A discussion on the Avacal A&S facebook group lead me to think about levels of skill. These are only my thoughts, and I’m not a Laurel, so feel free to take this with a grain (or barrel full) of salt.
Updated: Master Thorvald gave some advice on this that I’ve added as an addendum. I agree that I’m putting too much emphasis on research while someone can definitely be at master level based on their artistic merits alone.
When considering levels of skill I like to think in the context Novice/Intermediate/Proficient/Mastery. These have nothing to do with SCA granted awards, but I think A&S awards frequently line up with them.
A Novice is someone who likes X, but hasn’t done it a lot, or done their own research in it. They utilize others research. This isn’t bad, in fact this is where most of us start. This is how you start, unless you are bringing to bear experience in a different area.
So for period cooking that would be someone who has made a few recipes from the Medieval Cookery website. That’s a great place to start, it’s where I started. Depending on their interest level this may be a place people stay for a long time, or just a short amount of time.
Intermediate is someone who’s begun to do their own research into X and is moving beyond recreating someone else’s project. So they like X, they’ve done it a bunch, and they’re now researching X directly instead of recreating Master Y’s project. They may have been recognized for their work on X by a Shire, or Barony, and they will likely be recognized by one of those or possibly Principality/Kingdom while at this level. This level is the one at which most people stay. These people frequently teach at the branch level and may be teaching at multi branch events. They may have entered a competition or two, or even shire or baronial championships. This level can last several years and they tend to be formative ones.
For period cooking that’s someone who has begun using period recipes for their cooking. They take a period recipe, and guesstimate the proportions to create a recipe (often called “redaction” in the SCA).
Proficient is someone who’s doing lots of research into X, and is sharing that research with others in some way. They frequently do X, and if you ask them they’ll tell you it’s one of their passions. If you ask someone in the branch they’re from about who does X their name will come up. Their work may be being used by novices in the field as the basis of their own projects. They will have been recognized by a Shire, Barony, or Principality/Kingdom for their work on X.
These people have generally entered several competitions of various types and may have won at least one championship level competition. They are likely looking at principality or kingdom championship entries. These people will often be teaching at multi branch events and may be invited to teach out of their region, and they may have work published in SCA publications. This level can also last many years and is often the furthest people take their work.
In period cooking this is where I feel I am. It’s people who do a great deal of research beyond the recipe: what are similar recipes in the time/place, other time/places, types of ingredients used in the time/place, ingredient comparisons, period sources of ingredients, frequency of use, etc.
Mastery is someone who is as above but not only do people from that branch bring up their name regarding X, but people from the other side of the kingdom, or possibly from other kingdoms do as well. Their work is frequently used by others as the basis of their projects. They will have been recognized by a Principality/Kingdom for their work on X. They *may* have received a peerage for their work on X or their teaching of/helping others with X. They likely have work published in SCA or non-SCA publications. They have won several competitions, and have likely had a very good showing at a Principality/Kingdom championship level.
I aspire to be at this level some day. In period cooking these are the people who get invited to teach classes in other kingdoms or at inter-kingdom events. The four people who come to mind first are all Laurels.
If you like a numerical scale here is how I think of it:
Yes, proficient is the largest category. That’s because a lot of learning happens at that point.
As you can probably tell, most artisans are in the Intermediate and Proficient categories for their main focus. If you’re trying to find them the best way is through networking, talking to people who do X and asking them who they feel are the proficient people in their area who also do X.
If you want to determine what level you yourself are at, look around at those who do X in your branch, region, Kingdom, and the neighboring kingdoms. How would you judge your own work vs theirs. The people who are well known outside of their own kingdom will generally be in the Mastery level. The people who are well known at the branch level but not at kingdom level will generally be proficient or intermediate.
When it comes to judging A&S competitions expertise is important, but I don’t think that finding someone with mastery is the only requirement for judging, rather those who are proficient at X and have judged several times before are likely going to be the bulk of your judges. Also, having mastery of X and being a great judge aren’t the same thing. That’s not to say don’t have those people judge, but rather that if you only want people with mastery to be judges you’re looking at a much smaller pool of people.
Here’s some thoughts on it from Master Thorvald:
Advancing to Intermediate and beyond does not necessarily require doing one’s own original research. Consider someone who is apprentice to an SCA master blacksmith, and who learns from that blacksmith and from books that the blacksmith supplies, and who goes on to create some of the most awesome metalwork that the SCA has ever seen. I would call that true Mastery level, despite zero original research.
Similar adjustments to the research required at other levels. Original research can certainly augment or even replace physical / artistic skill in one’s pursuit, but is not (imo) mandatory. Artistic skill alone can be Mastery.
Side note: someone can do original research, but should not be required to produce a research paper, or publish. There are many different ways of conveying their fascinating information to others.
<this from a heavily research-oriented person>
Somewhat related, entering competitions can help a person focus, because there are specific goals they can work towards. It can encourage some people to exceed their own self-expectations. But formal competition is not for everyone. It can be scary for many reasons. For example, even if you have excelled, what if someone else does a double excel, and you come second in your category? The fear of being discouraged at doing something you love can be a blocker.
<this from someone who is very comfortable entering competitions, and who has no fear when losing>
Original research gets you excitement / points / recognition. Entering competitions gets you excitement / points / recognition. Both can be joyful additions to doing what you love to do. I would not *require* either of them when thinking of someone as Intermediate or Proficient or Mastery.