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Judging a Master Sand Sculpting Contest

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Currently, there is no unified judging system in use at professional level sand sculpting competitions. What that means is that each contest sets its own judging criteria and appoints its own judges. As you can imagine, this has generated a lot of discussion and a great deal of criticism regarding the outcome of many  contests over the years. Imagine for a moment going to a baseball game in one city, with one set of rules. You then race off to another city with, you guessed it, a completely different set of rules. Now, I’m not trying to simplify the issue by saying sand sculpting is somehow like baseball. In fact the two couldn’t be more different. With any competitive process, there needs to be a set of standard rules in place in order to add legitimacy to that process.

The lack of a unified judging system is not the result of any lack of concern from organizers or sculptors. In fact the pursuit of the ideal judging system itself may be contributing to the lack of unification.  In order to shed some light on this complicated subject, lets take a look at a few different types of judging panels

Sculptor Judging This system is pretty much what it sounds like. At the conclusion of the competition, competitors judge each others work.  Pros: Sand sculptors are the best qualified to judge due to their understanding of the medium. Cons: Fierce rivalries can  lead to vote shifting, the practice of placing a perceived rival artist at a lower position in order to boost the score of another artist.

 Celebrity Judging You guessed it. The judging panel is made up of a mix of local news anchors, politicians and even costumed team mascots. Pros: Can provide an unbiased opinion of all the completed sculptures. Cons: Lack a clear understanding of the intricacies of sand sculpture, often voting with their personal tastes rather than for artistic or technical merit.

Organizing sculptor lead judging panel This panel is composed of various individuals, with varying artistic backgrounds, not necessarily related to   sand sculpture. The panel receives all of its instruction, regarding judging, from the  event’s organizing artist. Pros: Panels artistic background can be helpful in the overall judging process. Cons:  There is always a chance that the organizing artist’s personal opinion will weigh too heavily on the judging panel.

People’s choice I don’t actually know of an event that relies solely on this method but it deserved mentioning. This method is simple, spectators cast votes for their favorite sculpture. Pros: A  larger number of votes can  add validity to the end result. Cons: Potential for a local artists to benefit unfairly due to  the home team advantage factor.

Now that I’ve covered the judging panels, lets take a closer look at how the votes are cast and calculated.  In most case judges are handed individual  voting sheets for each sculptor. These voting sheets vary from event to event.  Some systems use  the numbers one to ten, others use letters A through D. Both represent how well the artist has met the criteria  for that specific category. Most events have basic categories that an artist must score highly in to place in the top three places. Here are a few examples of those categories.

  • Artistic impression
  • Technical difficulty
  • Originality
  • Execution of carving skills

These categories can vary greatly from event to event, especially if the contest in themed based. In this case the artists are bound to create  sculpture that related to the theme of the event.

As sand sculpting contest progress and expand in the US and around the world, the need for a unified judging system is needed now more than ever. Here are a few things I would like to see in a unified system. 

  • Transparency: All judging results should be clearly posted for open viewing, including the names of the judges.
  • Every sculptor judged:  Every competitor deserves to know where they rank at a contest, not just the top five
  • Certified judging panel: An intensive certification process should  be established for judges.
  • Creation of sculpting genres: Architecture, contemporary, classical and eclectic should be separated in larger events
  • Best overall: Best over all should be selected from the top works from each genre
  • Simplified judging criteria: Quite simply, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.

 If you have any suggestions please add them in the comment section below.

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3 Responses to “Judging a Master Sand Sculpting Contest”

  1. Chip Perling says:

    I agree there does need to be some sort of Fair Judging Process. If the Professionals and /or Masters can get it together, it would better the Sculpting enviroment for all. As a novice that recently entered my first contest, I got to see first hand how the judging can be swayed though it was an amature event ! Most all the Cons, in the for mentioned article, came into play! I feel that if there were in place for “All” a set of rules sanctioned by say a governing board. That “All contests” could use it would be fairer to everyone who enters any contest any where! I enjoyed my day in the sand, though I did not place in the event. Then again it was my first contest, and it kinda fired me up for the next one I enter. Next one I enter I’m gonna leave it all right there in the SAND !!!!

  2. Judging is the biggest problem….always.

    Actually, the Worlds requires all Qualifiers to have compatible judging with the Worlds.

    Last year, in Federal Way, we had five judges. Two European sand sculptors (Swiss and Russian), one East Coast USA, one South West USA, and one North West USA. All the American judges had been working as professional sand sculptors for 29 years or more and were able to disregard the creator of the sculpture: to judge only the sand in front of them. One was the head judge.

    These were all long time, non competing sand sculptors. They were asked to watch the sculptures over the entire course of the contest. Daily, they had time to examine and notice details that might have been easily missed if they had simply walked through on the last day.

    Each judge chose their top sculptures (although placed differently, they were pretty much in agreement about the top sculptures). At that point there was a discussion among the judges about the ranking and final results were agreed upon.

    It was one of the best systems I’ve ever seen. Granted, you can’t have those judges at every contest.

    One great way of exposing cheaters during sculptor self judged contests, is to actually post the judging sheets following awards. It clearly shows anyone trying to low ball another sculptor.

    It is always a big can of worms.

    Suz

  3. Lisa Donze says:

    I’m a newby to the world of sand but I strongly believe judges should have experience with sand sculpting. I’m not sure you would understand the different degrees of difficulty the artist has chosen to excicute with out spending time Learning what sand is like to work as well as what the sand at hand is like. Since we as sculptors know everyplace or event can be different. I’m a little concerned with the Wold Championship being on the beach in Florida. The beach will be great but glacial till sand is hard to beet. Thank you all for all your time, energy, and creativity keeping the World Championships going it’s great to see so many amazing sculptors in one place!

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