Quietly yelling in the dark…

I frequently get questions as to why it is so important to me to invest in political and social issues with so many of my quilts. I am told that is not where the market is at and I am just doing myself harm. At times I am even admonished for being political at all. I’ve been told that quilters just want to make pretty stuff, so I would be well advised to give the issues a rest and get back to making things for Bee and Baby Rabbit, because that is what people want to see and hear about.

Personally I think all that advice is flat out wrong. I think that quilters, or at least so many of them do care about the deeper implications of quilting. Our politics may differ, but we are all invested in something. Heck, that is so much of the reason for making, at least from my perspective; makers feel compared to speak about something with what they make, whether it be overtly political or something deeply personal.

As I’ve said before, I think every quilt is fundamentally political; the decision to make rather than buy is embedded in an important perspective on meaning, value, and significance. Each and every quilt is an investment in the idea that making (and giving) matters. As such when I talk about things being political I don’t so much mean that left/right, liberal/conservative divide that seems so polarizing; I am referring more to the Aristotalian notion that “man is a political animal.” What we make is in some very fundamental ways motivated by our beliefs.

It is based on that background understanding that I feel compelled to infuse what I make with social and political meaning, otherwise I don’t really know how to make. My work covers a wide range from the subtle to the overt, but nearly everything I make comes from that space where art, craft, message, and meaning come together. To be honest I think that is intrinsically true of all making, but for me it is an explicit part of my practice.

So, you might ask why I am writing about this again today; I do seem to cover this territory with some regularity. First, I do believe that it is worth looking at with some regularity. But, more importantly, I was given a reminder this morning just why I do what I do. As I was out running a few errands I ended up behind someone sporting this bumper sticker (this photo is borrowed, but it is of the same bumper sticker):

While it’s basic intend may be to announce a certain pride in American manufacturing, the means by which it does so is fundamentally jingoistic and racist. It denigrates an entire people, reducing one group to a cultural stereotype while explicitly demarking a professed cultural superiority. Now I’ll likely never see that person’s truck again, but it is just that blithely racist tendency that I see so often, one that is mirrored in the rampant gender stereotyping that remains so incredibly prevalent that motivates me every day.

Do I think I am going to change the world? No. Do I think I might reach a few people? Perhaps. Regardless though, this is what compels me to make, the fact that those voices remain so profoundly present, that such slogans are used so easily without regard or even thought. I see so much of my work as being about making the implicit explicit, bringing to the fore the issues that sit just beneath the surface of our every day.

Maybe I am wrong, and there is not a market for all of this, for the more esoteric reaches of making, but I think there is. It may never be a huge market, but I don’t need one. I am looking for those who are passionately invested, those who are looking for more, who can’t help but speak. Luckily I have found a lot of you thus far, but even if I hadn’t I think I’d still be doing just what I do, perpetually pushing to go that one step further until I figure out just what it is that I am trying to do, and then I’ll move on to the next level. Just know this: as long as people are sporting bumper stickers like that one, I’ll be here doing what I do, quietly yelling in the dark, and hopefully I will continue to have professional partners who will continue with me as I do so…


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11 Responses to Quietly yelling in the dark…

  1. 1
    Jessamie says:

    Your blog makes me think and I really love being challenged to think about why we do this mad thing with so much passion and drive when man a lot of time and money has to be invested in to it! I have been having discussions with friends and relatives about another part of life this weekend, and this post brings it to mind again as it ended up being about stereotyping and reducing things down to their shape of the world which is biased and narrow minded and yet they are such interesting and intelligent people. We need people like you to challenge us and think about how things are read and why they are made! Keep shouting!

  2. 2
    Wendy says:

    Thomas, I always love your posts. There is so much in this one that resonates with me. First of all, I think what you are talking about is the difference between just “making” something and being an artist. Artists deliver messages in their work, they look for deeper meaning, they desire to make a difference with their art. I do think that most quilters are artists, whether it be evident or subtle. I don’t know how one would truly divorce themselves from the work they create…ie: how do we take the “us” (our feelings, points of view, etc…) out of the act of creating?

