Concerning Style…

The word Style scares the heck out of me, or more to the point the idea of “having a style” scares me. You see I am generally pretty skeptical of aesthetic models, of anything that takes appearance as its starting point. Looks can be (and usually are) endlessly deceiving. As I have written before, I am continually interested in the Why? of things, and Why is generally resistant to superficial and stylistic categorizations.

Style can lead to so much misunderstanding; as style is principally concerned with the surface of things, their appearance, it is prone to misclassification. While bold, graphic, Amish quilts may look Modern, and may share stylistic similarities, to classify them as Modernist would be patently absurd (I’d be hard pressed to find something in America less modern than the Amish). The quilts are extraordinary, and they may provide inspiration for generations of quilters (Modern or not), but their relationship to Modernism is only surface deep.

On the flip side, I keep making quilts with Reproduction fabric. Does that make those quilts traditional? At first blush they may very much appear so, while conceptually I would place one as firmly Modernist, and the other as safely ensconced in a postmodernist conversation.

Categories, in general, can be dangerous, but stylistic categories are doubly subject to skepticism. Having a style tends to be exclusionary, limiting not only wide swaths of the aesthetic universe, but also cutting off the conceptual, historical, and cultural groundings for those other aesthetic practices. That is not to say that I am opposed to categories; I actually think they are incredibly useful for the growth of a practice. Categories allow us to compare and contrast, to glean broader understandings, to elucidate underpinnings and rationales. Categories facilitate conversation, assuming the participants accept the validity of each other’s practices.

It’s not that style is all bad; we all have tendencies, things we like. Not every decision or preference needs to be plumbed to the depth of its being. We all like what we like. The danger begins when those stylistic categories get mistaken for substantive categories. It is just that confusion (appearance being confused with substance) that is the core of prejudice. (Though of course racial, ethic, and socio-cultural prejudice are steeped in much more challenging historical contexts.)

As an artist I am generally reluctant to talk about style. Of course I have my preferences, but if I allow them too much rein in guiding my understanding, I am likely to appreciate only those things that conform to my pre-existing preferences. In other words, I’d be prone to falling into an aesthetic feedback loop.

What fascinates me here in the quilting world is finding the commonalities with profoundly different practitioners, sharing with and learning from both Jo Morton and the MQG, and from so many other people who might bear little relationship to me stylistically.

That said, I have no problem at all calling myself a Modern quilter, assuming that is understood as carrying more than just stylistic implications. Moderism as an art movement was big, with more styles than you could shake a stick at. If you were ever to try to define Modernism purely in terms of style you would have to exclude about 95% of Modern artists.

So, style be damned. Make great stuff. Think about why. Stretch your stylistic boundaries.

It’s a much more interesting world when you dive into the deeper (conceptual) water.

Yay substance!!!


(PS. Thanks to Jamie for the nudge to write this post…)

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