Entering & judging Arts & Sciences competitions.
Why do artisans enter competitions? For feedback and/or for exposure. So, which one are you?
Factors to consider before jumping in:
- Critiques must be consensual
- Judges are volunteers
- Know what the artisan, you, wants out of the competition
- Use the judging criteria, it is there to help
- Documentation is not meant to be homework
- This is supposed to be fun and helpful!
1. Critiques must be consensual.
Unless an artisan specifically invites someone to critique their project, feedback should be kept to compliments. Once an artisan enters into a judged competition, that will be considered consent to critique. Unfortunately, not all commentary from judges will be helpful, and the artisan may not like or agree with what a judge has to say about their project. That’s part of the deal though – take what you need, disregard the rest.
For entrants, don’t let the judging sheet be the end of the dialogue, especially if you don’t like something or feel like you can gain more from a longer conversation. Follow up and – hey look! You made a new friend.
For judges, keep your commentary focused on the project and serve the compliment sandwich (constructive critique sandwiched between two feel-good compliments); make sure every part “tastes good”.
2. Judges are volunteers.
Sometimes judges are the perfect person to judge your project, sometimes they step in at the last moment to help fill spots and they know little about your project. You never know who you are going to get. Your job as an entrant is to present your project in a way that someone who has no clue about what the object is can come in, see the object presented in a pleasing way, learn about it in a few minutes via documentation & presentation (project plus visual aids, clearly labeled), and have enough context to have a semi-intelligent conversation about it, with references and sources so they can follow up if they want to.
3. What do you want to get out of the competition?
If you are in it to win it, then make a show piece, use the judging criteria, have several people proofread your documentation journal, practice your presentation, test run your display and ask for critiques before the competition. Will you win then? Maybe. That’s always the answer – you have no way of knowing all the factors ahead of time, just make it the best you can each time. Take the critique and make the next display/project/documentation/presentation better. Up your game any way you can.
For entrants, see above. If you are just there to share your cool project and get feedback, tell the judges that “tangents,” also known as “rabbit holes,” are welcome and encouraged.
For judges, if someone is clearly there to win, offer the next better step suggestion, score them honestly, and tell them why you scored them that way – don’t leave them guessing.
4. Use the criteria, they are there to help
The judging criteria, a grid of scoring criteria, is not only intended to guide judges to score less subjectively. Judging criteria are also intended to give entrants – or even just those wishing to improve – guidance on how to improve their art. Keep in mind that the highest score of the judging criteria reflects expert work. Reaching this level should be the goal of every entrant, someday, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Then when you do reach this milestone, it will be an achievement to be rightfully proud of – a true masterpiece!
The judging criteria is a feedback system to help show progress over time and help you develop your skills. if you are new to competition, or to your project, a score consistent in the 2-3 column would be equivalent to an apprentice or a sycamore, and a quite nice feedback. A score consistent in the 3 to 4 columns would be like a journeyman, or fleur equivalent; in the 5 like a master or laurel-level, and 6 would be the expert.
For entrants, by reading the judging criteria and self-scoring your entry beforehand you can identify any issues before entering a competition or display, while you still have the opportunity to do something about it.
For judges, the judging criteria can help facilitate feedback to reach the entrant, even when under time constraints, by marking each topic on the form that applies to the entered project. Keep in mind that the highest score should be for entries so good that the most authentic recreator would consider it perfect.
5. Documentation is not meant to be homework
Unless you intend to write a research paper, a graduation thesis is not what the judges are looking for. Your documentation should be a combination of historical context combined with a project journal. It should tell the judges what you made, how it was made, and why it is historically authentic. And ask yourself: could a stranger to the topic understand and recreate your project using only your documentation journal?
For entrants, how much time will the judge have on average per entry? At an average reading speed 1500 words per 15 minutes, this limits the length of your journal. If judges need to speed-read supply keywords and highlights, and move side-quests to the appendices. Use a cover sheet summary, step-by-step instructions and photo journals to help organize the information and simplify navigation.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? Check out “Don’t know where to start your documentation journal? Have trouble “reading” the judging criteria? Don’t you worry, we’ve got you!”
A few things to keep in mind about judges and judging:
- It is LOUD in A&S competitions, and not everyone reads well in noisy rooms with lots of distractions.
- Stupid questions and assumptions are going to happen, and sometimes have to happen for clarity. Note them and recheck your documentation. It could be that the judge missed that due to distractions, or you could have mentally filled in with your own prior knowledge and your audience has no way of knowing.
6. A&S competitions are supposed to be fun
While most judges are careful about serving edible compliment sandwiches, sometimes you are going to get anchovies & pineapple on the same pizza. It is unfortunate when that happens, but it does happen. It’s a risk of competition, which is why #1 is so important. Take the feedback as it applies, disregard the rest.
A&S competitions are supposed to be educational. They are supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun for you, don’t do it. If you aren’t looking for feedback, don’t do it. But if you are, we are very happy you found us! Together, we can challenge and inspire each other and reach for the stars!