Know what I’ve realized? I’m not actually very nice…

I don’t mean I am mean or anything, far from it, I hope. I just don’t think I am very nice. I find this whole interacting with people to be an astonishingly awkward activity. Chatting sends chills up my spine; a cocktail party makes me just want to hide in a very, very dark closet. It’s not that I am shy; I just don’t know if I like very much of anything, to be honest. Dear Sheldon Cooper has my profound sympathies. And do you know why? Because I am in fact nice, or at least hope I am.

Feeling a little confused???

Well, nice has two meanings, ones that in many ways seem to be in perpetual contradiction:


A lot of the time things just aren’t nice: no it will not be a nice day, that is not in any way a nice design, and it has not been nice to meet you, you racist bastard. (Not that you are a racist, but you get the idea.) Again, don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy my life and feel lucky in so many ways; I’m just not very good at pretending things are nice.

But, I do work really hard to be precise, to be accurate, to carefully examine things and come to reasoned and thoughtful conclusions. I’m just not interesting in things being nice (definition #1); what drives me onward are the next interesting and challenging ideas, the process of figuring out more. To be blunt, I like really smart stuff, and often that stuff isn’t nice.

All this just leads me to feel like a bit of an outsider around here a lot of the time. I love being a part of a supportive community, but it seems to me that genuine support also involves a whole lot of honesty, the frank and open exchange of thoughts and approaches. Giving genuine critical feedback seems to be almost taboo, which feels to me disingenuous, even if it is nice (definition #1). That niceness, then, is only surface deep, almost a pretense of support without the genuine investment in the practice of the others in one’s community.

I know people have tried to set up feedback groups, but from what I understand that didn’t go very well, and to be honest this worries me. I think that Modern Quilting is on a bit of a precipice; it has grown from a few interested people into what may be called a movement, but what is that movement about? Is it purely a style? Is it just a way to rebrand quilting so that it isn’t “granny-like?” (Personally I know a lot of uber-awesome grannies…) Or is it more? Does it represent a conceptual shift in the practice? This need not be a turning away from the quilting tradition; rather it may offer a new set of questions to be worked through.

I don’t know what it is, and really don’t intend to posit a specific answer here and now–just wait for QuiltCon. At the moment, though, I just want to call for a bit more niceness (definition #2), a real dialogue about what Modern Quilting might mean. And, perhaps even more importantly, a real examination of what it means to be nice within the context of this community.

I know many take the notion of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” to heart, but I am not sure we are using the right definition of nice when we say that.

Yay nice!!!


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7 Responses to Nice…

  1. 1
    Jamie Lee says:

    Maybe you are more toward the introvert side of the spectrum, which could be personally challenging in such a people-driven field. I like when you share your thoughts. I would love to see a blog called the snarky quilter where I can read what people really think. There is a snarky quilter blog, but she’s not really very snarky at all. But then again, that’s not nice.

  2. 2

    As an academic and artist (perhaps only slightly trained) and an educator one can look at this from at least those perspectives and more I am sure. Here is my stab at it:

    As an academic we are trained to be hyper critical. First with out own work and then encouraged to look at, critique and filter others’ work for publication etc. In this endeavor criticism is at the forefront and the subtlety, kindness or even sometimes helpfulness often take a backseat.

    As an artist one again is trained to be critical of ones own work and others work but to dig deeper than just reading and evaluating the work done but to also look for meaning. Sometimes I find if the meaning is strong enough the aesthetics can take a backseat and critical acclaim by the artist can be won. Although we have ‘known’ pleasing combinations and attributes we apply to art such as color theory, the golden ratio and technique among varying art mediums I find many artists break these, play with them and even sometimes outright flaunt the rules to further their meaning-making. If this is all the case the criticism is more difficult to make.

    As an educator the greatest lesson I have learned is that there are many ways to criticize. Some bring out the best in people, encouraging them to better their work, try harder and excel while other techniques shut down creativity and action causing students to turn away from their endeavor.

    Perhaps the key to constructive criticism is to weigh all three. Encourage the seeking of ones best work. Help others seek their best but do so in a way that encourages rather than blocks.

    I do want to add that I do love reading your blog posts. You are bringing the nerd to craft (in a good way and not that nerds weren’t always here) and I love having my own thinking piqued by your posts. Perhaps a critical craft council is in order? 🙂

  3. 3

    As a person with no artistic training whatsoever, I am not qualified to critique anyone’s work. I can certainly tell whether I like it or not and whether the lines and colors appeal to me or not, but I am not convinced that my opinion has enough value and meaning to the maker to share it. Given that most of the opportunities to comment on someone’s work fall into the “see the quilt I made” realm and not the “what can I do to make this quilt better?” realm, I suspect a lot of quilters out here in blogland feel like I do and so we opt to say nothing about those quilts that we don’t like.

  4. 4
    jill says:

    I think part of the difficulty with criticism in the quilting community is that it is a) often seen simply as catty to say something other than “ooh, I love that” or b) difficult to express for many people because they do not have the vocabulary in terms of colour / value / design / art criticism to express a why they don’t like something or why something doesn’t work or c) quilts just take so long to make that you feel bad saying to someone who has just spent months (or years) on a quilt that you don’t think the colour they sashed their uber-complcated blocks in doesn’t really work and actually takes away from the quilt as a whole, or that you think they should rip out all that quilting they just spent 5 hours working on.

    Perhaps if we took more time to show and discuss our works in progress it would be better. I have learned a ton doing doll quilt – type swaps because people show their progress and other people (sometimes even genuinely) comment and offer advice on where to go next. But if all you see are finished quilts, and you don’t know the person very well, it can be tough to critique something in a way that is actually helpful.

    I’m a high school drama teacher, and I find the first definition of nice to be generally counter-productive in class. I’m not mean, and the kids know I like them, and when they do good work, I tell them its good and tell them why, but I will tell them if they need to work harder or re-do a scene in a movie, or work on a certain part of a play again. If I didn’t tell them, their work would never improve, and their final performance would be terrible. The key is to do it in a way that gives them the information and strategies they need to improve, so they will keep going.

  5. 5

    Yay Thomas! nice post!

    At school we were not allowed to use the word at all unless our intention was definition (2) or (3) and this has stuck with me through my life. As a result, it’s not a word I use often.

    Yes, I agree about the lack of criticism or critique in Modern QuiltLand and that is one of the reasons that I rarely comment on quilty blogs anymore, unless something really blows me away or someone asks for comment/advice.

    I just read a great post here on R0ssie’s blog: in much the same vein.

    Keep doing what you’re doing Thomas, us nerdy academic dual brained quilters need to stick together, through nice and not so nice.

  6. 6

    As the other commenters have alluded to, most of the quilting community isn’t in it for the academic/art side of it, where critique and feedback is par for the course. They, and I, are in it for the “hobby” aspect of it as a creative outlet. Therefore this lends itself to a supportive community where feedback is only given if asked for.

  7. 7
    Joanne Jones says:

    I think you are missing a definition as here in the UK there’s a biscuit called ‘Nice’.

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