Amy Sherald: She’s a Real Work of Art

January 9 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Portrait of a Lady

Ladies, do you have a portrait of yourself or your family? I’m not talking selfies here; I mean real paint-on-canvas art depicting your lovely face. Albeit somewhat rare these days for average folks, portraits have quite the storied past. Some of the oldest portraits in existence date back to the year 1,000 A.D., and depict Chinese notables, with plenty of British monarchs and religious and political figureheads gracing the canvas later on. Common people have long been painted as well, from intrepid mothers to inspirational muses. So, what are you waiting for? Track down a skilled portraitist, settle into a perfect pose, then enjoy your portrait as a wonderful remembrance to be celebrated in your family for generations to come.


When it comes to master’s degrees in fine arts, from creative writing to studio art, women hold their own. Half of these MFA degrees are earned by women, and nearly half—46 percent—of all artists and art workers in the United States are women. But that exasperating wage gap finds its way into creative fields as well. On average, male artists earn 19 percent more than female artists.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Amy Sherald, Painter

Today’s Woman to Watch is an incredibly gifted painter and portraitist whose work is featured in private collections and fine-art museums the world over. But it’s her latest artistic endeavor that’s likely to land her a spot in the annals of history. Her name is Amy Sherald, and in 2017, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery commissioned her to paint the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama.

Amy, along with Kehinde Wiley, who’s crafting President Barack Obama’s portrait, are the first African-American artists selected to paint a presidential couple for this acclaimed gallery, which, apart from the White House, is the only place that houses a complete collection of presidential portraits.

With an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Amy creates about 13 paintings a year, each with its own captivating story. Inside her light-drenched Baltimore, Maryland, studio, she’s able to be selective about the portraits she paints, and hopes to portray something about her subjects others have yet to see. Her subjects are always African-American, and her 2017 pieces often reveal serene yet confrontational characteristics, with The New York Times describing Amy’s singular approach as “stylized realism.”

Being handpicked by the esteemed former first lady to craft the portrait will certainly be a striking moment in Amy’s career. But this isn’t the first time Amy has faced an overwhelming challenge. At age 30, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a debilitating diagnosis that led to her needing a heart transplant before she turned 40. She’s obviously a fighter with a solemn temperament that rings true in her artistic work.

Making history seems to be in Amy’s repertoire. She won the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016, becoming the first woman to do so. And her stunning public collections have been on display throughout the world, in museums in St. Louis, Los Angeles, Norway and even China.

By using her artistry to navigate themes of identity and culture, Amy doesn’t shy away from sharing her point of view. If there’s one message to gain from Amy’s story, it’s that doing exactly what you want to do is exactly what you should do. And who knows? By doing so, you might just earn yourself a coveted spot in the Smithsonian!


Let’s close the day with a quote from American feminist painter Joan Semmel:

“There are many great women artists. And we shouldn’t still be talking about why there are no great women artists. If there are no great, celebrated women artists, that’s because the powers that be have not been celebrating them, but not because they are not there.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

Get On The Dot in your inbox each day.
Copyright 2018 © On The Dot Woman - All Rights Reserved Privacy Policy