Art shows are the chief mechanism for arousing community support of local talent. Members of the professions -- those who have yeth -- seem to pick their harvest at these shows, leaving the artists with the means and encouragement to create more.

That is the grain of salt one must take to the half-dozen such shows in Northern Virginia. It accounts for the proliferation of "peaceful scenes" they exhibit. Just as there is "doctor's office music" there also seems to be "doctor's office art," and the artist who can turn out the most polished tranquility, it seems, brings in the bucks from these gatherings.

But the artist who is willing to try something different -- who puts more into expressing his subjects than into packaging a product -- gets his reward, too.Clubs that sponsor these outlets usually bring in a judge to review the work -- a judge trained to look beyond a work's marketability.

The McLean Art Club Show, Oct. 23 through 26 at Tysons Corner Shopping Center, was a case in point. Drenched but not drowned in depictions of waterfowl, floral arrangements and covered bridges (big this year), the show nevertheless included a few pieces that showed signs of what art judge Harold Symes calls "the gambler's instinct."

"An artist should be willing to gamble a day, a week, a month on an idea, even though it may fail. You learn from these failures; they make you grow. But the problem with amateurs is that they're unwilling to take such risks unless they have a good teacher behind them, encouraging them."

Symes, who is art coordinator for Arlington County schools, provided some encouragement by rewarding 27 artists for 31 pieces. He made his choices by using criteria he has developed through "looking at 10 million paintings, over the years. You look for something that startles you the first time you see it, then you measure its contents and technical skill."

Each medium represented in the show was judged separately, and watercolors, which comprised half the 450 entries, were divided into two categories. Helen Reichardt won an award in both watercolor slots for paintings that introduced a fine sharpness over the soft washes associated with the medium.

In oils and acrylics, the place to be was Aldie. Mary Ann Murphy's "Corn Crib, Aldie, Virginia" took first place, and Libby Eakert, who brings a technical prowess to her country scense, won honorable mention for her "Aldie Mill."

Mixed media was the fun spot in the show. Shirley Wiggin's "Volcano," a third-place winner with a first-rate idea, shows an inventive mind reacting to an explosive subject.

"You take a brown paper bag," the artist explained. "Cover it with glue and then hold it while the glue burns off. It bubbles and blackens and wipes off in interesting patterns. Then you rub it down with copper wax.

"It conveys some of that molten feeling of a volcano, don't you think?" says this expert in Brown Paper Bag Art. The bag, cut in strips, framed a mat washed in fiery watercolors, and the effect wasuite convincing.

Also in the mixed media category was a painstaking collage made from hundreds of folded paper "windows" that opened on miniature pictures. By folding and unfolding the window flaps, the viewer can create countless images.

Jacob Goodwin won no award for that idea, although his fiber entry, "Footloose Souvenir," took honorable mention. Other artists who aimed higher than the monied glance of an interior decorator also missed the prizes. T. Patourrette, who brings a measured realism to his command of oils, falls into this category. So does Lee Anne Geiger, who creates friendly abstracts with her watercolors.