October 17, 2019 Feature

John French Sloan and the Word Pictures in Your Case

We have a mental image of a scene. We want the deciders to have the same image in mind.

Michael E. Tigar

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John French Sloan was a 20th-century artist, a founder of the Ashcan School, and painter of striking and evocative scenes of life on New York City’s streets. He would observe people, places, and events, and write a description of what he saw. Then he would paint the scene, relying on what he had written.

There is a lesson here for the advocate. We have a mental image of a scene. We want the deciders to have the same image in mind. We must create the image with our questions and the witnesses’ answers, or with the words we speak in argument to the court or jury. We can learn to make these word pictures. First, we must learn to observe people and events in a mindful way. Look up from where you are reading these words. Focus on an object, a person, an event. Describe it to yourself; don’t summarize. Put a description of the scene into spoken or silent words. Or call to mind an event in a case you are preparing for trial. “The lab tech drew blood” is a summary. Unzip that statement and you have: “The lab technician was wearing a white coat. Her name, Doris Wilson, was embroidered on the front. She held Ann’s arm and placed it on the counter. She ran her gloved hand over Ann’s wrist, looking for a suitable vein. Then she punctured the vein with a hollow needle. . . .”

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