We’ve All Got Something to Say (Eileen D.)

A few weeks ago I was invited to lecture at the Charlotte, NC Quilters Guild. There was some free time during which a member showed me some of the sights of Charlotte. One of these was the McColl Center for Visual Art, which has three floors of open studios for artists-in-residence, in an old converted church building. As luck would have it, one of the artists in residence was Anna Torma; her name was familiar somehow but I did not connect her with Quilt National, which is another story. I found her embroidered textiles interesting in a folk tale sort of way, particularly seeing some in progress.

A few artists down the hall was Barbara Schreiber, a Charlotte painter (sorry but I cannot find a website for her, some images are at www.barbaraarcher.com/artists/schreiber/index.html but not the ones she had at McColl). She often paints in a very small format (about 4″ square), about the absurdity of life. Innocent children, almost out of the old Dick-and-Jane-see-Spot-run books, are shown with bombs or dead rabbits. Some were about the absurdity of life; an A-to-Z series was about the absurdity of American politics and the “war on terror”.

Anna Torma’s work obviously took much, much longer to create than Barbara Schrieber’s simple 4″ paintings. Why did the little paintings hold my interest much, much longer?

Our quilting tradition encourages us to make pretty things, to cut up fabric and sew it together to make nice compositions, to embellish with beads for that ‘sparkle’, to make sure no threads are hanging loose and everything is tidy. I have made many quilts in that mode myself. But now I’m starting to look further afield than art quilt exhibits, and seeing what is going on in the world – both in the broad sense of current events and in the narrower sense of “art world”. (You may see my series of political quilts at www.doughtydesigns.com/galleries/politics/index.php.)

Disconnect by Eileen Doughty

“Disconnect” © eileen doughty

Artists can wield tremendous power with their work. The art that sticks in our minds is the art that has something to say. Arguably the best example is Picasso’s “Guernica”. PBS has a page about Guernica and “the tension between art and politics”: http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/guernica/glevel_1/3a_tension.html

Martine House is one textile artist who is making art about abstract concepts like miscommunication or the moment of death; I also admire her work because it makes use of the nature of textiles and could not be done in painting.

“Imperfect Communication”

“Reliquary” (outside)“Reliquary” (inside)

“Imperfect Communication”, “Reliquary” © Martine House

Linda MacDonald makes quilts about the environment; however they are more painting-based than sewn. Shawn Quinlan uses primarily found textiles to create art about American society.

Jesus Get Your Gun - Shawn Quinlan

“Jesus Get Your Gun” © Shawn Quinlan

Thelma Smith, bless her heart, is known for her “Left Turn Lane” series on the homeless (dye painted); she curated “Changing the World One Thread at a Time” last year.

© thelmasmith LTL9

“LTL9” © thelmasmith

Of course there are more examples of people making art quilts which make statements, but it seems to me they are vastly overwhelmed by art quilts (and not-so-arty quilts) that are not about much of anything.

We often complain about the art world not taking art quilts seriously. Usually we blame this on the general public’s misunderstanding of what a ‘quilt’ is (always referred to as ‘not your grandma’s bed quilt’ in the reviews) or that quilts are historically women’s work and so they aren’t accepted in fine art. I propose that the real reason we are not accepted into the art world is that so few of us are saying anything of notice with our artwork.

We all have something to say about our world, its problems and the solutions. I would like to know how many of you have two bodies of work — perhaps “pretty” art for exhibiting, and more serious art you make to express yourself. If you want to make a statement with your art but haven’t done so, what is it that is keeping you from it — finances, peer pressure, social pressure? Or do you disagree that not many art quilters are making meaningful statements in their work? Or that it matters?

37 Responses to “We’ve All Got Something to Say (Eileen D.)”

  1. 1 Lisa March 16, 2007 at 9:46 am

    continued (1 link per comment :)…

    In addition Alyson Stanfield linked to my first post in her art coaching blog an added further thoughts on the juried show discussion.

