Art?

There is no such thing as art; there is just making. The moment we start talking about art we are immediately immersed into a conversation of privilege and authority; just who is privileged to make art and who has the authority to discern whether something is art or not.

I’ve never liked the term “art,” even when I was in art school. Art is held in greater esteem than other forms of making, which has derived from a history of racism, misogyny, and classism. For centuries art was the purview of white men with leisure time. There were sporadic exceptions, but this is a truth that is only now being dismantled. 

Terms like “outsider art” pretended to let others into the game, but there was always a patronizing element to it, the collecting of the art of the other carried its own accrual of status for the collector, a certain beneficence.

I am more interested in people’s practices as makers and the objects they create, whether they get called art or not. Interesting, challenging, fascinating objects will always draw my attention and get my time. Art doesn’t get a free pass just because it is called art; it needs to earn my attention.

And then of course there is the school of thought in which the will of the maker confers art status upon an object. In short, “I dub this art and so be it.” Honestly I think that is a load of hogwash; I can’t just start removing spleens and declare myself a surgeon. If all it takes to be an artist is to call oneself in artist, that is a trick bought cheap. But whenever I try to formulate an answer to just what makes art into art I get caught up in the old issues of privilege and authority.

All this inevitably brings me to art quilts, which has always felt like an uncomfortable term. I get that something was needed to speak generally about non-practical quilts, but I’m not sure art is the correct distinguisher from practical. First of all it implies that practical quilts are not art, hence somehow lesser due to the hierarchy of value we attribute to art. Secondly, most art quilts have little in common, in dialogue with contemporary art making. Of course impractical quits is a horrible term, but something that makes a distinction without resorting to art.

Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of bed quilts and wall quilts. That feels like a more natural point of inflection. Which brings me back to yesterday’s post and my recent turn toward making wall quilts, which feel very different from my bed quilts even though they will be utilizing the same techniques. 

I don’t know. Maybe I think about this too much, but I don’t think so. I think this stuff matters. It is by carefully navigating all this terminology that we shed the racist, sexist, classist, heritage of art. It is only by getting this right (or closer to right) that we turn over the hegemony of power surrounding the art world, and quite frankly the quilt world. Maybe someday. I have a feeling I going to be stuck with the same mistakes of the art world here in the quilting world. Alas…

Much love.

-t

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Wall

So, by my reckoning, I’ve been doing this quilting thing for ten years now. On the one hand it seems like yesterday when I made that first quilt for Bee. On the other hand it seems like several lifetimes ago when I finished writing that first book. And it is simply impossible to believe just how many quilts I’ve made in that time (I lost count ages ago). 

I suppose it is my turning fifty that has me looking back. I can’t believe I pulled off Martha way back in 2013. And I can’t believe the place that quilting has brought me to in terms of artmaking; without a doubt I’m making the best work of my life, and I have this gut feeling that the next few years are going to bring several steps forward. The ideas are coming more easily now; I think I am just more comfortable with fabric and thread, no longer fighting it, but instead playing with it.

Not to spend too much time being nostalgic but Quilt Out Loud felt like such a monumental task that anything that is going to come next will necessarily feel like a pivot. Actually, I think I’ve already made something of a shift when I made my mini quilt for the IQM’s auction raising money to send to a charitable organization in Ukraine. I’ve been thinking more and more about wall quilts after years of resolutely making bed quilts. In my head I’ve been messing with what might be a different vocabulary for me. I am becoming interested in working for the wall, but I am reluctant to leave the bed quilt technical vocabulary behind. I feel like the art of my work is the conflict between the comfort of the traditional quilt and the uncomfortable subject matter that I deal with.

So, I’m moving into this new landscape thinking in terms of groups of quilts rather than series. Groups by necessity hang together, function as a coordinated whole. Series live side by side and need to work individually as well as together. The wall has me thinking about smaller individual pieces that make up a larger whole. For example the next project is nine small quilts intended to hang together in specific positions relative to each other. 

