He calls himself a big-M Modern quilter for now, but he’s out to rename the genre, and perhaps even revolutionize the quilting world.
-Rachel May in Quilting with a Modern Slant
A few years back Rachel May wrote those words about me in her book Quilting with a Modern Slant. They made sense to me then, seemed to reflect my goals. But over the past few months I have realized that they no longer apply. Not in the least. It is not that Rachel got something wrong; it is just that I have changed. Or more accurately that I have remembered who I am…
1. I am not big-M Modern.
2. I am not out to rename the genre.
3. I am not interested in revolutionizing the quilting world.
One might well ask how I could have gotten so much wrong about myself just a few years ago, but there it is. I suppose I was trying to be a quilter, whatever that might mean, but I certainly wasn’t being me, not that I am entirely sure I know exactly what being me means.
So, lets look at that list…
1. I can’t actually remember the last time I considered myself part of modern art. It isn’t that I don’t make art (or something that at least fits within that vague construct we call art). It is simply that I have always had deep concerns about the whole Modernist project. Modernism always smelled too much of essentialism to me, of aesthetic, cultural, and political truths (or at least the assertion that such things exist). Far too much energy was spent on the idea of purity during those Modernist decades, which I regard as both dangerous and simply idiotic. The best art is complicated (conceptually if not aesthetically); it poses questions, not answers. It is critical, but not self-certain. It is dangerous because it questions truths, not because it insists on dangerous truths. In short, art, at its best, is a reflection of the world not its solution.
2. I used to struggle with the modern in modern quilting. Because it jumbled together two understandings of the word modern (the temporal construct and the art-world construct), I felt it was terribly awkward, open to endless misinterpretation. I still have those concerns, but now I simply don’t care. As I separate myself more and more from the mainstream quilt industry side of the quilt world I see a lot of things differently. In the much quilt industry, like every other industry, terminology is perpetually co-opted if it seems like it might serve some marketing purpose; as such my problem was not so much with those using the term modern quilting, but with how it was used and abused in the industry writ large (modern solids?). Nowadays I am inclined to advocate a proliferation of terms, not just for taxonomical purposes, but simply to suit a moment, a whim. I now variously call myself an activist quilter, a political quilter, an advocacy quilter, an agit-prop quilt, a quilt punk, an esoteric quilter, a hyper-traditionalist, and quilt theorist. I’m pretty sure by next week I will have added a half-dozen more to that list. When in doubt hit it where they ain’t.
3. I truly have no interest in revolutionizing the quilt world; honestly my sites are set far higher: I want actual revolution; I want to change the world. All of it. With the resurgence of white nationalism, homomisia, misogyny, etc, etc, etc, I find the idea of making quilts to revolutionize quilting utterly trivial (no matter how much I think quilts matter). It is precisely because I think quilts matter that they have become my medium of choice. Going back to #1 on the list, the best art is revolutionary, not just aesthetically, but literally. Art can change the world, or at least be a powerful voice for change. The quilt industry can have caution; I have proverbial pipe bombs to throw…