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Art Meets Science in the Study of Anatomy

Science teacher Kristen Styspeck could be found in Hamilton Arts Studios recently and likewise, art teacher Kerry Kendall was spending time in the anatomy classroom. The students of both classes were in both classrooms as well — together. The reason? It’s not a classroom shortage. This was a purposeful collaboration.
 
Mrs. Styspeck approached Mrs. Kendall about collaborating in the fall. When Mrs. Styspeck got a computer program for the science department called Visible Bodies, a 3D anatomy physiology program, her anatomy class and Mrs. Kendall’s drawing, painting and sculpture class, began a cross-curricular unit.
 
“These two fields of study rely upon each other,” said Mrs. Kendall. The students studied the unit together. “Everybody’s drawing,” she said, “and my students went to all the lectures about anatomy.”
 
This type of intradisciplinary work is also another way to prepare students for college as this type of programming is more common there. Mrs. Styspeck said the cross-curricular unit supports the concept of cognitive flexibility, which is a critical component of executive functioning and allows a student to be able to respond to changes in their environment.
 
“She was very interested in combining art and science so the students could have a deeper experience with learning about anatomy,” said Mrs. Kendall. “We met together on the first day in the science lab and we talked about the history of science and how the sciences have relied upon artists to understand the diagrams and all the visual material that we have. And how art students have relied upon anatomy classes to be able to properly render proportion.”
 
Mrs. Kendall said students study Leonardo da Vinci — an artist and engineer, inventor and an exceptional autonomist.
 
“He dissected over 30 cadavers and drew image after image to understand the mechanics of the body,” she said.
 
The students started the unit in Mrs. Styspeck’s classroom first, where she taught them about different types of joints and how they move. Then the students moved to the art studio where they set up still life pieces and drew. The students spent two days in the art studio talking about proportion and doing gesture drawings through a program called Posemaniacs.
 
“These two fields of study rely upon each other,” said Mrs. Kendall, noting a total of 23 students were in the art studio drawing or in the science lab learning about anatomy.
 
“Everybody’s drawing,” she said, adding one anatomy student said he wished he had taken art after the experience.
 
“The experience of combining art and anatomy has been great for me because it has helped me understand the human proportions and movements within our anatomy that I had not known about,” said Remi Morello ’25. “It has contributed greatly to my understanding of how to bring real life to paper which is a crucial ability to many artists. This collaboration has made me think about how interesting and helpful interdisciplinary studies can be.”
 
Mrs. Styspeck said somewhere along the continuum of learning, society started expecting people to be specialists in one dominant field, which brings a bevy of problems.
 
“The more that we diversify ourselves the more we are seen as non-specialists,” she said. She said Renaissance men “were artists, they were teachers, they were scientists, they were everything to a community — the thought leaders.”
 
“The most engaging and creative and important people to an organization are the people that have multiple skill sets,” said Mrs. Styspeck. “Taking a deep dive into a topic in an interdisciplinary way allows the students to learn multiple perspectives.”
 
Studying the skeletal system and how bone structure and support allow humans to stand in a scientific way — but also looking at how art — has allowed us to understand that science is an important piece of learning, she said.
 
Another benefit said Mrs. Styspeck: “Their engagement was increased. Their excitement for the topic was increased.”
 
“I think the idea of combining these two classes is brilliant,” said Elise Park ’25. “As an art student, I always struggled with portraits. Learning about anatomy and proportion really brought my understanding on how to draw people in all kinds of positions. Diving deeper in the different kinds of joints and also taking a look at physical muscle models, took my understanding into a deeper level. It teaches anatomy and art students to understand how art and science are intertwined and are both essential to one another. Overall, my experience was amazing and I’m really happy on how I got to build on my art skills and have a different perspective in biology.”
 
The unit, held Nov. 7-12, will wrap-up with a show (date to be determined) featuring student drawings. But before the show, the students ended the term by doing a movement and yoga class focused on the joints of the body. Mrs. Kendall taught gentle yoga movements as Mrs. Styspeck talked about how each joint moves and the names of the type of joint.
 
“Exposing children to various stimuli actually activates the brain in multiple regions strengthening this functionality,” she said. “This type of interdisciplinary course is a way to develop this cognitive ability and strengthen the neural pathways.”
 
Mrs. Kendall agrees and sees possibilities with more of her classes. There are already plans to build on this next academic year.
 
“This could transcend across all my classes because we are always drawing the figure and trying to understand proportion,” said Mrs. Kendall.
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