Life Imitates Art

“Art imitates life” as the saying goes.

In my 15 or so years in medicine, I’ve always been fascinated by how interesting the human form can present itself. Every now and then, in my clinical practice as a retina surgeon, I come across an image that reminds of a great work of art. If and when I pick up on it, I pause and smile.

Just this past week, a patient of mine who I’ve been taking care of nearly two years returned for a follow up exam. Two years ago, he suffered a tennis ball injury to his left eye.

The blunt impact to the eye caused a rupture of a vascular layer beneath the center of retina and upon examining him, I felt like I had seen this image before.

And sure enough, it had a striking resemblance to the legs of the dancer in Henri Matisse’s famous piece "Icare" from his Jazz Portfolio in 1947.

Yes, I'm aware that in the retina image, the legs are upside down. But I would argue that within the human eye, the optical system works upside-down and reverse.

So there you go.

Henri Matisse, "Icare" from Jazz Portfolio, 1947

On a more personal note, last year I wiped out on my bicycle while taking a hairpin turn and developed some pretty bad road rash. After I cleaned the wound, I chuckled for a minute while I tried to convince myself that I didn't have the second coming of Whistler’s Mother granulating on my palm.

James McNeil Whister, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, 1871

My retina fellowship mentor, Rich McDonald, always said, “I’m in retina for the pictures.”

Me too.

People can get really busy, real quickly and occasionally our professional lives can lead us to burn out. It’s important to appreciate the beauty in what you do.

Sometimes you have to look deep for it and sometimes it’s right in the palm of your hand.

Sometimes, life imitates art.


Robert Wong, MD
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