Aerobics of the Spirit is a collaborative permanent online exhibition of art by Mary Anne Bartley and poetry by Emanuel E. Garcia, M.D., featuring twenty-nine images and five poems that reflect on sickness. The actual art represented on line consists of acrylic polymer emulsion color canvases and originated at Villanova University, where Bartley is Artist-in-Residence.

The first display (the homepage) includes an Artist's Statement outlining the two artists' tenets that art has a great medical value in the healing process, and that the utilization of one's inner creativity is a powerful treatment in stress reduction. Bartley suffered as a young girl from acute rheumatic heart disease and later became a pioneer in the field of Art in Medicine. Dr. Garcia is a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of creative and performing artists.

The first display (image 1) also includes artwork, "Lamentations"-- three sliced off faces in profile on a background of mottled blue-green-yellow-brown. Underneath the faces are outstretched arms with reaching fingers, seeking small heart shaped objects that float nearby.

The third and fourth displays (images 2 through 8, plus un-numbered kite drawings), "A Flotilla of Healing Kites," is meant to evoke feelings including freedom of spirit and place, deliverance from ailment, and childhood wonder. Bartley and Garcia include a song by psychotherapist Bruce Lackie, PhD, recognizing "the importance of the arts in healing the spirit." Reminiscent of Jackson Pollack's work, Bartley's kites possess a vibrant energy that, in contrast to what many would find macabre subject matter--sickness and death--elicits hope and joy from the viewer. Other works exhibited later in the online exhibition are non-representational images, often portraits, which make use of color and unconventional painting techniques to convey similar emotions.

The fifth and sixth displays (images 9 through 12), "Collaboration of Poet and Artist," is a joint project begun at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Section on Medicine and the Arts. Here, Garcia and Bartley dialogue with one another's work in a "Responsorial Psalm." This section includes the text of two poems by Garcia and a reading by him of one of them.

The seventh and eighth displays (images 13 through 24), "Portraits of Our Self and Others: Intimate Conversations We Have with Our Self," focuses on the power of facial depiction in bringing "new meaning to the past," and to "help rescue [an artist] from the depth of mourning." Included are the text and a reading by Garcia of his poem, "Portraiture."

The ninth display, "Vers la Flamme," pairs a three-part poem ("The Consultation," "The Stay," "The Cure") with three paintings-- the kite shaped drawing, "Behind the Dancer's Mask," and images 25 and 26.

The tenth display (image 27), "Homage to Wilma Bulkin Siegel, MD", pays pictorial tribute to Dr. Siegel, a "pioneer in the hospice movement"

The eleventh and twelfth displays (image 28), "Homage to Healers: John Y. Templeton, III, MD," features a painting of surgeons' hands covering an abstract human heart and a corresponding poem and reading. Mary Anne Bartley explains in text following the image Dr. Templeton's role in saving her life during her teenage years, and again "salute[s] this gentle healer:" "I carry the fingerprints of this great man in my own heart."

Dr. Garcia's poem, "Homage," expounds on Bartley's pictorial sentiment with words: "Darkened to nil . . . / to surrender to a surgeon's tryst, / Hands on my heart to cut and to caress / Deeper than any lover any lover ever would." The display also includes photographs of Bartley as a young patient in 1967 at the time of her surgery, of Dr. Templeton, and of all three--Garcia, Bartley, and Templeton--at an exhibition.


Mary Anne Bartley's rheumatic heart disease forced her into home schooling; she graduated at the top of a class she "had never met." Due to her illness, she watched her "fellow top ten graduates receive full scholarships to leading universities, while [she] was wished "good luck!" Refusing to kowtow to her disease, however, Bartley went against doctors' orders and began employment at the clinical laboratories of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. She ignored her physical condition, which led in time to severe symptoms and a prognosis of death within a year's time. Bartley elected to undergo highly risky surgery, performed by Dr. John Y. Templeton III, which resulted in the indefinite prolongation of her life; Bartley honored Templeton years later in her painting "Homage to John Y. Templeton."

Bartley professes the therapeutic value of art, and she works to bring greater awareness to its importance in the role of patient recovery. As Dr. Wilma Siegel acknowledges, "For the past 20 years, Maryanne [sic] has been teaching medical students to see and feel, during 'hands on' experiences long before anyone even thought of the concept of integrating arts in medicine" (2005 letter of recognition notifying Bartley of Lifetime Achievement Award from The Society for Arts and Healthcare).

Until February, 2005 a solo show of Bartley's multi-colored painted kites floated in space as a site-specific installation at the gallery of Alumni Hall, Thomas Jefferson University--"a room near where the famous picture, The Gross Clinic [see this database] by Thomas Eakins is enshrined" (quoted from Burton Wasserman's review in the October, 2004 issue of Art Matters).


Mary Anne Bartley is the first artist to be elected to the prestigious honor society, The College of Physicians.