In academia and industry, we don't have "competitions," as such. We have conferences, where ideas are presented and recent work shared, and calls for proposals and grants, where we vie tooth and nail for precious, precious cash. A&S displays and competitions serve a nearly equivalent purpose in the SCA, giving artisans a forum to share their work and receive feedback, as well as compete for the glory of a blue ribbon.
There could be a whole class taught on "How to display your A&S items," and I am not the person to teach it. This is, rather, about using displays and competitions to further your work.
Bring Paper and Pen, Look Around
Don't just drop off your item and flee the scene. Look at the other entries. Scan some of their documentation. Especially pay attention to the ones that seem to be generating favorable impressions from the judges - try and understand what makes the work admirable. Craftsmanship? Documentation? Presentation? Are there any lessons there for you?
Focus on entries on topics that touch areas related to your own research. Really read the documentation. Talk to the artisan, if he or she is there. If he or she is not there, and you would like to get in touch, leave a note expressing your interest and some contact information (such as where to find you on-site, or an email address - be careful with leaving too much personal information out on a public table). This can be a great way to meet people to add to your list of "experts" or "fellow researchers."
Read the Judges' Comments Twice
The first time is likely to be emotionally charged. Read them over, react emotionally, calm down, and then read them again, slowly. Probably they are not as critical as they seemed at first look.
Take Down Your Defenses
Most people are not trying to be mean to you. They want to help you grow, and that means pointing out things in your work that need strengthened. Read any criticisms, take another deep breath, and decide if you think they are fair or not.
Judges Are Not Omniscient
First, not every A&S judge will be an expert in your field. Indeed, if you have an obscure interest, you may rarely get a judge who can fully understand the intricacies of your work. So cut the judges some slack if they don't appear to entirely "get" what you were doing. They volunteered their time to try and give you some useful feedback.
Judges also don't know your entire personal circumstances. To do their work, they need to assume that you want to get better in your art. Maybe you don't; then you can ignore their suggestions on what to improve.
Judges Can Be Wrong
Because judges are not omniscient, and because they may not be an expert in your field, they may make wrong statements, or at least offer opinions with which you strongly disagree. In these cases, you may want to put the feedback down, take a good long walk, and revisit it later. Honestly: is this wrong for you, or would you just rather not admit that it is right?
I once got feedback for a performance on my small 19-string harp. Most of it was entirely valid, but the judge praised me for "working well with the limitations of a small harp." I was incensed! No one considers a bagpiper "limited" because he's only got an octave to work with; I have two and a half! Calling my harp limited, grumble grumble... But it's also not fair for me to expect that a non-small-harp-playing judge to understand that, in our community, we apply a different aesthetic to our performances than to larger folk harp playing.
Or, for another performance, I was at once praised for my obvious extensive preparation and criticized for my lack of preparation. (The truth? Total lack of preparation.)
Judges Can Be Right
You also don't want to dismiss valid critiques with a diva-like flip of your hand and a breezy, "They just don't understand me!" Again, it's about being honest with yourself: is this warranted?
You Don't Want Simple Praise
Sure, it feels good. But a handful of judging forms with comments like, "Very nice!", "Lovely", and "Liked it a lot" aren't actually informative. What about it was very nice, lovely, or likeable? Just like we wanted to avoid vague words like "more" and "better" when setting goals, you hope that your judges will avoid vague feedback.
Ideally, you would get a few suggestions stating what you did well and what you didn't do well. You really need both kinds to grow.
Use Valid Criticisms to Direct Future Work
Everyone said that your use of color was great, but your bead shapes were sloppy. Well, now you have an idea that you can spend less time working on color schemes - you seem to have a good handle on that - and more time on getting your shapes even.
If you get conflicting or varied criticisms, deal with the ones that seem either most important or most interesting to you.
You Can Talk to the Judges
Personally, I would not try and get them to redo any judgments which have been made (like a competition winner). But you can ask if they have the time to explain a comment that they made, or if they have any advice for beginning the corrections that they've suggested.
Regrettably, judges can also have bad days, be sick, or just not be personable people. Hopefully you will only encounter kind and encouraging judges. If that's not the case, you have a few options:
- Cry. (Not recommended.)
- Be mean back. (Also not recommended.)
- Practice your stoicism. Divorce the contents of the feedback from the tone and manner in which they are given.
- Practice your generosity of spirit. Assume that the judge is deeply mourning a dead parakeet and taking it out on you. You can tolerate it, on account of the parakeet.
- Practice your courage. Tell the mean person, as politely as you can manage, that they are being mean and that you will not be spoken (or written) to in such a fashion.
They're All Mean, They Criticized Me!
No, no. Just to be clear: there are two kinds of criticism: constructive and, um, non-constructive.
Constructive criticism is about your work, not you, and typically contains seeds for growth. "Your documentation is weak," "I would like to see this done with clay instead of Sculpy," and "Pattern wrong for given period" are all constructive criticisms.
Non-constructive criticism is none of those things. "This is awful," "Didn't like it," and "Bored me to tears" are not particularly constructive. They are critical and negative without giving the recipient any idea of what was awful, unlikeable, or boring so that it could be fixed.