Mark S. Weiner

Law’s Picture Books—on Video (with open captions for the deaf)

In Aesthetics, Aesthetics, narrative, form, Books and libraries, Law and film, Video on September 13, 2017 at 11:07 am

On the occasion of the public opening of “Law’s Picture Books” at the Grolier Club in New York, I’m posting all five of the exhibition videos, created under the imprint of Hidden Cabinet Films. In the exhibition hall, the video appear on a big-screen monitor through a nifty digital interface, but you can watch them at home, too. And if you can’t stroll up to the corner of 60th and Park to see the exhibit, you can order its accompanying 200-plus-page, full-color catalogue.

“Explore the mystery of law and sight.” With a soundtrack by Moby! This video explores some big questions that the exhibit poses about law and visual culture. ~ 5 minutes.


“How does the purpose of a legal illustration shape its relation with its accompanying text?” This video considers one of the exhibit’s underlying analytic themes. ~ 3 minutes.


“The drama! The chills! Repeat.” An oldie but goodie, this video won the most recent “Day in the Life” video content of the American Association of Law Libraries. ~ 1 minute.


“Meet the Yale librarian behind he exhibit and learn about his philosophy of book collecting.” Si, hablamos español! Or at least Mike does. ~ 5 minutes.


“On the hunt, the curators visit the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Come along and experience the passion that drives book dealers.” ~ 10 minutes.


All videos are opened-captioned for the deaf.

The exhibit unearths a fascinating and often strikingly beautiful tradition of illustrated law books from the thirteenth century to the present. Mike and I have divided the exhibit into ten cases, each of which examines particular functional purpose that law book illustrations can serve: “Symbolizing the Law,” “Depicting the Law,” “Diagramming the Law,” “Calculating the Law,” “Staging the Law,” “Inflicting the Law,” “Arguing the Law,” “Teaching the Law,” “Laughing — and Crying — at the Law,” and “Beautifying the Law.”

Each functional purpose shapes the conversation between an illustration and its accompanying text. Illustrations that symbolize the law, for instance, often appear as frontispieces, at the start of the book, where they represent its underlying ideals, and they acquire full meaning only as the text of the book unfolds. By contrast, image that depict specific legal rules typically are placed directly next to the text they illustrate, and they are concrete and particular rather than abstract and symbolic. Illustrations that satirize the law lift readers above the language of the text—indeed, they often poke fun at legal language itself.

Here’s the exhibit hall in the final stages of preparation:


For a press release about the exhibit, see here.


  1. Quite enjoyable (as well as enlightening). ________________________________


  2. […] in videos at Weiner’s Worlds of Law and in pictures at Mike Widener’s Flickr account. More on the steamroller cartoon in the […]


  3. […] in videos at Weiner’s Worlds of Law and in pictures at Mike Widener’s Flickr account. More on the steamroller cartoon in the series […]


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