David Gussak Ph.D., ATR-BC

Art on Trial

The Art of Murder(ers) Revisited: The Drawings of Jodi Arias

Our continuing fascination with the art of those that kill

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Jodi Arias--a scene from court adapted from an abc news still

Jodi Arias--a scene from court adapted from an abc news still

According to the Huffington Post, this case “instantly commanded headlines around the world.”

Well, Arias is back in the news. She is about to be sentenced—to life in prison or death. And, she has decided to let her counsel go and represent herself.

Many of my fellow bloggers have written about Arias—Dale Archer, Stephen Diamond, Scott Bonn, Travis Langley, to name just a few.

Many of them have written about her state of mind and potential diagnoses like Dr. Dale Archer, in his post “Is Jodi Arias a Sociopath”.

So what new insights do I have to offer?

Why am I writing about her here?

Back in January, I wrote what turned about to be a fairly popular post, "The Art of Murder(ers)". In it, I summarized our culture’s fascination with murderbilia, including paintings and drawings by some of history’s most notorious killers. In it, I argued that there might be many reasons why we are so fascinated by such work. One of my arguments, relying on the art of John Wayne Gacy, suggested that his work “…is evidence of those whose shadow reigned supreme, without control or balance, and it scares us. We can look at these pieces, and realize that it was done by the hands of a human similar in make up to us…”

Arias has her own art for sale. I discovered it when doing research for another project. Perhaps this is common knowledge to many, perhaps I am slow in learning this, but there it was—a website dedicated to selling her work.

Originally the work was being sold on eBay back in 2013.

It is now being sold on a dedicated website: Art by Jodi Arias, some for as much as 8,500 dollars. As all of her work and the website are copyrighted, I cannot include any of the images here, but the following are shots of her work being sold on eBay.

An eBay page of one of Arias' drawings

An eBay page of one of Arias' drawings

An eBay page of one of Arias' drawings

An eBay page of one of Arias' drawings

In that previous post, I indicated that when viewing Gacy’s work for sale, I saw someone who was taking advantage of society’s ill-conceived fascination with relics of these killers, and was making art to raise money for his own appeal.

Granted, unlike some of these other murderers, Arias has some talent. She has technical skills and can render well, albeit with a fairly limited palette.

Many are simple pieces; several are unassuming geometric shapes with bright, vivid colors. Some are simple clichés; hands that spell out the word “love”, a sad-eyed puppy or a close up of a cat’s eye.

The portraits, however, to me, seem quite revealing.

Aside from a couple of her portraits of celebrities, these pieces are rife with sexuality and sensuality, yet seemingly devoid of emotional connection. The women--and most of these portraits are of women-- seem artificial with their perfectly unblemished features and Barbie-like countenance.

She has a series labeled the Zodiac Series; each image represents one of these astrological signs. Arias relies on a slightly different close-up of a beautiful yet un-expressive woman to portray each sign.

Her Hat Series is more of the same; well-rendered pencil drawings of highly attractive, plastic-looking, sensual women wearing an array of fedoras and floppy hats—and an illusion that they are wearing little else.

She must truly know her market.

The images are meticulously rendered—without a stray line or mark. They are strongly and rigidly controlled, yet, again, absent of emotional expression or connection.

I can’t help but look at these images and feel that we are looking at her.

Granted, I never met her, and I generally champion care and hesitation on providing any conclusion about someone strictly from his or her artwork. In a previous post, I railed against an expert witness who testified on the likelihood that Tim Masters was guilty of a heinous murder without ever meeting him, strictly on the strength of his misconceived perceptions of Masters’ drawings.

While I recognize I can essentially be accused of doing the same thing in this post, I was nonetheless drawn to the case and the superficial renderings she is selling.

Like everyone who gets caught up in the sensational media coverage of a notorious crime, my perspectives and opinions on the case are just those—opinions. Although I am clearly projecting my own meaning onto the images, I have tried to be objective in my viewing of the work.

If I was asked—and I recognize that I was not—I would indicate that perhaps the art does indeed reflect the Arias the courts, and in turn, the world, has gotten to know; a manipulative, narcissistic person who relies on image rather than substance, detached from what is truly around her and believes that her looks, wit and personality will be enough.

The drawings are all image, no substance—perhaps so is Arias.

This seems to correspond with her latest decision to represent herself—no one but she is smart enough. It seems that her narcissistic sense of self-importance and grandiosity will help determine if she should be put to death.

Is this what the world saw when she was on trial? Are these images a reflection of who she is?  Or, does my "assessment” benefit from hindsight?