Courtroom artists, also known as the Artist-Reporter, have played an important part in recording human history. Long before television and still cameras were developed, drawing and painting were the only means available to visually record historic human events. The publics demand for this art began to blossom in the nineteenth century as technology enabled a tremendous growth of newspapers and news magazines to occur. Two benchmarks of this growth are the artists' pictorial coverage of the Franco-Russian War in Europe, and the work of Honore Daumier, who history acknowledges as one of the first to become well-known, and who produced sketches of the King's court in Paris that were available for the entire world to see.
Later famous artists such as Winslow Homer covering the Civil War, and Frederic Remington covering the Indian Wars in Harper's Weekly, were widely distributed. Their ringside observations and resulting sketches became the public's eyes to these events. A secondary benefit was to record these events, for often the artist's work is the only visual record.
When still cameras came into regular use for reporting events, many people thought that the days of the courtroom artists were over. Fortunately this was not to be, for in 1935 the Federal Court system banned cameras from their courtrooms after the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial coverage became such a fiasco. As a direct result, courtroom artists are still in demand. Today, these artist are generally considered to be members of the press.
It should be noted how difficult their work is. Imagine trying to produce many drawings that capture the moment, encompass the facts and require fast judgments about things such as style, poses, composition, color, types of tools, all done in a very small space while having virtually no time. Imagine further accomplishing all this while listening to tales of murder, rape, torture and other such difficult matters. The news business is one of constant deadlines and is notoriously unforgiving.
And to top all this off, the artists must deal with the business side as well. These artists must work around judges making restrictions, strong and often difficult personalities, and furthermore must work in a pool situation in a field that is very competitive among the artists. Let's not forget the very unusual hours, and often going to work on a very short notice. Truly an amazing feat. This is not a field for the feint of heart, for most sane persons would just run away.
It is no surprise that their art is becoming very collectible for artistic and historical reasons. A quote that Baudelaire once made about Honore Daumier's drawings: "He goes straight to the point ... You only have to look to understand."
Permission for use granted by Gavin Koon Scenic, Title & Graphics Artists Local 816 January 1998