Portraits and ponderings from the writing desk of Jill Foote-Hutton.

An Essay on Judgment in Three Parts, Part I: The Inner Judge

Judgment is a nasty public disease.

And yet, the field of creative inquiry is supported by the notion that we must submit to a constant firing squad of judges--judges who have earned their place on the wall of decision through years of study and experience.

This is how we cull the field.

This is how we filter, how we separate the chaff from the wheat.

But when does the standard become exclusionary? Establishing a canon of standards can lead us to the lowest common denominator, because-whatever form taken-it is undeniable that, as a species, we are constantly drawn to or constantly fighting against complacency and continuity. When some thing or some one contrary to the status quo rises up, a tremor of panic shudders through the body politic. “If I allow this one exception through, what else or who else is coming to dinner?”

There are at least three kinds of judgment or judges I want to address.

1. The inner judge.

2. The external flippant judge.

3. The wise and learned judge collective, better called canon.

The first judge is one I am battling as I write. It is attacking me with the zeal of a flashy Luchador. I am mesmerized by his sparkling mask, glistening skin and revealing tights; but before I can process the visual specta—BAM!

I can’t breathe! He has clotheslined me and I’m trying to find the wind to finish the thought. I want to describe the entire scene. I want, as I struggle to my feet, to make connections for the reader about the history of showmanship and brute force but before all the synapses can fir—WHAM!

I am on the mat again!

I know there was a significant point I have wanted to make. For weeks now—no--months, I have been listening to the confidence of youth issue edicts as unsolicited arbiters of taste. With the debut of a Juried National Exhibit at Red Lodge Clay Center, a show with judging in the title—OK, I can see clearly again. My ostentatious and meaty opponent is running back at me for another blow, but at last I muster my defense and extend my arm with a flat palm as if to say, “STOP!”

I catch him in the solar plexus. A lucky break. The result only of our size difference. He dwarfs me. Amazingly he falls, quiet for a moment, maybe now it will come.

Funny I should choose to cloak my own judge in the Luchador mask, a costume better suited for my inner warrior. Although, at the end of the day, I suppose both parties don war paint. As an educator, I would tell my students about the four aspects of the artist’s psyche as related through Mary Stewart’s text “Launching the Imagination”. She identifies the following:

•Explorer – learns about the problem, research crucial

•Artist – experiments with a wide variety of solutions

•Judge – assesses the work in progress

•Warrior – implements the idea

For whatever reason, the last two always stuck in my head. I wanted the young artist to really understand all the courage it was taking for them to produce. I wanted them to know the judge was going to rear his/her ugly head before a thought could burst through the gates of unconsciousness. The judge will snap a thought apart before a syllable is formed and will happily watch you stagger down the middle of the road bloodied from the fight. The judge can be exactly why we have to call the warrior into the front of our minds—DAILY, if not hourly. We must make a conscious effort to assume the power within, calling forth our warrior and letting the warrior say to the judge, “NOT NOW! You need to crawl back inside your little box and keep a lid on it. Do you not see all the work and soul the explorer and artist have put into this query? Your turn will come, but for now you are impeding progress. NOT NOW!”

The judge is asking me right now,

· “What was your point?”

· “How are you going to clarify the difference between judgment and criticism?”

· “Do you think you have anything to add to the conversation?”

· “Can you avoid the folksy yet pedantic tone in your latest diatribe?”

And this is the nature of the first kind of judgment. Even with the peril this judge packs, it is a necessary inner voice, one trained to keep us from indulgent meandering. The mighty Mark Twain had inner judges armed with external tricks to keep his craft refined. He purportedly stated, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you're inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

There is a fine line between judgment and critical assessment. We have to constantly struggle to maintain a safe relationship with both camps, if only because they have to keep each other in check.

Tomorrow's Edition

Part II: The External Flippant Judge