John Gotti Meets Sammy the Bull in Court by Ruth Pollack courtroom sketch artist

John Gotti grimaces as Sammy “the Bull” Gravano testifies against him, the first Mafia underboss to do so. Work by Ruth Pollack.

We are accustomed to vigorous debates over the value of allowing cameras in courtrooms. (There’s even a seminar at the upcoming State Bar Convention on the topic.) But amidst the conversation, many miss a longtime courtroom element that becomes more and more rare as cameras enter.

Have you already guessed? I’m talking about the courtroom sketch artist.

Many of us (OK, us older folks) are accustomed to viewing courtroom proceedings through the eyes of such artists. But as we are increasingly able to view “the real thing” through camera lenses, fewer news outlets will shell out the expense of a pen-and-ink (or other) artist.

It’s hard to overstate the shame of that. Photography is a terrific medium, but the best courtroom artists use all their skills (and some artistic license) to convey a narrative rather than just a snap of a moment in time.

The remarkable New York Times series called Op-Docs tells the tale of one longtime sketch artist—and the diminishment of media interest in his craft.

If you’d like to see some examples of what we lose when we lost sketch artists, go here.

Finally, go here to read about (and maybe buy) a new book about some of the greatest courtroom artists. It’s called, naturally, The Illustrated Courtroom.

Illustrated Courtroom book cover sketch artist

And here’s a great post describing the work of many courtroom artists.

Do you have favorite sketch artists? Will you miss them? Let me know about the most visual trials you never attended in person.