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Head, Heart, Hand... or how to evaluate your own work!

We live in a highly competitive world. Being a cultural creative means you have to learn to handle rejection, constant judging, and being able to detach your ego from your work, and view it objectively.

When I am asked to judge an art exhibit or jury an event I evaluate other people's work using the same criteria that I evaluate my own...Head, Heart, and Hand. This is a model of transformative learning used by churches and team builders, but in this case, we apply it to art.

"Head"-means all the thought processes; is the artwork presented professionally in a well-chosen frame? It is polished and perfect? Is it thought out, or quickly rendered without much thought to composition and presentation? Are you "using your head" when you paint or did you just put a tree dead center, make a crooked horizon line, curve a river bank, or some other glaring faux-pas that a preliminary sketch or a thoughtful evaluation could have avoided.

"Head" can also mean the idea behind the work. Is the technique employed by the artist well-suited for the subject like an impressionistic approach to a wildflower field, or using a monochromatic palette for a weathered wood barn, negative space painting around the head in a portrait and so forth. You want an artwork to engage a viewer on many levels and hold a person's interest. The subject should be thoughtfully chosen, and rendered. The painting should be well presented and carefully framed in a frame that complements the art.

Head- This painting was well-thought-out in my opinion with a good composition and play of warm/cool color. It was also presented well in a frame that picked up the light from the sun and sand.

"Heart" is a little harder to define. Heart is spirit, its the bold, passionate strokes in a painting, its that little touch of color that pops, its the "wow factor" that makes your feel like someone is speaking to you personally. Heart means seeing a glimpse of what moves the artist to paint the scene. The tenderness of a mother's gaze, the comfort of her arms embracing the baby at the breast. The warmth of the sun turning a field from green to yellow, or the haze of brilliant highlights on the water, these are all examples of heart.

I love to experience anything with heart; a piano concerto, an improvisational dance, a rose in bloom, anything that gives you a glimpse of the wild spirit that moves us all! For heart to be visible in a painting, you have to take risks. Do something just above your ability, reach for greatness not settle for mediocrity. Don't just faithfully reproduce a photo; interpret it and give me your heartfelt impression. That's what we all want to see!

Heart- I painted my heart out in this painting. It was plein air, so I painted while the sun was setting and was striving to capture the play of cool shadows and warm light on the architecture in a tricky perspective. It was slightly above my ability. I pulled off some parts but not others. I learned a lot and struggled with this painting.

"Hand" is the level of skill an artist has. Funny thing about hand, is that when you are just starting out, you may think a painting is really great and shows a lot of skill, then 5 years down the line, you start to see it as mediocre, 10 years out it looks juvenile, etc. Your skill grows as you nurture and develop it through the years. Skill building takes time, not talent. Talent doesn't grow, but skill does because you work at it. Your develop skill by taking classes, trying to paint subjects and techniques just above your comfort and ability.

Hand-this painting shows a lot of skill, using different techniques like scumbling and having a deft hand with bold strokes. I could not have done this painting as well a few years ago. It's not a perfect painting, or even one of my better paintings, but it does show some skill.

When I was just starting out as an artist I had a lot of heart, and made huge oil paintings (6' and up) but didn't always have the skill to pull them off. I grew quickly because of the heart, but still, my hand is not where I want it to be. This creative discontent is what motivates me. I know where I want my hand to be and am willing to put in the 10,000 hours it will take to get there. I want to see that level of commitment in an artist's work. Most of us have some skill, or we wouldn't "be" artists. Now develop it and show the world your "hand."

Think about your work according to these concepts, sit with it. Mull about it over coffee. This is how we develop artistic vision and our own style. Use your head, heart, and hands to create and it will show in your work. I would love to see you post some examples of your own work that you think exemplifies these concepts.

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Thank you for all you have taught us in your class. I will strive to get 10.000 hours to become my best. My sister and I have enjoyed the glass and hope to take it again soon. Sybil


Thank you, thank you Shawn. You are a gifted teacher of art from the heart.


Just joined your site, love your concept of artistic ability. Paint at Beach Art Center With Barbra K. Hope to take some of your classes as time allows me. Gwen Corum

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