What Do Viewers Say About Your Art?

One of the reasons I enjoy plein air painting is because passersby often stop to ask questions, tell me about their painting experiences, list the artists whose work they love, or share a friendly conversation. I enjoy these exchanges because I normally spend my days behind a desk in an office and don’t have the opportunity to talk to strangers about art, give directions to the bathroom, or listen as people share their views on politics. Sometimes the questions people ask are quite thought-provoking, like when a young girl asked me how to paint a night scene; and other times observers just want to get a laugh when they tell me I’ve done a good job of covering up all the numbers on my paint-by-numbers picture. Children will boldly ask how much I will charge for the finished painting, and adults proudly tell me about all their relatives who paint.

All of us have different responses to unsolicited comments about our artwork. I’ve known a number of artists who refuse to attend openings of their solo shows because they are uncomfortable listening to people’s comments; and I’ve interviewed artists who sell in outdoor fairs and festivals who consider the public’s reaction to be valuable marketing information they can use to determine the best sizes, frames, and price points.

The question of price is often one that fascinates the general public. I’ve had offers to sell a painting for $25 (with a frame), trade a landscape for dinner (excluding tax and tip), and guarantee a sale by including a man’s pickup truck in a street scene (I took that one). I’ve also been chased from the side of a road by a woman who was going to “call the law” on me, and I’ve been critiqued by a cow that stood alongside a fence (the final vote: tongues down).

I’d enjoy reading about some of the comments you’ve received when you have been out painting or have been standing near one of your exhibited pictures.

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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.

12 thoughts on “What Do Viewers Say About Your Art?

  1. I hear things like, Wow, that’s beautiful; how much would you charge for a painting like that? Usually the person who asked doesn’t seem like a seasoned art collector, so I state what I consider to be a reasonable priced for an unframed work.

    The price usually produces wide eyes and a gasp.

    I do enjoy the conversations I strike up with passers-by. Most people are appreciative if you stop to talk to them.

  2. I’ve had mixed experiences, ranging from people who stop to talk about everything other than painting (like the weather, politics etc) to their granny who used to paint.
    I’ve had a couple of people get so close behind me that when I step back to view my work, I do that often, I have stepped on their feet.
    I too am often asked “how much”; they always seem to be surprised at the answer. I did however have one lady buy both that I had done on a beach, as one included her house (hmm, interesting lesson there). I had to scramble to sign them while she went home to get her money, she returned promptly and the last I saw she was heading home with two wet oils in her hands. That was a great day!

  3. “Now don’t you go and get good” I asked, “why is that?” He responded, ” You might go and cut off your ear or something like that. Ha Ha”

    “Oh look Joe! She is painting those buildings over there.”

    “Is it a good day for drawing?” … I obviously had paint and a brush in my hand.

    I don’t mind the intelligent conversations, but the ones that are trying to be “cute” I can do without.

  4. Where’s the boat that’s in your painting? I don’t see a boat anywhere. I told her it passed by an hour ago, “your late”. Also there are alot of critics flying around the waterfront. They once added an extra color to my palette. I should use an umbrella.

  5. I was just out painting for two straight days at a resort beach spot with lots of tourists. I never heard so many compliments in my life, I have been resting for a few days, it wore me out. I have painted outdoors for the last six or seven years and can remember getting comments like “Too much Green” or “That’s sick”. I took the later one as an insult, but my daughter quickly corrected me by saying surfer dudes say that for “it’s cool”. I was painting the waves at the time. Throughout the past few years I have made lots of small talk at plein air paint-outs. But, this past one was the best, I had a woman ask to buy a workstudy so I made a quick sale and it paid for gas and food for two days, perfect. I have sold another small painting as it was this woman’s cottage she used as an office. Another time, years ago, I had six people wanting to buy a painting before it was finished and it wound up going for $900 to the highest bidder. Last weekend was the most colorful as far as beautiful people, weather, scenery and vibes. I was teaching some ladies learn how to apply oil and what colors and values to use. I took info from several other ladies who wanted to order prints from a piece that was expensive but they loved it and I told them I was make a giclee of it. I had several works on display while I painted so people could see the finished work. Several people asked permission to photograph me while I was painting and they wanted me to look at the camera and pose with the brush on the painting. Then I asked them to take one of me with my camera, I put them to work! Another group asked me while I was painting to take a picture of them, so I had to stop. Unbelievable! But many people were sincerely interested in my work, I handed out many biography sheets (ran out of cards) upon request too, more than ever before. Maybe it was because this time I painted a 16×20 instead of a 8×10 which is the usual plein air size. I think the large scene captured people’s attention, it surely was hard for me to do but I focused on the whole picture, beachgoers on the shore and covered the canvas with large shapes to get the painting going, still it took two days. The comments I heard in the last day the most was how long did that take you? I told them and they gasped and got their friends to come over and look and exclaimed that took her only two days! It was a successful painting I felt, I had one lady give me her card to contact her when it is done. The funniest lady ran over from a shuttle stop to see my wet painting hanging on a large rock while I loaded up my Jeep. She was gasping and wanted to know what it cost, I told her $650, I think she gasped again but she wanted my info. It’s funny how people get so excited, but you know it wears off as soon as they get home. I just enjoy the whole experience, the exposure and the connections I do make. If you don’t get yourself out there, you won’t build up the murmurs and conversations about you. I used to be a nervous wreck painting outdoors in front of crowds, now I am mellow and confident. I love to talk to people, they enrich my day and I know my colorful painting has enriched theirs.

