I did a thing..

I did something the other day that a lot of people might think is kind of crazy.

I declined tp judge one of the Country's most prestigious aquascaping contests. I mean, yeah, it was a real honor being asked, and I was in some good company. I initially gave a sort of uncomfortable, almost tacit agreement to take part. And then, after literally wrestling with it for several nights, I woke up one early morning and was like, "What the fuck are you doing, Fellman? You can;'t judge a contest. It's not who you are, or what you even believe in!"

Yeah, I realized that, despite the great honor of being asked to judge a contest, that it's simply not what I am made of to be a judge. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years encouraging and cajoling hobbyists to be their best- to express their individuality, enthusiasm, and love for the hobby in ways that make their hearts sing.

I'm a cheerleader. A provocateur. An instigator, a motivator, and a fan. And apparently, an irreverent maverick of sorts, right?

I'm not judge material.

So why the hell would I want to stare at a bunch of people's hard work, dedication, and emotion, created with love and hope- and then pronounce judgment upon them...As if I have some divine authority; or as if I'm some anointed arbiter of taste.

I'm not. I feel bad that I even sort of nodded to the idea.

I spend much time on this blog and elsewhere railing on aquascaping contests, decrying the format, arrogance of the judges, the contest "culture", and the very notion that certain people are "winners", while others are not.

Yeah, I despise contests and contest culture. I'd definitely but heads with the other judges.  I hate rules. It would have made me wildly unpopular. It would have been really ugly. What the fuck was I thinking even entertaining the idea?  It was uncool of me, and intellectually dishonest, at the very least.

Now, let me be clear about something:

Now sure, I see a lot of aquariums that I like. And I see things that make me want to laugh, or worse.If people ask for constructive criticism, I'll give it to them, but it's based upon MY personal tastes, experience, and philosophies.

Judging a contest, to me, goes one step further than I'd like. A huge step, really. It's using some arbitrary rules to declare that someone else's work is better than..someone else's. 

I was to judge a biotope division. That's like having a vegetarian judging a barbecue contest.

You know how I feel about biotope contests, in particular. And you know my thinking about function of an aquarium over aesthetics and almost everything else. I'd likely cause huge friction between myself and fellow judges, and piss off a lot of entrants. Why? Because I'd be a lot more excited by the lady who's tank has a pile of detritus and decomposing leaves over her driftwood, than I would about the brilliantly crafted, highly stylized, intricately researched, yet (IMHO) oddly pretencious aquariums which seem to dominate that scene.

I would truly be the odd man out.

"We get it. You didn't;'t want to do the contest. You don't like them. Okay. Then bow out gracefully, Fellman, and shut the fuck up already!"

Fair point. However, you can simply navigate away from this page if you don[t want to read more. This is THERAPY for me, okay?

We've been talking a bout a contest for years. The problem is, I hate them. Our contest would be specialized, and more of an exhibition than anything else. I suppose I'd rather have our community decide on things like, "Most inspirational", "Most Unique", "Most representative of a functional natural habitat", "Longest Continuous setup", "stuff like that. No 1st, 2nd, 3rd place.

That's not me. 

Would I have some standards?

Of course. One would be that if you give a name to your work, you'd be banned for life from entering our exhibition! No "Fresh Wind of Spring" or "Mountains of Life." This is not a goddam piece of art.  It's not a diorama. It's an aquarium.

And no fucking essay on the geographic coordinates of the place your replicating ion your tank. No highbrow video production of the fish dancing through leaf litter necessary. How does your tank run? Are the fishes happy? What kinds of function do you embrace? What ideas can you share? How will this inspire others?

Alright, I'm literally beating the shit out of this. I'm coming across kind of angry and weird, lol.

But it feels really good to get this off my chest. Thanks for listening!

Gotta think of some ideas for MY next tank...just because! 

Yeah, I'm no judge. 

I'm a fish geek. That's all I am. And damn proud of it.

SO, I did a thing. And bowed out, to do what I think I do best.

That's something for me to celebrate.

Stay true to yourselves. Stay brave. Stay creative. Stay supportive. Stay inspirational...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 






Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

October 29, 2020

Hi Marion,

Thanks for the kind words!

It’s really weird that I even considered being a contest judge, but it gave me a bit of renewed clarity, really! I think the beauty of the aquarium hobby is that there are so many different approaches to doing everything- and that it’s perfectly okay. I’d much rather judge someone’s character based on my interactions with them than by the look of their aquarium. And I love the fact that you’re into wild jungle tanks They are among my personal faves, too! And of course, in a contest, you’d get whacked for that! I’m for doing what moves YOU! Don’t ever stop!


Marion Boyd
Marion Boyd

October 28, 2020

I completely agree with all that you’re saying, so thanks for sharing! I think aquariums are highly personal and as long as your water parameters are healthy and fish are healthy, there aren’t too many other “rules” to follow.

I got a chuckle when you talked about the “…the brilliantly crafted, highly stylized, intricately researched, yet (IMHO) oddly pretencious aquariums which seem to dominate that scene” because I know there are certain (God love them) aquascapists in online fish groups I belong to who have a heart attack every time I take a picture of my tank—I’m a wild jungle gal!

Keep doing what you’re doing, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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