Benefitting From a Positive Attitude

An artist recently included me in an e-mail blast in which he complained about the way major museums favor “Modern Art” over representational paintings by the likes of Sargent and Rembrandt. He said it “kills my soul … and I know it kills the souls of many artists around the world.”

The e-mail reminded me of the irritation I felt 30 years ago when I first started working for American Artist and needed to defend realist artists. I wrote editorials criticizing New York dealers and museum curators, challenged art critics when they spoke to art groups, and joined a protest against the Whitney Museum of American Art because it was ignoring representational artists. The only reaction I got was an angry phone call from a gallery owner because I pointed out that she was painting her toenails in a photograph that accompanied a magazine profile. Despite my complaints about the frivolity of the contemporary art market, the situation only got worse. Now there are fewer galleries exhibiting realist art in New York, only a couple of critics writing seriously about that work, and few art schools offering courses in the fundamentals of observational drawing and painting.

I stopped writing bitter editorials, in part because the issues didn’t matter much to the average subscriber and because my complaints didn’t have a significant impact on the New York art market. In all likelihood, the young artists sending e-mails will come to the same conclusion. The good news is that there are dealers, collectors, critics, and editors in cities such as Santa Fe, Carmel, San Antonio, and Hilton Head who are supportive of talented figurative artists and pay no attention to those who aren’t. Many of the artists profiled in American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines are selling portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and figure studies for substantial amounts of money. Yes, the current state of the economy presents challenges to everyone, but there is promise of success for representational artists.

I know this is true because I hear expressions of optimism and gratitude from the artists I visit who are selling their work to appreciative collectors without attracting the attention of auction houses, major museums, and international buyers. They have taught me that it is far better to remember words of encouragement and support than to be dragged down by bitterness and regret. In art, as in life, a positive attitude makes a difference.

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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 “Benefitting From a Positive Attitude

  1. Yes indeed Steve, and everyone else listening, having a positive attitude really DOES make a difference. Not only when it comes to art but in each and every aspect of life. Negative energy in – negative energy out. The same holds true to positivism. (new word?) Go out and smile at someone, anyone, even the most hard hearted person and chances are – they will smile back. On the other hand, if you give that person a dirty look, expect one in return. The movie, “Pay it Forward” was a good example of putting this theory to work. Though the ending was tragic, the point that it made hit home to the fact that we must always have a positive attitude and help others that are in need.
    So what has any of this got to do with art? To me, the answer is quite simple. Art is a universal language. Without the use of neither words nor sounds, it “speaks” to everyone, breaking down the boundaries of cultural differences. Though we may not understand another language but our own, we must never stop trying to understand what the other person is saying. Doing this is a sign of respect and also projects a positive, self assured attitude. In the end, you come away as being the beneficiary of new and exciting experiences, ideas and points of view. Some that you like, some that you don’t agree with at all.
    OK! OK! But what has this to with ART!! ??
    Why do so many people have distain for the work of Jackson Pollack? I think you already know the answer. Because they don’t UNDERSTAND it! Stand before a Pollack (in person) and consider the circumstances surrounding the period in American history that he created this work. Be objective and open to what he was “saying”. Afterwards, you may still not like it, agree with it or even understand it any more than you did but you will have opened up your heart and mind to something new and unfamiliar. This will broaden your horizons and it will stimulate your intellect. Bottom line result – positive attitude.
    Two images that stand out vivdly from my childhood are an Egyptian encaustic painting on wood of a Portrait of a Boy (which is at the Met) and Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian. Vastly different works of art separated by many, many centuries. For whatever reason, I suspect that the experience of seeing these works and excepting each for what they are, had something to do with my becoming an artist. While I must admit that artist’s such as John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and Sorolla correspond most to my own personal views about art, I must also admit that I find myself in awe when I stand before a Franz Kline, Mark Rothco or Jean Michel Basquiat ( to name a few).
    All too often, we are guided by emotion. When we allow emotion to play a major role on the way we lead our life, we risk losing the ability to seeing things clearly and rationally. Embrace logic as a way to understanding and positive energy will flow like water in a stream.
    What do you all think? Agree or disagree. Either way, I am curious to know and I respect all points of view.
    Thanks Steve for another serving of food for thought.

  2. Well Thomas, I think you may have a good point about the positivity (?).However, I am a di ehard and so, I am oposed to the non-objective art scene. Appreciate? No, not as a work of art if it is to be critiqued alongside of work which is representational.
    Suppose in the future, someone find a canvas which has been stuffed in an attic.It looks like a painter’s drip cloth.Suppose the question arises, is this a Pollack?If it is, it is worth millions. If it isn’t, it is trash.
    Now, in that same vein, someone finds what looks like a Rembrandt. If it is, it is worth millions, if it isn’t , it is still a nice painting.
    Can you appreciater my point of view?
    I agree about your positive attitude and how it affects one.
    I have a positive attitude and I am positively opposed to Rothko and the like.
    Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.
    And thanks Steve for bringing this to the forefront.