to Chicago for his general surgery residency, the Artists in Residence project was a way to bring a famous theory to musical life. He wrote five songs in a modern pop/R&B style that are based on the five stages of grief theorized by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Like Ignatiuk, Dunford composed a musical backing in a computer program so he could perform his vocals live at the reception. He says the entire project really stretched his skills not only as a vocalist but as a composer, since it was the first time he used a program like this to write and finalize his songs.
Dunford, who says he began singing with family members at a very early age, had an interesting moment of clarity during his work on the songs. He noted that Dr. Kubler-Ross was criticized for having the theories be in succession, instead of skipping a stage or having several stages simultaneously.
“I wanted to have five distinct pieces that covered each stage of grief, but I found it impossible to mirror just one stage at a time,” Dunford says. “I have a piece on bargaining, where it is lyrically in conversation with a higher power or God, and I found it difficult to not have a lot of anger in there, which is another stage of grief. So, I think it was fun for me to realize that I have some of the same criticisms of my own work that Dr. Kubler-Ross had.”
The Power of Sculpture
Chris Robertson has been woodworking since he was a teen, so he says it was natural to have his Artists in Residence art as carvings.
“When I heard about the program, I thought it would be really cool to make some fancy paperweights,” he says with a little chuckle. “I just thought that an anatomy series of carvings would be really fun and appropriate.”
Robertson says he chose mahogany because it was heavy and would bring out more detail than other types of wood. “One of the things I really enjoyed was that with this wood, they can’t be 100 percent flawless,” Robertson says. “They have blemishes that add a richness and character to the piece in the end. It just shows that even though you do your best, there are always going to be inherent flaws, and that can actually add to the beauty of a piece.”
Robertson will be heading to Provo, Utah, to practice family medicine, and he received some time with patients in a different way as part of this project. Robertson visited patients at Renown Regional for two sessions of soap carving as therapy.
“Because of the restrictions of not using sharp tools, we had to use soap since it’s such a soft material,” Robertson explains. “I think the patients had a great time. We were able to just chat and discuss life in general, while also learning about carving techniques and what carving do for you.”