Law in Contemporary Society

Who Cares About The Law Anyway?

-- By JabariMatthew - 26 Feb 2021

The Power of Creativity and Law

As a performance artist, I have come to appreciate the powerful tool of drama and the performing arts in awakening the moral conscious, amplifying voices, and inspiring participation in important societal issues. As a law student, I have had the privilege of furthering my own ability to actively effectuate change through the legal system. Gaining exposure to both disciplines, from the way they both intersect and diverge, has led me to this conclusion: Performance art and creative expression is uniquely suited to empower and engage people, and if effectively utilized in tandem with the law, I believe that the two have the ability to remind people of their own self-worth, and the incessant and urgent need to fight for the kind of world that they want to see.

How I Got Here

My sentiment about the power of art and law came about less as an, “a-ha,” moment and more as a gradual process. When Carl Wylie stated in Lawyerland, “I really don’t care what the law is,” I was struck by his blatant dismissal of a discipline I view as very much about people, for people, and affecting people. If lawyers do not care, why should a non-lawyer? Why should I have cared before law school? Before law school, I cared about stories, and I cared about the human condition. As a performance artist, I naturally cared about stories and the human condition, but it can be hard to care about something that feels inaccessible. I believe however, that this feeling of inaccessibility is exactly that – a feeling. Throughout the monotony of extracting blackletter law from cases, I have found it easy to forget that underneath every case is a story, and underneath every story are people. The actual, structural barriers existent in obtaining a law school education, however, is not the same as actually caring about the law. The point that I reminded myself of the world outside of law school and the existence of people living in every case, was the point that I recognized the feeling of inaccessibility for what it was. Like art, the law is nothing without people and their stories of hope, pain, fear, and joy.

Breaking past the mental barrier that law is a specialized field accessible only to a few required my own leveraging of my past performance art experiences to truly understand the connection between the two. Therefore, creative expression can be a key to dismantling that mental barrier in the minds of others towards to law, and to fully recognize the responsibility and power that they have to stay engaged and create change, respectively.

Modern Day Approaches for Utilizing Creativity With Law

Story Preservation

Bryan Stevenson of EJI has stated that artists have a way of expressing truths about the human condition in a compelling and influential way. In his commitment to visual truth telling, he utilizes a memorial recognizing the history of lynching in tandem with his efforts to better the criminal justice system. Such a fusion of art and law is surely an example of truth telling and story preservation. It is an effective means in which to keep the souls of people alive and reconcile these souls with the law.


Similarly, a project at Bedford Hills empowered inmates to tell their stories and obtain ownership over their identities through the opportunity to both write about themselves and their experience with the criminal justice system, and then to have their writing performed in front of an audience by an actor. This combination of art and law is an example of empowerment in its boldest form. To be a prisoner in the criminal justice system and effectively relegated to what, disturbingly, can amount to a second-class citizenship status, is perhaps to feel that much more connected to the world and your humanity when given the opportunity to see yourself performed in front of your own eyes.


Finally, Center for Court Innovation engages in a program in which individuals arrested on low-level misdemeanor charges are able to avoid being formally charged by attending a three-hour art workshop that encourages participants to “reflect upon their arrest and their responsibility.” Such use of art and law amounts to literal savior through prevention of a criminal record that could have life-long legal ramifications.

The Connection Between the Three Approaches

What is true of the three approaches is the fact that people and their stories are instrumental and key in all of them. Moreover, the participants highlighted in the scenarios, whether from the past or present, are involved in the administration of the law, or the way it impacts their life, or the way that it may develop in the future. All are vital to the constant evolution of the law, and have a necessary part to play.

What Now?

In all of its nuances and complexities, for better or for worse, laws are just people. Creative expression can emphasize that truth in the law, and create and encourage genuine participation in society. 1L certainly reminded me of that, as it simultaneously attempted to make me forget, and I promise myself now that I will not forget in the future. The harder question becomes, exactly what is the best way in which to bridge the disciplines? I believe that no matter whether one takes the truth telling and story preservation approach, the self-empowerment approach, and/or just strives to give others a second chance, the chance of impact and the power to uplift are all similarly great in magnitude. The exact approach, therefore, will be up to me in my practice, and up to others in theirs. That, I think, is just part of the creativity.

I think this draft served very well the purpose of a first draft, to get ideas onto the page, so they can be refined there. What the next draft needs in order to become better is a focus on conveying the central idea to the reader.

I'm not sure how to state the central idea. It may be what is presently the "resulting question." Or it might be something about the role of drama in getting people to grapple with the most important moral issues in their society (which certainly has a long history, stretching to the ancient Mediterranean, at least).

But whatever the idea is, you need to give it to the reader at the front. You don't need the autobiography to state the idea, though you may well want to keep at least the essence of it in close relation to the concept you're trying to get across to the reader. Personalizing an idea is one method of teaching that can work, but turning ideas into personality is not effective for our purposes.

Once you have stated your idea to the reader, explaining how you came by it is important, and you do it in the present draft effectively, though probably using too much of the space you have for everything else. Because you also want to meet the reader where she is, anticipating the questions that will matter most to someone coming to your idea for the first time. Then you can offer a conclusion that is less a question for you and more a question for the reader, who can take your idea further in some directions you suggest, on his own.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r3 - 02 Jun 2021 - 03:45:13 - JabariMatthew
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM