By Mistress Alfrun Ketta.

Mistress Alfrun, photo by THL Amie Sparrow

I don’t generally like doing A&S competitions in the SCA.

By that I mean that they are not my thing to do − but I do believe that for some people they provide the drive to finish work or they provide valuable impartial feedback that they might not get elsewhere.

I would personally rather display than compete, and I would rather teach than display, but every now and then I do opt do toss something out into the ring to see what happens. 

I think it is valuable to our members to continue to offer opportunities to compete, but we also need to remember that competing is not a requirement, and people who are uncomfortable with competing in the arts should never feel compelled to do so.

One of my best competition experiences was a couple of years ago, when I participated in the Persona Pentathlon in Atlantia’s Kingdom Arts & Sciences Faire.  My experience was so profound that I actually would really recommend a venue like this for those who are seeking to push their boundaries.  The competition has you create five items that would have belonged to one historic persona, and you choose your categories from a list of options.  Most artisans work easily in a couple fields, but often have to learn something new to make the final entry.

My entries were clothing, weaving, spinning, food, and research. I got a near-perfect score on one item and a fairly low score on another. The one I got the lowest score on was the one I was most deeply invested in, but I was completely okay with receiving that score.

Why? Because the conversations that I had surrounding it were still positive. I was told that the research was very valuable to the SCA. The reality is that item just did not well fit the categories for the competition and was appropriately scored as such. 

I still had a wonderful time discussing that with people who came to the table, and that is what was important.  That, not some score on a piece of paper, is what made entering that particular item worth while.

What else made even that experience positive, despite that one score? I know how to separate myself from my work, and listen when someone is giving me feedback.

That is a skill that every artisan needs to really take time to nurture. Distance yourself, be open to the criticism, allow yourself to believe that no one is there to deliberately crush your world, and take the advice given and grow from it. Remember that someone took the time out of their day, out of their event, to weigh in on your work.

Most often, the judges are there because they want you to grow as an artisan.  It is their goal to aid you on that journey and learning to listen to critique with that in mind can change the entire competition experience.  Not everyone is an expert at giving advice, but it you listen to them with the idea that they truly have no ill-will towards you or your work, a great deal more can be taken away from the experience than if one gets defensive from the start. 

Even the best mentor or judge out there might occasionally give poor advice, or they might be referencing older research, or they might just be wrong about something.  You can absolutely choose not to take that advice, but make sure that it is not a knee-jerk reaction on your own part.  It is always okay to ask for resources or clarification.  Likewise, it is okay to offer your own resources and clarification, but do so with grace.  It is also perfectly okay, at the end of the day, to thank the person for their comments and just move on.

During a more recent conversation about critique, Baroness Kateryne of Hindscroft, OL, pointed out that a middle score in a competition is not actually a bad score.  The work is decent, it has room for growth, but it is not “bad.” If the art is fairly new for you, this can actually be a good score to see, as it shows you are on the right track and hopefully the feedback will allow you to take it to the next level when you opt to compete again.

One of the other benefits of entering this specific competition is that I had some very good one-on-one time with the judges. I highly encourage artisans who do want to compete to seek out those competitions that offer that experience.

Allowing you to answer questions as part of the process lets you show your knowledge without them having to read through a tome of documentation (which, let’s face it, can be very, very hard to do at events). It allows for an exchange of ideas as well, something you will not get with a just a take-home judging form.  It helps the entrant understand why a score was low and what could be done to raise it the next time.  I know Æthelmearc has been offering more opportunities for competitions like this, as well as the ability to get feedback in a competition-free environment.  I cannot recommend enough that newer artisans take advantage of these opportunities.

The final reminder that I would like to leave here is that art takes time.  Fabulous art takes an exceptional amount of time. Take your time, learn about the art, the items, and the people that used them.  Applying context (in terms of social status, occupation, or the lifestyle of the owner) to an object can offer ways to perfect and item or fill in the blanks in the hows/whats/whys that might be missing in the tangible evidence.  Enjoy the excitement that comes with exploring an art and growing as an artisan.