Brushing Shoulders With Celebrities

I recently had to select five security questions in order to gain access to a website, one of which asked me to name the most famous person I’ve met. That got me thinking about the fact that artists often brush shoulders with prominent individuals from a variety of professions. Portrait painters meet more captains of industry, judges, politicians, and movie stars than most of us do, but it’s not uncommon for well-known people to attend gallery and museum openings, especially in cities such as New York, Santa Fe, Jackson, and Carmel. John Howard Sanden discusses several of his portraits of high-profile individuals in his new book, Face to Face With Greatness; Nelson Shanks invites movie stars to pose when he does a portrait demonstration; and Malcolm T. Liepke’s openings at Arcadia Fine Arts, in New York, always bring out celebrities from the worlds of fashion, theater, film, and television. The articles I’ve written on those artists have been republished in our Highlights series of magazines.

I’ve brushed shoulders with dozens of famous people while working in New York, most of whom have no recollection of meeting me. I followed Robert Redford into an office building, interrupted Paul Newman while he was using a restaurant telephone, snuck into Bette Midler’s book signing at Barnes & Noble, and let Mary Travers dig her fingernails into the back of my hand when she wanted to illustrate how hard it was to give up smoking. The famous people I considered for the security question, however, were all painters. I won’t tell you who I chose, but I considered Richard Schmid, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Françoise Gilot, David Hockney, and Andrew Wyeth. Hockney signed the right pocket of the shirt I wore to a fundraising event, and Henry Geldzahler (who was New York City’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs) signed the left pocket.

I’m sure you understand why the famous painters outrank Redford, Newman, and Midler in my estimation. For me, their achievements are far more significant, and their impact on my life is certainly more important. Sorry, Mr. Redford.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

2 thoughts on “Brushing Shoulders With Celebrities

  1. Ah-the greatness issue. We all have our stories and preferences. I agree about artistic talent-add a dash of humility and wow!

    I’ve met a number of people in all walks of life-rich, poor, talented-not as many as Steve-though I’ve brushed shoulders with Steve. I’ve had a very nice conversation with you in a hotel lobby. You never said a word about yourself-only what could be done to further the artistic community. You rank high in my book.

    As a side thought-in my line of work-I look at colons for a living-I can guarantee that from the anal verge and all the way in-one can’t differentiate rich from poor, race or ethnic background, good from bad, etc. The most gorgeous person smells exactly the same as the ugliest.

    Greatness is as greatness does.


  2. Phillip,

    You obviously see us all from a unique perspective, one that highlights basic human traits.

    Your amusing comments remind me of a statement an artist made while discussing the question of how far an artist should go to satisfy a dealer/collector/critic: “The problem with bending over to satisfy someone else is that you can never bend quite far enough, and when you have bent down too far you start to see parts of yourself that are not very attractive.”