M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Marketing Art for Greater Appreciation

Dallas Museum of Art

Frederic E. Church's painting The Icebergs, 1861, oil, 64 x 112,
Collection the Dallas Museum of Art.

Young museum visitors creating art with recycled materials.

One of the contemporary art galleries at the DMA

The outdoor sculpture display at the Nasher Sculpture Center

There are a number of books, videos, online courses, blogs, e-newsletters, and websites aimed at helping artists do a better job of marketing their artwork. For example, Clinton Watson has a growing online service called www.FineArtViews.com and a companion site; and Eric Rhoads, a dedicated plein air painter and the publisher, provides advice to artists through his online subscription service, www.artistadvocatemagazine.com. Many of the recommendations offered through these free and paid services is similar to the kinds of professional marketing advice given to museum directors, publishers, salespeople, entrepreneurs, and marketing executives. That’s because the best practices that have proven to be effective in one field can often be applied to another.

I had a chance to consider the universality of that kind of marketing advice during a recent trip to Dallas, Texas. I was invited by the Sheraton Dallas Hotel (www.sheratondallashotel.com) and Geiger & Associates to meet with officials from a number of cultural organizations located in the city’s arts district that is within easy walking distance of the hotel. I was especially interested in visiting the Dallas Museum of Art (www.dm-art.org) where director Bonnie Pitman has transformed the once staid institution into an active, accessible, and dynamic museum of both historic and contemporary art. Over the past 15 years, Pitman and her staff conducted extensive market research to determine who visited the museum, what was their level of engagement, how did they gain information about the works of art, and how that audience might be expanded and better served. The information gained helped the DMA change its physical layout, the range of exhibitions and services provided, and the means by which visitors enjoy and learn from the changing presentations. Pitman recently summarized her marketing advice in a book titled Ignite the Power of Art:Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museum Experiences (Yale University Press).

As I walked through the museum, I noticed visitors listening to audio programs on their own iPhones or rented audio devices, children creating their own artwork from recycled materials, docents offering guided tours of the galleries, teenagers walking through galleries filled with contemporary art, a birthday party being held in the café, and dozens of visitors reviewing a display of artwork by local schoolchildren. The museum was crowded with people who were having fun, learning about art, and spending time in downtown Dallas. There was a similar level of activity in the Nasher Sculpture Center (www.nashersculpturecenter.org) and the Crow Collection of Asian Art located a half-block from the DMA.

Creating art and visiting museums was once considered activities reserved for a small group of eryodite, wealthy, and sophisticated individuals; and artists of those periods served popes, kings, aristocrats, and noblemen. Fortunately for us, that era has ended. But the challenge now facing painters, gallery owners, and museum officials is to learn how to connect artwork to an audience of people interested in viewing, buying, and displaying art. The answer is to use research to gain a better understanding of the audience and to use solid marketing tools to deliver valued content to that audience. Does that mean artists should create what the public expects? Absolutely not. What it does suggest is that once artists have created pieces that matter to them, they need to gauge who might respond positively to the work and how those people can be made aware of the works availability.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


A hand-tinted photo of me taken in 1949

Me sitting on a frame in our family's first home in New Orleans with my mother, brother, and fraternal grandmother

One of the last photographs I took of my mother in August, 2009
with my granddaughter, Amanda Deyo

I will turn 62 years old on Tuesday, March 9th, a date I have been anticipating for several years because it will mark my transition to semi-retirement. When Interweave Press bought American Artist magazine in June, 2008, I told the CEO, Clay Hall, that I would like to work part-time when I reached the age of 62. I proposed that I write and edit Workshop magazine, several of the special issue publications, and the "legacy content" magazines published during the year. Both Clay and the magazine's publisher, David Pyle, agreed to facilitate the transition I proposed. It's take a little longer than expected to find a new editorial director to take over my job, but it now seems likely that the new leader will take over later in March or April, 2010.
Unfortunately, I am making an unanticipated transition because my mother died on February 20, 2010. She was 85 and was struggling with congestive heart failure, but I expected her to recover from that problem as she had before. My mother was a strong, determined individual who grew up during The Great Depression; saw her husband and family members go off to fight in World War II; raised two sons and a daughter who had health issues for most of her life; and worked with members of the Presbyterian church for peace, justice, and equality in the world.
Fortunately, I have spent the past 31 years learning from some of the best artists in the country and I am looking forward to spending more time applying that knowledge to my own painting and to sharing it with other artists in workshops. I have had the best job an artist could ever hope for; and I have been encouraged and assisted by friends and family members, including my parents, my wife, and my children. I want to thank them, the artists who have allowed me to present their artwork in American Artist, and the loyal subscribers who have supported the publication since it was started in 1937,

Painting Winter Landscapes

I don't like painting when the temperature is below50 degrees, but we recently had a warming trend and I was able to get out and spend 90 minutes developing an 8" x 10" plein air sketch. I made sure to work close to the back of my car with all my supplies close at hand, and I positioned myself in the warm sunlight so my fingers wouldn't freeze.
My objective was to capture the range of values and colors in the scene, balancing the dark shapes of the evergreen trees with the light stand of trees and sweeping snow formations. I didn't add a lot of detail because I just wanted a sketch I could later use for a more carefully considered studio painting.
In addition to painting this scene of FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights, New York, I painted two winter scenes based on memories established during trips along the Taconic Parkway on an 8" x 10" Gessobord panel.