There is something liberating about working for the wall; the scale of a piece is unbound. While working for the bed requires a certain monumentality; they need to be on a human scale, cover a bed. I am intrigued by the idea of working in the miniature, or at least pieces smaller than even a crib quilt. I am hoping there will be a certain conciseness to these smaller pieces, a different type of directness, immediacy. And since I just committed myself to nine small quilts for the next project I really hope I’m right. We shall see; I’ll keep you all updated along the way.

Much love.

-t

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Old

Well, it’s finally happened; the AARP has found me. Yep, I’m now getting old people mail; next come the endless life insurance offers and then the scooters. I’m at the mercy of the aging business; I’m about to turn fifty.

Question: how does the AARP know about me? My age? My address? Do they just keep track of everyone? Their the real surveillance state. QAnon has it wrong (obviously); the AARP is running this show, picking of unsuspecting fifty-year-olds as the next members in their age cult.

And what’s with the free trunk organizer? Is that what attracts old people? Tidy trunks? I am so confused by all of this. It feels so predatory, but in the guise of kindly old men and women. I picture Wilford Brimley with a golden retriever or something assuring me that everything is okay and then selling me funeral insurance.

So, I’m going to stick with my existing memberships (totally not reveling what they are) and I’ll let this one pass. I’m not ready to retire, I’m not ready to buy my own golf cart, and I’m certainly not ready to be old.

Much love.

-t

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Covers

For those of you who know me, you know I’m a complete design geek. For those of you who don’t, hi, I’m a design geek. I revel in the nuances of design history all the way back to the dawn of writing. But my favorite period is 70s punk graphics, those crappy photocopied fliers for gigs that were actually amazing if you can wrap your mind around the idea that cool modernism is kinda crap. Well, maybe not crap, but certainly not the end all be all.

So, I love punk graphics, probably nothing more than the album design for the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.” The type is so completely awkward, brilliantly so. Almost everything that could be wrong is wrong. And then there is the slash of torn paper with Sex Pistols set in type reminiscent of a ransom note. It is just so aggressive, not visually, but toward the prevalent design rule of the time. 

That’s why I was so happy that the team at C&T, and my book’s designer in particular, were on board with referencing that album cover with the quilt I was going to make for the cover design. Obviously it’s not a straight lift, but the family resemblance is unmissable. It’s not every publisher that would get on board, let alone enthusiastically get behind.

So yay! I so love this book cover. And it only gets better when you open it up, but you’ll have to wait for sneak peeks…

Much love.

-t

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New Project

I must be a masochist, at least if the next project is any indication. I’m starting a series of nine small quilts (42”x30”) each with an excerpt from the 2016 (& 2020) Republican platform. So first of all I must be a masochist for reading that document as filed with prejudice and disdain as it is. But that is slightly beside the point. The immediate bit of masochism is all the letters that will need to be appliquéd, and how small they are.

Honestly I am not quite sure just how I am going to appliqué these; they run between 1.5” and 2” tall. That makes some of the strokes in the letterforms extremely thin, even when bold. I may be able to get thread around the edges without it looking like a tangled mess, but more likely I’m just going to have to run a single lines of straight-stitch down the middle of the strokes.

I suppose I’ll figure that out on the fly because I am really enamored of this project. I love how the accumulation of fragmentary texts works en masse. I love the internal contradictions that arise and how the contextualize each other to make something that at first blush seems benign reveal itself as genuinely hateful, or at least lacking in compassion.

What really gets me about the language in the fragments is that it tries to obfuscate what it is actually saying. Like Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, at first the almost sound okay, but upon a second rad the cruelty behind the words becomes apparent. I suppose that is one of my biggest problems with the Republican party: the way they claim a moral high ground even as their actual positions are filled with petty meanness. It’s all an extension of the America First mentality that harkens back to a time when widespread oppression of minorities was still acceptable. At its core, the platform is systematized and legitimized hate.

