It’s hard to know where to begin. From the concept, to the outreach, to the staging and execution of the event, Ryan and Chelsea Neil did a great job with the Artisans Cup. For all of your effort, thank you very much! Thanks too to the exhibitors, vendors, volunteers and visitors without whom the event could not have met with such success.
Vine maple by Michael Hagedorn
In the past few weeks, much has been said about the exhibit hall and the beautiful trees. I’ve seen less attention go to an important artifact from the event – the Judging Rubric.
If you have yet to read it, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best distillations of how to evaluate a bonsai exhibit available to the public. It’s also a good checklist of items to keep in mind when displaying bonsai at any event.
Top dressing by Greg Brenden
Above all, I’m impressed by the effort Ryan and Chelsea made to foster transparent and objective judging. There were five judges – enough to provide balance among different tastes. Each judge had the exhibit hall to himself during judging – a luxury that is not always possible or practical. The judges also evaluated every tree in the exhibit – a time-consuming task that provides great insight into the judging and scoring processes. The rubric also called for “honorable and consistent” assessment – the most we could ask from any judge.
As for what to judge, the Rubric calls out both technical and artistic considerations. Among the technical, “Compositions should display a high level of technical proficiency in all its forms.” Trees must be healthy and appropriately dense for their variety. My favorite point pertains to craftsmanship in cleanliness, development, pruning and wiring, plus preparation of containers, stands and accent pieces.
As for the artistic considerations, “Compositions should display a high level of artistry and proficiency in design.” This applies to the tree, container, stand and accent.
Ron Lang pot displayed by Mike Pollock
Rather than prescribing how to dole out points – trees were evaluated on a 0-60 point scale – the Rubric left all interpretation to the judges whose scores would be made public.
Have any points in the rubric brought up good questions about how to score displays? Definitely. One example is the scoring of three-point and shohin displays. Does it make more sense to tell judges how point breakdowns should work in these cases? Probably not, however, some additional guidance might help.
Stand displayed by Stephen Liesen
Likewise the breakdown between tree, container, stand and accent. I spent a good amount of time walking through the exhibit thinking about how I would score trees and found that it was hard to get started until I came up with a rough framework for how many points could go to each element of the display. The main concept I wanted to protect was stated in the rubric: “a good tree with a crappy display should not win this show.” Rather, “Winning trees should exhibit quality from head to toe in every aspect of the display as it’s presented in the exhibition.” Well said.
I found that the rubric was well suited to the Artisans Cup, and with some modification, could be suited to a variety of other events. The number of judges, for example, and the time allotted for judging could entail significant changes to the framework. That said, the points relating to the evaluation of individual displays are a great starting point for any organization looking to incorporate high quality assessment into their event.
View a copy of the Judging Rubric at the Artisans Cup website.
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