In my experience, the higher up the ladder of artistic achievement an artist climbs (or is placed by his/her audience) the less likely is that artist to judge the work of his/her peers. Comment, sure. Suggest possible modifications also. But not to judge in terms of 'good or bad'. Why is this? Possibly because the more accomplished an artist becomes the more aware of the irrelevance of such absolute terms.
Pattern recognition in assessing the merit of a bonsai is probably more common in the earlier stages of bonsai artistic development of an individual and becomes less so as that individual becomes more accomplished. The more compliance with preordained patterns (adherence to the "rules") is a dominant factor in assessing the merit of any art, the less importance is given to creativity and what I call the "success" of a piece. Art is, after all, basically a means of communication that goes beyond simple narrative imagery. Good or bad cannot be applied to communication in this context, but successful or unsuccessful can.
Longer ago than I care to reveal, my daughter's eight year-old schoolfriend came to play. She had never been to the house before. She galloped down the steps from the terrace and stopped dead as she passed my display benches. "Oh!", she shrieked, "little trees!". Here, pattern recognition played a major role: she was not judging the trees as works of art or as adherants to rules, but her reaction demonstrated that my trees, as works of art (communication) were ultimately successful. This was, and still is, one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had in my bonsai career: the instant recognition by a naive mind of the purpose of my work.
The second example occurred in the late nineties, when Salvatore Liporace paid one of his annual August visits to my garden. I showed him a tree I had recently styled - a very unconventional scots pine with three trunks, each of a different style. He laughed and said he thought the tree was schizophrenic - it couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. "One trunk, one tree" he said - for him the tree had to follow one of the accepted patterns to be of any merit. The message I was trying to communicate was lost on him. Two years later, that tree won second prize in the JAL/NBA World Competition, with the comment from the judges that its branches "followed the spirit of Japanese bonsai". This comment made of a tree that followed no rules, no patterns, but succeeded in communicating, heart to heart, soul to soul, with a group of people who were arguably the most rigid proponents of adherance to the rules.
Even the most un-tree-like bonsai images, such as highly stylized driftwood junipers, that follow no natural or non-bonsai patterns, can still be validly judged by non-bonsai people on their success in communicating something of what was in the artist's soul when the work was created. A bus driver, accountant, soldier or horse jockey with no prior contact with bonsai, can judge the artistic success of such a bonsai, albeit probably subconsciously. They can receive the message communicated by the artist, and the stronger and more empathetic this message is communicated, the more successful the artist's work. And this success is amplified when the bus driver, accountant, soldier and jockey all agree....
... which is something the bonsai cogniscienti seldom seem to do.