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So, I was going to write about how people don't know how to "lose gracefully".

(This is not going in the direction you think it is. Oh, sure, it might veer onto some well-trodden roads, but...)

In Atlantia, there is a bunch of information on how to write documentation. There's oodles of advice about what the judges are looking for. There's even checklists you can, well, check to see if you've missed anything when you put the result of your blood sweat and tears into competition. When it comes to dealing with the feedback you get, though, everyone becomes less helpful.

There are two schools of thought that come up in discussion whenever someone posts about a bad judging experience: Number one thinks the judges are mean (andthereoughttabeaLAW!) and that the only helpful criticism is a gentle fanning of the artisan's ego, because people DROP OUT when they get mean comments. Number two takes the opposite tack and says that all the artisans are whiners, and they should take what they can from any judging comments and WHY DON'T THEY JUST GET OVER IT?!. Ultimately, the discussion resolves itself with a few middle-of-the-road types saying yes, we get bad judges, and yes, maybe some people get maybe a teensy bit oversensitive (but no-one in the current discussion, of course not) and overreact (but not you guys, oh no), and after all, we're all amateurs, and take the good out of any comments and just leave the rest.

What no-one acknowledges, except in the least useful and most hyperbolic way is that competition always guarantees one winner and a bunch of losers. Because "loser" has taken on negative connotations in current society, no-one wants to risk being a "loser", and we get a KA&SF Pentathlon with only two entries. 

isenglassand I had a fun talk about this as she was judging (and I was distracting her - stick with what you're good at, I always say). We both were concerned by the lack of entrants, and were trying to fathom why so few people had entered. I know that the 'flu knocked a lot of people off their feet this year, and there will always be people who dislike competitions, but I also know that discussion on the Kingdom lists often rolls around to why artisans can't seem to get any useful feedback on their work. The discussion outlined above then happens, and more people get nervous about the whole scary "competition" thang.

Being told you rock is lovely, but there are times when it's really useful to get more in-depth commentary, and competition (with its built-in commentary spaces on the judging forms) is an invitation for people to give something above "great work!" or the pre-printed cards that say "thanks for doing what you do" (which are nice, don't get me wrong, but don't offer much in the way of the useful information that people say they want).

The trouble with the judging system is that it's a volunteer thing, and like many volunteer things, your judges will only be as good as your volunteer base. we have had classes and articles on how to be a good judge, but in the end, the commentary on your form is variable.

And now we tangent. The fact that one gets variable levels of useful/pleasant feedback from judges wouldn't matter if we all knew how to handle getting less than glowing commentary on our work, but almost 30 years of "self-esteem" teaching in schools has stripped many of our artisans of the ability to deal with criticism. This is not entirely on the artisan; since it's not a subject we deal with (except "criticism is bad!!!!OMG!!!!!"), no-one can possibly know straight off how to handle it.  Like many social skills, it's something you learn over time. One of the greatest disservices we have done to ourselves as a society is to turn excellence into "elitism", rejecting that concept, and claiming that "everyone is special". As Dash from The Incredibles says when his mother tells him everyone's special, "...which is another way of saying no-one is". When everyone (no-one) is special, then no-one can feel bad.  When no-one is allowed to feel bad, no-one learns how to direct those emotions in a positive way.

Criticism stings. One of the things we skirt around in the SCA competitive sphere is that losing hurts. In a society that is near-pathological about the concept of "no-one should get their feelings hurt", competition runs us head-on into a brick wall of pain if we are not prepared for it. Because everyone is terrified of hurt feelings, we pretend that it's easy to tell good feedback from bad - if it hurts your feelings then it's bad, bad, bad, and the judge should be smacked. This fails to account for the fact that many, if not most people go through their lives without ever experiencing negative feedback, because our modern society is also pathological about bolstering the self-esteem of everyone, even if they cannot alphabetize and smell like ripe cheese in a sauna. HR departments wring their hands about such things, and workers seem to feel perfectly justified in refusing to do their jobs if they don't want to. Self-esteem is rampant; so rampant, that people are amazed and offended when they're told they're fired, even if they're terrible at their job. 

Very few people know how to tell good feedback from bad, because they have learned to associate negative feelings with bad stuff, therefore everything that hurts must be rejected. This doesn't work if you want to get better - self-guided teaching is all very well, but sometimes you need someone else to tell you where your blind spots are. So we judges get a bit frustrated when someone complains that the judges were meeeeeaaaannnn to them, and then in the next sentence castigates us for never leaving any "useful" feedback. When "useful" seems to mean "tell me how to be a Laurel, but don't suggest I'm not perfect, or I'll tell everyone you're a big fat meanie", we get (understandably, I think) skittish, and feel like we can't win.

