Interview with Dr P Overton

How useful do you find art images in both your work and in a teaching capacity?

Illustrations (graphs, schematics, photographs) are a very important part of any scientific paper and if you get it right, they can save you the need to write hundreds of words. They’re also very useful for persuading people to read your papers – if the artwork is good, it gives the impression that you’ve found something significant out. The best journals (Nature, Science) take great care with their artwork, both the front cover art and inside the journal, and their artwork is one of the reasons for their success. Similarly with teaching – if you want to keep people interested in what you’re trying teach them, you need to have attention grabbing slides, and that usually comes down to art. Art also plays a critical role in giving people memorable information in lectures that they can recall as and when.

Do you find that this affects your view on art generally? If so why?

It only affects my view insofar as it reinforces my existing belief that art is critical for science. The journals I use have front cover illustrations to pull people in and it’s often the images that stay with you. When you read scientific text you’re often looking for the illustrations to help clarify the point that’s being made. Science and art have a proud shared history and for very good reason. When I was Head of Department, I got a small grant to take on an Artist in Residence. She created an installation which illustrated the symptoms of some mental health disorders – it was a great to have this alternative way to teach the general public about mental health.

Do you feel like your work challenges medical art in some way?

Medical art is always challenged – there may always be a ‘better way’ to illustrate a point, and you’re naturally limited by the current tools of the trade.

Do you feel like the medical imagery out there has finished progressing/ growing?

No – at one time colour was rare. Now we now have coloured images, 3D images, interactive images, graphical abstracts and videos used widely in science. I’m sure the future will bring new innovations, maybe using virtual reality, holograms etc.


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