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Judging-AS-art - 3/25/05


"Judging Arts and Sciences Competition; Some Thoughts and Suggestions" by Ld. Daniel Raoul Le Vascon du Navarre’ (mka) Daniel C. Phelps.


NOTE: See also the files: AS-cont-docu-msg, Whimsy-art, AS-compet-msg, 5x8-Doc-art, cookg-compet-msg, Documentation-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Judging Arts and Sciences Competition; Some Thoughts and Suggestions

by Ld. Daniel Raoul Le Vascon du Navarre’

When you boil it down there are to my mind two philosophical extremes when the issue of judging comes up.  For want of better terms let us refer to them as the inclusive and the exclusive.  At the inclusive end... way at the very end... we have no real rules at all just the guideline that one should make an attempt at making a period entry.  At the exclusive end... way at the very bitter end... everything is measured against an idealized period example and falls short. 


"Sheep to Shawl"

"Sheep to shawl" entries are an extreme and honored example of the pursuit of a period entry.  The concept’s intent is to go from the most basic material to a finished perfect entry.  In such entries an attempt is made to go back as far as is possible to the basics in the production of an item.  Thus a person might ideally raise the sheep, shear it, process the wool in a period fashion, dye it as was done in period, spin it with a drop spindle and loom shape the shawl on a warp weighted loom in a documented fashion.  The person entering the shawl is actually taking the place of a number of medieval crafts persons.  They document where they started, who would have done what, what they, the recreator did, and what they chose not to duplicate and why.   A reasonable substitution might be to start with purchased raw wool from a period breed, albeit modern sheep, based on the fact that very few of us have the space to raise sheep, the sheep used is as close as we can get to a period one, and that in period raw wool was purchased as raw material by crafts persons.  A more typical situation would be that the recreator started by purchasing wool dyed in a period fashion.  They might spin the yarn on an out of period spinning wheel such that the result could not be distinguished from the product of a drop spindle.  Alternatively they might purchase hand spun woolen yarn dyed in a period fashion.  They might weave the shawl on a modern loom but use a period weave such that the result could not be distinguished from the product of a period loom. The result in each case might be a nice shawl and if sufficiently documented a perfectly acceptable A/S entry but less and less "sheep to shawl".

The Concept of Reasonable Substitution


This leads us further into a discussion of the concept of "reasonable substitution".  I would suggest that documented period substitutions, i.e. bone for ivory, would be the most acceptable substitution in the recreation of a period object.  What gets tricky is when, because an ingredient or material is expensive, illegal, dangerous, simply unavailability, or generally offensive, a modern substitute is used.  An example of a period material that is expensive is gold, that of one that is currently illegal is tortoise shell.  A reasonable period substitute for tortoise shell, albeit not exact in appearance, might be horn.  A modern substitute might be a "tortoise shell" plastic.  I would accept the first but have problems with the second.  An example of a material that is dangerous is white lead.  I feel that it is a reasonable and prudent to substitute, where there is no documentable nontoxic period alternative, the use of a modern none toxic substitute and, if documented properly, would not mark down an entry for it.  The justification in these cases would be that no period substitutions are known, and that the period ingredient is either illegal or toxic.  To complete our set of examples, an example of a material that is currently unavailable is "whale bone", i.e. baleen, while that of an objectionable one is stale urine.


Even if the grail of perfection cannot be achieved we should still strive to do our best to come as close as can be reasonably achieved.


Poetry, Prose and the Issue of Language

Might I suggest that in judging poetry one should hear a piece spoken aloud at least once, not for performance but hear the flow of the piece, i.e. its "power of place" for lack of a better phrase.  It would seem to me that, as a rule of thumb, the earlier in period the piece of poetry is intend to be the more important that this would be.  Thus if it were written in the style of say Egil Skalagrimson, or to be a bit more generic Norse perhaps 9-11th century or so and presented in modern English, how it would "appear to the ear" would be of prime relevance as that was the form in period in the language of origin which it would be intended to be presented.  The early poetic forms of which I write, as manifest in extant examples, were not in period bound to paper but passed from the living memory of a bard to his/her lips and hence to ear.  Case in point; very few of us, myself included, speak the language of my example, Old Norse.  Yet I've listened, albeit without comprehension, to sagas presented in the nearest modern language, Icelandic.  On the performance CD I own there is a depth and a power in the rhythm and flow of that poetry that transcends language.  It is my belief that such an effect can be achieved in a modern language recreation done in the ancient form.  It is my belief that we should strive to achieve such.

