The subject of competitions is a hot topic in the A&S world, and the range of personal experiences and emotional responses is vastly varied. Some artisans have been challenged and encouraged by their participation, others have been frustrated or even devastated by their experience. I want to begin my discussion by stating that all of these emotional responses are valid. My goal in writing is not to convince you that “competitions are always great!” or that your disappointment or heartbreak was probably just a misunderstanding, but rather to help you determine if entering competitions could be helpful and constructive for your personal A&S journey.
Competitions are tough. Competitions mean that, in an official capacity, a few people “win” and probably a lot more people “lose.” Competitions open the door to possible misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disappointment. However, competitions can also challenge artisans to take on tasks they never dreamed of, and can lead to an immense sense of personal accomplishment, whether or not an artisan wins. So, how do you determine if competition is for you?
The single most important factor in making this decision, in my opinion, is emotional honesty. Are you able to hear constructive criticism in real time without feeling hurt? Are you able to not win and not feel like a failure as a result? And a less obvious, but equally important question: are you able to compete while still supporting your fellow competitors? If the honest answer to any of these questions is “no,” it is not a sign of personal moral failing. It does not mean that you’re a poor sport, or a “bad person.” It means that you know yourself, and you know that if you enter a competition, you may likely be setting yourself up for negative emotions. If this is the case, that’s ok! There are many other ways to showcase your art. You do not need to feel invisible as an artisan if you don’t compete. And if you honestly don’t know how you will respond in a competition, then try entering a low-stakes, local one, and see how you react. It’s ok to try and decide you don’t like it!
If you were able to answer “yes!” or even just “I think I can!” to the above questions, then maybe a competition could be a constructive experience. Other factors to consider are things like, do you find you need external motivation to get projects done? Do you need a set timeline in order to finish a project? Would a set of rules or rubrics provide structure or helpful guidelines that you otherwise find lacking in your work? Do you have a personality type that enjoys competition? These are all great reasons to try out competitions. They can be a great motivating tool, especially for projects you might otherwise never try.
The next thing to consider is, “what type of competition?” A lot of discussion is centered around Crown A&S, but in reality, the East has a lot of wonderful competition opportunities. And it may be that one competition fits your needs as an artisan better than another. Artifacts of a Life or St. Eligius might be perfect for you if Crown A&S feels too intimidating or limiting. Or maybe you’re new to competitions and want to try a local A&S championship. Think carefully and critically about what each possible competition has to offer you personally in your A&S journey. Every competition is not necessarily the perfect fit for every artisan.
The next step is to take control of the competition process for yourself. In many cases, competitions are a frustrating experience because you have no control over what your score will be or how the judges will respond. However, there are elements you have control over. You have control over the scope of your project, the amount you push yourself, the quality of research you do, to name a few examples. So, before entering a competition, develop your own personal criteria for a “win.” So, your personal “win” might be pushing yourself to try something you’ve never done before. Or it could be reaching a new level of excellence in a skill you’ve been developing for a while. Accomplishing your personal goal allows you to feel victorious regardless of the outcome, and allows you to feel “in control” of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. If you are able to put your own personal goals above the possibility of winning, then competition will likely be a positive experience for you.
Now, suppose you’ve done all of the above. You’ve asked yourself some hard questions, you’ve evaluated the type of competition you’re entering, and you’ve accomplished your personal goals – but you still leave the competition feeling discouraged and frustrated. It’s ok to feel disappointment. That emotion in and of itself is not un-peerlike. In this case, I would encourage you to seek out the support of those around you. If you’re a student or apprentice, talk to your laurel. Talk to others in your A&S community. Be honest about your emotional response, but in dealing with difficult feelings, do your best to remain kind. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your judges. Try to look at things from a variety of perspectives. And, most of all, give yourself time and understanding. Disappointment, especially when it stems from a feeling of personal failure, can feel a lot like grief, and it takes time for the sting to go away.
Now, one negative experience doesn’t mean that competitions aren’t for you. Maybe that particular competition isn’t for you – maybe you entered Crown A&S, and found the rubric to be too prescriptive for your artistic process, for example. Or maybe you need to set some boundaries to competitions. For example, my personal boundary is that I’m willing to travel a limited number of hours to a competition that does not fit my personal goals as well, and I will be frustrated if I travel over that set amount. For competitions that fit my personal goals very well, I’m willing to travel farther. Boundaries are an excellent way to protect yourself from a negative emotional response.
I hope that this discussion has given you some helpful tools in thinking critically about competitions, and how to participate with a greater chance for personal success. And if competitions just aren’t your thing, explore the Official EK MoAS website for other suggestions about ways to get your work out there.