Rivalries Among Artists

I’m curious to know if you have heard bickering or sensed some tension between competitive artists when they spoke during an art association meeting, while attending a gallery opening or art conference, exhibiting next to each other in an outdoor fair, or participating in a plein air painting event. Those uncomfortable situations sometimes happen, especially when there is a large prize or commission at stake.

That kind of rivalry occurred in the 16th century in Venice, Italy, when three of the greatest masters were vying for patronage from wealthy noblemen, merchants, and members of the clergy. Titian (ca. 1488–1576), Tintoretto (1518–1594), and Veronese (1528–1588) spent almost four decades competing with one another, and the evidence of their rivalry is the theme of an extraordinary exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The show, Titan, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice (March 15 through August 16), explores the artistic exchange between three of the first masters to use oil paints and the degree to which they challenged one another in the execution of large canvases.

Venetian artists were at a disadvantage before the introduction of oil paints because the city’s humid climate made it difficult to create frescoes and panel paintings with water-based materials like egg tempera and plaster. However, when oil painting on canvas was introduced, young Titian took full advantage of the rich colors and textures of the paints, as well as the ability to work on large pieces of lightweight canvas. He was able to sell his pictures to Venetians who were among the wealthiest patrons in all of Europe. Soon young Tintoretto was competing with Titian by working faster and more aggressively, forcing the older artist to be less subtle and detailed in his paintings.

Before long, Veronese started modeling himself after Titian and won commissions in his hometown of Verona and, eventually, in Venice. Then the three artists began to play a game of one-upmanship by painting the same subjects and by showing that one could paint a subject—such as armor—better than the others. Although the rivalry annoyed the three masters, it actually made each of them a better artist. Their productivity, skill, and inventiveness increased rapidly, if only because they had to be better than their competitors.

It would be nice to think that great artists respect and encourage each other, but we know that wasn’t the case in the 16th century, and it isn’t the reality today. Sometimes squabbles and disagreements are damaging, but hopefully a healthy competition will motivate artists to work to their best ability as it did with Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. I’d be curious to know if you have experienced these kinds of stimulating rivalries.

M. Stephen Doherty

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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.

29 thoughts on “Rivalries Among Artists

  1. I’ve encounters some feeling of resentment with some groups of peers. For while, everyone is fairly well matched in their career pursuits, and then when one member suddenly receives a national award or gets into a high visibility gallery.. some of the others seem jealous.

    But I must say for the most part, the groups I’ve been part of have been supportive of members and celebrate when any one of them receives recognition. Because we’re not often vying for one or a few collector’s interest, there’s enough to go around for everyone.

  2. Irwin Greenberg had the best line-avoid put down artist.

    Artist can tell you pretty quickly if they are positive person or a put down artist. Telling you why you cannot do things is a great sign. If they tell you about their upcoming exhibits and you are very interested, and then you tell them about your exhibits and they could care less-probably a put down artist.

    You need to have the ability to spot them, and to have thick grown up skin. Why? An artist who acts that way is really no statement on your work or career. More of a comment on their own psyhe.

  3. YES! Just about a month ago, I was at an art festival that included judging as one aspect of the festival. No sooner had the winner been announced and another artist came over to me to tell me that the winner used photographs projected onto the wall and from these made tracings but did not correct for the distortion of the projector in her artwork…..”and can’t the judges see that!”

  4. Sadly, I was disillusioned at some early attempts at entering judged art shows just after college and it took me a very long time to get up enough courage to enter again. Developing thick skin takes awhile and it is unfortunate that comments can damage a person’s perception of the value of their work. I try to be positive to every artist I encounter, whether they reciprocate nice comments or not. We are all talented individuals and have much to offer. Snide comments and criticism makes me think that the person saying them has issues with their own work. I create my work for the sheer love of it – I squelched my creativity too many years based on the negative opinions of others – what a waste of time!

  5. I don’t think there’s a lot of rivalry between artist in a direct sense but what is everywhere are organizations with elected artist and the positioning of who gets into shows and get favoritism. Lets face it, if you enter a juried show, you are competing for a spot. You didn’t become an artist with that thought ever considered, but it shows up as you circulate your work. I think artist need to never forget humility and the reasons we do this – for our own satisfaction and happiness. The more art we can love and appreciate the more our lives are enriched.

  6. Rivalries were encouraged in northern Italy as a way of generating the best art since at least the early quatrocento. Brunelleschi and Ghiberti competed for the doors of the Baptistry in Florence (Ghiberti won) and again for the cupola of the Cathedral (Brunellesci won).

    The competitions did not always have happy or productive endings. Leonardo and Michelangelo were each commissioned to paint murals in Florence’s city council chamber–at the same time! Neither composition (the battles of Cascina and Anghiari) were ever completed and Vasari, in a later generation, decorated the chamber.

