Friday, May 24, 2013

Don't throw away the key...

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein
So let me start by saying that this post is long, and if you are not a quilter, will seem a little insane. Not to say this cannot be applied to other situations/ideas in life, just wanted to put that warning up front. I’m also going to say that I know this probably won’t make me any friends, but I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to cause a fight or make anyone mad, just adding in my thoughts to an ongoing conversation. So, I don’t know if this will all flow nicely, or make sense, but I need to vent. It is what it is.

Recently it seems there have been a large number of new posts/articles/quips about the quilt police. Yes, that’s right, the Quilt Police. For those who don’t know what I’m referring to, it's the Judgey McJudgersons that think that anything that doesn’t fit into a nice little box is ‘wrong’ or ‘not worthy.’ While I am still a fairly new quilter, I am still entitled to my opinion, so here it is: back off. I understand that everyone else is also entitled to their opinion, but there is a time, place and way to convey that opinion, and you don’t have to be mean about it. 

From Day To Be You

The Modern Quilting Movement

One recent blog post I read titled Quiltcon and the Modern Quilt Movement (and the Quilt Police) from Heartsong Quilts stated when referring to his recent trip to QuiltCon: 
"I think there is a fair amount of arrogance and elitism at work here. The stratified world of hip has reared its ugly head.   Now we not only have to fear the quilters who have “always done it that way,” and who tell us “you’re not doing it right,” but also those who tell us we just don’t get it, we’re not hip enough, not educated enough, don’t hang out with the right crowd."
While I 100% understand the sentiment here, maybe this exact environment is created by the same emotions, actions, and thoughts coming from the other direction? For example, I (as a younger quilter) walk into a quilt shop to browse around. Sometimes I am greeted warmly and sometimes I’m not (not so much coldly, just with some skepticism). Sometimes when I buy lime green fabric that when they ask I tell them is to back a quilt they scoff or just suggest I go for something more traditional rather than something that ‘obnoxious.’ I’ve been told my work is ‘interesting’ or ‘bold’ in the most sarcastic tone I think I’ve ever heard come out of a grandmother’s mouth. So here’s what I think: modern quilters have made their own way. I don’t know, but maybe other MQers have experienced these same things, or even worse. Maybe they are tired of trying to keep up with McJudgersons so they have formed their own community, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I am not part of the ‘in’ crowd of modern quilting. Yes, I am a member of a MQG, but I don’t travel to shows, have never been to Quilt Market, have not been published and sure as heck have not won any awards, but I don’t blame others for that. If they are doing those things, bravo. Quilting is, for the most part, an individual endeavor, so if they have been able to form a community among themselves to support each other, fantastic! How can anyone think that people coming together to share their love of an art and bring it back into the mainstream is wrong just because we are not right in the thick of it?

The ‘Industry’

Just this past week there were a few posts on the Love Bug Studios blog that got me thinking about this idea of the quilt police even more. First came The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry.  Essentially her point was that the quilting industry as a whole is being destroyed by the idea that craftsmanship and pride in our work is gone. That is a very poor summary, so I strongly suggest you hop on over to her delightful blog and read it for yourself. A few quotes that stood out to me:
“And so the cycle goes; someone makes crap, the crap sells. More people make crap, and that sells. Then someone makes something even crappier, and THAT sells too, and pretty soon the whole industry is putting out substandard work; fabric quality degrades, everything is made of plastic and breaks easily, and we buy the books and patterns and magazines filled with glossy photos of crappy projects.  This gives everyone the impression that crap is great, and the standards take a hit.  The bar is lowered, and all of a sudden the crap drowns out the well-made so that people don’t even know what well-made is anymore.”
 “I’m not objecting to the idea of making crap, what I’m railing against is the part where crap sells and everybody thinks that’s OK.”
Again, I get the sentiment here, but aren’t we blaming the wrong people (if there is anyone to blame at all)? If I sew a baby quilt and post it on Etsy, isn’t it the consumers role to decide if they want to buy it? If I create a pattern or write a book, again it is the consumer’s role to determine if they want to spend that money. Or even more the editors and publishers choice to produce the product? A pattern that one quilter might think is useless, or difficult to follow, or just plain ugly, another may love. Isn’t that their right? A mom who wants a drag around quilt for her toddler might want to buy that fluffy little quilt made with fleece rather than batting. That is her right. There are tons of examples of things produced just because a person or thing is popular at the time. Look at the movie industry, or TV. There are movies that millions go to see just for a popular actor even if we know they are bad, but that is our choice. Hello, Magic Mike? Bazinga!

