Julia Tolmie
Senior Lecturer in Law,
University of Auckland, N.Z.
Letter from Summer 2001

M.T.C. Cronin
Elizabeth Pickett



It has been a struggle, as an artist and a lawyer, to reconcile those two roles. Most of my working life I have thought of the two disciplines as polar opposites with little overlap. Complementary only in that they each feed different parts of myself and are equally essential to the whole me.

This is my personal interpretation of what it is to have an artistic process. It is exactly that - personal - you get to define why you do it, what it means to you and you shape it. It is emotional and intuitive and slightly mystical. It works best when you drag stuff from your soul and you lose track of time and you look at it and there is a knowing that you cannot articulate in words why it is right that it be that way. It is a deeply solitary thing and in the end it does not matter what other people think of it, although very powerful when it resonates with them as well. The trick for me is to walk on a bit of a tightrope between saying enough to raise possibility and not saying so much that everything is pinned down and described and the whole infinite field of possibility is lost. The spirit of the work or what makes you want to have a relationship with it as opposed to just looking at it is lost. Because I am a painter the process is visual and physical and speaks to those senses.

My personal experience of the law is very different. It despises emotion and intuition as lacking rigour and being 'subjective'. What is prized instead is objectivity, neutrality, logic and intellect. Nothing should be left unsaid. Everything should be articulated precisely and pinned down and described so that nothing can be left to chance and everything can be controlled in advance. There is nothing mystical about it it holds in the deepest contempt as 'subjective' spiritual matters except in so far as its own religious and cultural values are embedded within and invisible to it. And it is all about being in relationship because the essence of the law is about regulating human interaction at the micro or macro social levels. It is supposed to be universal and speak to all. It is backward looking. What matters is not speaking afresh but saying what has been said many times before and words have the most weight depending on where in the hierarchy of status the speaker is located. There is nothing aesthetically satisfying about the law - it is conservative and minimalist aesthetically. It also involves parking your body somewhere and forgetting about it - your body is a mechanism for transporting around the brain only.

Are there overlaps? Yes there are. At the most superficial level if one has a love of text and that is incorporated in ones artistic process there is an overlap. And there is an overlap in terms of the subjects which fall under the spot light of the two disciplines - even if the treatment looks very different. Furthermore, as someone who is not a professional artist and has never sought success within the mainstream 'art world' I can see parallels between the legal and artistic fraternity in terms of status, and the production of meaning to justify certain positions and works and a love of tradition and so forth. Increasingly as the law has been interpreted by feminist - particularly post modern - scholars the differences between the two disciplines begin to collapse. Law emerges as deeply subjective, permeated with mysticism, exclusionary, having many layers of meaning and located in the field of possibility - in the sense that we wonder what it would look like if it incorporated a multiplicity of voices.

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