Unexpected Connections to Other Artists

I’ve recently enjoyed unexpected encounters with artists—both those I have known for years and those I was meeting for the first time. These encounters reminded me that we are all part of a community of artists that is, at once, local and global.

The introductions to artists I’ve never met occurred during recent conferences and a vacation to Italy. The people are some of the hundreds of “friends” I’ve met through social networks such as www.artistdaily.com, Facebook, and Twitter. As you probably know, these free social networks allow members to post messages or multimedia—such as workshop notices, gallery invitations, artwork, or videos—that can be accessed by other members of the sites. I frequently exchange messages, photographs, and videos with these individuals, but in most cases they live in distant parts of the United States or in foreign countries, and we are unlikely to ever meet fact-to-face.

I recognized several artists when I read their name tags during the Portrait Society of America’s convention in Reston, Virginia, and I was finally able to put faces with the images and words I have been enjoying for months. What was even more remarkable, however, was that Matthew Collins saw me painting along the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, and tracked me down after disembarking from a vaporetto water bus. I was wearing an apron emblazoned with the American Artist logo, but Matthew said it was a video of me painting in New Orleans that helped him recognize me from the moving water bus. Matthew has been researching the history of artists’ materials and making his own charcoal, paints, and mediums, and we talked about developing articles on his findings while we enjoyed a summer afternoon in Venice.

Another American artist I connected with in Venice was Tony Green, a New Orleans resident who has been painting and exhibiting in Venice for the past 27 years. I happened upon an art gallery where Tony was mounting an exhibition of his oil paintings and etchings, and we spent time catching up with each other’s activities.
As I’m sure you have discovered, an artist’s work becomes more meaningful when we have some sense of his or her personality, lifestyle, local community, or family. We can see how artists’ images relate to the people, places, and events that inspire their artwork. I certainly have a greater sense of Tony’s and Matthew’s oil paintings now that I’ve visited them in Italy, and I have stronger connections to the portraits created by my friends at the Portrait Society of America.

I’m curious to know if you have been able to expand your understanding of other artists’ drawings and paintings by getting to know them through e-mail, social network websites, or on a personal basis. Do you have a better understanding of what your artist friends are creating, or does the message come through a work of art regardless of whether you know anything about the person?

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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.

4 thoughts on “Unexpected Connections to Other Artists

  1. I’m recently venturing into the arts and am interested in conversation with successful artists who are willing to offer opinions/advise about my work.

  2. Social networks like Facebook are great to meet like-minded artists and other connections, because they base the sharing of information and new connections between people on existing relationships between networks of real people with interests defined in users’ profiles. That can be a very powerful model for connecting with other artists, but it’s not the only way.

    You can think of Facebook (and like networks) as cities in the landscape of connected people, because relationships between people are part of a framework that THEY define (eg, the concept of “friend” on Facebook, and “Follower” on Twitter, your profile interests, the city you live in, etc). This is a very “structured” approach, and one city’s way of organizing (Facebook) can be different from anothers (Twitter).

    A less structured approach, where more serendipitous relationships can be possible are blogs. Think of blogs as not belonging to any city, they are the “wild west” of social networks, in that they’re not organized by common principles and structure (other than shared basics, like posts, feeds, etc), but live outside on their own.

    So how do you organize the “wild west”, and connect with other artists? One tool that sort of creates a virtual network like Facebook from Internet-based blogs is the News Reader. These tools (like Google Reader) allow you to subscribe to blogs you discover, and get updates in an email-like inbox. This is my primary tool for connecting with other artists because it’s not dependent on belonging to a specific social network, and as such, I think the content and writers are a bit more independent thinkers.

    For example, what you’re reading now is a blog with an RSS feed that I subscribe to with my newsreader “Google Reader”. In my inbox right now is this latest blog post from American Artist, then a post from Eric Merrel, and many others from artists around the world (many written in languages I can’t read–other than the art itself!).

    I would list here the URL to my public Google Reader inbox, but your system might consider it SPAM (since it’s a long URL). If you visit my blog at LifePleinAir.com, see the left side bar, in particular my “Reading List”, which is basically my inbox of blog posts to read.


  3. I think that you get a message from an artwork initially that is from your own perspective from life experiences. That’s why certain art work “clicks” for different people for different reasons. Sometimes it is even the same message that the artist wants to convey to the viewer. I like getting to know an artist because it enables me to get a deeper meaning of the work. If there is something about a work that puzzles me, knowing the artist or about the artist can clear that up.