Proficient at capturing a subject’s likeness within moments, courtroom artists are constantly working against the clock to produce quality results. In some instances, the subject may appear in court for only a few minutes and in jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, the courtroom artist is not permitted to draw during the proceedings and must instead retain all visual information to memory.
Why not just send a photographer instead?
Photography would certainly be a cheaper, more time efficient option, however, many jurisdictions restrict the use of photography during courtroom proceedings – certainly this is to protect the privacy of the plaintiffs and witnesses, especially in high profile cases. Despite this, some jurisdictions, particularly in the US, have permitted photographers to sit in on court proceedings.
The importance of drawing from life instead of photos will always be relevant. Although camera’s are authentic and easy to use and share, there are some disadvantages of this system. These fall backs include a lack of emotion and essence, difficulty observing personalities, and the inability to focus on what is important during the trial. The nature of visible reality will always differ from a person's perceived reality, compared to a still taken with a camera. No matter how good the camera is, it can not capture all the colors we perceive with our bare eye. On the other hand, there are some advantages taking a photo instead of depicting life. These advantages include the convenience of use, unchanging conditions, the ease of sharing, no need to scan and of course it is real and unbiased.
However, the advantages of drawing from life are numerous. To capture 3d objects and convert them to a 2d painting is a challenge. The way light behaves in life is difficult, being that light patterns and reflections alter as a day continues. An artist drawing from life has the ability to capture the atmosphere and the overall tone of reality in their work better than those artists referencing a bland photograph.
It is a bit different for courtroom sketch artists, since they are pressed for time to complete their work. It is their duty to capture everything that has occurred during the trial, from a person’s tie color to the facial expressions of people in the jury, every aspect plays an important role in the sketch. Courtroom sketch artists have the ability to summarize the overall scene by certain colors and exaggerations. Whereas, cameras only capture single moments. Photographers often catch people in between facial expressions, completely dodging the value of the moment. Artists however, have the power to deeply examine facial trends and personalities. They later portray these observations in their sketches. Sometimes, a single facial expression has the power to summarize the overall tone of the case.
A 1982 courtroom illustration by Freda Liebowitz Reiter shows defendant John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, listening to videotaped testimony from actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
As with all work, it is always hard to not bring your work home with you. For the court artists, this is no different. They are often witnessing all the terrible occurrences shown behind closed doors during trial, from violent pictures of death and mutilations to intense emotional breakdowns. It is easy to become emotionally affected by all this, making it a challenging career to pursue. Seeing the worst of humanity is never something you get used to.
Behind all courtroom sketch artists is an intensive process. First, the artist completes their detailed sketch strongly pressured by available time. Upon completion, the artist must photograph their work and begin distributing it to media studios. Having your work published for most artists is a huge accomplishment, however, with attention comes scrutiny. Many of these artists have faced negative feedback, often from extreme fans in supports of certain celebrities undergoing a trial. For example, in 2015, courtroom artist Jane Rosenberg faced brutal criticism after her sketch of Tom Brady during the “DeflateGate Hearing.” The image flooded social media platforms with comical captions along with jabs at Rosenberg. Rosenberg didn’t understand the backlash. She later ended up apologizing to Brady explaining her time crunch and innocent intentions.
It is important to acknowledge that the traditional methods of artistry often produce the best results. We should never discredit the importance of the traditional tools of the trade. However, we should always strive to find tools that can complement these traditional tools in today’s advanced technological society. If we do not want the beautiful art of courtroom sketching to die in today’s society, there must be an opportunity to supplement them to make them more efficient in this digital age. We believe the use of a stylus is a step in the right direction.
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