Authenticity is a fraught word for me, one I have long been reluctant to write about. I have struggled with the concept philosophically and artistically for decades, yet this is the word that has been drumming insistently in my head for the last forty-eight hours.
In my practice here in the fabric/quilting industry I have intentionally blurred the lines between my personal and professional spaces. Part of the reason is because I felt welcomed by the community, and as such I wanted to share not just my work but my life with that community, my joys and my sorrows, the excitement and the anger. I felt comfortable, and let myself be a participant, just another practitioner in quilting tradition. After losing my previous career (and in many ways my previous life) due to catastrophic illness I needed a new home, and the quilting world in so many ways has offered me that.
At the same time I had an intellectual reason for blurring the line between my public and private spheres. My investment in modern quilting is not a matter of style, but of substance; it is predicated on the notion that modern quilting comes not from aesthetic markers but from an active and thoughtful engagement in the complexities of life at this moment. It is my belief that modern work comes from genuine reflection upon one’s place in the world, from the realities on one’s life, not through the mimicry of stylistic tropes. As such I felt it was important that my public practice reflect that idea; to put it in terms of elementary education I wanted to “show my work.” My presence online and in speaking engagements reflects the complexities and seeming dichotomies of my life, which fundamentally reveals where my work comes from. My outrage over social injustices is not incompatible with the silent wonder I feel holding my children in my arms or when simply holding my wife’s hand. Instead this range of experience and expression is exactly where my work comes from.
In opening up the many sides of my being I sought to illustrate what I saw as a model for addressing what modern quilting could be by translating the personal into meaningful work, work that necessarily includes happiness, anger, despair, elation, fear, and revelation. In short I wanted to have a public practice that mattered deeply to me, and in doing so I hoped that practice would touch the lives of others, that it might inspire some to see the depth in their practice and the profound meaning that comes from and through the act of making a quilt.
Unfortunately some events over the past months have left me questioning the value and efficacy of this practice. Between my experiences at the last Quilt Market and the recent kerfuffle surrounding the Give a Fuck bee quilt at QuiltCon I have been struggling to negotiate the intersections of my personal and professional lives, whether I need, for my own sanity, to erect more distinct boundaries between my life and my work. In short, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with my role as both product and producer, as my brilliant friend Zubair puts it.
While a large part of me enjoys the discussions and debates, and I have thought that my approach to the public sphere has actually been a major factor in attracting an audience to my work, I am not sure if I can or want to sustain that blending of public and private—putting my private self out into the public sphere—any longer. While I think my specific audience largely appreciates what I am trying to do, that approach unfortunately upset others.
Thus I am left with a dilemma of how to proceed, where I should go with this accumulation of experiences. To be honest I am profoundly uncertain. I am in no way planning to leave the industry, but over the coming weeks and months I need to re-examine my practice and make sense of my personal and professional relationships to this community and this industry.