The 2017 WSFS Business Meeting: reforming the Artist Hugos

Before I start – you have less than 24 hours to vote for this year's Hugo Awards! Go vote, then come back and read this! If you are a voter, you should have an email which includes your link to vote (and download the Hugo voter packet) in your mailbox, sent on Thursday 12 July, sent by and signed by me, with the title "Only three days left to vote for the Hugo Awards!"

To the point of this post (and a few more to come). Next month's Worldcon will feature the WSFS Business Meeting, the forum at which the rules of the World Science Fiction Society can be changed, including rule changes for the Hugo Awards. Since I've been a lot closer to that process this year than in previous years, I thought it worth recording now my thoughts about some of the proposals currently on the agenda. (There is of course still some time to put more business on the agenda – but not much!)

The first three proposals on the agenda at present are amendments to standing orders, and I don't have a terribly strong opinion about any of them.

There follow two resolutions. The first is to allow the film your name (Kimi no Na wa) to be eligible for the 2018 Hugos, on the grounds that its release in late 2016 was for a very restricted audience and it therefore did not get a fair shake in this year's nominations. This is not uncommon practice, and I am instinctively generous on these questions. Another time, I hope it will be possible to include the actual Japanese name 君の名は in the agenda.

The second resolution was proposed by me and some others, and unsurprisingly I am in favour of it. It proposes:

to create a committee, appointed by the Chair, to
(1) study the fitness for purpose of Sections 3.3.11 (Best Professional Artist) and 3.3.16 (Best Fan Artist) of the Constitution
(2) make recommendations, which may include proposing constitutional amendments, to the 2018 Business Meeting; and
(3) authorize the Chair of the Committee to appoint other persons to serve on the committee at the Chair’s discretion.

(NB as of time of writing the second line is incorrectly truncated in the agenda online – above is as I submitted it.)

It became clear to me this year that the current definitions in the Hugo rules for Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist no longer really fit the reality of sf art. The definitions are, to recap:

3.3.11: Best Professional Artist. An illustrator whose work has appeared in a professional publication in the field of science fiction or fantasy during the previous calendar year.

3.3.16: Best Fan Artist. An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public, non-professional,
display (including at a convention or conventions), during the previous calendar year.

This year we had to rule two artists in each category ineligible, which suggests that there is a problem.

One of the disqualified finalists for Best Professional Artist is a sculptor. It can be queried if a sculptor is an "illustrator", the word used in the rules; I would have been inclined to accept that the one includes the other, but the criterion in the rules is that the artist's work needs to have appeared in a professional publication in the field of science fiction or fantasy in 2016. And we could not find a 2016 publication that had featured this artist's work, so he did not qualify under the rules as they are written, despite the fact that he sells his work for a living, and therefore would be a professional artist by most people's understanding of the term.

(The case of the other disqualified finalist for Best Professional Artist was much clearer – he had been taking a break from professional illustration in 2016 and therefore was able to tell us straight away that he had no qualifying work.)

The Best Fan Artist category also presents problems. "Artist or cartoonist" may be isufficiently broad – this year, as in four of the previous five years, one of the finalists works in the medium of jewellery. More problematically, two of the originally announced finalists told us that on reflection they felt that none of their 2016 published work could count as non-professional. (This came to light when we asked them to assemble qualifying material for the Hugo voer packet.) We therefore had to disqualify them as well. The fact that they weren't eligible wasn't immediately clear to them, or to us, or presumably to the voters who supported them.

One of the two disqualified finalists for Best Professional Artist needed some detailed explanation of several of the terms in the rules: we got there in the end, but this really brought it home to me that the definition is pretty difficult to understand for those not familiar with the sf conventions of North America, Europe and the Anglosphere.

In any case, the two categories as currently defined seem to me to be out of sync with the times. Do sculptors count as artists? If Best Professional Artist is meant to be Best Magazine and/or Book Cover Artist, maybe we should say so. Does your DeviantArt profile count as "publication [though] public, non-professional display"? If Best Fan Artist is meant to be Best Fan Artist (Offline), maybe we should say so. If we still want to award the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist as such, we should think about whether or not the rules as currently laid out allow us to do that.

I should make it clear that I really liked the eventual finalists in both categories this year, and had tremendous difficulty in making up my own mind about who to vote for.

Art isn't particularly my area of fandom, so I am under no illusion that I have magic answers but I do think that there are questions, so I'm asking the 2017 WSFS Business Meeting to pick this issue up and empower a committee to look at the rules and rewrite them as seems necessary. Of course, the committee if appointed may not make recommendations, and if it does recommend rule changes the 2018 Business Meeting might not accept them, and of course any two Worldcon members can also put forward their own proposals independently of the proposed committee. My goal is to start the discussion, and to create space for a reflection process that will allow a future business meeting to vote on carefully considered amendments.

Coming next: Business Passed On from 2016.

One thought on “The 2017 WSFS Business Meeting: reforming the Artist Hugos

  1. The movie is brilliant, even the kid actor (who is Christian Bale, so not as surprising as it might be).

    So many more books to read….

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