I used to create art for a living. It was sporadic and crazy but when there was work it was good money. I painted dragons and skulls and eagles on motorcycle tanks making a few hundred bucks here and there. I taught art classes for grade schoolers at the local art museum and that paid a pittance. I sold paintings and did commission work, murals and portraits and what-nots. I was a busy artist. By far my best gig ever was for a local television station. I was their courtroom artist.
I started with a giant federal case on racial discrimination, people vs. the school board. Honestly, I sat through weeks of this trial sketching and I heard very little of it, I kind of go somewhere else when I sketch. It paid great and it was steady and it looked wonderful on my resume. After it was over I sold a bunch of the art to the lawyers and the judge’s mother even tracked me down through the television station to buy a sketch of her son. I loved my courtroom artist’s job until Mary’s husband’s trial.
I sat and listened through hours of testimony. He explained that he didn’t mean to kill her when he was beating her up, it just accidentally happened in the process. They went over every detail with pictures, weeping relatives, lots of dramatic pauses and I sketched right through it, but this time I couldn’t go to that place my mind normally goes when I draw. I was riveted and I listened while I sketched. It was tragic. In the end the jury agreed that he didn’t mean to kill her when he was beating her so badly and that also was tragic. But here’s what I remember most.
Usually at these trails there are the lawyers and the judge and the jury and even sometimes a witness. Then there’s the relatives choking back tears and press craning for a story and a lone artist (me) sitting in the corner pencils flying furiously. This trial had jackals. They were just there to ingest the filth. I know because it was my job to observe. They looked at the families during break in the hallway with pity, never speaking a word to either side, they never wrote anything down like the press, they were never called to testify and the didn’t cry or breath a sigh of relief at the end. They practically salivated at the telling of the story and the day that Mary’s husband testified they were wagging their tails in excitement. They squished me and my giant drawing board right out of a seat and onto the floor that day. They were just there to tug the details of the crime off the bones. They would chew over the gristly bits on the walk to the municipal parking lot, I heard them.
I wanted to scream “These are people’s lives here! Not entertainment!” I just didn’t want to sit near the jackals anymore and I didn't want to have to hear them regurgitate chunks of the trail to be re-examined and sniffed over in the elevator. I know its important justice happen out in the open for all the public to see, but this felt extreme and I started to feel just as inappropriate. There I sat sketching away, taking the pictures that the court wouldn’t allow and getting paid for it. I wanted to go back to that place my mind drifted when I was sketching the boring school board trial but I couldn’t it WAS a riveting and horrible story with a sad ending and I had to listen. It was the last court room assignment I took.
Sometimes I think about the job, it was a good one, I liked it, I was good at it, and it paid great. Maybe I could do it again now that I’m more mature; maybe people aren’t enamored with the gristly bits anymore. Maybe I could just tune out and draw again. Maybe.
Thanks to Dawn for the inspiration.