Supreme Court Sketch Artist Retires after 45 YearsBreaking News
tags: Supreme Court
Art Lien, one of the most celebrated courtroom artists of his time, retired this summer after 45 years sketching hearings and decisions at the Supreme Court. He worked first for CBS and, later, for NBC and SCOTUSblog.
As the Supreme Court opened its session this fall — without him in attendance — NPR interviewed Lien about his career as a visual journalist. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you wind up with this specialty?
Well, I was pretty aimless as a young man and went to art school because it just seemed like the thing to do. And once I graduated, I really didn't know what I was going to do. What can you do with a fine arts degree? And our governor in Maryland, Gov. [Marvin] Mandel, was going on trial, and a local station was looking for somebody to sketch it. And so I went to the newsroom. I tried out. I sketched some people the newsroom. And I got the job.
What about the Supreme Court justices? Who had an especially difficult face to capture?
Well, I think the most difficult was with Sandra Day O'Connor. And I think most of my colleagues, the other sketch artists, would say the same because she was an attractive woman. And, you know, there just wasn't a big nose or big ears or wrinkles to hold on to. [Anthony] Kennedy was also not so easy, again, because he had no real outstanding features.
How do you sketch a moment from a Supreme Court argument? How quickly do you have to capture it?
Really, a lot of it is drawing from memory. You try to anticipate what's coming next, but there are always surprises. So it is memory. Also, I've simplified things since the beginning. When I first went in there, I had pastels and a large pad and all these other supplies. And now I simply go up there with a pencil and a pad, and that's all.
Do you have any strong feelings about whether cameras should be in the courtroom?
I've had evolving opinions about that. But now that I can speak freely, I absolutely do believe that cameras belong in the Supreme Court. And I thought that during this, the pandemic, when everything was shut down, would have been the ideal time. But, of course, as long as there are justices that oppose it, I don't think it's going to change.
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