The Enigma that is Forensic Art

What is forensic art? Is it a mere art form or a scientific technique?

Defined as the presentation of visual information, in relation to investigations within law enforcement, forensic art is often labelled as a mere pseudo-science, rarely receiving the recognition it deserves within this technology driven society. This enigma of whether this resource is simply art or a scientific technique is often debated within industry, with many erring the side of art as its name suggests. However, there is much more to this valuable resource than just a pretty picture.

Forensic artists are skilled individuals that utilise their technical and conceptual skills within arts practices, in conjunction with their knowledge within scientific principles, which are often underestimated. An underestimation, purely based on the lack of awareness of what is involved within the roles of forensic artists. Skills which are highlighted by Karen Taylor in her book ‘Forensic Art and Illustration’ which include the application of knowledge within:

  • Cognitive psychology, behavioural science, facial anatomy and techniques within interviewing for the reproduction of a visual representation of an individual from composite imagery sessions with eye-witnesses;
  • Pathology, fingerprint, trace evidence and other scientific findings for information to be presented to court for investigations;
  • Analysis of craniofacial growth data, for preparation within age progressions for cases such as missing persons; and
  • Anthropological, odontological and taphonomic data to create two- or three- dimensional facial reconstructions from skeletal remains.

All skills which need to be acknowledged when considering the debate of whether forensic art is an art or a science, as it draws on aspects of both fields. We cannot just look at the face value of what is presented by forensic artists without taking a look at the extensive processes that are often involved when offering judgement.

Taylor, KT 2010, Forensic art and illustration, CRC Press.

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