27 July 2005

Elementary, My Dear Vermeer

Today's Wall Street Journal reports an interesting intiative in police work -- the use of classical artworks to improve one's skills of observation and detection (front page .pdf available gratis; full article online available, but not-so-gratis):
Capt. Ernest Pappas frowned in concentration as he stood before Vermeer's "Mistress and Maid" in the Frick's plush West Gallery and was asked to describe the painting.

"This woman is right-handed, of well-to-do means, and the pen appears to be in the dropped position," Mr. Pappas said, assessing the mistress. Unsure about the other figure in the picture, the maid, the 42-year-old asked his colleagues whether they thought she was delivering bad news. "Is she assuming a defensive position? Do you think that's a smirk?"

Though he hadn't so carefully analyzed a painting before, Mr. Pappas immediately saw how it related to his detective work in Queens: "Crimes -- and art -- can be solved by looking at the little details."

. . . .

Standing in front of El Greco's "The Purification of the Temple," David Grossi, an NYPD captain, recognized Jesus as the painting's central figure, characterized the scene as chaotic and explained the work's use of light and color.

"The gang unit would probably be called in," he continued. "It appears there's grand larceny here, felony assault there, and Jesus would probably be charged with inciting a riot." Counting 17 people in the scene, he added: "Good thing there are plenty of witnesses."

. . . .

Giovanni Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert," one of the Frick's most prized works, is usually considered a masterpiece of landscape or spirituality, or both. This summer, a group of captains offered a more modern assessment of the 15th-century work. "As a police officer, I have to say we have an EDP here," said Capt. Donald McHugh, using the police code word for emotionally disturbed person. Pointing to a skull and a jug of wine near St. Francis's feet, Mr. McHugh argued the piece could be depicting a crime scene. "Even people of God can be suspicious," he told the group. "He'd probably be a voluntary arrest, though, no handcuffs."

What would Jesus do? He might incite a riot, but that depends on your point-of-view. Regardless, he'd probably be a voluntary arrest -- no handcuffs. Judas, your snitch money is ready whenever you come for it. Just ask for Sergeant Pilate.

If the fine arts can improve New York's finest, can something similar be done for attorneys? I recently received an education flyer from the Oregon State Bar describing an upcoming seminar designed around the recent novel After Dark, by bestselling author and Oregon attorney Phillip Margolin. Perhaps the continuing education seminar of the near future will look more like Oprah's Book Club and the first year of law school will feature Homer in addition to The Hairy Hand. We all know the Dashwoods of Sense and Sensibility could have used some more sensible estate planning. Let's discuss.

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