    You can read her post here:


    One of the nice things about both Alyson’s blog (and mine) are that the voices in the comments are not just those in the quilt world so it’s refreshing chance to hear what other artists think on these topics.

  2. 2 Lisa March 16, 2007 at 9:45 am

    In trying to clarify some of my thoughts from this thread I’ve added another post on my blog. It relates to how an artist becomes successful and is a bit of a geeky combination of art and software engineering (use cases are wonderful tools for more than just software development).

    It’s too long to repeat in these comments but you can read it here:


  3. 3 June March 12, 2007 at 12:37 pm


    I suspect this becomes then a matter of terminology. First, though, I have to say that an art quilt is a matter of home decor; quilt art is a matter of communication of vision. They aren’t the same — and in my mind I go even further and say that textile art is further removed from the pleasantries of home and hearth to the serious conversations about form and texture and matter and manner etc.

    But to go back to your question: the economics of the conventional quilt art/art quilt exhibits probably keep them from being changed. Karey B. probably can’t run her business like a gallery; even Quilt National would stop being a national exhibit if it were to focus on fewer artists. The fact is that you can operate a group exhibit — through entry fees, through the number of bodies that come to see the quilts, and so forth — economically. Grant-making bodies love the numbers; the money helps keep the exhibits going.

    So I see the two co-existing (as they already do) but I don’t see the one morphing into the other. Individual exhibit curators might make the leap, but I should think it wouldn’t be a good business venture (however moral and aesthetic and thoughtful it might be).

    I’m trying to remember the gallery in Paducah that in the mid-90’s had art exhibits side-by-side (but not next to, if that makes any sense) the art quilts that the AQA put on there — that probably makes the most sense, where the business people set up a cattle call, the occasional curators do group exhibits and one or two (or ten or twelve) galleries/museums do solo or duo exhibits. In fact, I think that this happens in Lowell, in Paducah, at QSDS and elsewhere and is becoming more of a model. So the two can have a symbiotic relationship, but I doubt one can become the other.

    Now, those are just my thoughts on the subject, not some word from on high. I’d like to see the question be explored not in terms of either/or but of what advantages and disadvantages and what kinds of new arrangements might be made.

  4. 4 eileen March 12, 2007 at 11:57 am

    June, can the art quilt exhibits themselves be changed to fit your concept of a fine-art exhibit?

  5. 5 June March 12, 2007 at 10:09 am

    I’ve been mulling Lisa’s comments and thinking about how they fit the world of arty quilts, quilted art, textile art, and art (other).

    It’s easy to see why group exhibits for textile artists seem to be the norm. There are so many of them that they are easy to get into, they are relatively inexpensive to ship to (no frames, no glass, no delicate mats), and they have a long and honorable history starting with the county fair, through the big exhibits — Paducah & the Mancusos — and then upgraded by, for example, Visions and Quilt National. The big art exhibits are not to be sneered at and one could, as a textile artist, be thoroughly satisfied with working within this highly developed system. If you teach and do workshops, you can probably even make a small living — or perhaps a large one — using this circuit of events and acquaintances. It’s a great world, a good place to stay and play, and offers lots of opportunities of various sorts. So why not be content?

    Clearly, it’s a question I’ve pondered some, mostly because I’m not content. First of all, I’m not a seamstress — I’m not a fine sewer, nor exquisite miterer, nor a delicious strip piecer. I have no background, talent, or ambitions in that direction. I’m bored with discussions of techniques and materials unless I need them for myself at that moment. And I find very little in the way of stimulating discussions of ideas about art (except on Ragged Cloth, of course).

    I am bored with big exhibits because I literally can’t “see” the art — I need to be exposed to art in small doses, so I can look long and carefully, and the big quilt shows wipe out my taste for even the small ones. I feel a bit guilty that I exhibit within these venues when I can’t deal with them. I like the community of people that I’ve found among the textile artists, but when that community appears at the large convergences like openings at Quilt National, it doesn’t help my viewing of art. It’s good fun and great people, but not good for my understanding and love of art.