    The other thing I wanted to comment on was that bumper sticker – that kind of thing just makes me want to scream. I recently bought a Toyota 4Runner and have had so many negative comments about buying a Japanese car. Well, here is the thing. There is no such thing anymore as a fully “American” or fully “foreign” made vehicle. Toyota parts may come from Japan, but they are built right here in our own country. In fact, Toyota provides more jobs for American workers than Ford does. So on its face, that bumper sticker is just wrong. And then, it is, of course, offensive in how it denigrates another culture.

    My final thought – I don’t think you should allow anyone to push you away from where your heart is within your art. Stay true to yourself, Thomas – it is what makes you special.

  3. 3
    Megan says:

    Beautifully written post! And I couldn’t agree more. I am grateful every day for the people I have been able to meet and befriend, both online and off, who are passionate makers/crafters/artists. While I’m sure there are plenty of people who just want to keep busy making pretty things (and that’s fine too, if that’s your thing), I am equally sure that there is a large and growing group of people who create as a way to express themselves and seek meaning in the world. I credit sewing and quilting with providing me an outlet that is nothing short of life changing and life saving. Keep writing and creating in ways that feel authentic to you. The world needs voices like yours.

  4. 4
    Katy says:

    You know I was admonishing my dad for embarking on a political lecture down the phone at me on Sunday morning (he’d just been yelling at politicians on the radio, he felt the need to share) but when I read things like this I realise I am my father’s daughter after all, so here goes…

    That bumper sticker epitomises many that I saw on my US tour last October after Sewing Summit that totally got me riled! Let’s get this straight people, you want a good living wage so you can afford lots of nice things, like super-size tvs and gas-guzzling trucks, but you want everything you buy to be dirt cheap, so, since the Americans that might make these things also want a much better wage than you’re willing to pay for, it goes to countries with a much lower cost of living (and possibly dubious labour practices, depending on the country), with corresponding lower salaries and therefore lower cost of production, and then you complain about this fact. AAAARGH!!!!!

    My Aussie friend I was travelling with and I were discussing the bizarreness of this (along with many other puzzling things, it was a loooong trip ;o) ) because at home (I’m in the UK) we don’t seem to have the same vocal outpouring against this.

    Ahh, that felt better to get off my chest, maybe my dad needs to read your blog :oD

  5. 5
    Laura says:

    I do enjoy reading your blogs. YES!!! I am with you in that there is a sense of community with the difference of opinions. I was brought up with that everyone opinions are like onions and everyone has had one. But with that we are hear to share our experiences, our insight, or who knows learn something from one another. Our quilts that we make are supposed to be a reflection of a story, or an interpretation of our artist in us. But to deny any one of your works is to because of a “niche” or demand is not there, than where would we be with the Jelly Rolls or layered cakes if that was the case. Carry On my quilter friend!! We will follow you!

  6. 6
    Colleen says:

    I read your blog. Sometimes I dont read it all. Such is my freedom of reading. I have seen all kinds of topics quilted. Controversy is not new to quilting subjects, we just have better ways to communicate instantly. BTW I sent you a block many months ago that you requested. What did you ever do with them?

    • 6.1
      thomas says:

      Those blocks are all in a quilt for the book. Unfortunately I can’t reveal the result for quite a while, but thank you so very much!!!

  7. 7
    JunkyardScraps says:

    I tend to passively engage in the online quilting community. I enjoy perusing various blogs in my free time – as few and far between as it comes. I don’t have a blog of my own, and I very rarely comment (in fact, yours is the second blog that I have ever commented on). For whatever reason I felt the need to finally reach out and connect to let you know that I find your blog thought provoking and engaging. I connect with a lot of the ideas you have posted (not just limited to this particular post), and I find it refreshing to check in and see how someone – someone else, someone other than myself and the few others who talk about it explicitly – is thinking about the political aspects of quilting. I’m sure that others echo my sentiments, so thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  8. 8
    Caz says:

    Keep yelling … we will be quietly listening.

  9. 9
    Martha Heidt says:

    It might make Wendy feel better to know that Toyotas made in the USA have a higher content of parts made in the USA than any other vehicle produced here–at least, that was true last year.

  10. 10
    Cher says:

    oh I do check in to read your posts..maybe not every day, but I am never disappointed when I do. This post as many, many others reflects my thoughts and feelings quite well. On the other hand, I have not posted on my own blog hardly at all over the last few years. I often feel I am a lone voice in the void-so it is reassuring to read not only your posts, but the replies as well.

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