Anatomy, Art, and Life

I have been watching a fascinating, yet disturbing program on television the past couple weeks. The first week I watched it, I was dizzy and almost felt sick, but I couldn’t look away.

It’s called Anatomy for Beginners, with Dr Gunther von Hagens doing the dissecting of the bodies and pathologist Professor John Lee (nicknamed the “Walt Disney of Death”) explaining how we work in health and in disease. Gunther is pictured to the left holding the skin of the corpse that he just peeled off.

anatomy for beginners

I never did make it to the morgue while studying art (to sketch body parts), so I thought this could be the anatomy lessons that I never took. I first saw us as meat, then as an amazing technical achievement, and finally as something more amazing than I could fathom. It has also made me rethink my meat eating habits.

All I wanted was to see how we work inside, yet it has changed the way I see things outside of myself.

anatomy lecture

Episode two is a beauty for those that smoke too.

I’ll never look at Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” the same way again..

There’s some more about anatomy here, with some more about how artists have used anatomy to create art. Including the artist Anthony Noel Kelly, who decided that sketching body parts in a morgue just wasn’t enough. He paid a lab technician to smuggle out torsos, heads, and body parts so he could make casts of them, paint them silver, and pin them to the wall. He was sentenced to nine months in prison.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. I went to see body worlds exhibit in chicago and it was fascinating. I felt it added to my drawing skills and how to render the human figure.Not sure if I could actually watch a dissection or the process though. eeeeek!

  2. Anonymous says:

    My first job was in the Human Anatomy Department at Liverpool University. The Professor there had taught at The Ruskin School of Art in Oxford.

    There is nothing more fascinating that the human form and it can take hours and hours for shaping – goodness knows how to sculpt. Skin tones in the youth are delicate and beautiful.

  3. Lovin’ this blog!!!
    Do rethink those meat-eating habits… you & me aint nothing but mammals (just like cows, sheep and dogs et al).
    Really though, I saw a couple of those live disection programs and this dude sliced this dead old woman in half along the para-sagital plain. It made me feel a bit poorly, whilst filling me with a massive sense of the complexity of life. car crash television – you feel like you shouldn’t be watching, but you just cant stop.

  4. Nathalie Winberg says:

    I’ve never fully understood why the sketching of dead bodies was something to try out, when in real life you’ll be needing the skills to sketch the living, breathing and above all moving ones. Sure it’s good to know how muscles work and where they begin and end, but do you really need to witness that to learn, can’t we just use the illustrations created by artists who had no previous illustrations? :D

    I recently wrote in my blog about the fur industry, with a link to a horrific movie. If you think skinning a dead body is a horrible experience, then I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s like to see someone be skinned alive.
    Need I say I’m a vegetarian?

  5. With regard to sketching stinking corpses… I think some people get off knowing they’re doing what some of the great masters did, maybe hoping it will instil some great artistic soul where there was little before(?)

    There was a savage program on tellylast night about the sytematic non-anaesthetised tail docking and removal of testicals within the commercially farmed pig industry…
    Is the author of this blog a vegetarian yet?

    throw up a link to your blog Nat…

  6. I’ll give this one a miss, thanks. Yuk! By coincidence I’ve been looking at the exact opposite this week: building a face from a skull. Check out Forensic Art (Saturday 22 July) at a fascinating image. There’s a link to a first-rate book review on the subject. Career change?

  7. Yeah, that’s some pretty Scary
    Nathalie. I’m not sure if it’s the same one I watched at Peta TV ages ago, but I already got the message, and bought a fake leather wallet. It’s pretty shocking stuff.. especially if it’s of the dog that was skinned alive.. I still have that image in my head!!!

    Also, Im not vegetarian Mikeibbo, but I eat very little meat. I’m also very aware that an animal died for me to chew on it when I do eat meat. Which makes me feel like a hypocrit as I love animals and the environment.

    I’m on the verge of vegetarianism I guess. I couln’t kill a cow/chicken/pig/sheep to eat it (unless it was for survival), so I probably shouldnt eat a cow wrapped in plastic from the supermarket either.

    That’s an Interesting story too Coxsoft.


  8. Oh sorry Mike, I usually never forget to add my link in.

  9. Cool and the gang Nat, thanks for that.

    I hate people that tell other people what to eat anyway, so I tend not to force my views too much.
    A persons diet’s his/her own business.
    Its a sad fact fact that if people didnt eat meat there wouldnt be any cows, sheep and piggys for us hippys to go look at in the fields. So, meat eaters – keep on munching.


  10. Strong word and emotion that Mike, hate.I don’t tell people what to do either, but I’m not quiet about what and why I eat. Usually people start up the discussion by asking for the reason themselves. It’s impossible to force anyone to be vegetarian.
    And you’re right, there are millions of animals that shouldn’t be alive, since they are produced. The last statement I find disgusting.. and really don’t know what to reply too. Sorry you feel that way, but it’s up to you.

  11. the word hate was just used (wrongly) as a figure of speech… let me re-word please – Im not very good at articulating myself.

    I dis-like being told what I should or shouldnt eat – it’s no-ones business but mine. (thats a better way of saying what I meant – i dont hate).
    I also find the word disgusting a bit strong. Most meat eaters find it just as wierd that I drink “milk” made out of beans, than themselves eating part of a moocow. Its their choice to munch and they’re aloud to make it. Its bad for the health and ethically questionable, but who am I to say they cant decide that for themselves? That would be akin to telling me I should eat what “everyone else” eats :|
    Thats all I meant.

    peace.x. (btw, i like your blog)

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