  7. It has been my experience that artists are generally the most egotistical, unfriendly and unhelpful people I’ve ever met. Rarely does a fellow artist – a peer – give any helpful information and should you do better than they in an awards show or sell more than they, WATCH OUT!!!

    There are exceptions – as rare as they are, I’m astonished when I meet a peer who is willing to be helpful and share some of their experience. This is a wonderful experience when it happens.

    “Art Associations” are a waste of time, nothing but a click consisting of EGO Maniacs!

    I’m happy to say the American Artist is the only group that I have found to have members who are willing to help, give information and for the most part leave their ego someplace else.

    It’s a highly competitve field and on average artists can be “not very nice to other artists.”

  8. I have witnessed pessimistic attitudes and personal attacks many times. It is comforting to know that I am not the only one, at least in a whoa is me way. I have come to the present position of saying to myself that I can’t please everyone, so I got to please myself. Then there is the La-de-da-da-da tune in my head from the song. lol
    We are all striving and busting our fannies to become better artists, it’s too bad that when one does that it makes someone else get ugly. All I know is I will continue to put my best creative self forward, smile and laugh more about the adversities and learn from them.

  9. Interesting… this morning, I sent out an email newsletter from my website to what I had supposed were my collecting audience.

    Two of the three emails I got in response were from artists – saying how I should paint my upcoming painting. I wasn’t asking for a critique, I was trying to whet the appetites of my upcoming buyers for the release of an upcoming painting.

    I don’t understand why these artists thought they needed to explain to me what I had done wrong and what I could do to improve the painting.

    I’m sure the newsletter was clear in which audience I was addressing. My collectors respond with excitement and anticipation, while my fellow artistic travelers respond with a critical analysis of my work.

    Just thought I’d mention this here because I can’t think these artists are really that worried about helping me out with my art. I didn’t ask for their opinion.

    What do you all think?

  10. Rivalry (and artistic envy) has often provoked enmity:

    Michelangelo’s famous encounter with Raphael in the middle of the Piazza San Pietro has been frequently described. Michelangelo went around in ragged clothing and often without bathing. Raphael was always elegantly dressed and surrounded by his students and fans. Michelangelo sneered ‘‘You with your band, like a bravo’’. Raphael retorted ‘‘and you alone, like the hangman’’.

  11. I often paint with other artists and participate in exhibits with them. I must say that I have never felt resentment among any of them. To the contrary, we are all big fans of each other’s work, we all manage to inspire one another, and we are all happy when any one of us has a nice accomplishment. We learn a great deal from one another, too. Perhaps I just happen to know a bunch of secure and generous artists, but I wish it could be this way for every artist. Unfortunately, I can’t report the same degree of generosity and comradeship among all members of my advertising profession, but even there I’m fortunate to know many outstanding, big-hearted, secure people.

  12. my feeling is that rivalry and jealousy exists among all groups and walks of life, but it has more to do with what kind of person you are than what your occupation or passion is. (if you are a small person…then you are likely a jealous person.) the art community is no more susceptible nor immune to it than any other group. i’d like to think that, for most of us, keeping on track and pushing forward is more important than being jealous of our contemporaries. a little envy can be stimulating, and even motivating…we all have a bit of competetive drive…but being consumed by jealousy is totally destructive.

  13. Lori, I have seen an esteemed, established artist get publicly criticized for one of his works. He didn’t ask for it, he just placed his plein air piece that he just completed in front of a group at an art show. It was a boring show and the highly acclaimed artist thought he would paint while outdoors. So, it wasn’t like he could hide the work when it was done immediately. One of the members walked up to it and told him that they thought he should add a little here, take out a little there and clarify what the objects were. It wasn’t a calmly stated suggestion, but an overtly critical synopsis of his faults in the work and how he should change it. I was appalled at the nerve of the other artist who wasn’t anywhere near his expertise or had amassed as many awards as he did. The established artist told me later that he takes these things with a grain of salt, he said it happens and you can’t do anything about them. I wanted to buy the piece, it was so moving to me, in fact a few months later it won an award! I wouldn’t have commented if the critiquing artist just asked questions on his choice of composition and values and such. There’s the old saying, “Everybody is a critic.” No matter what we paint, someone is going to find fault. I am guilty of doing it myself with other’s works let alone my own. I liked the accomplished artist’s remarks and have remembered to try and take things with a grain of salt. I am still working on it.

  14. Well Lori — as I indicated, most artists I’ve met (on average) are not overly kind people. I think it has a lot to do with the artistic avenue being over traveled and to my sadness people will do mean things to get to the head of the line. That said, it’s not much different in any highly competitive field.