Thus this project. I envision all nine of these hung together, playing off of each other, and revealing the subtle manipulations of language that obscure the depths of hatred for the other. Phrases like “natural marriage” and “dynamic compassion” bury the reality of LGBTQ+ phobia and an abiding disdain for the poor. And when they are all put together the truth of the Republican positions become apparent. 

But this isn’t just about the Republican party’s ill intent. It is about the abuse of language that has defined the party since Reagan initiated “trickle-down economics,” one of the greatest intellectual scams of the past fifty years. But I continue to digress… 

My fingers already ache at the endless appliqué that I am walking into. Hopefully it will be worth it.

Much love.

-t

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Inkling

I have the start of an idea, a plan even, for a next body of work. After making bed quilts for the last forever, I’m thinking about a suite of mini quilts, small pieces that could be hung together to say something larger than any of the parts could. 

I’ve also been thinking about the Republican Party Platform and all the atrocities contained therein. (Don’t be surprised; if you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention you should know my politics by now.) Taken individually I find so many of the party’s positions to be ignorant at best but taken together I find that document to be flat out repulsive.

Oh, the party platform? That gets written and voted upon at the presidential nominating convention and sets the stage for things to come. The platform in 2020 was downright scary (in my not at all humble opinion). 

So, these two thoughts are bouncing around my brain and starting to gel into something resemble an idea, which may then turn out to be an actual plan. And I like having a plan; I don’t relax well. So I have the bones of an idea and still need to flesh out all the meta. I think I like this one…

Much love.

-t

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The Part of the Blog When I Vent

Those of you who have been playing along the past however many years know that I was diagnosed with Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis back in 2012, and the Mast Cell Disorder in 2014. And trust me, it’s a lot of fun with those two.

So, when I was told last week that I had advanced arthritis in my hips due to a femoral deformity I just about reached my limit. I mean seriously, what the hell else can be wrong with me? What percentage of my body can be flat out dysfunctional? 

Of course, the fix for the arthritis is hip replacement, but I’m not even fifty, so doing that now pretty much guarantees another go-round with new hips in my future, which really is not my dream scenario.

So, it’s off to physical therapy I go in hopes that we can loosen things up a bit and prevent further damage, all of which makes my hips (and sympathetically my knees) hurt on a whole new level. 

Of course, it could be worse. In the bigger picture I’m still pretty lucky. But at the moment it’s a little difficult to keep in that mindset. Right now I am just plain pissed and my stupid body. Right now I just kinda waiting for the next thing to go wrong… 

Anyway.

Much love.

-t

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Where There’s a WIP

Okay. I have no new ideas since yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I need to just sit here and dive deeper into a foul mood. It’s time to bust out a WIP to the rescue. I just remember how important it is, as a quilter, to not finish things. That way there is always something to pick back up when you are otherwise running on empty. Having everything finished is actually a curse; it is then that the darkness creeps in.

The WIP I grabbed this morning spells out the word LOVE in Braille four times. Actually, it spells “love” two times and “LOVE” two times; the Braille for uppercase and lowercase is different. It’s a simple bit of communication, but it let me play with color and relationship in some fun ways. It also gave me an excuse to do a whole lot of reverse appliqué circles, which I’ve been wanting to do for some time now. Don’t ask me why; it’s kinda a pain in the neck. I guess I just wanted to see how well I could do it.

I suppose that is sort of what I do with all of my quilts: set myself a challenge and then see how well I can follow through. It’s the only way I really know of to get better at it. Don’t just do the things you know how to do; stretch yourself to do the things you can’t (yet).

I’ll probably go back to my arsenal of letters and numbers for the next quilt, but for the moment I’m enjoying just messing with color and cutting out lots and lots of circles. Who knows what I’ll do with that skill down the road. So many possibilities…

Much love.

-t

PS: I love my tiny sewing scissors for cutting out appliqué; it reminds me of the scissors my grandmother used. It also feels so immediate, which is why I still don’t use a digital cutter. I love the process of cutting things out by hand, the labor of it. I spend so much time writing and designing on a computer that the times spend with material and scissors grounds me back here in the material world.

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