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Aesthetic surgery ranks as fine art, physician says



New Orleans — According to Jose Guerrerosantos, M.D., it's time for the patron saints of the art world to take a dramatic step: elevating aesthetic surgery to the status of a fine art.

"When you ask people to mention works of fine art, they will surely mention sculpture, such as the David statue in Florence or the Venus de Milo," he says. "But the work of Tagliacozzi, a famous pioneer plastic surgeon from Italy who modeled the face and nose from brachial tissue flaps, is equally impressive."

Dr. Guerrerosantos, who spoke at the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery's Aesthetic Meeting 2005, has been chair of the Maxillo Facial and Reconstructive Surgery Division at the University of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico, since 1969. He became interested in art while working in Mexico City at hospitals decorated with murals by Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. He later visited the world's finest museums when traveling abroad to attend professional conferences.

He admits the goal of elevating surgery to an art form is complicated by the fact that, for millennia, philosophers have tried — and failed — to define art. Some clarification was offered by 18th century German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who separated the study of art from the study of beauty, describing the latter as a sensory recognition of perfection that produces an experience of pleasure. Baumgarten coined the word "aesthetics."

Dr. Guerrerosantos envisions aesthetic surgery as a 21st century addition to the pantheon of fine arts.

"At the Jalisco Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Institute, there is a mural showing five centuries of plastic surgery," he notes. "It shows half the human body with adipose and flaccidity, and the other half perfected with plastic surgery."

Surgery as sculpture "It is my feeling," Dr. Guerrerosantos says, "that plastic surgeons are using highly developed skills to model the human body into more beautiful forms. As with other visual arts, our results are judged, admired or criticized by observers."

Surgery is closely related to sculpture, the art of modeling figures to create three-dimensional forms. The aesthetic value (or lack thereof) is a function of how the artist expresses his or her will, the quality of forms created, and the richness of their symbolic or representational content.

"This is very similar to what we carry out surgically," Dr. Guerrerosantos says. "Sculptors give form by sculpting, modeling or fusing diverse materials. The plastic surgeon creates an aesthetic form by extirpating, modeling and suturing human tissues."

Both sculptors and surgeons are keenly interested in the human form. To obtain desirable results, members of each profession must be careful in their preparation and conceptualization, use appropriate tools and materials, and take their time with execution, Dr. Guerrerosantos says.

Plastic surgeons smooth the features of people disfigured by accidents or birth defects. They use liposuction, fat grafting and implants to sculpt "normal" bodies — self-defined by patients as inadequate in terms of breast, buttocks or pecs — into proportions typically associated with classical beauty.

Dr. Guerrerosantos also suggests that plastic surgery is closely aligned with architecture, the art of planning and constructing buildings. He notes that people tend to associate architecture with monumental works, such as the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico, or the Palace of Versailles in France. But in reality, most architecture is small and intimate in scale.

Surgeons, as do architects, use specialized techniques to design and alter a landscape — the body — according to the unique context of individual features and their surroundings, he says.

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