Another tangent of sorts: I took my (unfinished) degree in Fine Arts. You haven't really experienced negative criticism until you've had someone rip your work off the easel, throw it on the floor, and scream at you about what utter crap it is. Consequently, while I haven't always liked what I've been told in judged competitions, I've never had a problem dealing with it. Sure, it bites to be told I did something wrong (or it's eye-rollingly annoying to be judged by someone who clearly has many of their facts wrong, and is scoring you low because they are idiots), but it's nothing I can't handle. Part of the learning process is admitting that while the professor may be a complete asshole, he's sometimes right, damn it, and I take what I've been told and use it to improve my work.

But how do we judge people without ripping their work to shreds? How can we educate people honestly about the experience?  Partly, it's a question of educating ourselves, and teaching people what to expect and how to handle the curveballs the process can throw at them. 

For instance, I have identified four basic types of judge: Bad/Mean, Bad/Kind, Good/Mean, and Good/Kind. Think Simon, Randy, and Paula (and I don't know, Ryan Seacrest to round it out). 

Simon often gets confused for Good/Mean, because he tells people straight up whether they did well or not, and doesn't waste anyone's time by blowing sunshine up their nether regions. When a person is really fragile, Simon can be very gentle, but he can't stand the types that are full of how wonderful they are and won't listen to advice (those are the ones that invariably say he's mean, doesn't know what he's talking about, and cause us all great amusement during AI's open auditions segment). Simon's judgement can pretty much be relied on; he is, in fact, Good/Kind. 

Randy is thought of as Good/Kind, but he's much more likely to make mean comments and mock people who don't deserve it - he stoops to personal attacks and mockery instead of giving good advice; he is Bad/Mean. Paula is Bad/Kind; she's out of her gourd on whatever substance she ingested before the show, but if she can't say anything nice about your work, she'll compliment your looks. Nothing she has to say is ever actually good advice, but is simply sunshine applied liberally; she is what she appears - Bad/Kind. 

Ryan is our Neutral Good, but he does occasionally have a talent for distilling the ramblings of the judges into something useful. I just stuck him in there because there are only three judges for American Idol, and none of them are Good/Mean (though Simon has been cast into that role, and has learned to enjoy it without actually being it).

In the SCA, Kind judges predominate, but they're often fairly evenly split between Bad and Good - not neccessarily because they are idiots (or on mind-altering substances - that's just me), but because we have a limited number of people willing to judge, and the expertise of the judges may not overlap with the subject of the artisan in competition. 

(Side note: This is why it's a really good idea to punch up your documentation - you can let the judges know that you know about your subject, maybe educate them a little, and clean up on documentation points, which might balance out any flaws in the finished objectToo many people ignore or skimp on documentation because they think it's "work", but take the time to look at decent documentation, and you'll see it's usually just like explaining your work in person, but with more pictures.)

Bad mean judges are just to be ignored; if they are rude with their bad advice, demonstrating that they not only don't know their research, but that they don't know how to communicate properly, let the person running the competition know (give them your judging sheet, if you want), and go on your merry way. Stupid people aren't worth any angst; while it may sting that they got a brief moment of power over you, it means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Your work will speak for itself. Plus, if their aim was to eliminate you from competition with them, and you give up and never show your stuff again, they win.

(Important Note:  Don't let them win.)

Despite the rumours, really mean judges are few and far between. However, the lack of experience most people have with any kind of criticism tends to magnify even gentle negative feedback, and anything that the judge points out as needing improvement can be read as "mean". If you do run into what reads as a personal attack from a judge that seems to know their stuff (Good/Mean), take it to someone objective (i.e., not your best friend) and ask them if they find it overly critical. If the consensus is yes, the judge overstepped their boundaries (and didn't just point out that you have a long way to go before you master your subject), then you can do a couple of things - contact the person who ran the competition and tell them what happened, and contact the judge personally and tell them politely and nicely that you were hurt by their remarks (have an objective third party read the e-mail/letter before you send it).

- In rapier, when someone hits way too hard and painfully, we say "that was good, but a bit hard; I will take lighter". Some judges may come across as mean when all they really wanted was to impress on you the importance of the point they were making, and hit a bit too hard because they are afraid that if they sugar-coat it too much, you will miss what they are trying to tell you. In those cases, while they may be embarrassed that they goofed, they will appreciate the feedback on their writing style, and may be able to tell you in person what they perhaps did not have the time and space to communicate properly in person. It could simply be that they used the wrong words, and what they have to say will be really useful to you, so don't reject them out of hand without asking other people what they think.  Show other people the commentary; what may read as mean to you because it's your precious project that you've sweated over may seem perfectly reasonable and helpful to someone who isn't as emotionally involved.

