Everything I am doing these days as a artist, as a fabric designer and a quilter and a writer, is based on a wager, one that may hold some real risks to my future in this industry. At the same time I think it offers some genuine rewards, and not just economic ones; I think this wager—or perhaps series of closely related wagers—are my path to contributing to a tradition that I think is extraordinarily.
Here is the wager, or wagers (in no particular order):
I think people want to make smart, amazing quilts, but don’t quite know how, or more accurately are so intimidated by the idea of creativity that has been reinforced by the mythos of the artist as creative genius that they don’t even know how to begin.
I think that people are already tiring of the modern fad, as distinct from a true engagement of modern quilting or quilting as a profoundly modern act.
I think the marketing/advertising complex that works to reduce modern to sellable bits and units, discrete and narrow styles to be emulated and sold has radically underestimated the quilting audience and its deep engagement with the quilting tradition. In fact one editor actually told me that a certain press’s readers “don’t like a lot of words.” (I nearly cried.)
I think every quilter who makes a quilt with the intent of that object being used is only a few tiny steps from profoundly modern conceptual quilts. Quilters make things instead of buying them believe that making matters, that there is something important about not just buying something mass-produced, an object most likely made by exploiting the cheap labor available in developing economies. That decision to make is already steeped in political and social issues, ones that can easily inform the things we make.
Quilts don’t have to be about something big; small ideas are often the most profound ones. At the same time I think the truly modern quilts are indeed about something.
Looking modern, whatever that might mean, is not enough. Style must never be confused with substance, and modern is fundamentally about substance.
I think that modern is really big and has room for a million styles. Just look at the history of modern art. If modern quilting does not move beyond stylistic markers it will run its course in five years, about the same time the book-buying public’s shelves are full of modern quilting books.
I think that all of this is both easy and hard. For the most part making smart things is not that hard, just think a bit, talk a bit, and be willing to totally fuck up and the smart stuff will happen. It is a skill to be learned, just like sewing a decent 1/4” seam allowance. As long as you don’t expect it to be instantaneous it will come. It is hard because we so often just assume that it is hard. There is an entire complex built up around showing people how to do things the “quick and easy” way; that way is bullshit (pardon the French). It will only get you the surface, the trappings. Substance is always unique; you just need to sit down and find it. From there all that remains is the making.
Not everything has to be modern. It is okay to make lots of stuff. You can like whatever you want, though liking it doesn’t make it modern. Not everything is modern and that is okay. Stuff is kinda awesome.
I think that the hegemony of “fresh and clean” needs to go away fast. As long as that sticks around modern is going to be small, limited, and exclusive. I have no idea what modern looks like and I’ve been living with the practice of making modern/postmodern art for 25 years. Modern is a type of engagement with the act of making. Fresh and clean is a mere instant, a tiny piece in the modern lexicon. As long as it defines modern modern will not actually be modern. (Yep, that last sentence actually works.)
I think as long as people are asking whether they are modern quilters they will be making small, narrow quilts. If you try to be a modern quilt then you will try to make modern quilts. And if you try to make modern quilts you will likely try to make quilts that look modern. And if you try to make quilts that look modern then you will likely emulate other modern quilts because they have been deemed modern. If you emulate other modern quilts you are not making quilt that stem from your relationship to the world around you; you are not actually making your quilts. And if you aren’t making your quilts you might as well just make historical quilt because every quilt made before your current quilt is already history.
So, that’s my wager, or at least a bit of it. I am pretty sure there are quite a few more propositions that weave their way through all this.
Of course these aren’t hard and fast rules; rules are stupid except when it comes to the public safety and things like that. They are perhaps first principles, or maybe second or third, but you get the gist. There is nothing wrong with emulating something you really love, or following a pattern, or whatever at times. At the same time I think we need to keep looking at our relationship to quilts and quilting.
I may be insanely wrong, both in my ideas and in my read of the modern quilting scene, but I don’t think so. Now it’s time to cross my fingers and go at it…