Firm Blog

Art and Law: More In Common Than You May Realize

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Michael Bogdanow, Managing Partner

Before applying to law school in the early 80’s, I had spent ten years studying, creating and teaching art, first as an undergraduate at Brandeis, then at Columbia’s School of the Arts M.F.A. program, then teaching and exhibiting. When I decided to simultaneously pursue a career in law while maintaining a career in art, my essay for law school applications was about why the two practices are similar. I attached an 8×10 photo of my sculpture “The Horn Player” (which I temporarily renamed “The Expressionist” to better accompany the essay and applications). With a Harvard Law education and twenty-nine years of law practice behind me, I am pleased – perhaps a bit surprised – to report that many of the points I made in my essay turn out to have been true, certainly within the practice of civil litigation.

Both the litigator and the artist have something to communicate. For the litigator, the audience may be a judge, jury, mediator, arbitrator, opposing counsel or client. The artist’s audience may be a collector, curator, long-time client, critic or simply a stranger who attends an exhibit. Both must consider their audience, who they are, how best to communicate with them and how they will respond. To do so effectively requires planning, whether it is sketching a work of art, researching the subject of the work of art, planning a brief, or researching the content of the brief. Planning makes the creative process go much more smoothly, and is a vital part of that process.

Once the planning phase is done, regardless of whether the work involves writing a brief, opening statement, closing argument or legal article, or creating a painting or sculpture, the lawyer and the artist need to remain flexible and open. As Picasso said, you should have an idea, but it should be a vague idea. The best works of art aren’t made by a machine that simply reproduces the original idea, they are made by open-minded artists who pay attention while creating, let the works reveal themselves, and, based on what they see, allow for changes from the original plans. The same is true in legal writing, planning how to handle a case, etc. Remaining rigidly attached to the original idea can lead to ignoring problems that emerge, whether they are in choice of color or composition, or choice of words and ideas.

Creating a “commissioned” work of art is quite similar to practicing law. It results in a unique interplay between what the commissioner wants and what the artist is capable of and willing to do. The give and take is very similar to what happens when a lawyer and client work together to achieve what is in the client’s best interest through a legal strategy that the lawyer believes in and is capable of executing.

Art and law aren’t always identical, of course. A major difference is that many artists enjoy the way people have so many different responses and interpretations to their art. I love hearing people tell me what they see in my paintings, which is not necessarily what I see. One of my goals is to create works of art that reach people in different ways, deep enough that in their souls, hearts and minds they have personal responses I couldn’t have imagined. The same is not true for litigation, as the goal is persuasion – generally a very specific response. Despite this difference, the many similarities remain very important and real. For lawyers, creativity can be very much part of the practice of law; for artists, planning and objectivity can be very much part of the creative process. These are two wonderful professions, with more in common than many people may realize.

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