The point I am attempting to make can perhaps be made better with a reference to Shakespeare as he wrote in a language that is understandable albeit with effort by most people.  Even at that late date poetry was intended to be heard to be fully appreciated. I think that we can all agree that a Shakespearian pastiche, i.e. poetry written in the style of the Bard, would not be remiss as a poetry entry.  Let us say then for the sake of argument that there are two such entries; their documentation is perfect, the poetic form used in both is spot on.  Both are read aloud by a person not intended to be judged for performance.  A neutral party with no connection to either poet is used.  Upon being read aloud one soars, one does not.  One makes you think that Shakespeare could have written it, one does not. One has captured the "power of place and “the mood of the time" for want of a better phrases, one does not.  In my humble opinion period poetry should be heard to be completely judged, the presentation to the ear is to recreations of period poetry as a frame is to a painting.  You don't judge the frame per se; you judge the painting in the context of how it would have been presented in period.

It has seriously been suggested by some that no attempt at recreation in a modern language of a poetic piece that would have been in period done in a language now known only to scholars is entirely valid as such is not a reasonable substitution.  That the piece must be written in a period language incomprehensible except to scholars of say archaic Manx, Welsh, Gaelic, Catalan, Maltese, Norse, Basque, Provencal (also called Occitan) etc. etc. to get a “perfect “ score I find absurd.  That it must not be spoken aloud because that would be performance, never mind that that would have been its original form in period, I find grotesque.  That it must lie there on the page mute, flaccid, and generally incomprehensible I find bizarre.  It appears to me that should this be true then perhaps entries should be scored based on just how incomprehensible to the modern reader they are.  Yes a "non-pareil" of incomprehensibility documented to the hilt.  We don't need to understand what has been written, we just need to read the documentation and marvel at the obscurity of it all.  Is it poetry or a recipe for haggis?  Nay it is a recipe for haggis written in verse!  Who knows, who cares, authenticity is preserved enshrined not unlike some extinct insect on a pin in a metaphorical display case.  Forgive the hyperbole but I humbly beg to differ.  We strive for the Grail.  If I might borrow a line from an out of period poet "Ah but man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for."  It seems to me that we should keep in mind the C in SCA.

By all means write as you see fit but please note that others see the game differently.  I see writing in a period style using period motifs but in a modern language as a reasonable substitution.  I personally see what some attempt, depending on just how incomprehensible to the modern reader the language used is, as a valid but rather sterile intellectual exercise.  Not a parlor trick I grant you but rather a curiosity... like a fly in amber... rather moribund but interesting none the less. In my view language is a special case.  In order to reach people with what you write you must consider your audience.  The two real problems I have with entries in the original language is that, in my opinion, Art/Sci is as much for the viewers as it is for the participants and, I'm inclusive rather than exclusive.  I want as many people as possible to read and enjoy what I write.  Thus I write in a language they can read and understand, for me it is a reasonable substitution.  Secondly there is also the problem of finding a qualified judge for an entry in say Manx.

Regards judging let us back up a bit and consider the judging process for a moment.  There are to my mind two countervailing forces in judging, that of the objective and the subjective.  I picture them as a sort of a judging ying and yang.  The strict objectivist would place everything in neat check off boxes.  Fill enough boxes and your “whatzit” wins the prize.  The pure subjectivist would award strictly for “ambiance and feel".  Good judging, in my opinion, is a combination of both.  The trick, again in my opinion, is to achieve the right mix and consistently apply it.  That being said lets take a hypothetical entry, a piece done in the style of the Heptameron.  The Heptameron is a work of classic French literature, very period and very documentable. First let us say that the piece is done in French using the "dialect" of the period.  Objectively it fills all the appropriate boxes.  Subjectively.... well that is where things can falls down.  Many of the stories in the Heptameron, no one knows how many, are believed to be veiled retellings of events that occurred at the French court.  Additionally, if I am not mistaken, there is a large amount of word play in the Heptameron, within and especially between the stories, which does not translate well out of French indeed some of it is so archaic and obscure that it apparently doesn't translate well even into modern French. Such an entry would be difficult and subtle... and very hard to pull off well. In my opinion, indeed I would be the first to admit it; this makes the strongest case for the use of the original language.  I personally see such situations as an either or dilemma.  Here in the US either you write it in English with appropriate word play in English or you write it in period French. In the first case you get pinged for not writing it in the period language and in the second case, as I have said above, you many not be able to find anyone who is qualified to subjectively judge the piece as, if it is done well, it would be a real bear.  Regards your potential audience at least in English you have a chance that people will read and understand it.


Concerning language, I think that those that want to create in the original languages should be accommodated, albeit in a separate category.  It's a bit to my mind like "sheep to shawl", baking in a specially built period oven, or cooking in a fireplace using period equipment, methods, a personally redacted period recipe and very period ingredients.  It is clearly closer to the period original but not something that everyone can or would wish to do.



Copyright 2004 by Daniel C. Phelps, 3359B Trafalgar Square, Tallahassee, Florida 32301.  email: <phelpsd at gate.net>. Permission is granted for republication in

SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org