In an era concerned with wellbeing, lawyers could express themselves by picking up a paintbrush.
Anyone working the legal sector comes across art a lot. In fact, I’ve not yet found a section of it that’s an art-free zone – from the vibrant Wassily Kandinsky posters that hang in my local lawyer’s small reception area, to the artists who provide us with the defining images of courtroom dramas, and the corporate art collections of international law firms.
Lawyers who pursue looted art across borders and through the courts are the stuff of books, films and news reports.
The lawyers who make these choices are pretty passionate about them in my experience – whether it’s the poster or print they like, or a customised ‘map’ of the London Underground. And I’m certainly not alone in thinking cameras in courts should not be allowed on the grounds that they would kill off the court artists.
Nailing down a precise link is a challenge – but I’m helped here by the institutional link that is the Law Society Art Group.
Every January the group takes over the Law Society’s reading room to exhibit its members’ pictures – up to three framed works each. On display is anything from watercolours painted on group trip to France, to large oils of the City, vibrant portraits, or a large sculpture of a bath plug.
The room normally tends towards the mausoleum-like, albeit one with a coffee machine, and lawyers’ artistic expression lifts it somewhat.
January, the group’s chair Jon Corballis tells me, is the 55th such exhibition meaning ‘we’ve caught up with the Venice Biennale’.
The longevity of the group is some evidence of a link between law and art, but Corballis knows others – John Piper and Henri Matisse were in the legal profession, and Kandinsky (note to self to tell our local lawyer, though he may already know) was a professor of law.
Still, it’s not an easy ‘cross-fertilisation’ Corballis notes – the two are even partly defined by difference. The fact that an artist gets to ‘make your own thing’ – to be involved in an act of creation and expression that is not done to meet someone else’s need is part of the draw.
And in a career focused on dealing with other people’s problems and affairs, he adds, art ‘is an interesting way to find out about yourself’.
Lawyers are ‘a rough judge’ on themselves, going by the average self-portrait painted by a lawyer, Corballis remarks. The choice of subjects by the group varies enormously – whether on group trips or in their independent work. But most opt for a style that is ‘representational’.
Another upside of an interest in art, group members have found, is a link to the rich source of inspiration, art history, and associated communities that they then come across in the areas where their practice is based.
One anecdote from early in Corballis’ legal career shows that the link between law and art, if nothing else, can be almost reflexive.
As a CPS prosecutor, he recalls the assistant prosecutor’s response to an under-spend in the department. In true public sector style he was concerned that this would mean a cut in the following year’s budget. ‘He sent lawyers out with the instruction to buy pictures for the walls.’
Certainly there are worse things to spend public money on.
As for my own view on the links between law and art, I think any association is driven by a mix of shared skills and things that are simply beneficial about producing art. Drawing and painting commonly require long, close looking (a looking/sketching ratio of 9:1 is pretty common) – for an act of creation, that’s pretty passive even when the results are spectacular.
An artist, however amateur, is searching for meaning, representation and narrative – even in a watercolour of a Normandy farmhouse or a sketch of a jug.
I think that’s what the lawyer-artists I know are in part attracted to. I also think the best lawyers have the developed self-knowledge that Corballis describes.
The benefits are things we all need – in an era where we are concerned with ‘wellbeing’, drawing, for a busy professional, is an activity that helps keep you sane – it is literally, and metaphorically, all about perspective.
So, whether you’re the exhibiting type of lawyer or not, I’d argue that a box of pencils or a box of paints would be among the best things you could find in your Christmas stocking.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor
The annual exhibition runs from 12 January to 23 January in the reading room of the Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane. Works are for sale, and there is a private view on 16 January.
To join the Law Society Art Group, for more information about events and exhibitions, or to submit work for the annual exhibition, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The group’s Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/lawsocietyartgroup