Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Quilt World and Controversy

We all know that fear is a huge obstacle to art. It can be fear of failing, of not being good enough, of not earning enough money, of any multitude of things. Today, I want to talk about the fear of letting go. By that, I mean letting censors whether internal or external dictate what you put into your art.

For years I have struggled with "am I an artist...really?", "Why can't I find a style that's me?", "What does it mean if my art never sells?", "Does anyone really care about what I'm doing?" During all those years I was making pretty work, it was visually pleasing and followed the basic design elements. But something felt like it was always missing.

I started to move into painting/drawing whole cloths more, most of which I never even got so far as quilting at all because something was missing. None of them carried the message, meaning or feeling to the degree I wanted. I was afraid to put all of that in there. I spend a good deal of my "life" in the quilt world genre, and I'm realizing it has been limiting my work.
Generally speaking, in the quilt world controversial pieces are shut out of quilt shows. They only make it into the magazines when a publisher decides to do a "naughty" quilt article. I've always been bothered by this. To say that expressing ourselves and our beliefs through our quilts is "naughty" is what prevents a lot of us from doing so. We don't want to be shut out, kept from being in quilt shows, or shunned by the community. So a lot of us limit what we put into our pieces, as far as topics go.

I know there is a lot of argument from a certain segment of the quilt show traditionalists that controversy does not belong in quilt shows, I'm afraid I have to disagree. Controversy has been part of quilting since the 1800s. Try out these block names: Whig Rose, Whig's Defeat, Lincoln's Platform, Democrat Rose, Free Trade Block, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too (campaign slogan from 1840). There were Temperance quilts, election quilts, war quilts. These were our founding mothers that were creating quilts that spoke their truths. Some of these same women, are the ones who started movements to gain us freedoms that we likely take for granted today - like owning property, voting and being a person rather than being property.
Isn't it odd that we consider ourselves more advanced and evolved, yet we're sending the message that we need to "keep quiet", "not rock the boat", "be a lady" when it comes to our quilting subject matter? What happened to our voices ladies? Why is is considered so wrong to bring social issues into our quilts? Our ancestors did - and they lived in what I thought was a more rigid society.
The quilt world is on the cusp of change, I can feel it vibrating in my bones! It's an exciting time to be a quilter. Our art is gaining more noteriety, you see articles cropping up in the news about quilters more and more. I see more fiber artists in the art magazines and documentaries. The quilt world is expanding and evolving, and if we don't start to recognize and open our arms to the quilters who are making their art as a way of expressing themselves then we are going to miss our on a great opportunity to be a part of a movement that will be written about in art history books one day!

I am finally allowing my voice to come to my pieces. I have started journaling on my pieces as texture and background. My personal thoughts and feelings are intertwined into my quilts in a way that brings so much more peace to my heart and mind when I complete them. I was wrong to have denied the opinionated writer in me, in order to please the "Quilt Gods/Goddesses" of the world. For now my pieces probably won't be accepted into many shows, and I will need to forge my way into the fine art world more. I will have to learn to be okay with that, but I'm not giving up entirely.
Just as I can now vote, own property, and be my own person as a woman - I have faith that the women around me in the quilt world will continue to evolve and come around .... eventually. 


  1. awesome! well researched and well said.

  2. I remember a squawk not too long ago about a scene made in an art show--the quilt depicted a nude homeless woman. One person stood and made a scene stating that it was obscene. The quilt show director offered this woman the opportunity to walk away from and not look at the ''offensive'' quilt, but said he would NOT take it down. More brave, that is not the word, but more show directors/jurors need to take a stand and support artists who are willing to dig deep and take chances. I hope you find those jurors/directors. keep on! ;D