What's Tony Thinking

What Do Jury Duty and Art Have in Common?


Wednesday morning. Sitting in the Jury Assembly Room for the King County Superior and District Courts.  The names of the first 36 potential jurors were just called. They are headed for the courtroom of Judge Timothy Bradshaw, one the 53 judges of the court. The King County court is the 12th busiest court in the country.

My name was not among this first batch. But we were assured that juror demand currently exceeds juror supply so, “There’s a good chance that you will all see the inside of a courtroom sometime today.”

I am also involved these days in my fourth series of art classes at Gage Academy. The first two were drawing classes. The current one and the one prior are sketching classes. In my experience, drawing is mostly pencil or charcoal. Sketching is mostly pen/ ink and washes.

But all the classes have this in common: the idea is to sketch or draw what you see. Sounds not hard, right? Actually it is hard to draw what you see. What most of us are inclined to do is draw what we know.

We have an image of what an eye or a flower or a bottle or a tree looks like in our minds. It is what we know.

When you look at stuff and really see it, it almost never looks like what you know. There’s light and shadow, there are angles or partial or obscured views and elevations. So what you see can be radically different really than what you know.

If you draw what you know, you end up with a bunch of cookie-cutter images that aren’t particularly interesting. If you draw what you see, it is far more engaging. But the trick is that “what you see” often looks wrong. What I see when I look at an actual nose may not be what I “know” a nose looks like at all.

So I find my attempts at drawing and sketching to be mostly about seeing, which turns out to be hard work. But it is also what makes it interesting and fun.

And jury duty? We were shown a fairly long video on the subject of “unconscious bias.” We all do have such biases, really out of necessity, at least that is what the video assured us is the case. Our biases are a way of processing a huge amount of incoming information quickly. That is we have filters — biases — that makes judgments that help us get through the day without having to think too much.

That last line is a clue. Serving on a jury they actually want you to think. The idea is to pay attention not to what you think you know or assume to be true about a particular case, but what the testimony and evidence indicate. Kind of like the difference in sketching between drawing what you see and what you “know.”

Who knew that this morning would be all about epistemology, that is, how we know what we know. A hot topic living as we do in the world of “false news” and multiple realities.

I was impressed by the level of sophistication of the “unconscious bias” video, which it turns out is new. I asked “How long?” “We’ve just been using it about eight weeks,” said the court guy. He has a nice sense of humor. He said he hoped to see a raise in the $10 per day that jurors receive, but that we shouldn’t hold our breath as the last raise was during the Eisenhower administration. “Feedback on the video?” I asked.  “Quite good.”

Whether a video can actually make a big difference when it comes to unconscious bias is an open question. But it’s a start.

I’m impressed too by the confidence the whole “jury process” has in we citizens. Though I feel badly about this, I confess that I am probably biased in the direction of thinking that “we the people” aren’t that bright or capable. But the jury system and my prior experience with it are a challenge to my bias. This system places a lot of trust in “we the people.”

In a time when it’s pretty easy to wonder if democracy works at all, it’s refreshing to see all of us citizens in action, trusted and expected to do our part and do it well.


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