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News . Feature Stories . Grad's Career as Artist, Scientist, and Humanitarian Built on CIA


January 01, 2012

Grad's Career as Artist, Scientist, and Humanitarian Built on CIA

A former student reflects on his CIA education.

Having completed graduate studies and research in london and having provided facial prosthetics to patients in Tanzania, Medical Illustration graduate Michael E. Degnan ’05 is back in the U.S., launching a joint international venture in facial prosthetic treatment of patients. Here he reflects on his CIA education.

Q: At what point did you become interested in medial illustration?
A: From an early age I was always drawing, painting and being creative and I was also very interested in the sciences. I didn’t want to choose between the two. When I was 13, I found a national geographic poster with all of the known human ancestors brought to life, fully fleshed out using forensic reconstruction techniques. I learned about “medical illustration.” That was why I applied to CIA, and the rest is history!

Q: CIA renamed the major Biomedical Art and re-structured the program with an increased emphasis on digital illustration, animation and sculpture, although students still must master traditional scientific illustration. How much did you use digital art at CIA?
A: My class actually experienced the very beginning of the shift toward digital art in the curriculum. The technology was less evolved; these were the wild and heady years of Apple’s burgeoning success and people still had colored iMacs. We also had to work without the security of cloud computing, never knowing when the computers might crash (which they did). But it gave me a good base for the digital research and work that I do now.

Q: Did you feel well prepared for the internship you had following graduation in the Facial Prosthetics Clinic at Johns Hopkins University?
A: My rigorous training at CIA in medical illustration, sculpture, conceptual art, and photography provided a rock-solid foundation that allowed me to take full advantage of that environment.

Q: You recently completed a master of science degree in Maxillofacial & Craniofacial Technology at King’s College London, University of London. Was it a worthwhile program, did you like living in London and are you now a tea drinker?
A: I lived in London for two years. It was incredible; I learned from world leaders in the profession, made international professional connections, and married my childhood friend in Galway, Ireland. Living in London was an education in and of itself, in history, world politics, and culture, ranging from the arts to fashion, and of course, pouring a “proper cuppa” (tea). Right now there is an unprecedented level of international collaboration in craniofacial prosthetics and anaplastology. It is a truly exciting time to be a part of this field.

Q: Do you consider yourself more of a scientist or an artist, or will you always be both?
A: Ultimately my obsession and interest is nature, its structural solutions to formal problems, as well as how we exist in that evolutionary process. Both science and art provide means of investigation and making sense of the world as human beings. My experience in each discipline informs my practice in the other, and I’ve never wanted to choose between the two.

Q: But it’s more than art or science; the prostheses you make change people’s lives.
A: Successful treatment is just amazing. I’ve had the experience of providing the finished prosthesis to the patient, handing them the mirror and it’s like flipping a switch. They may have walked in looking sullen or hiding their face, but they often walk out beaming. I feel very fortunate to be part of it.

Q: Your CIA education prepared you well for all of these learning experiences?
A: My CIA education was a direct preparation for everything I’ve done since. The more I look back on it, the more correlations I see. A lot of it comes down to the excellence of the faculty.

Q: Who were some of your most influential professors at CIA?
A: There were so many highly talented instructors who mentored me and helped me express some of my interests that included, and extended beyond, medical illustration. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Kim Bissett, Richard Fiorelli, Rick Hall, Amie McNeel, Saul Ostrow, and Charles Tucker, all of whom spent many hours with me exploring the concepts that would lead to my unique career path.

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