Harmonizing Humanity: Exploring the Intersection of Art and Medicine

 February 14, 2024 by Angela Ferrante

Artist and Interviewer chatting about artists work
At a discussion in Heohl Gallery, invited artist Mary Lacy shared her perspective about her experience as both patient and artist. (Photo: David Seaver)


The humanities and the medical field may appear diametrically opposed, one relying on interpretation and emotion, the other on hard data and facts. However, the integration of these disciplines holds profound significance for health care professionals. Through exposure to various forms of artistic expression—literature, visual arts, music—medical practitioners can cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience. This convergence was evident at the inaugural Humanities in Medicine event hosted by the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine on Tuesday, February 6, featuring Mary Lacy, a mixed media artist and muralist.

“Art makes us better doctors and scientists,” said Larner dean Richard L. Page, M.D., citing research indicating that physicians who engage with fiction novels exhibit heightened empathy and understanding toward their patients. This insight underscored the significance of integrating art and medicine, a sentiment echoed in the event’s aims to continue bridging these disciplines in future endeavors.



The event showcased various pieces from Lacy’s recent collection “Anatomy Of,” comprising mosaic and mixed media artworks exploring the intricate wonders and limitations of the human body. Housed in the Given Courtyard hallway, Lacy’s pieces captivated attendees with their vibrant compositions, often incorporating unique shards of broken ceramic and dishware. Notable among them was the 5-and-a-half-foot long piece titled “Anatomy of a Wedding Dress,” crafted with beads, fabric, and thread to depict an image of a pelvis.

Attendees engaged in an interactive activity titled “The Art of Observation” that invited them to delve into the deeper narratives and meanings behind the exhibited artworks. Jeremiah Dickerson, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, facilitated a discussion with Lacy, exploring her inspiration and the intrinsic connections between medicine and art. Lacy shared her perspective, noting the shift from being a patient under scrutiny to asserting agency and authority through her artistic expression.

Guests viewing artwork hanging on walls in Larner

Guests participate in the Art of Observation Exercise at the Larner College of Medicine's inaugural 'Humanities in Medicine' event. (Photo: David Seaver)

Pieces of artwork hanging on a wall

Pieces from Lacy's 'Anatomy Of' collection. (Photo: David Seaver)

“I often think about the pieces that don’t make it, the pieces that don’t fit. Sometimes, what seems perfect as an individual piece, after some distance, just doesn’t seem to fit right. And I’ll have to let it go." 

Mary Lacy, Artist

“As a patient, the microscope is on you. You’re the one being observed and judged. It would be easy for me to sit here, as the one holding the mic, to still feel like you folks, as doctors, are the experts. But through my art, I am the one with agency and authority,” she said.

The event concluded with a question-and-answer session, during which participants explored parallels between Lacy’s artwork and the challenges encountered in medical practice. Lacy reflected on the lessons gleaned from art, emphasizing the inevitability of imperfection and the transformative power of embracing vulnerability.

“As doctors, things also break and we’re tasked with putting things back together … but sometimes, we can’t,” said a student, drawing parallels between Lacy’s mosaics and medicine. “What lessons do you think we can get from art—from that process—to make something beautiful out of the broken pieces?”

Lacy took a moment to reflect on the question, remarking that, “Even with the art that you’re seeing next to me”—she pointed to a work inspired by the gastrointestinal tract titled “Relief”— “I often think about the pieces that don’t make it, the pieces that don’t fit. Sometimes, what seems perfect as an individual piece, after some distance, just doesn’t seem to fit right. And I’ll have to let it go. I’ll resist letting it go for weeks because I’ve become so attached to a piece. The sense of loss in art and in medicine is unavoidable. I make all these broken, seemingly random pieces become a whole, yes, but the story and the process behind it is far from perfect.”

Lacy’s “Anatomy Of” collection will be on display in the Given Hallway until March 1, 2024. As members of the community continue to contemplate the artwork, they are reminded of the profound interplay between art, medicine, and the human condition—inspiring health care professionals to foster empathy and resilience in their practice.

Two people standing next to a sink, one washing a sweet potato, the other holding a bowl of washed sweet potatoes, both smiling at the camera and giving a

Mary Lacy answers questions from the audience. (Photo: David Seaver)