And if they were just being an asshole, then a polite e-mail will let them know that they've been called on it, and they will be more discreet in future (and if people regularly mention the ass to the people running things, they won't get to judge any more).   Running around behind their back telling everyone how meeeeeaaaaannnnn they were may make you feel better, but you're not doing anything to improve the situation.

More often, you will run into well-meaning judges who get things wrong. They'll tell you they like your stuff, but shouldn't the widget be half an inch smaller, or the hole wider, or blue/green/whatever they saw once in a book? Again, there's not much you can do about this kind of judge - consider them a hazard of a volunteer society. Someday, you might be in their position, so be kind, and just don't worry about them. If you desperately feel the need to correct their mistaken knowledge, go ahead, but be nice. ...Even if they cost you the prize in the competition because they didn't know what they were talking about.

Honestly, no-one really remembers who wins what competition from year to year - it's certainly not a prerequisite to any award. In fact, I forgot that Bob won Tempore Atlantia once with his beautiful men's gown (he reminded me last night, when we were talking about this subject). So even if the nice but clueless judge costs you the grand prize, don't let it get you down. It's the body of work that you've put out for people to see that matters, not whether you win or not. 

(And all your friends will be clustering around you saying "you wuz ROBBED!", anyway.)

The Good judge who knows their stuff, is Kind about it, but won't pull their punches because they respect you too much is the one you have to be on the lookout for. Inexperience with criticism can lead some people to mistake this kind of judge for a Mean judge, but if you remember that negative criticism hurts, but the hurt in itself is not a bad thing, you can take what they give you and use it for its intended purpose - to make you better as an artisan. This judge wants you to get better, or else they wouldn't bother to point out areas for improvement. Keep that in mind, and if you can't tell whether this judge is Kind or Mean, take the commentary to an objective third party for assessment.

It is never comfortable to be told that you have not achieved perfection (no matter how many times I hear it), but since we rarely do, being told we're perfect when we're not is not helpful. Sure, those twinges are uncomfortable, but they're neccessary - the minute you get complacent about your work is the minute you fossilize into place and stop needing to learn.

In fact, if the good judge has left their contact info (I am in the habit of always leaving my e-mail, so that I remember to do it the day I actually achieve the lofty status of this kind of judge), hunt them down - ask them for more feedback. Most people willing to judge are willing to elaborate on their commentary, and will think better of you for contacting them for more advice. They get to pass on what they know to willing listeners, you get to improve your work - everybody wins!

In the end, I think the most important thing to remember is that criticism will always hurt; to say it shouldn't, or that "good" judges never hurt anyone's feelings is untrue and counterproductive to the aims of judging commentary. The trick to dealing with it is to realize that not everything that hurts to read is meant to be "mean", and that admitting the possibility of improvement opens the door to becoming a better artisan. Self-esteem is gained through the mastery (or as far as you want to go) of a subject, not by demanding that everyone always tell you you're wonderful. The journey is full of ups and downs, but the downs teach us as much, if not more, as the ups.

Competition isn't about winners and losers in the SCA; it's more useful as a yardstick of accomplishment, and a means of putting your work out for everyone to see. At least, that's what I take from it as a judge; I remember the individuals I judged at KASF, and it didn't matter to me whether they got a prize at the end of the day or not - it mattered that they had taken the time to make kick-ass entries that blew me away. And I love that.


( 160 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
I wrote out this comment and then boiled it back down to this: In the end, winning or losing an A&S competition is completely irrelevant for exactly the reasons you mention-- including 'who really cares (or remembers) who won?', as well as more contentious reasons like 'how can you really judge a plate of bread against a gown?'

The point, at least to me, is to get your work out there, so you can geek with interested people and maybe spark interest among folks who aren't familiar with whatever it is you do.

Whether competitions versus displays are better for this is left to another forum; despite not particularly caring who wins I will be the first one to admit I am more motivated for a competition than for an open display. Chalk it up to type A personality.
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
'how can you really judge a plate of bread against a gown?'

