Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoughts on judging 3

One more response to a comment left on my post about judging.  Charlotte wrote that there's a difference between "shows" and "exhibits" -- that shows are composed of a bunch of different things while exhibits are curated around some kind of theme or concept -- and that exhibits need to be cohesive but shows don't.  I think that's a very good distinction, except I'd add that exhibits don't even necessarily need to be cohesive.  The only reason I even mentioned the C-word is that so frequently you hear it in statements like "don't be hurt if your work if rejected from a show; it's probably perfectly wonderful but it just didn't fit in with the jurors' vision of a cohesive show."  I've always taken such statements to be (a) untrue (b) patronizing and (c) smarmy.

She also commented that talking things over with others helps you develop your ideas, and she always gets more out of a show by going with a friend and discussing the art.  I would agree 100 percent -- if you're talking about simply looking at art.  Indeed, that may be the subject of a whole different post next week!

But that's a different context than jurying and judging.  I would hope that people invited to be jurors or judges have already developed their own ideas pretty well.  As a juror or judge, your job is to look at the artwork and make critical decisions -- and they should be your own decisions.

I am not totally against discussion in the jurying or judging process, because sometimes I have found it to be helpful in reaching a consensus.  Some shows have multiple jurors for selecting which quilts get into the show, but then have just one judge choose the prizewinners.  This may be a good compromise approach.  (At the 2014 Quilts = Art = Quilts show at the Schweinfurth Art Center, I served on the selection jury and then was the sole prize judge.  I can testify that making the decisions all by yourself is a lot harder than doing it as a group!)

Kit Vincent, Chaos: the butterfly effect -- I chose this quilt as best in show at  Q=A=Q 2014

I'm not sure I would like to have totally blind judging.  But I can testify to the danger of being swayed by the strong personality in the room.

I once was on a jury that got together the afternoon before a show opened to look at the quilts in person and award the prizes.  We circled the room and looked closely at all the quilts.  Then we sat down to make the decision.  The show sponsor gave us a list of six or seven awards to give out.

One of the jurors was way higher on the food chain than the others and spoke first.  She wanted to start at the bottom of the list -- first we'd choose who got the honorable mentions, then who got the special awards, then choose third, second, and finally best in show.

I thought this was a really strange approach and said I didn't think that was the best way to go.  No, no, that was the way she wanted to do it!!  But how is that going to work out?  No, no, that was the way she wanted to do it!!  I couldn't talk her down, and the other juror sat there without saying anything, so I gave up.

Sure enough, after we gave out all the minor awards we ended up with arguably the two best quilts in contention for best in show.  We argued.  Eventually we chose one and the other one, instead of getting second prize, got nothing!  I felt guilty, even though the quilt I liked got the prize, because I thought we had shafted the other person, simply because of the weird process.  But two of us weren't able to overrule the big-cheese juror on an issue that she really wanted to win.

Would blind judging lead to better shows and better art?  I have no idea.  But it's interesting to contemplate.  What do you think?


  1. I am always interested in the remarks judges make on crit sheets. I think it is unfair for them to be expected to write these remarks as they have so little time to study each piece. If someone is critiquing work they take lots of time to peruse the piece. Critiquing or helping people improve their ideas/work/design/colour choices etc is not what a show or exhibition is about.

    I once got the comment that the stitching on the back holding down the binding could be closer- my stitching was under a quarter inch apart. Obviously my piece was just boring to her or there are so many interpretations I could run with.

    Another time a judge meeting me at the evening dinner said after she had finished judging she looked up the catalogue to find who had made what, and then meeting me said if I had known what you had written I would not have written the remarks I did..... how can judges understand some of the cultural references in work if they have not had time to read the makers statement, this applies especially to themed shows.

    I always tried to find something positive to say about a piece when I judged. I know some people look to the judges remarks as a way to better their work or perhaps help their work on the way to winning an award, I find this sad and scary.

    I must say I find judges written comments on work interesting, funny, weird etc. I do not get upset by them I know what a difficult time they have. In fact I look forward to seeing what they say.

    What does upset me is when a piece that is obviously a copy of another persons work or is from a book rises to the top of a show.

    I would love to be having this discussion face to face with you Kathy, I find it hard to express my views in writing, the words do not always read as I intend.

    Thank you for the interesting posts,
    Irene from Northern Ireland (a friend of Jane)

  2. Hoo boy, quilt judging is a bit of a third rail in the quilt world. I've seen judging mostly at the local/regional quilt show level, as a show organizer and a scribe during judging. Yes, judges are big on the craft aspects and often at sea on the design aspects. Some shows have an art quilt category which really confuses many judges. I've seen one judge leap gratefully at the one bound art quilt as something she recognized.

    I think it's up to the show or exhibit organizers to let the judges know what elements are important for that show or exhibit. If design is to count for a lot, then the judges need to be aware of it. I speak as someone who has been burned by judges focusing on FMQ stitch length and a "false back" on an art quilt. Obviously this shouldn't be as much of an issue with the big art quilt shows, where originality is expected, I hope.

    As for judges comments, many judges start off with at least one positive comment and then give some suggestions for improvement. However, there are still tears from quilters who claim the judges hated their work. Trust me, the comments were diplomatic and included positive feedback. But, that's a whole different side of the quilt judging spectrum.

    Bottom line - no quilt judge is able to emulate Solomon and satisfy everyone. At the end, personal preference comes into play.