Judge Not

By Carlene Harwick
This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in autumn 2001. Click here to see the original publication.

…… lest ye be judged. How many times have we heard that one! And, what do we understand about it?

If we judge others in some way, we will be judged? Given a needlework exhibit format, will whatever decisions we judges make be questioned? Probably.

How many times have we heard entrant’s comments like:

Why did that piece win over mine?
My piece is bigger than her piece.
I had more stitches in mine than he did in his.
My technique is better than hers.
I’ll ask my friend what was wrong with my piece. She’s a judge, too.”
Or, judge’s comments like:

This, this, and this was wrong with that piece.
I wouldn’t have judged the piece that way. I would have …………
I’m a judge, too, and I want to know why that piece didn’t win a ribbon.
I’ve been thinking about judging and ethics for the last couple of years. According to the definition in the dictionary, ethics is a system of moral values and standards. What if we know what the ethical ‘rules’ of needlework judging are and we still have problems with exhibits and judges? What if we have the knowledge, the expertise and the experience and yet there are problems?

In the field of art, there is always emotion. The emotion it took for the artist to conceive and construct the piece, the emotion of having it judged, the emotion of dealing with its place in the judging standings, etc. While rational thinking should prevail, and hopefully it does, there is usually the desire on the judge’s part to make the best judgment. He/she may be expected to defend their position. Most judges are mindful of these ‘artworks’ and the ‘souls’ it takes to create them.

Why do judges want to become judges? Do they want the ‘power to critique another’s work? Are they aware of the ‘responsibility’ required to be an excellent judge? Which is the focus — the power or the responsibility?

Some entrants want to know what they can do to improve their work and are looking for helpful, constructive criticism. Some come because they ‘always’ win ribbons for their excellent stitching technique and plan to win another one. Some love needlework, and want to enter as a learning and/or fun experience.

Some judges come because they see themselves as students of the ‘art’ and are anxious to learn, teach, and stretch their creative souls. Some come because they enjoy the power position and being able to tell others what is wrong with their pieces.

The concern with judging is not so much with the knowledge and expertise we hopefully have that in order to be an effective the judge; but, with the behavior (attitude) in which we deal with each other in this arena. In recent years, it seems that negative attitudes too often prevail … especially from judges. Rather than coming to the ‘work’ with what’s right with the piece and looking for ‘areas of improvement’, judges dive into the piece with what is wrong with the stitching — probably because this is what they know best  — and they forget to look at the whole picture (pun intended).

Each exhibit is a unique entity, as are its entrants, and its judges. The responsibility of the any judge is to have empathy for the entrants as well as their judging colleagues. Try not to second guess the judge’s decisions. If we want to know their thinking, why not ask them in a quiet, inquisitive manner what they saw or didn’t see. If a ‘friend’ comes to you to ask you what the exhibit judge was thinking about his/her piece, direct them to the judge. It is unprofessional and unethical to do otherwise.

Above all, enjoy the art! And enjoy the art of judging!!!