THE LAY FIGURE: ON ART IN
THE LAW COURTS.
" I am seriously thinking," began the
Successful Painter, " of bringing an action against
one of my clients. He is behaving most improperly,
and is trying to back out of an agreement he made
with me. I hate litigation, but I really think he
ought to be taught a lesson."
" Bravo!" cried the Man with the Red Tie.
" Go for him for all you are worth, and make things
as hot for him as possible. A good fight is always
amusing. I promise you my sympathy and support."
"You are, as usual, in too great a hurry," re-
plied the Successful Painter. " I said I was only
thinking the matter over. I have not decided any-
thing yet. But I feel strongly that people ought
not to be allowed to evade definite agreements or
to score off artists as they please.
"Precisely!" said the Man with the Red Tie;
" and you are just the person to champion their
cause. It is a duty you owe to your profession;
and when you have a case you should make the
most of it for the benefit of your weaker brethren."
" It would not be much use going to law if you
had not got a case," broke in the Art Critic ; "and,
even when you have, things do not always go quite
as you expect. In this instance, may I ask whether
the agreement is a formal one—written, signed,
sealed, and all the rest of it—so that none of its
details are open to question ? "
" No," replied the Successful Painter, " there is
nothing in writing—only a verbal arrangement on
which this client of mine puts an interpretation
that I never intended it to have."
"Then I presume you have witnesses who can
prove your intention," said the Art Critic, "and
who can help you to teach your client the lesson
that you think he needs ?"
" Unfortunately," sighed the Successful Painter,
" the matter was quite private, and I can produce
neither written documents nor witnesses."
"In fact," said the Art Critic, "you have made
a business arrangement—as artists always seem to
do—without taking any precautions against being
tricked out of what you are, no doubt, entitled to.
But if you conduct your affairs in such a slipshod
manner, what is the use of talking about legal
proceedings ? You might have avoided all this
trouble by exercising ordinary prudence."
" You are a little hard on our distinguished
friend," laughed the Man with the Red Tie. " I
daresay he has been careless, but still he might
have a chance of getting the matter properly
settled if he took it into court. Cases such as
his are decided, I believe, according to the customs
of the profession, and he can get plenty of witnesses
to speak with authority concerning these customs."
"And for every witness he can bring to support
his view of the customs you refer to his opponent
can put up half a dozen who will swear that these
customs never have existed," replied the Art Critic.
" How do you think a jury, or even a judge, would
decide in such a conflict of evidence ? You, or I,
know all about the professional customs, and under-
stand how vitally important they are; but I am
afraid they are much too vague to be compre-
hensible by the legal mind, trained as it is to deal
only with hard facts."
" Do you mean that if an artist goes to law on a
professional question he can never hope to receive
justice ? " asked the Successful Painter.
" I would hardly go as far as that," answered the
Art Critic; "but I do believe that so long as they
are so careless about making proper business
arrangements artists cannot look forward with any
confidence to the result of an action at law.
They may win, or they may lose; there is about
an equal chance either way, and the whole thing
turns on the credibility or the standing of the
witnesses called. The side which can get the
men of most generally recognised authority to
give evidence is usually successful; it is, you see,
a matter of sentiment rather than fact, and unless
this sentiment can be made to look like fact the
lawyers cannot understand it. Moreover, the jury
which tries an artistic case is almost invariably
made up of business men, who would, as a matter
of course, despise unbusinesslike artists and their
more or less indefinite professional customs. In
addition, we have to fight against that widespread
belief that art is a kind of feeble and frivolous
thing with pretensions that commonsense people
ought to be really ashamed to encourage. If an
artist brings a libel suit he gets a farthing damages ;
if he claims payment for work done he is awarded
about half what is actually due to him; sometimes
he gets nothing at all. My own opinion is that, in
all cases where details of professional custom are
in dispute, artistic experts should be appointed to
advise the judges. This is done in Admiralty
suits where technical points outside the experience
of the ordinary lawyer are likely to arise, and I
think the artistic assessor would be quite as helpful
in explaining art mysteries. If he could not temper
the winds of law, he might at least save the lambs
of art from being shorn too close."
The Lay Figure.