Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Contests Are Crap

Awards don't say much about the artworks they were given for. Contests promise to determine the best, but they rarely actually do it. Here's why ...

Contests say very little about quality. An artwork approved by other people often is good,
yet it doesn't mean it's better than a non-award-winning artwork.

I hate contests. I did participate a couple times, a few times I even won, and I hate them. Because, in my honest opinion, they often don't deliver the quality they promise. At least, personally I rarely agree with the results and see them as highly subjective.

The problem here is how the winner is determined ...

Public Vote


One of the two methods to determine the winner is public vote. This sounds quite fair on the surface, but the truth is:
  • Nobody knows which criteria the voters use, if any;
  • nobody knows if the voters really pay attention to all the works;
  • some contestants have a bigger fanbase voting for them than others;
  • often only one vote can be given, so if there are artworks A, B, and C, B may be everyone's second favourite, but if two thirds of the voters liked A best and the last third voted for C, B gets last place instead of the second.

Well, you can take measures against all that, but ...
  • You can split the vote into different criteria, but this doesn't eliminate subjectivity: Two different voters can perceive even parts of an artwork very differently.
  • You can force the voters to view/read/watch/listen to all the artworks before they can vote, but there still can't be a guarantee they really pay attention.
  • You can anonymize the artworks, but fans usually are pretty capable of recognising the style of their favourite artist.
  • You can allow the audience to give multiple votes. Maybe even to make their own top lists. This seems like the only measure that really can enhance fairness. And it's not enough.

In the end, contests that use public vote really are nothing more than inaccurate popularity contests.

Jury Vote


Often I've seen the use of a jury as a way to give lesser known artists a chance of winning. The problem with the jury is simple: They're people. People with their own biased, subjective perception. So jury vote seems just as subjective as public vote, only with less people involved.

One might argue that juries are usually made of experts. But what is an expert? Different people would answer differently. And being an expert doesn't prevent one from being subjective, since every expert has a subjective taste. They might try to be objective, but there's no guarantee.

There's even more subjectivity if the jury consists of mere enthusiasts, as they might criticise artworks for ridiculous things. For example, I've seen such a jury member lowering the score of a contesting story because of judgemental language. I should also note that the respective story was written in first person. Of course the language was judgemental! This is one of the core features of first person narration! First person means telling a story through the subjective prism of one single character!

What Is Good and What Is Bad?


Neither public vote nor jury vote is a good way to find the best artwork. And their downsides still remain if you combine these two methods, as it's done, for example, in Eurovision. It should also be noted that stunning artworks often don't make it into contests. Often a stunning artwork was already published somewhere and can't be submitted. Often a stunning artwork just doesn't happen to be nominated, because the marketing was bad and not many people know about it. Often a stunning artwork just doesn't meet the specific criteria of a contest. And sometimes the creator of a stunning artwork just doesn't want to participate.

Participating in contests is a way to get attention and a chance to gain more fans. But contests say very little about quality. An artwork approved by other people often is good, yet it doesn't mean it's better than a non-award-winning artwork.

In the end, whether an artwork is good or bad mostly depends on our very own subjectivity.

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