Guidelines for Arts & Sciences Competitions and Displays

One of the most famous outlet for artisans to get feedback on their work is A&S competitions and displays. These are the opportunity to present their work and get (constructive) critiques about it. It’s also the occasion to meet like-minded artisans, and to exchange information and ideas.

With thanks to Ysemay Sterling, Philip White, Isabel Chamberlaine, Galefridus Peregrinus, Alexandre Lerot d’Avigne and Tristan de Worrell.

Organizing A&S Competitions and Displays
If you want to organize an A&S competition and/or display at an event, but don’t know where to start, this section is for you. Hopefully it will answer the questions you could have.

What you will need: A few starting tips

  • The first thing you will need is to coordinate early with the event steward, and to decide what type of A&S activity you want to organize. Once that’s decided: advertise early, and then advertise again as the event gets closer.
  • A good practice is to bring tokens for artisans (and it’s also something that you can suggest while advertising)
  • Whether you’re organizing a competition or a display, there are things that you are going to need. Arrange with the event steward to have some space with tables and chairs, and some time booked for the A&S. If possible, arrange for it to happen in a central area, where more people will have the opportunity to observe the artisans’ work.
  • The day of the event, remember to advertise the activity again (a note by the gate, a herald to announce set up time and beginning, etc…).
  • Also have enough paper and pens.
  • Make of list of artisans, and ideally what they presented, and keep track of people who helped you organize. It will make thanking them easier. Your task will be much easier if you have enough people to help you.

Displays are organized so that people can show their work even if they don’t desire to enter a competition. Ideally, they should allow interactions and discussion between the artisans and people attending the event.

The things you have to plan, independently of the type of competitions are:

  • Is there a specific theme or not? (and this should be announced in advance)
  • Announcing the winners
  • Getting feedback (judging sheets) to the entrants.

Types of competitions

Populace choice
That type of competition is relatively easy to organize.  You don’t have to recruit judges in advance or prepare some judging form. There is some form of voting by the populace. Generally it is accomplished by giving a limited number of token(s) to people attending the event, which they can distribute to the various entries/entrants.

For that you need to acquire these token (beads or charms can be purchased cheaply) and consider whether you want a container or not next to each entry.
At the end of the voting time, all is left to do is count who/what received the most tokens.
In that case, there’s not much actual feedback going to the artisans. However, you can decide to let them keep the voting token, for bragging rights.

Artisan/Laurel Challenge
In these competitions, the entries are judged by the person issuing the challenge.

The first thing you will need to do is find the people willing to issue such a challenge, and once they have decided what their challenge(s) is(are) let it know.

Judged competition
In that type of competition, there will be a panel of judges who are going to evaluate the entries. You will need to recruit judges in advance. You can send a general call to specialized list (A&S list, or specific craft/guild list) but keep in mind that contacting people directly generally results in a higher response rate.

In the best world you will have an idea of how many artisans will be participating and what they are bringing. This will be a great help to organize the space, and might guide you towards dividing the entries between categories, and between judges of the corresponding specialty.

Entering an Arts & Sciences Competition

Documentation is often perceived as the most intimidating element of A&S competitions, mostly because people don’t know what to write.

Imagine that you are trying to explain what you have done to a friend who might not know the topic very well. It doesn’t need to be long, just clear. This is not an intimidating research paper, instead it is an opportunity to show off all the work you have done throughout the project.

Some competitions will give a page limit for the documentation, or ask that longer documents, like research papers, be sent in advance so that the judges have the time to actually read them. Potentially, you can add supplementary information in appendices, for people interested in getting more in depth information. However this is not a requirement. Keep in mind, however, that the judges do not have time to read 15 pages of text on site.

Various web pages give simple and clear indications about what should appear in documentation[1]. It is even possible to use some fill-in forms[2].

The message though is pretty similar everywhere. The elements that need to appear are:

  • What is it?
  • What is it based on? (This is where the research portion appears)
  • What materials did you use?
  • How did you produce it?
  • How did you deviate from the period inspiration, and why?
  • Some sort of bibliographical sources/references.

Documentation Tips:

  • Make sure you use an easy to read font of at least 12 pt.
  • Separate your information into easily viewed sections.  For example: Objective, Materials, Process, Deviations, What I Learned, etc. The number and type of headings will vary according to the project.
  • Large, dense pages of text are often intimidating to judges who do not have time to sift through the info. Small paragraphs and more headings make is simple for the judges to find what they are looking for.
  • Be consistent! Do not use 6 different fonts is 8 different sizes.
  • If citation scares you, just make sure that you at least include: author, title, copyright date. That is enough information for anyone to either recognize or find the source.
  • A picture says a 1000 words.  If you have the ability, include pictures. A picture of your project helps connect the documentation with the item.  A picture of the original inspiration is great.  Pictures of your progress through the project convey far more than text alone.

Receiving Comments

Mistress Annectje is working on something about that. Ideally it will go in the A&S newsletter. In any case something should be here.
I think the idea should be: there’s always something to learn from it, and don’t take criticisms personally.

Judging is a difficult process. It is imperative to balance encouragement with constructive criticism. Judging is about honest assessment and support for an artisan’s growth, remembering to take into account the level of knowledge of the entrant vs the judge

Scholars are free to choose whatever citation style they prefer. Do not penalize a writer for choosing a style that differs from your preferred method. Before judging research papers, please be familiar with the different methods of academic citation: MLA, APA, AMA, Chicago

Judging Tips:

  • Be nice! Consider how you would feel if you read the comment about one of your projects.
  • Remember that it takes a lot of courage to enter competitions and that often competitors enter at vastly different skill levels.
  • Always sign your judging sheets!!! If you can not defend your comments, do not write them.
  • Provide a reason for both high and low scores.  If you give someone a 2/10 they deserve to know the reason so they may improve.  Likewise, if you score a 10/10 let them know what they did correctly.
  • Always start your commentary with something positive. No matter what, there is always something good to say about every project.
  • If a project has an overwhelming number of errors, pick the 2 or 3 most egregious and focus on them.  If possible, provide solutions for improvement.  Do NOT overwhelm them with a laundry list of all the things they did wrong.  This leads to discouragement and hopelessness.
  • Always keep in mind the intent of the creator. Judge based on how successful the artisan was at accomplishing what s/he intended, regardless of your personal tastes. For example, whether you like the style of beer presented in a brewing competition is irrelevant: what is important is the artisan’s success or failure to produce the intended style of beer, provided that everything else about the entry is in order.

Example(s) of Judging Sheets

From Atlantia, pentathlon
Clothing and needle arts
Domestic arts & sciences
Food and drink
Heraldic display
Performing arts
Studio arts