Simple: How well does it meet the historic ideal?
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not so simple - avenelk - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
Raised "right"?
Yes this society has done nothing for folks when it comes to losing. It agravates me to no end. Utter the phrase "No Child Left Behind" or "PC" and the hair raises on the back of my neck (along with my blood pressure). My parents did me a favor though. They DID teach me to lose gracefully. Good thing too. I've done it a lot! The last year I played soccer - with my dad as our coach - we didn't win one game! Despite my Leo birth sign I can deal with loss and, frankly, it doesn't really hurt all that much when you know how to do it. I tried out for a part in a play on Thursday and Saturday (call backs). Sunday I found out I didn't get a part. While a little bummed, I know there will be another play to try out for and I might get something in that. I am not a bad person or a "loser" because I didn't get a part. I did send an email to the casting director to ask where I could improve my performance - because I DO want to get better. He seems like a nice guy. I'm hoping he will be good too. =)

Thanks for your thoughtful insight. It's GOOD and NICE (yes really) as usual. =)
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
The joke around here is that a lot of people practice "Upwards SCA" (Upwards is one of those everyone wins kids sport groups). Yes criticism can be a blow to your ego but grow up and play in the real world with the rest of us.

This post makes me want to enter A&S again...as soon as I find the time.
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
Wow, actually, that's a huge compliment. Thank you.
(no subject) - victoriapringle - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
I'm SOO much happier speaking face to face with the artisan. I don't think any judge can accurately convey all of their thoughts and advice into a little judging form and it's incredibly easy to mis-interpret the written word, no matter how well someone struggles with an impartial tone. Besides, I can then put a name & face together and really get a gague on how passionate and knowledgable the artisan is. These things are not always apparent in documentation, but hard to hide in face to face conversation. It also lets the artisan know I care about their entry and the work involved...and who doesn't like that?
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
Well, sure, but the point of this entry is that the reason people get so bent out of shape over written commentary (though they regularly complain that they don't get it) is that we no longer teach people how to handle criticism of any kind.

People want commentary; unless they're prepared to sit with their entries all day long, then some of it will be in written form - telling our students how to read and understand the written commentary will go a long way towards helping with the mistaken idea of judges all being "mean".
(no subject) - molly_world - Mar. 4th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
I find it highly ironic that our fighters not only lose, but get hurt in the process as a matter of course and yet your srtisans are delicate flowers who will wilt if you breath on them too hard.
When I studied ballet in my (distant) youth, the best students drew the harshest criticism and nasty comments (including getting the back of their feet whacked while on point to test their balance). If you were praised or ignored, you knew you sucked and needed to work harder. The teacher only made the effort to criticise those who were good enough to grow from it.
When I judge, I get in depth or not based on my judgement of whether the entrant will benefit. A newbie who enters her princess dress will get enthusiastic praise and referrals to better references. If someone's really showing depth of reearch and good technique I'll jot a few comments and ask them to look me up for a discussion: there's never time to write down all the relevant information.
And there's always the awkward entrant: Ihope you'll love this is was my dream wedding dress so I used a zipper and velcro and acetate with spray glitter, but it was based (loosely) on this Elizabethan portrait. Yup, 'based on' as in they're both gowns and made of fabric.
If someone really has it in them to do amazing things and isn't, I'll seek them out and have a deep discussion including comments like " you're way too good to be making these obvious errors, let me share...". I do try to temper criticisms with positives.
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
Good point - our fighters are expected to take correcting (sometimes very literally), and they turn out fine.

I am much more direct with my rapier students than I am with most artisans, because the nature of the sport prepares people to be corrected. We also teach them (much more effectively than we teach our artisans) that it's okay to lose - one fight is just one fight, not the end of the world. Still, I do run into rapier fighters who don't want to hear anything other than "you're great!". :)
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Very well said.

I think I'll be pointing a lot of people at this entry.
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you - it's more of a novel, isn't it? :)
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
Heh. No problem - but I bet you could write that entry, too. :)

I love your names for them. Most of my entrants are sweethearts, but every now and then you get one - usually everyone comes to me and says "I wouldn't know how to judge it. You're good at this; you do it". I am the Simon of the Atlantian judging world. @*@
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
Interesting that the judgement says as much about the judge as the contestant, isn't it? "Lessee... this judge made a comment that indicates they didn't bother to read the documentation... This one made a shiny, happy comment that's all fluff and no substance... This one made a bad mark for no explained reason..."
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, totally! Sometimes they're in a bad mood, sometimes they're slightly threatened by the skill of the entrant, sometimes they have no clue, but are trying to be helpful.

It's why I always make my apprentices give me their judging forms before they're allowed to look at them; I weed out the useful bits. :)
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Mar. 4th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
Something that I would love to see in the A&S Faire (in the Middle, where I live) is either remove the competitive aspect (ie the score) and make the Faire about getting constructive criticism (the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature) OR make it a true competition where there is one winner per category and everyone else loses.

