If you are a CJ or a Candidate, you will have already seen this post. It was written by Marilyn Hardy, a Certified Judge, and ran in the NACQJ newsletter. I’m including it here in the hopes that maybe a few people who are not directly associated with NACQJ might also read it. Honestly, we take this issue seriously.
Unfortunately there is a widely held view out there in the world beyond the judging room that “judges just choose what they like.” More unfortunately, I believe that assessment can be true of authors of books, famous quilters, and quilting teachers who are often asked to judge quilt shows. Some do respond to what they like and award ribbons largely based on their personal likes and emotional responses to quilt entries.
If you are writing your paper (Editor’s note: This refers to the paperwork required of the Candidates working toward Certification.) and are laboring away listing judging criteria, and if you are studying the complexities of design, you already know that there is much, much more to awarding ribbons than responding to what we “like.”
Professional judging is about taking subjectivity out of the response and identifying objectively why a quilt succeeds…or not. When you are judging, please remember NEVER to say those dangerous words, “I like.” If those words pass your lips, you are adding evidence for those who are looking for superficial reasons to make light of the decisions of a qualified judge.
Let me give you an example. Perhaps you are examining a well-designed, well-made quilt. In your eye its crowning glory is a very creative edge treatment which is beautifully suited to the design of the quilt and is executed with skill. You might carelessly respond to this edge treatment by remarking, “I like that edge treatment,” meaning the edge treatment is truly something special and appropriate to the piece. But others will hear your words and say the judge chose that quilt because she LIKED the edge treatment.
Choose your words carefully! Give a professional response, such as “Creative edge treatment supports center design effectively.”
There is one instance in which you may award a ribbon because you LIKE the quilt. That is your Judge’s Choice. Be warned, however, that often many other circumstances may need to be considered when you award that ribbon. Perhaps there is a quilt that just missed ribboning and yet deserves recognition. Perhaps there is a quilt in which the maker makes a bold design statement that you want to honor but the workmanship does not hold up to the design promise. You will find that the Judge’s Choice ribbon can also be used to accomplish other objectives than “I like.”
After you have judged a show, if someone in the judging room tells you, “I can’t tell what your personal likes and dislikes are”—you have received high praise as a judge. Remember—the words “I like” are dangerous words in the judging room.
Marilyn Hardy, NACQJ and NQA CJ
Stacy Koehler became an NQA Certified Judge in 2005. She is a current member of the National Association of Certified Quilt Judges and has served as the new organization's Secretary. She loves quilts and quilters and believes that a well-judged quilt can be a positive influence in its maker's individual development and contribute to the continued growth of the art of quiltmaking.