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County Agent Guy
June 7, 2019

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I am not normally judgmental, but you should probably question the judgment of anyone who asks me to be a judge.

I was recently invited to be a judge for an art competition called Picowsa of the Central Plains. Held in conjunction with the annual Dairy Fest in Brookings, the Picowsa contest features the dairy-centric artistic offerings from young people who range in age from grade schoolers through college students.

Everything that I know about art I had learned by the third grade. And all that amounted to was that you can add the letter "f" to the word and create a new word that makes the teacher frown.

The school system certainly did its best to instill an artistic sensibility in me. But my brain resisted, much in the same way that a lopsided ball of Silly Putty will boing off in weird directions when you throw it against the floor.

The high point of my art career occurred in high school, when I managed to flunk crafts class. This despite the fact that crafts was considered to be an easy course that consisted of a freewheeling exploration of one's artistic instincts. But it turned out that one had to actually attend crafts class in order to get a passing grade.

I have even less knowledge regarding judging than I do about art. I have never judged anything in my entire life, although I have probably been judged numerous times. Maybe that counts for something.

My mental image of a judge is a person who is solemn and erudite; someone who is of upright character and is chockfull of moral rectitude. In other words, somebody who isn't at all like me.

This is because - let's be brutally honest here - I'm the kind of person who could be persuaded to take a bribe. But since we're talking about mostly grade schoolers, I imagine the only thing that could have been expected along those lines would be a juice box or a fruit rollup. I would never stoop so low, although I might reconsider if it involved the words "strawberry kiwi."

Thank goodness there were two other deciders on the panel that judged the Picowsa art contest. Members of the tribunal included Cole, a recent Dairy Science graduate, and Ytsje, the current South Dakota Dairy Princess. Either of those two probably had more artistic sensibility in a single eyelash than I have in my entire being. It's a good thing they were there.

We began our judicial assessments with the artwork that had been submitted by the youngest group of schoolkids. I had boned up on art-related words and phrases so that I wouldn't seem like a total doofus.

As we considered the first piece, I said, "I think the artist is trying to project a baroque yet impressionistic view of the bovine id as viewed through the lens of pastoral minimalism."

The other two judges stared at me. "It's a painting of a cow with flowers on her head," said one of them. "It was done by a first-grader."

So, yeah. It's a good thing the other two judges were there.

And so it went. We awarded points liberally and wrote comments that were constructive and encouraging. I was proud of all the aspiring youngsters who had had the courage to put themselves out there.

The phrase "I can't describe art, but I know it when I see it" proved true as we considered the dozens of dairy-themed canvases. The two other judges and I generally agreed fairly quickly when it came to selecting our favorite out of a group of paintings.

One piece that stood out for all of us was a depiction of a bug-eyed Holstein cow who is staring back at the viewer. The cow is wearing an eager grin that seemed to indicate that she is thinking, "Oh, boy! Somebody left the gate open!"

Anyone who has ever owned a Holstein would instantly recognize the inherent authenticity which underpins this magnum opus.

All too soon, my stint as an art jurist was over. It was a very enjoyable experience, although I came away with some secret disappointments.

Because I never got to don the flowing black robes I had purchased especially for the occasion. Nor did I get to bang my brand-new gavel and bellow, "Order! Order! And I'll take fries with that!" or "Counsel will approach the bench so that I can whack him upside his smart-alecky head!"

But saddest of all, I was never - not even once - able to convince my wife to declare as I entered the room, "Here come da judge, here come da judge!"

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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