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
- 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.
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