Medical Art as a profession is relatively young, having evolved in the 20th century. However, the use of artists to produce as a means of communicating medical knowledge has a long history and can be seen in the paintings, inscriptions and sculptures of Ancient Egypt and in the early medical lore of India, China, Greece and Arabia. Pictures were used as an aid to expand theories on medical and other subjects for reasons that still hold good today. Illustrations overcome the limitation of words and can transcend language barriers.
Through the centuries, artists have worked with men of medicine in times of stable knowledge and times of change. Their endeavours to improve their knowledge of medical subjects by close co-operation with medical colleagues, making full use of suitable techniques and developing reproduction technology, have contributed greatly to the literature on medicine, surgery and allied subjects. They laid the foundations that have influenced the medical artists of today.
At the beginning of the 20th century a small number of medical artists were employed in a freelance capacity by individual medical consultants, hospitals and medical schools. Most of them had come into this branch of illustration by accident, rather than design. After World War I a few artists were employed by medical institutions, however it was not until the end of World War II, in the mid 1940s, that the numbers increased and departments of medical art were created. As the demand for medical illustrations increased so too did the number of departments.
Whereas the medical artists' work had mainly consisted of anatomical, surgical and pathological illustrations, the scope was widening greatly to take in more scientific and research work. It became evident that there was a need for medical artists to form a group, where members could exchange ideas, information and train the future medical artists for a more multidisciplinary career. A committee was formed and notices were sent out to all the known medical artists working at the time. As a result of a meeting of all invited artists held in Oxford on 2nd April 1949 it was agreed to form the Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain (MAA).
The objectives of the Association were:
To be recognised by the medical profession of Great Britain as the only Association representing British medical artists.
To safeguard the professional status of qualified artists in institutions.
To raise the standard of medical art.
Since the time of the first annual general meeting in 1950 the Association has gone through some key stages in its history:
Four departments two in London, one in Manchester and one in Edinburgh took students or trainee/assistants during the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1962 the MAA started its own postgraduate programme to train graduate artists.
In 1989 students were able to register at a medical school within London University to take a university diploma course.
In 1989 The Medical Artists' Association received the patronage of the Worshipful Company of Barbers.
In 1990 the Association became a company limited by guarantee.
In 1996 the Charlotte Holt Bequest was received by the Association for the purpose of training medical artists, which lead to The Medical Artists' Education Trust being set up as a charitable organisation.
Since 1999 the members of the Medical Artists' Association have been invited to apply for The Ronald Raven Barbers' Award. The award provides financial assistance for training and educational projects that show innovative qualities and that will ultimately benefit patient care.
During the 1990s the role of a medical artist has undergone significant change, whereas in the 1950s the majority worked within a hospital or university department, today most are working within publishing, marketing, education and training. In addition to hospital and university departments, many work in the private sector. Some are self-employed and have founded their own companies.
Throughout this transitional period The Medical Artists' Association has continued to ensure the high standard of its training. Students gain invaluable skills and are able to apply them to new and evolving technologies to maintain the high professional standards in medical art to which the Association aspires.