When Medical Imaging Meets Art

March 27, 2017
Nadim Michel Daher

The beauty of medical imaging is easy to overlook, but it's still there.

It’s one of the perks of working out of Paris, France: to be living in one of the world’s capitals of art. When time is short, it’s hard to think of a better mental escape from work matters, than visiting a nice art exhibition.  I used to expect the world I work in – the medical imaging industry – would not intrude on that of my free time, in which beaux-arts getaways are supposed to offer a complete change of scene. Ironically, it happened a few times in the last two years that medical imaging matters just bluntly intruded on a few of these arty escapes.   I stumbled on this wall sculpture at the 2015 edition of the renowned Paris Art Fair. There, twice a year, the latest creations of hundreds of artists and designers are displayed in one of Paris’ most amazing venues, under the huge barrel-vaulted glass roof of the Grand Palais. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"57939","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_4105259646434","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"7304","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 473px; width: 630px; float: right; margin: 1px;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]It took me a minute or so to realize, two hours into an inspiring art stroll, that the reason this strange form I was staring at looked familiar, was because it was actually a green-painted scanner gantry cover. It could be from a CT or an MR scanner, I still can’t tell, but the fact that it was elevated here as an object of art made me think that we, who work in the medical imaging field and see these machines every day, tend to forget sometimes what amazing pieces of design work these objects really are. A few months later, I found myself one day in the basement of the Fondation Cartier watching a video installation made on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition of Daido Moriyama’s work. He’s a contemporary Japanese photographer who, throughout his career, worked extensively on the topic of market consumerism. In this 10-minute film, random images were rolling on two large screens, meant to represent the mix-and-match of random sights and visual memories we experience in our daily lives.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"57940","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_2187328269079","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"7305","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 473px; width: 631px; float: right; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]] The picture I snapped caught the moment when an X-ray image came up right next to the brand of a mass-market drink, which also happens to be one of the major pop-art symbols of our consumer society. At a time when healthcare consumerism is becoming a big topic, this coincidence felt ironic indeed. This also made me reflect on the extent to which our medical images, which patients bring back home along with the “good news” or “bad news” of their diagnosis, can create a lasting visual memory in people’s minds. The art intrusion struck again recently, when I came across, in a museum, a series of photographs called Mein Gehirn (German for “My Brain”), work from the late 1980s of a German artist called Isa Genzken. A hospitalization episode led the artist into a creative process whereby she felt the urge to look “inside herself.” With this introspective work, Genzken reminds us how fascinating our medical images can appear to the untrained eye, as we all struggle to understand how our minds and bodies really function. She also makes it a point that medical images can very much be looked at, as the curator puts it, a “unique variation of the self-portrait.”[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"57943","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_5956298627460","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"7308","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 191px; width: 630px; float: right; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]] Closing out with another sight of increased romance lately between medical imaging and art, this week I learned about a new visualization technology called “cinematic rendering” that looks like it could well be right there, at the intersection of the two. Its inventors, Siemens Healthineers, released the first images created with the innovative algorithm. Geared right now at research, teaching, or at better physician-patient communication, the technology is “A Journey Inside the Human Body” that may, down the line, become a valuable interventional planning tool when it develops into clinical use cases. The novel rendering technique, inspired by the animation work that we’re used to coming out of the movie industry, produces medical images that look more “photorealistic” than ever before. As I contemplate these images, there are some I find so esthetical that it becomes hard to draw the line between where medical imaging stops, and where artistic imagery starts. But why try to force down that line, anyway?  [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"57942","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_7481222734328","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"7307","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 840px; width: 630px; float: right; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Photo credit: healthcare.siemens.com