  15. It was very timely for me to get this blog in my email this morning. I have been thinking about this subject a lot lately- particularly because of last week’s “Art of the Portrait” competition. I am a portrait artist myself and have had a lot of mixed feelings lately regarding the concept of competing as an artist.
    I have never entered a competition. This is not because of fear of not winning- but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t want to either ‘win’ or ‘lose’- or anything in between.
    I like that people love my portraits. I enjoy admiring the work of the artists around me and I love telling them why. I love art, I love being and artist, and I love interacting with other artists.
    I don’t like art as a sport.
    With all due respect, the “healthy competition” Steve writes about doesn’t seem all that healthy to me. Key word is “healthy”. If one alters the path of their own artistic expression to out-rank another artist, is that healthy? Or maybe the question is – Is that art? or is it draftsmanship? If comparing one’s artwork to another’s is distracting, evokes jealousy or frustration, how would affect one’s artwork? “Healthy”- for me, in my own experience means to see other artist’s work as inspiration for my own, and to respect the difference between their expression and mine. If they are better draftsmen, learn from them; if they are better at personal expression, learn from them.
    For me personally, competing introduces a set of emotions I wish to keep away from my artwork.
    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good game but would rather leave it between the Sox and the Yankees (go Sox!).

  16. One other thing I’d like to mention- I have heard talented artists I had admired openly criticize other artists behind their backs. Not only did it turn me off to them as a person, it negatively affected the way I see their artwork- permanently. Just as in any other area of life, gossip has a way of kicking one in the ass in the end.

  17. MLB,
    Nicely said.

    Thanks Steve for posting this blog. I think it let some of us vent a bit about the inevitable emotions that crop up when we are unfairly put down by other artists.

    I appreciate your advice Richard and Esther. I had a particularly insecure day yesterday, but I really didn’t need “to go there” with my emotions. By the end of the day, I felt determined to figure out how to put on a thicker skin.

    I admit that I let what other people say about my art affect how I value my art. For example… some great artist gives me a compliment, and I begin to get an ego. Then a couple of artists find fault with my painting, and even if it’s something that I don’t really agree with, I begin to feel like a failure.

    We artists need to ask permission before giving “constructive” advice. For myself, I need to examine my motives in giving that advice – making sure it is not to elevate myself by cutting someone else down. Many times it’s better to stay quiet and think.

    I believe that an encouraging word always needs to precede a critique – life is short and art is long… if it were easy, it wouldn’t have such high value.

    OK… Today is A Painting Day, and on that note – Go and Make is So.

  18. Yes, there is an established body of artists here (And the community recognizes this body as being the only legitimate organization for artists because of self-serving publicity generated by the artist about themselves). They allow only those whom they deem worthy enough to form the outer circle of their self-serving clique. If one is not from the area, has a different style or view of life, these artists are considered expendable and are quickly disinherited and never recognized as even being in existence. I think this dog eat dog mentality is fostered in this area because the locals aren’t into art at all and another odd fact…there are too many artists have settled here because it IS a very unique Victorian era town…but the inhabitants aren’t buying art except for the top three or four artists that llive here. I wouldn’t hold it against them if they would just loosen up on the unwarranted ostracism. Now, I believe, they have a reason to hold a grudge against me..an underling…by just reading the truth of the matter here.

  19. Well said MLB – that IS one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor, thank you for reminding me! But as an artist, I put so much of MYSELF into my work, that it was difficult for me to have someone give me negative comments and not constructive criticism – there is a huge difference between an honest critique and someone tearing your work to pieces because of their own inadequacies. I am glad to share knowlege with fellow artists, but am still learning to glean out honest critiques from put-downs.

  20. To be read as if you are listening to a very old voice that thinks it is very wise: From many years of experience exhibiting in shows, all kinds of galleries, outdoor festivals, painting for corporate clients, I say working next to other artists can be a positive or negative experience. On the positive side it is beneficial to watch the work ethics of the most successful and figure out how you might adapt the best for your career. The negative side usually includes jealousy. It is important to recognize it in yourself or in the actions of others. You just have to put this element away with haste and not waste energy with it. When the jealousy popped up in me it was usually wondering why someone else’s work sold first or why they got the biggest commission. I just learned to keep on working and found it was my turn next. When jealously was turned against me in a vicious and unkind manner, I learned to recognize it for what it was. I learned to feel sorry for this particular artist and realize how much he lost in wasteful energy.

