Arts & Activities  
      January Student Page      

      Concept, Composition, Confidence, Contrast, Color Harmony, Character, Courage      
      By Dan Bartges      
      Assignment 5 In A Series Of 10: CONFIDENCE, Part II of II      

Throughout the school year, we're exploring seven key ingredients in successful paintings and showing you how to use them in your art work. This month and last, we're examining a very special ingredient: self-confidence.

Last month, we reviewed three ways to strengthen self-confidence: (1) Learn the fundamentals of painting; (2) Establish an art routine; and (3) Do a preliminary study. This month, we're exploring two more confidence-building techniques, both borrowed from well-known sports-performance experts.

So welcome aboard! As our voyage continues to unfold, you'll begin seeing big improvements in your own art work.

Each month, simply read about the paintings featured on this Web page. Next, print out the "Quiz Me!" sheet, write in your answers to three short questions, then hand the sheet in to your art teacher. (The correct answers will be shared with you on the next month's Student Page.)

      CONFIDENCE, PART 2 OF 2      

Self-confidence is all in your head. It's your basic attitude about yourself and how you perceive your various capabilities. Over time, self-confidence rises with positive thoughts or declines with negative ones.

For a painter, a critically important objective is to develop enduring confidence in one's capability to create good art work. As your confidence improves, so will your art work. As an example, Winslow Homer's confidence steadily strengthened after he began studying and applying the principles of color harmony in the 1860s, and all aspects of his art work steadily improved from that point onward. He became one of America's best painters.

      Winslow Homer (American; 1836–1910). Bear Hunting, Prospect Rock, 1892. Watercolor and pencil on paper sheet; 13.875 x 20". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of John Gellatly.      
      In recent years, a great deal has been learned about ways to build self-confidence by studying the training, habits and attitudes of winning athletes. Bob Rotella, the famous performance guru to some of the world's most successful athletes, makes this point in all his books and lectures: The practice of positive thinking will strengthen your self-confidence and improve your performance in anything you choose to do. That includes painting!

In his book, The Simple Art of Winning, world-champion archer Rick McKinney states: "If you can break that nasty habit of thinking pessimistic thoughts and comments (even in jest) and start commenting with positive statements and thinking positive thoughts, you will increase your game, not only in archery, but in everything you do."
But why? How could making yourself think positive thoughts and say positive comments actually strengthen your self-confidence? Here is McKinney's explanation: " ... your subconscious doesn't know the difference between reality and imagination."

So whatever it hears you consistently saying or thinking about yourself—good or bad—your subconscious will eventually believe and act accordingly. Olympic gold-medalist Lanny Bassham makes the same point in his book, With Winning in Mind: "Repetitive change of your thinking habits is the best way to bring about an attitude change."

So how is this done? How can a painter strengthen her or his self-confidence in order to paint better pictures? McKinney, Bassham and other performance experts recommend these two simple techniques: Visualization and Affirmation Cards. To take your art work to new heights, give both of these proven methods a try.
      Dan Bartges. Detail from A Simple Gift. Oil. Visualization gives clear, pictorial guidance to your subconscious—your inner artist—in order for it to fully understand what you want it to help you achieve.      


Before, and occasionally during, each and every painting session, look away from the painting you're working on and, in your imagination, visualize exactly what you want your painting to look like when it's completed. Imagine the finished painting up close, too, so that you can visualize your brushstrokes in the paint.

In addition, try this two to three times a day: Visualize yourself actually painting the picture you want to paint. This imagined scene (with you in it) will provide your inner artist with a positive image of yourself as a successful painter.
Visualization can be a very effective method to strengthen belief in yourself. It's a proven method now used by all kinds of professionals, in all sorts of jobs.


To strengthen confidence in your artistic capabilities, compose what's called an "Affirmation Card." You will need five 3" x 5" cards and a pen.

Take a few moments to consider what your future aspiration is for yourself regarding your art work. For example, do you want to become the best artist in your class, in your school or in your community? Do you want to become a professional portrait or landscape painter? A full-time illustrator? An excellent amateur painter?

Now, on a 3" x 5" card, write down your objective as if you've already achieved that goal—as if it's already a fact. Next, list some specific actions you could take to attain that goal, then repeat your first sentence. Here's an example:

      Example of a 3" x 5" affirmation card.      
      Once you've finished your affirmation card, write the same thing on the other four cards, then place one card in five different places where you go every day (In your bathroom? On the kitchen table? In the car? On your desk? Under your pillow?).

Every day, for 21 straight days, read each of the five cards, saying what you've written out loud (it can be in a whisper, but you must actually speak the words). During those three weeks, the changes in your attitude will be subtle and gradual, but most people who try it are rewarded with a sense of increased self-confidence.
Do you wonder if this will work? Explore the idea. Give it a try!
      QUIZ ME!
Click here to download January Quiz Me! document
      Author: A full-time artist since 1996, Dan Bartges is the author of the book, "Color Is Everything," and two books on sports, "Winter Olympics Made Simple" and "Spectator Sports Made Simple." Visit his website at      

Museum Connection When looking at art in a museum, modern and contemporary art can present particular challenges. Abstract works that look like spots and dots of paint sometimes give rise to questions like: Why is this art? What does it mean? I could do that—why is it in a museum? How can you look confidently and make sense of what you are seeing?

Turn these challenging questions into opportunities to open your eyes to a new way of seeing. Looking at art stretches your mind, and shows you that there multiple ways interpreting ideas. A mechanic takes a car apart to see how it works—same with art! Try to take a work of art apart in your mind. Think about why the artist used a particular color, scale, texture, or material. Don't worry about what you don't know, and have confidence in your ability to "see" a work of art.

––Smithsonian American Art Museum Education Department


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