FEATURED TEXT: How Frames Can Define Our Perceptions of Art

By Andrew Graham-Dixon


Graham-Dixon, A. (2017, July 20). How Frames Can Define Our Perceptions of Art. Retrieved August 3, 2019, from



In Lieu of Testimony: No. 4 2019, Oil and marble dust on panel, 24 in. X 24 in.

The quality of edges inside of a painting can change how distinct imagery interacts both on the surface and as an object on a wall. The four paintings entitled In Lieu of Testimony: No.’s 1-4 all test the frames established on the picture plane. They are exhibited without frames, in homage to the casual flatness of the snapshots that they are drawn from,

Graham-Dixon describes frames and edges as the places where an artwork begins or ends, making contact with reality in ways that determine how that artwork exists in its’ environment. He is troubled by documentation practices that crop out frames, resulting in reproductions detached from the structures that incircle them. Such disembodied images easily disappear into the visual deluge inherent to 21st century sensation. Fixating on enlarged fragtments isolated from the geographies of the “pictorial machine” leaves viewers oblivious to the richness they might have gleaned from the uninterrupted whole.


Portrait of Advancing Years 2015, oil, aluminum powder, and marble dust on Arches, 12 in. X 4 in.

Frames have been a recurring theme on my easel. I was particularly interested in how the silver paint reacted to the light, allowing the real world to alter the appearance of the miniature portrait at its center. This painting embodies exclusion and hyper-focus, encircled by a thick metallic plane.

I feel that our visual experience is constantly intensifying, numbing our capacity to savor the visual world. We are numbed to individual pictures as they flit across our omnipresent screens. Without a frame to disrupt the visual malaise, the edge of a painting or drawing can easily dissolve into pixels beside it, muddling the virtual worlds. I am fascinated by the ways that these edges push against one another. The way that I look at pictorial edges is not unlike the way that I have experienced edges between countries or towns.

For example, I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City that was wedged between the Missouri state line and a slighter wealthier suburb. Driving East, it was easy to breeze through the nondescript light on State Line Road and find yourself in amidst the dark trees and railroads of Martin City, Missouri. The same often happened driving West into Leawood. Each town center was unique, but their furthest reaches were indistinguishable.In graduate school, however, I lived in St. Louis, then briefly in Berlin before returning to St. Louis. Both cities were heavily divided, both physically and socially. Each city was divided from another world by unmistakable barriers. In Berlin, the ghost of the wall framed the land disrupting business and traffic. St. Louis maintains its physical frames in the form of gated streets. Historic streets lined with brick mansions repel the spaces that surround them, ensuring that residents are hyperaware of their exclusion from the privileges enjoyed within. e Like an artwork with a substantial frame, Berlin and St. Louis contained different “real worlds” distinct from those nearby. Other work envelops the viewer by hiding the seams between art and the tactile world. The “frames” that encircle artwork are key to our pursuit of creative meaning.


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Frescoes crafted by painters like Fra Angelico, Massaccio, and Giotto submerge the viewer in holy narrative, shutting out the chaos on the street. The framing devices enhance the reverie. (Photocredit: Alison Hall)

Featured Resource: The Chicago Public Library


The Chicago Public Library system is a goldmine. Comprised of both brick-and-mortar facilities and online platforms, it provides Chicago residents with endless ways to cultivate their curiosities completely free of charge. Branches of varied sizes serve different neighborhoods, but cardholders can use their seemingly-limitless online catalog to order books to their favorite local branch. They maintain a sophisticated collection of art-related titles, ranging from history and theory to monographs and exhibition catalogs. More extensive scholarly writing is also available through the “Online Resources” tab, where one can peruse academic databases such as JSTOR, EBSCO, and SIRS.


My painting practice is fueled by my research practice. Purchasing memberships to databases like JSTOR (which contains full-text versions of publications like Art in America, Afterall: Journal of Art, Context and Inquiry, Salmagundi, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and more), EBSCO, and SIRS. I can print texts off and annotate them while I try to solve the problems that arise on the easel. In addition, checking books out of the library when I can allows me to save my limited art-book budget for particularly niche publications.


You should really join the library.


Check out your local library! Lots of them hold open calls, and hang local artists’ work on their walls. Many offer job-search assistance, can help you register to vote, and offer various classes and lectures. Plus, you never know what treasures are waiting for you in the stacks.



work (very much) in progress:

Fighting with composition and proportion as I try to move this monster towards being “finished”. MVP: The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art by Charles Bouleau for keeping the different vignettes anchored in the logic of balance and directional movement.


(In progress, detail) Scrap Painting

2019, Oil and marble dust on linen, 30 in. X 24 in.


Thanks for reading the post! goodnight y’all.