Before I set foot in the McGovern Historical Center, I envisioned a museum with fancy exhibits outlining the history and development of medicine at the Texas Medical Center. While my expectations were partially fulfilled with displays of different medical devices and surgical instruments, what I found most interesting in the archive were different articles written regarding various medical issues of the past, and issues we as young students in the age of modern medicine would regard as foolish and primitive. I found the fact that surgical instrument handles pre-germ theory were made of wood intriguing. Consequently, blood was able to seep into the handle, which created a dangerous working environment for health professionals.
I gravitated towards the two artworks entitled the “Re-evaluation of Lobotomy” and “Lost Cry,” simply because of the emotional intensities underlying the pieces. In both works, I felt an unsettling sensation that led me to inquire of what the artist is truly trying to delineate and express to me.
In the “Re-evaluation of Lobotomy,” I was able to recognize the birth of biochemistry as a means of treatment for psychological and neurological disorders. In this piece, demons, animals, and creatures seem to come out of the brain of a skull, which illustrates past notions of psychological diseases. There seems to a hole in the skull, which shows how psychosurgery is able to solve these illnesses by “releasing” the entities that control the mind. However, after the success of drugs in treating personality disorders, psychosurgery was re-evaluated, and even considered the last resort for patients suffering mental illnesses, since psychosurgery’s effects on personality were drastic.
Another piece related to neurological and mental disorders was “Lost Cry” from the Psychiatric Bulletin. The piece depicts a greenish, monstrous figure with an intense fear in his eyes. His eyes are open wide in a full scream, and the artist’s use of chiaroscuro and contrast in light created an uncomfortable atmosphere for me. Although the piece was obviously silent, I was easily able to hear the loud and cacophonous cry of the patient in anguish. I believe this to be a picture of his inner subconscious turmoil, and the artwork does a tremendous job in expressing the patient’s real feelings, which would be impossible to utter in speech.
All in all, my eye-opening visit to the archive forced me to reconsider my perceptions of the past, in regards to both its medical technologies and its depiction of patients with mental health disorders. I have come to realize how medicine, or any topic, can be viewed through artistic lenses that are often able to reveal another layer of emotions than through words of mouth.