I should start by saying that I have never won anything in my entire life (although I’ve entered plenty) and that it might therefore be fair to assume I’m a wee bit jaded and cynical as a consequence.
There are contests and prizes in just about every field of human endeavour. The bardic chair, and bardic sparring being the resident Druid option. We also have the Mount Haemus awards for scholarship. Every year the ebook world gets excited about the Predators and Editors poll. One of the authors I edit for dreams of a Pulitzer – who wouldn’t? Of course we all want the recognition of a win, and whatever we say about the value of taking part, that’s not what drives people. The hunger to achieve and be recognised is there in all creative people in all fields, so far as I know. But of course most, like me, won’t even make second or third place. And then what? The sense of failure and inadequacy.
Losing is that bit worse if it feels underserved. Many online contests are in essence, popularity contests. The person who can round up the most friends, wins. In such a scenario, someone new, talented and unheard of never gets a look in. It can often seem that in contests of skill or talent, physical beauty and youth can be what wins the day. I once saw a bardic contest won by a young, slender, pretty creature who did not know her song, lost her word sheet several time and had to pause and restart, while slick and well rehearsed efforts from older, rounder and less pretty people went unregarded. And quite frankly, that kind of thing makes me really frustrated. Losing to the better person is no shame at all. Losing because your face doesn’t fit, or you haven’t done enough ass licking, is not funny.
When it comes to sports, it’s usually fairly easy to ascertain who the winner is. They lifted most, jumped highest, ran furthest, fastest and you can measure that. Where the nature of the activity does not automatically define winners and losers (ie writing poetry) there enters in a subjective element. An element of judgement. A matter of preference. Someone decides, based on whatever they like, who was best.
A couple of years ago I found myself in the strange situation of judging in a poetry contest (they picked random people from the audience). I was not popular as a judge, I got booed a lot by the audience because I did not give high marks to the contestants who were simply working to shock, or to induce emotional responses without having any meaning or wordcraft in the mix. I’m sure there were people that night who felt cheated by how I had judged them. But, I set my own criteria, as required and it being poetry, I put wordcraft before stagecraft, and depth before shiny surface and paid no attention at all to how pretty any of them were. Or how many cheering friends they had brought along. I learned along the way that I prefer not to get into competitive things. I have no problem with anyone else doing it. If I am going to compete, I would rather play chess (at which I am rubbish) than get into something painfully subjective, like a poetry slam, or one of those publically humiliating popularity votes. Because I’m not popular or pretty enough for either. Or perhaps it’s easier for me to see it that way rather than risk pitching my limited talents against the greater skills of others. See, told you I was cynical and jaded!
However, if that sort of thing does float your boat… my lovely man, who is much braver than me, is currently taking part in a contest to pick cover art for the next Professor Elemental CD. http://www.professorelemental.com/fr_home.cfm You might want to wander over and consider which, in your subjective opinion is the best bit of art, by whatever criteria appeal to you. And of course this might not be about the art at all, it might be one of those ‘bring a friend’ scenarios where the person with the most chums, or in some cases, email addresses to deploy, wins. I’ve seen that done, too. Plenty of fairish voting systems can be beaten by a couple of people with a lot of email addresses. Fortunately this poll will recognise your computer, so you can only vote once a day. In the meantime, enjoy the art!