Deidre Tao ’93: How to build a successful art career

With a strong foundation in studio arts acquired at UMassD, Tao turned her passion into a career as a self-represented artist.

Deidre Tao
Remembrance, 36x48" © Deidre Tao 2019. Commissioned painting, private collection.

Every year, Deidre (Sullivan) Tao ’93 takes a solo retreat to immerse herself in the most picturesque places in Massachusetts—Provincetown, the cliffs of Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Ann, Plum Island. It’s here that she finds the inspiration for her next landscape painting.

“Landscape is a way that I can express myself through color light and movement,” said Tao, the owner of Deidre Tao Fine Art. “I explore the relationship between sky, water, and land in my paintings. Shorelines of rivers, marshes, dunes, and oceans have been an exciting springboard for this expression.”

Tao displays these colorful contemporary paintings of the New England coastline at her Cambridge, Mass., studio where she has been working since 1994. In 2019, she expanded to a second larger studio and cooperative artist members' gallery building in nearby Charlestown.

Discovering her passion at UMass Dartmouth

Tao recognized her interest and talent as an artist early on. She selected the College of Visual and Performing Arts at UMass Dartmouth over other smaller, private art schools in New England for its proximity to her native Norfolk, Mass., and for its affordability.

Art was her focus, but UMassD presented an opportunity to expand her college experience. “I could take a lot of different courses and meet many different people. I joined the Theater Company, got a work study job on campus, and took amazing English and women’s studies courses.”

Tao enrolled at UMassD thinking she would become an illustrator, but along the way realized a love for painting.

"At UMassD, I received an academic training in the studio arts. This is how I became a much stronger and more disciplined draftsman and painter, and grew beyond any raw talent I came into school with. I matured from a kid artist to a grown-up artist in four years. In large part, due to my training, I'm basically able to render anything my work as a studio artist would call for on any given day."

Water Music by Deidre Tao '93
Water Music, 24x30" © Deidre Tao 2021. Original painting sold, prints available.

Building career during changing times

By the time graduation day came for Tao in 1993, technology had changed the landscape for how artists embarked on their professional careers. Gone were the traditional promotional cards that were used to advertise their work to magazine editors, art directors, or galleries.

“I moved into UMassD with a typewriter, but by the time I graduated, I was writing papers on a computer in the lab,” she said.

As art directors and galleries were no longer the only sources for jobs for artists, Tao had to think creatively about how to start her career.

“I applied for an internship at Boston Center for the Arts and joined artists guild groups that would be good resources. That was how I found my first studio.”

Between the Boston Center for the Arts and freelance work, Tao garnered enough success to motivate her to continue to pursue this career.

"I was receiving positive feedback, doing what I loved, and making money doing it."

When 9/11 and the economic crash of 2008 brought uncertainty to many industries, including the art world, Tao held on and weathered the storms and decided to start Deidre Tao Fine Art as a self-represented artist.

Adapting to a changing world that was increasingly less brick-and-mortar and more online, Tao built her own website when it was still a fairly new idea to do so. She learned how to become fluent in email marketing and created online newsletters for her growing audience. For the past several years, Tao has sold her work through both traditional galleries and her e-commerce website. 

"Even artists who work in traditional media, like myself, need to have a website," she advises. "Your portfolio is your website. Your social media should always point back to your website. This is how the world can see your work and learn about you. Artists no longer have to fully depend on gallerists and curators alone for our career trajectories. We as artists can represent ourselves and reach the world."

Tao was named "Editor's Pick" by Cape Cod Art Magazine in 2021 and awarded a People's Choice Winner in the 2019 Storefront Art Contest held by the City of Cambridge’s Economic Development office in partnership with the Cambridge Arts Council. In 2016, she was a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to create and present art with a small group of artists for the Community Supported Art Project through the Cambridge Arts Council.

Continued success in a digital world

Tao’s perseverance and ability to adapt to the ever-changing art world has contributed to her success. Digital media has made artists even more valuable today, and Tao’s advice for aspiring art professionals in graphic design, gaming, illustration or other specialties harkens back to her UMassD foundations.

“You have to know how to draw, how to create a satisfying composition, to know where your light source is, to understand two-point perspective,” she said. “Understanding these technical aspects comes from a rigorous study of fundamentals.”

A career as an artist is not easy; it’s a real discipline. And Deidre Tao is an outstanding example of the drive and foundational skills needed to be successful.

Find Tao's paintings at taofineart.com and on Instagram at @taofineart


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Alumni, Alumni - Home, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Degree Type BFA, Departments Fine Arts