Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reflections on the Arts and Sciences Competitions

Photo credit: Jared Bluestein
I'm a Laurel, so I take judging Arts and Sciences Faires pretty seriously. I don't think I have missed a Kingdom A&S competition in the last 14 years or so.

As an artisan, it's my pleasure to supply fair and honest critique while always being polite. As a person, it is a humbling experience to watch another artisan progress year after year and find their strengths in their art. As a Laurel, it's part of my job to judge kindly and train new judges to do the same so that entrants feel welcome to enter their projects in the competition.

Not everyone has the same approach, but here's what's worked for me.

Maol's Quick Guide to Judging Art/Sci

1.) Be Nice
For anything you feel that needs to be said, there is a nice or polite way to say it. If you can't find a way to be business polite, then go see the A&S minister, turn in your judging forms and take yourself out of the hall. Go for a walk, enjoy the event, but don't go back into the hall to judge. Sometimes we're in the wrong head space, having a bad day, something has set us off or we are just pissy. That happens, but it is no excuse for being unkind to an entrant.There is never an excuse to be mean. You can be honest without being a jackass.

A good test: Do not say or write anything that you would be unwilling to say or write if the artisan was sitting next to you.

2.) If there's a huge, glaring problem- offer to judge with critique only
Sometimes a novice entrant or a person new to the SCA will have had very little guidance before entering an A&S competition. Misunderstandings happen. Sometimes you'll be presented with an entry o judge, but when you sit down and critically look at the piece or the documentation, you may notice a huge problem. Perhaps the documentation is scant, or just entirely incorrect. Perhaps the entrant misunderstood a process or incorrectly translated a part of a recipe and has entirely missed some critical process or understanding. These artisans are excited enough to try entering the competition, so help them get it right. A quick chat with the A&S minister can usually make a problem very clear and together you can find a way to supply critique without giving a dismal score that will forever keep the entrant from returning to a competition.

3.) Invite people to judge with you
If someone looks interested in how the competition runs or how the judging process works, invite them to ride along with you. Take some time to explain the process and how you are judging and you can judge an entry while training a new judge. If someone has expressed reservations about entering the competition, ask them to come along with you as you judge so they can gain a better understanding of what judges look for and how the process works. In that case you have just helped to train a new judge and prepare an entrant for competition. I find that team judging works nicely for training new judges. Take a few minutes to talk about the judging form and ask your new judges if they have any thoughts. Their insight might surprise you.

4.) Judge up, not down.
When scoring, don't look for places to dock points. It puts you in a negative frame of mind. If your judging form is a rubric, read upward on the points scale until you find the score that best fits the entry and documentation. If you aren't sure and are hovering between a 7 and an 8, judge upward and award points, rather than detract them. Be positive and approach each entry separately as something worthy of regard.

5.) Welcome artisans to be a part of the judging process.
During judging, some artisans don't like to be present because they are stressed. That's understandable as many of us have huge problems laying a piece of our fragile artist's soul on a table and then waiting for it to be graded. If the artisan is willing to sit with you, you have a new teaching opportunity. As you see places where documentation or a skill could be improved or refined, you can show the artisan what will help improve their work, their docs and their score for next time.

6.) Explain yourself
There is nothing more infuriating as an entrant as looking at your judging sheets and have no idea why you received a particular score. If the entrant is not able or willing to sit with you during the judging process so you can explain your critique and make suggestions for improvement then leave you contact information and invite the artisan to contact you if they have more questions.

7.) Don't be a dick
For entrants, Art/Sci can be a remarkably positive experience or it can be a soul-sucking drain that makes them want to flee from the very word 'competition' and throw their art in the nearest murky body of water. Don't be that judge who gives a terrible score, mean commentary or makes snarky comments that get overheard by the entrant. No one needs that crap and you'll just be the one who looks like an ass in the long run. Respect that the entrant has volunteered their time and skill and then has put their piece forward for critique. Lastly, never use the excuse of docking a point on an entry because in your estimation "nothing is perfect" or "I would have done this one tiny super-obscure thing differently". It's just a point. Again, imagine how you would feel if you were then entrant and if you have any doubts, see #7

Maol's Quick Guide to Entering Art/Sci:

1.) Look at Judging forms in advance.
Judging forms tell you precisely how judges will be scoring you. Look at the categories and questions that the rubric asks and make sure that you answer each one thoroughly. Use the rubric as a guide to understanding on what merits and documentation your piece will be judged. The judging rubric is essentially an entirely acceptable crib sheet that you are encouraged to use.

2.) Don't assume judges know what you are talking about
Good documentation is made up of answers to the following questions: What did they do in the middle ages? What did they use in the middle ages? How did they make this in the middle ages? What did you do? What did you use? How did you make this? What are the differences between what was done in the middle ages and why do those differences exist. Sure, you may know everything there is to know about the citrus trade, hybridization, uses and propagation in the middle ages, but your judges may not be so conversant with it. Supply the answers to the questions that the rubric asks and make sure you provide the info the judges need.

3.) Don't assume judges are mean or terrible people
Judges are just folk. They may have some special knowledge and insights, but to be honest they are just people. They probably want more coffee, find the chairs uncomfortable, wish they could be out in the sun and probably like candy. They are likely not terrible people. Be helpful by making sure that the information you provide is easy to navigate and well laid out, that your piece is appropriately and neatly displayed, and that you have done you best to secure a good score with your skills and documentation.

4.) Stay and listen to your critique
Unless you are unable to attend the competition or have a medical condition that prevents you, be strong enough to stick around and listen to your judges. You'll likely make some new contacts in your field of art and will have the opportunity to pick the brains of experienced judges and artisans. Take notes on what they say and suggest and you won't have to try to decipher bad handwriting on a cramped judging form later.

5.) Be positive
Go into the A&S competition with the expectations that you will receive honest critique on your work and documentation and suggestions for improvement. If you take a positive attitude in with you then you will likely have a positive experience. If you are certain that the experience will be terrible and awful, your prophecy will likely fulfill itself.

6.) Don't be a dick
For judges, Art/Sci can be a remarkably positive experience or it can be a soul-sucking drain that makes them want to flee from the very word 'competition' and throw their red pen and themselves in the nearest murky body of water. Don't be that entrant who freaks out, sobs uncontrollably, shouts strong language or makes snarky comments that get overheard by the judge. No one needs that crap and you'll just be the one who looks like an ass in the long run. Be a grown up. Accept your critique and take it in the spirit it was intended. If you have a problem with a judge, go talk politely to the A&S minister who can usually clear up the issue with little effort. Respect that the judges are volunteers giving up their time to provide critique and are missing their event to stay in the hall and judge.

Lastly, if you do miss a perfect score by just one point from one judge, just take a second to breathe. Go to that judge and politely ask them what they would recommend you do to improve that deduction. If they are obviously just being a jerk and claim to "never give perfect scores on principle", then brush off their commentary and go hang out with your friends. You're awesome.

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