  21. I joined a local art group after returning to the wine country from 18 years earlier, attended 2 meetings and submitted 3 works for the membership exhibition. I attended the opening in my raggy paint clothes covered in numerous blobs of a thousand hues. My largest painting was hung in the hallway with a few others while the main exhibition room was filled with the other paintings. There was such a large group clogging the hallway surrounding my painting and raving that this artist does not belong in our group, a weirdo !! My award was a scrap of paper taped on the wall Honorable Mention and the visitors were taken aback (this painting had won a laureate at the Sorbonne in 1990). The group claimed my wealthy mother had bought my way into the exhibition. Being squashed for space I entered the empty exhibition room to get some air when the leader of the pack walked up to me to introduce herself. When I said my name I though she would fall over, she back up into the hallway and said “and there she is!” I laughed half of the drive home and cried the rest of the way.

  22. Sharyne
    That is a very sad story. Sometimes I think we artists get a pack/crowd attitude. Our opinions are often swayed by our mentors. At one local show in Albuquerque, now years ago – everyone was marveling over a watercolor still life at the NM Watercolor Society show.

    Then the teacher talked it down saying it was just “copying reality”. Then several immediately disliked it. I still liked it, but didn’t dare say a word.

    What can we learn from this experience? To view each work in the most positive light we can. We all have our individual likes and dislikes, but we should be polite and encouraging… especially when in the company of other artists.

    What will it hurt to give someone a bit of encouragement. Their success does not hurt our own. Sometimes it feels that way, but the reality is that there are many styles are art that are collected and admired. No one can claim that one style is true art and another is not.

    That’s the beauty of it all… try your best to be polite and gracious to your fellow travelers.

  23. Violence. It’s not pretty, but it is often a part of life. I remember as a child of about nine, my first and harshest critic, an alcoholic father, took the easel that I had just built with my own two hands, complete with a fresh painting on it, and threw it down the stairs, smashing it into bits, because he stumbled into it in the hallway on his way to tell us what useless beings we all were. Then there were the jealousies of high school in the graphic design program- a few favorites overshaddowed the lesser gods and made it embarrassing to try. Predictably, none of them were the next Rembrant either, and in spite of how intimidating their talent seemed then, I’m quite certain you’ve never heard of them.

    Eventually, I think, you learn not to care what others think, that the joy and longing to create are what matter most. And it’s not about how good you are now, but how far you’ve come and where you’re heading.

    I’ve read some very good advice in the responses above. I’ll take anything I can use. 🙂 Thank you.

  24. Small town Rivalries…I once lived in a small town for +- 3years. Rivalry amongst artist were very big especially if someone made a sale to a tourist passing through or made a painting of note. Once I painted a scene with two artist en plein air and I really made nice small painting while both of them messed it up. Needless to say they gave their necessary critisicm and needless to say I kept the small painting as a encouraging momento!!!

  25. I’m pleased to have someone critique my paintings. Admittedly, some folks aren’t well versed in civil forms of giving feedback, but it’s all something to consider and grin about later. Having been through a few rough reviews in art school, it served to toughen my skin to those among us who lack a sense of timing and regrettably aren’t subtle in their verbal reviews. Giving balanced feedback is a talent few have and many need.

  26. My husband and I drive out to our weekend home on Friday nights – about 50 miles, and we had a discussion about garnering trusted critics.

    The conclusion we both came to – for his work (software engineer) and mine (artist) was:

    People need to earn the right to make negative comments or suggest corrections to our work. If that person is our boss or mentor, it goes without saying… they have the right. But when it comes to peers, it’s a different story

    Some people are just overly critical, and that’s not going to change. Others get involved in the pack mentality and behave like wolves going in for the kill. This seems to happen in highly competitive environments, when there are multitudes of artists vying for just a few honored spots. It’s human nature.

    I’m learning to take a look at the circumstances. Sometimes groups can turn ugly. That’s when I need to have thick skin and take everything with a grain of salt.

    On the other hand, when I seek the support of a few artist friends who’ve earned my trust – because I know what they’re talking about AND I know without a doubt that they want to see my career flourish – I take their comments seriously.

    All of us benefit from a good critique. Many times another person, artist or not, can see glaring faults in our work that we are blind to. I’ve just come to the conclusion that I will seek out those whose opinions I trust.

    As for all the others who must tell me what’s wrong with my work – people who could care less about me or my feelings, well… let’s just say I’ll “listen very nicely and go out and do precisely what I want” 🙂

  27. I’ve been on the inside of groups where there was a pernicious rivalry and cliques iof members who had such superiority complexes the air vibrated-I don’t have time for that noise. This kind of negative atmosphere tends, in my opinion, to stifle creativity and cause resentment that is not condusive to creating art. I also belong now to three groups with healthy rivalries and also cooperative nurturing that seems to spark the creative juices and develope close attatchments to each other. Juried shows connected to these groups are fair and have not engendered hard feelings. It’s one thing to have constructive criticism and quite another to have cruel invective. Negative, cruel review does nothing but destroy both parties. Critiquing with care helps us all to grow and gives us the impetus to do much better work.