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History of Medicine

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Perez on Medicine in cream lettering on a dark green background.


The paintings in this collection came into being somewhat by serendipity. As an art collector and medical historian, I discovered Perez' work through a professional contact and, partly because I have two sons who are lawyers, purchased a painting from him which irreverently satirized a day in court. Several months later, I asked Perez if he could do a painting for me satirically analyzing psychiatry. I had almost specialized in psychiatry after medical school and always enjoyed the subject. When I received his painting of the psychiatrist, I decided to have him do another painting about a part of medicine with which I had had recent personal experience as a suffering patient. He painted "The Emergency Room," and by then I was hooked on his genius and couldn't stop. One painting led to another over three years as Perez and I undertook in earnest an analysis of all the branches of modern-day medicine.

Upon viewing the paintings and drawings of Jose Perez shown in this book, students of art and medical history invariably compare his work with the great artists of the past whose good-natured humor, and sometime savage ridicule, satirized pre-twentieth century medicine. Boilly, Cruikshank, Daumier, Gillray, Hogarth, Kley, and Rowlandson all can be seen in the style and feel of Perez' work. But Perez has enjoyed a distinct advantage over these earlier artists because by virture of his time in history, he has had a relative freedom from earlier religious dogmas and superstitions. He has also been able to separate the world of medicine into its many modern-day specialties, each with its own personality and perspectives.

Jose Perez has seized the opportunity to take up the torch from the greatest satirical artists of the past at a time when relationships between sufferers and their healers are undergoing unprecedented changes.

Many infamous diseases from the past have all but disappeared, and others are on the run, exiting stage left. Lifestyle is the magic ingredient in the etiology of today's most notable diseases. Heart attacks, cancer, and AIDS are blamed on the way we live, not on the gods or even microbes. The patient is now recognized by both sufferers and healers to be perhaps the most important member of the health-care team. Medical ethics is debated on our front pages, and death with dignity is a sought-after right.

The drawings preceding each of Perez' paintings show some of the experimentation and developmental thought he went through with each subject. Sometimes the simple sketches are as much fun to view as the detailed paintings, which are intricate oils on canvas that communicate different messages to different people at different times. In one frame of mind, one can view his art with gentle humor, and at another time, be moved to reform a frailty or outright deception.

At first glance, it may appear that some of Perez' art treats too disrespectfully those who do so much to preserve life and health. But his satire is intended to prod the viewer to question and think about many of the more serious issues confronting our health-care system today. His art is a mirror irreverently reflecting our reality. He often paints physicians as male, nurses as subservient, and patients as stooges, not because he wants it that way, but because that is the way it has been.

Enjoy Perez on Medicine for its tongue-in-cheek humor, but let Perez' art, my written interpretations, and your own experiences with life and death lead you to meaningful insights into the countless useful metaphors of his socially relevant work.

Wayman R. Spence, M.D.

Last Reviewed: May 11, 2012