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The Mystery of the Sketch Artist


I spent a good deal of my day today at the Federal Courthouse, watching the surreal circus known as the Karen Sypher finally begin. From a legal perspective, the case was fascinating. The United States’ case is somewhat more difficult to prove than I imagined (more on that later in the week) and Sypher actually has a couple of potentially decent arguments in defense, not to mention a host of lurid details. However there will be plenty of time over the next two weeks (the projected length of the trial) to go over these questions. Now we should focus on something that took up most of my attention in the early moments of the trial and has continued to perplex me since it recessed for the day. Why do we still have sketch artists?

The Sypher courtroom has four sections, two reserved for the media and two for the general public. Both groups sit in a first come/first serve basis, with the exception of two exalted figures…the courtroom sketch artists. Both men are given seats on the front row and large sheets of white paper that resemble what you used in middle school to paint a picture of fall foliage. From the moment I arrived, both were surveying the scene with the utmost concentration and sketching a survey of the scene. One focused directly on Karen Sypher and drew a large picture of her decked out in her brazenly “bling”-filled cross and hot pink 1950s hula skirt. One of the pictures is shown above, and well…it looks like the girl from “Always Sunny From Philadelphia” with a botched collagen injection more than it does Karen Sypher. These men of privilege were given priority over all else, with nothing blocking their view so they could create the equivalent of instant street art that would then be used by…well presumably someone, in an attempt to recreate the festivities taking place in the halls of justice.

Watching the two young Caravaggios showcasing their talents on the blondest woman to hit Kentucky this decade was thrilling, but it did make me wonder, why do we still have these archaic artists in today’s society? One would think that sketch artists would go the way of the cobbler, pager salesman and “newspaper columnist” as antiquated professions that the world would have long since moved beyond. I understand the original point of a sketch artist was to allow those who were not in the courtroom the ability to have a visual of the scene. And I do understand that there is still an aversion in some places to allowing cameras in the courtroom, thus preventing people from utilizing our most modern means of transmitting a setting to those not in attendance. However are we not to the point that we cant simply have an official photographer take a picture with a camera? Wouldnt it be better to simply use the millisecond it would take to snap a picture of Sypher’s radiant beauty, than to spend the entire day drawing a sketch that only loosely resembles the parties involved? It is like Jerry Seinfeld used to say about Chinese people using chopsticks…now they have seen forks and they know they are better…why not just modernize? We have digital cameras now, the quill pen and sheepskin paper can be replaced.

Alas, I must be alone in my sentiment, as the sketch artists have their seats reserved tomorrow as well. With Pitino on the stand, if you happen to have (a) no mental image of his face, (b) no access to a computer that will have multiple pictures of him walking in the courthouse and (c) a hankering for some good old-timey drawings that you can’t get this side of Dollywood, then lucky for you, the sketch artist will be there to record the activities. For me, I will just be perplexed.

Article written by Matt Jones