|Anyone Can Judge
[09/04/2008] [Okami Cio Cio]
It's easy to look at some piece of equipment or art and say, "this is good" or "this is bad." However, when it comes to judging Arts and Sciences for Amtgard, good and bad are up to so many levels of interpretation. There are many challenges the novice judge runs into: experience, knowledge, and personal tastes. All these can affect how you'll end up judging.
Not many folks want to be known as that guy that always gives the harshest score, especially considering the stories of the guy who gives out all "1s" and has never made anything for Amtgard himself. Likewise giving everyone all "5s" and a smiley face doesn't really help give effective feedback.
Most contestants know how well they've done on any piece. They know they threw that item together or that they slaved to make it just right. Therefore, they have in their head a sense of what their entry should rate.
You can develop a sense in your head as well. An approach that has served me well is to start with the base assumption on any piece being at the point of average. That means on a 5-point scale, I start at 3 when I first approach the piece. Depending on quality of construction, complexity, and less defined issues like creativity, I go up or down from that starting point.
Your job as a judge is to be as objective in assessing each piece as you can. Even if you haven't made garb, armor, or jewelry, you have seen some while participating in Amtgard. You have some sense of what looks normal, what looks great, and what looks crummy. It's not wrong to let your instincts guide you a little bit in making these decisions.
Here are some things to take into consideration when scoring an entry and each aspect plays against the other.
Does the piece fall apart when picked up? If it's a sword, does the blade pull away from the hilt or wiggle loose with the tiniest pressure? If it's a garment do the buttons come off when you undo them? That's a bad sign! It's not hard to tell if something is solidly constructed. Don't be afraid to pick up and try the item in question. If it can't take some examination that should definitely indicate that it's not ready for judging.
Now this is not to suggest that you try to break the item, however if an Amtgard sword can't take being swung and hitting a person, if a garment can't be worn, or if a necklace can't be fastened, then the construction quality is in question.
How do I score? Taking the 3 as a base standard, go up or down. If something falls apart you'd go down. If it's solidly constructed you'd go up. How solid or shoddy it is should define how far you go up and down.
The more effort that is put into the creation of a piece, the easier it is to score it highly. A complex garment, jewelry item, or foodstuff, for example, certainly is more likely to gain a higher score. If you're unfamiliar with the art form in question, don't be afraid to ask someone knowledgeable in the medium about technique and quality.
Don't be afraid to score a complex item that is made poorly lower than a well-made item that is less complex. Much of judging is balancing quality with complexity. A simple sword should be extremely well made to score high. A fancy sword that falls apart when the wielder swings it shouldn't score high just because it's attractive.
How do I score? When considering complexity, I always feel that up is more likely than down. I don't think that because something was relatively easy to make, should down grade it, as long as it fulfills its purpose, is well made and attractive.
A good presentation may increase your reaction to an item, which begs the question: are you scoring the item or its presentation? It is understandable to be hesitant to score an item well if you can't reasonably understand its intent. In the worst-case scenario, you're facing a crock-pot of soup, without even a spoon to taste from. Presentations that are excellent; however, should not significantly increase the score item if it is poorly made. Likewise, a superior item that is displayed poorly should not have its score significantly reduced.
One part of presentation to consider is the "write up." Not everyone will provide documentation for his or her item. However when it is available, it can provide you vital insight into how effectively the item fits its purpose. A garment that has been purposely aged or made to appear un-made would probably score poorly if the judges can't tell that the reason it's frayed and dirty is because it's supposed to be! Read supporting documentation, and it will assist you in knowing what you're judging and why it is made the way it is.
How do I score?
My personal opinion is that presentation never adds or detracts any more than half a point. For an item where presentation is more integral to its enjoyment, such as the spoons and bowls for soup situation, I'll go up or down by that .5. Personally, I try to let presentation play very slightly in my scoring of the item and once again more likely to the better for the bowls and spoons or the fully explanatory write up.
There are other factors that some people will take into consideration when judging. Things like how well the item relates to Amtgard, originality and even personal preference. I certainly can see the value of these factors, however I'd caution becoming too tied up in them.
Amtgard has a pretty wide swath for people to choose from regarding fitting into genre. Is a robot Amtgard material? Is it a steam powered gnome robot? Are those shoes made from rubber okay? Who's to say they don't have vulcanization on my home world? I've heard wonderful renditions of "Every Rose has its Thorn."
Originality is a challenge as well. Just because you've never seen a particular artwork before doesn't mean it's original. I've been at an event where someone stated they'd written a song, and I found a recording of it from the 60s a few weeks later. I'd hazard that I could find examples for similar facsimiles of 4 out of 5 Arts and Sciences submissions in any given contest. There are only so many ways things go together. And there's nothing wrong with that!
Personal Preference is the trickiest and stickiest. I hate bleu cheese. However, someone could make an excellent puff pastry with bleu cheese that would make many of my nearest and dearest happy as clams. I generally try to put personal tastes aside when judging and focus on how well made the artwork is, how attractive it is for the type of thing it is, and how clearly I can understand its purpose.
How do you judge?
A wise person once told me, "Rarely does someone deserve a 1 or a 5. And when they do, it stands out." I agree with that wholeheartedly. Whether it's the hand embroidered tapestry or the stick with a piece of twine wrapped loosely around it, 5s and 1s make themselves pretty obvious. It's the in between that will throw you.
Personally, I like to err on the side of average. As I said earlier, I start with a three and go up or down. I try to focus on Quality of construction, Attractiveness within its genre, and let the rest affect my scoring when I've got to make that tough decision between a 3.5 and a 4.
The best way to learn anything, be it making items or judging them, is to just do it. Jump in! Try it out! You'll help Amtgard and maybe even get some inspiration of your own.
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