  6. I have comments from wonderful compliments to the unfavorable. So many opinions. My mother always wanted to be an artist. She old me it came out in me and she always encouraged me, and so did my dad. My high school art teacher called me out into the hall and told me I had a lot of talent and I should seriously consider a future in art. So that’s what I did. After years of study and exhibiting and selling my mom told me I couldn’t afford to paint and needed to get a real job. Go figure! Well, still after all of these years, I have not learned to have a tough skin. I still don’t take negative comments well and still really do enjoy the compliments. I really enjoy being appreciated!

  7. Once I was painting on Monhegan Island…I was painting the harbor, but decided that since I didn’t have too much time, I’d just focus on the water and land behind it and eliminate the boats….. when I was just about done Don Stone walks up behind me and says very matter of factly ” Where’s all the boats??? It looks like an atomic bomb went off or something!! I sheepishly closed my box and called it a day.

  8. Years back when I was a teenager, I would set up and sell paintings at a covered bridge festival close to my home town in Indiana. People were fasinated at this 13 year old painter. I would sell them for $15 to $30 each and I was very happy with that. I was 13. I would have my paints set up and when I would get people together, I would be painting with my pallet knife and people were amazed with that method. Then I would pull off a peice of paper towel and paint. Then I would pick up some dried leaves from the ground and start. People love the show. This was pre- Bob Ross. Know if I’m out painting in the US, always the question, ” Have you ever seen that guy o TV with the big hair? One time while on vactaion, I was doing a lake sceen with a weeping willow on the edge and a family from the condo complex loved it and ask how much and then how much to put his three kids in the painting. They bit and the condo was paid for the week. Love when that happens.

  9. I had been painting “en plein air” about a year when I went with a local group to the UC Riverside Botanical Gardens to paint. I was ten minutes into my “set up”, and five minutes into my painting when an elderly gentleman (and I use that term loosely) walks up behind me and says, “Well, you’re no Rembrandt!” I just stood there and looked at him. My ego (thus far my family and friends had assured me that I was Rembrandt reincarnated!) was so shocked I didn’t have a clue what to say to this man. I just kept on painting and tried to ignore him as he rambled on and on and on. Okay, the truth is that painting didn’t turn out that great -I think I’ve painted over it by now BUT the fact is even if you are vulnerable to criticism when you’re “out there”, it’s one of those things that make you a stronger painter (and person). I finally told him to go away (just like that-“please go away”) and he did. Now I can laugh with my friends about it.

  10. I’ve had lots of compliments and have grown immune to them except when from my fellow artists because the public in general, I have found, tend to treat a working artist with the same care as the dead-do not speak ill. The other fact is that the public in general thinks that an artist should sell a painting that took 80-100 hrs to complete for less than $100, [ framed and ready top hang.] I think that the dumbing down of america and the total lack of art education in too many schools has done a grave disservice to all people in the arts-not just fine art, but serious musical composition and performance of music and dance. I try to gently help people who are open to it how to see the worth in fine art and music, but I don’t know if I’ve ever broken through the shell of lack of worth that seems to permiate the general public. Like my mother, a lot of people look and make the judgement-” Isn’t that clever.”

  11. I’ve heard plenty of amusing comments:
    a) Did you paint that by hand?
    b) Who are YOU to be standing by this artists work? I pointed to the signature on the work and said That is my name !
    c) overheard: Who does she think she is using Those colors !
    d) Wow man, I was on a trip just like this once.
    e) She’s not one of us; her mother is wealthy and used her position to get her daughters painting into our show. From a community artists group which I had been a member of for 3 months. The group was huddled around my painting .
    f) Was that painting done by computer? I gasped “You mean they have created a prgram that could paint like this?”