In a follow-up post An Illustrated Guide to Craptastic Quilting… or, Why The Quilt Police Have Their Place Ebony clarifies a few things. One part of that is who she was/was not referring to (again, I'm summarizing, so please read the whole post on her blog):
“People I Was NOT Talking To: People trying out a new technique, People learning something for the first time, People trying to master a skill, People who are deliberately and intentionally making “art” for whom certain standards may or may not apply…..”
The only problem I have here is this: Isn’t everyone in the industry trying to master one skill or another? Show me a perfect quilt and I will ask you what factory in what county it was produced in. Part of the beauty of quilts is that each one is different, each stitch is different, and none of them are 100% perfect.
Also, isn’t everyone making art when they create a quilt?  In Tolstoy’s What Is Art essay he says: “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.” That to me, sums things up pretty well.  Art, as is quilting, is a way to convey emotion. Whether it is to be happy, sad, excited, crazy, depressed…. The ability to share our feelings through fabric is art.
Gun Quilt by Jacquie of Tallgrass Prairie Studio
[Talk about conveying emotion...]

“People I WAS Talking To: People asking for money for products they sell, be it patterns, quilts, teaching gigs, or supplies; People buying and consuming things that the industry and its professionals put out (so you stop buying crap from people who should know better)…."
So I think pretty much anyone that sews can be lumped into that second one there.  People who sew or quilt buy things. There is just no way around that. A few questions: If I buy $5/yd. fabric at Joann’s because I don't get paid until next week, and not $12/yd. fabric at my local quilt shop am I destroying the industry? If I buy a book that I saw online written by a blogger that looks interesting, but may not meet someone else’s standards, am I at fault? If I sell a quilt that I know has a skipped stitch somewhere in there that I can’t locate am I to blame for the degradation of quilting as a whole?

Okay, last quote for fun: 
“I’m using Quilt Police deliberately, because they get such a bad rep.  But think about it… we have Quilt Police in every industry.  We have Food Inspector Police, because we expect our restaurants and food manufacturers to keep the bug:real food ratio to a minimum.  We have Air Traffic Police, because planes’ running into each other in the sky is kind of bad. We have Real Police too, but if the term “Quilt Police” just really gets your goat, just call it “Quality Control” or “Quality Inspection” or “BS Monitor”.”
Um, I think an eColi breakout or a string of robberies are a little more serious than if my paper pieced points match, so I’ll go with calling it Quality Control. LOL

Here’s something else I thought of while writing this: the progression of art in general. Let’s take a look back in history, to art. In 1981 (not so long ago) Douglas Crimp wrote ‘The End of Painting.’ You can read the full text here. For a good portion of his essay he talks of Barbara Rose. In her 1974 essay “Twilight of the Superstars” she rails against an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called Eight Contemporary Artists. Her point, as is the point of many of those who are not fans of the modern quilt movement, is that just because it is exhibited somewhere, and liked by a few key influential people, it does not make it great, or make it art.  One of her targets was Daniel Buren who later went on to receive the International Award for Best Artist in 1991 among many others, proving once again how subjective art (and in my opinion quilting) is.

Daniel Buren
I chose him because I just want to make quilts out of everything he has ever done.

So what’s the point of all this, who knows. I guess I just wanted to put my two cents out there that I believe everyone has freedom to express themselves however they see fit, and every consumer has the right to spend their money how they see fit. In the not too distant past, quilting was all but unknown by my generation and the one before me. Now, thanks maybe in part to this unconventional modern quilt movement, it is alive and well. Will controversy ever go away in art? No. But the choice is ours as to whether we move forward and express ourselves how we please, or spend our time chastising those around us for trying to do the same thing (perfect ¼” seams or not).

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