The Physician’s Palette’s mission is to illuminate connections between medicine and art, and we are introducing a novel weekly column termed “Perceptive Lessons in Art to Stimulate Thinking and Improve Clinical Skills” (PLASTICS).

PLASTICS builds on research which suggests that medical students/professionals can develop stronger clinical diagnostic skills through analysis of fine art. The hypothesis for this project suggests a link between art analysis and clinical diagnosis through visual literacy, exposing new ideas and opinions.

Each week a new painting will be displayed, without artist name or title. The goal is to observe the painting without bias and generate your own ideas. The viewer (you!) should spend five to ten minutes observing the painting and noting some or all of the following:

  • composition/symmetry
  • color/light/line/shape/shadow
  • insight into the artist’s motivation or envision the setting

These are the “plastic means” of fine art (a concept synthesized by Albert Barnes) as well as some other properties. The goal is to record a detailed account of the work so that someone could picture the piece without prior knowledge or viewing.

Participation is completely up to you, and this is not scientific by any means. My goal is that this exercise will help improve visual literacy, which should assist in any job sector. You do not need any prior experience with art (in fact it is better if you do not!), just describe what you see and you cannot fail.


Naghshineh, Sheila, Janet P. Hafler, Alexa R. Miller, et. al. “Formal Art Observation Training Improves Medical Students’ Visual Diagnostic Skills.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 23.7 (2008): 991-97. Print.

Reilly, J. M., J. Ring, and L. Duke. “Visual Thinking Strategies: A New Role for Art in Medical Education.” Family Medicine 37.4 (2005): 250-52. Print.