"Stuck" With a Successful Image?

A good artist-friend of mine recently came to New York, and after picking him up at the airport we headed to the Montclair Art Museum to study the permanent collection of George Inness paintings. When I asked how things were going, he complained that he was doing so well selling paintings of the Grand Canyon that he didn’t have time to explore other subjects. “I used to travel and paint in Europe, returning home to develop large studio paintings of gardens, historic buildings, seascapes, and villages. I would love to paint thin veils of color like Inness, but I am under so much pressure to supply dealers with large, densely painted Western landscapes that I can’t do anything else,” he moaned. I stopped my car along the side of the road and told my friend I didn’t want to hear one more word of complaint. “You worked for 30 years to develop a solid market for those paintings,” I reminded him. “Don’t cry to me because you reached your goal.”

I was teasing my friend, of course, because I fully recognize that gifted artists need to constantly challenge themselves to explore new ideas and approaches. They never want to fall into a boring routine of painting the same subjects in a repetitive style. It’s important that they take time to pursue fresh material, even if they have to frustrate anxious collectors.

Nevertheless, the conversation reminded me that success comes at a price; and being grateful is a state of mind, not a reward for achieving one’s goals. What we all strive for—me included—is to be successful and grateful at each stage of our careers.

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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.

3 thoughts on “"Stuck" With a Successful Image?

  1. Steve, it is especially important when the economy is wavering.. to be able to fall back on our previous successes. As an artist, I realize that our studio/work time is limited, but it’s entirely possible to have a prominent body of work(to satisfy the current demand) and a secondary body of work – for our own pleasure and perhaps for future shows and sales.

    Thanks for sharing these experiences. It’s good to be reminded to be grateful and not complain about success!

  2. An established artist who is a friend complained recently about the same thing: Their inability to experiment at will as they could when they first started out. And the general impression with younger entrants in the market that they’d settled into a “style” and would not be able to deviate even if they wanted to.

    With less than 5 years behind me, I’m pretty new to painting and grateful that I can experiment to my hearts content and hope that I will be able to continue should I so choose 10-15 years from now.

  3. ‘ being grateful is a state of mind,’
    Thank you for that gem. I have only sold a couple of paintings and have earned a couple of honors in the past ten years. I would like to take my art from hobby only to the next level . I don’t have a set style and each subject ‘tells’ me how it would like to be painted and so I have felt thats probably the mark of an amateur. Now I laugh out loud reading the about a successful artist who is moaning about not being able to change his style. Such is life!