Something else I would like to see is classes where we teach the entrants about how to enter and how to receive feedback. Currently, all the oness (sp?) is on the judge to be nice. However, in my experience, often times entrants do not have an accurate view of their work and have invested so much into it emotionally that they cannot conceive that what they've produced isn't a masterpiece. For example, I would not recommend entering the clothes from your wedding, child's baptism, etc into the Faire. There is no score less than perfect that will make you feel good.

Also, judges need to read the documentation of their entrants. It is not fair to judge them based on your knowlesge alone, no matter how vast it is. I've been in a situation where the judges were going to mark down a candidate for something they thought she was doing that was wrong, but was in fact a period construction technique.

So, work needs to be done on both sides and I hope we can get ourselves together.
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. It's point #2 that most artisans are very resistant to - "maybe they're right; maybe you DO suck" is not an easy thing to admit. :)
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useless classes - avenelk - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
Re: May I reprint this and pass it out?
Um, how many copies would you need? A (small) limited number, with the copyright, my name, etc. and a link to here would be okay.

I prefer to have people link me - mostly because that way they get to see the other stuff I've written, but also because it gives me more control and protection against plagarism. I'm a bit leery about people printing my stuff out because I've had people do it and remove my name from it, and it starts getting passed around, and amended, and well, chaos! Disaster! Puppies and kittens living together!

Are you making a web page for the competition? Because if you do, you can link to it there.

(Deleted comment)
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
wow, makes me feel like I stepped into another world (but know am weird)
though I don't seem to react perfect to any feedback (a personal foible/shy thing), it is the times when people make the effort to point out what could be improved etc. that engrave into my memories... it was like wow! they thought it was cool enough to give it attention!
On the other hand, this post is really valuable to me as a judge... not everyone has been ingraned with "constructive crit" growing up in todays world, things have to be balanced to be kind but good.
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Hi there, love your show. Longtime listener, first time caller.

You mention that there are oodles of sources about how to write documentation. Do you, uh, recommend any of them?

Mar. 4th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
Actually, I meant to pull them together with links, and I got pushed for time. I'll do that tomorrow. :)
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how to write documentation - (Anonymous) - Mar. 5th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
"You haven't really experienced negative criticism until you've had someone rip your work off the easel, throw it on the floor, and scream at you about what utter crap it is."

Ah, I recall those days. Mine was in performance arts. So very special.
Mar. 4th, 2008 05:01 pm (UTC)
Mine wasn't supposed to be in performance art but in architecture... but when you're standing in the front of the room and the reviewers are ridiculing your work in front of the whole class and anyone else who cares to wander in, you definitely begin to put on an act! It definitely toughened me up for SCA judges. Wimps, I tell you. ;->
(no subject) - femkederoas - Mar. 5th, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heatermcca - Mar. 5th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
I just looked at the comments from the only competition I ever entered since I didn't remember being unhappy with any of them. As I recall you were judge #1. ;)

Maybe it was because I walked in knowing the flaws with the documentation but I was HAPPY with my scores and comments.

The reason I don't enter competitions has more to do with knowing the work I'd have to do in order to put something worthy out (and always giving away my lace) then it does with fear of comments. But when I judge I try to remember what I would like to see in the comments and write toward that.
Mar. 5th, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
That entry is locked... ?
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
I know I have a lot to learn and that my stuff isn't going to be the best stuff out there. I have no problem with the suggestions or the negative feedback. What gets me is when someone just leaves a comment like "you don't know what your talking about" (which is in fact a comment a received one time) with no suggestions on how to improve or a nudge in the right direction.

I think people put too much stock in to the winning and the losing of the whole competition and not the joy of showing what you have been doing and seeing what other people are doing. Not to mention being able to show off that really cool "thing" you have been working on for months.

Yes winning is nice but when I don't win doesn't mean the end of the world to me. It gives me a chance to see what I can do better. I don't put my stock as an artist into winning and losing. It is sad to think that people don't put their stuff out because they are worried about someone saying something that isn't nice or because they might not win.

As far as judging I have been on both sides and I found it really hard to judge without being negative the whole time. I tried to find the things that they did right while pointing out what needed improvement and I gave some suggestions as to where they could find information to help. I also left contact information so that if the person had questions they could contact me.

There is always room for improvement and we are never going to have the perfect system.
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
Youch! I hate it when I see that- makes me want to smack some sense into them, sigh. I've had critiques on things where I've walked away elated, even though there were some issues with the item. The difference was that the judge also pointed out the good things I had done, and offered suggestions (not orders! I've had that too, and I have to brace myself whenever those particular people judge me) on how to improve.
The fact that you recognize what you appreciate and don't appreciate in judging already helps your own judging- there are a lot of people out there who don't know that! :)
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