February 02, 2022

Thinking Beyond the Frame: The Utility of Art in Radiology

Priya Dave, BA, MS4 Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and MBE Candidate at Harvard Medical School




















Frames come in all shapes and sizes. They may be physical, like the elaborate intricately carved, bronze and gold frames surrounding portraits at the art museum. We might create the frame with our own two eyes. Technology, such as the MRI or X-ray may generate a frame of reference for us. As we look at an image, we are often blind to what lies beyond the frame. Thinking critically about the frame is just as important as thinking about the image inside.

Photo credit: The painting, Vigil, by Zoey Frank

As a poignant example, we can look at the three scenes presented above. Taken individually, the piece on the left shows a man and woman sitting in a dimly lit room. The image in the middle might evoke a family unit sharing dinner together. The image on the right, a lone woman washing dishes. These scenes may not seem connected in any way. Only when we ask ourselves what is beyond the frame, can we lay our eyes upon the more expansive image. As such, the painting Vigil, by Zoey Frank, challenges the viewer to look beyond simply the margins presented.

Photo credit: The painting, Vigil, by Zoey Frank

As you can see, the scenes presented above were in fact three frames from one image. The three pieces together reveal one household, coping with the illness of a family member. The two characters at the very front are sitting with the ill patient, whose dinner lies untouched. Frank's piece points out to us the limits of the frame. It challenges us to ask, what is our frame of reference? What are we framing? While the frame is an ample starting point, it should catalyze and not contain our curiosity surrounding what lies beyond.

Just as art pieces come pre-framed, so do radiographs. An astute clinician can see the salient features beyond what is presented inside the frame. We should train ourselves to use the frame effectively to pick up on these details that lie beyond. Art can be a metaphor to challenge us in this way; to look at, then beyond, what is in front of us. Analyzing the frame itself can be an excellent reminder of this wonderful challenge. Only when we see beyond what is presented directly, do we see the more comprehensive image.