    So I’m interested in the “fine” arts world because the conversations are more interesting (even if the people are less lovable). The range of ideas and controversies and viewable events about which I can get excited go way beyond what I can find in the quilt art world. The exhibits are far more enticing and satisfying and thrilling. It’s a world that I want to belong to because I find it more satisfying — but that’s because I like ideas and contemplations and wide ranging “stuff.” I know that I’m a maverick in the world of fine stitching and even in the world of textile art, although perhaps if I knew the artists who have made it outside the cattle call shows — Faith Ringgold, Tracy Emin, etc. — I would be a maverick there, too. But I’d like to see if that is the case.

    The best thing the world of art quilts and quilted art did for me was give me an entry into that other world of more expansive wide-ranging art — and I will be eternally grateful to the art quilt world for allowing me that entry. I feel solid about my art because I came up through the ranks doing quilts — and I could come up through the ranks because of the opportunities available. That’s not a small gift that the art quilt world has to offer.

  6. 6 Lisa March 12, 2007 at 6:19 am

    Wanted to clarify that last comment a bit. As said before I see the value of juried shows as essential for starting up. They are a great way to get one’s foot in the door and lines on a resume.

    But I do not view them as a reasonable end goal if one is looking for acceptance in the art world at large. In fact I see them as a liability.

  7. 7 Lisa March 12, 2007 at 5:38 am

    Jane – sorry for the delay in response – life is busy. You ask:

    Lisa, I’m having trouble with this statement “When I look at the juried all media shows out there, I think they are mostly junk.” Do you have specific examples? These are the kinds of shows I’ve been focusing on for the last couple of years, seeing them as a progression from the all fiber or all art quilt exhibitions. I’m curious and would love for you to expand on your statement.

    I too once thought these shows were valuable. Based on nothing other than a bunch of quilters saying we should show our work with other types of art.

    But then I went to a few of these shows and saw for myself what was being shown. I talked to other artists (non-fiber artists) about their feelings about juried shows, I read articles about these the cattle car call for entries that seem to me to be more about generating income than anything else (art calendar won’t list these types of shows for free anymore unless there is no entry fee), I listened to gallery owners and other in the art world talk about how they viewed juried shows.

    And I changed my mind, based on my personal experiences.

    I really think everyone needs to decide for themselves what is best for them and their career when it comes to showing their work. I’m not looking to tell other what to do. As I said in the last comment – if quilters just want to be in juried quilt shows then great – stop complaining about not being accepted in the larger art world because juried quilt shows are meaningless in that world. And in my opinion so are most juried shows.

    Maybe others disagree and juried shows have value – but I just don’t see that being the case when I look beyond the walls of the quilt world.

  8. 8 june March 10, 2007 at 10:32 am

    I found the Pattern and Decoration discussions — at least some of them. They are on the Ragged Cloth Yahoo list, archived, and the posts start around Nov 14, 2005. There are a lot of URL’s in those posts. I would relist them, but WordPress gets all hung up when many URL’s appear, so unless someone tells me they will definitely check them out, I’m not going to post them here.

  9. 9 eileen doughty March 10, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Mary, surely that is a ‘vast oversimplification’ (to borrow terry grant’s phrase). I haven’t been to NYC in ages but judging from what i read in the monthly art magazines, there is plenty of art being made that is not literally shitty.

    I think people resorting to using materials like that are relying on shock to get attention. (They got yours, didn’t they?) There is little to nothing left under the sun that hasn’t already been done, thus these extremes. Personally I don’t value that kind of ‘art’.

    So I have to ask – what world do you think we should strive to be in?

  10. 10 Mary March 10, 2007 at 6:22 am

    I just got back from a trip to NYC where much of the ART we saw was based on excrement, either in the art itself or used to make the art….so let me ask you this….why would you want to be included in a world where art is literally sh-tty…..????? just a thought…

  11. 11 June March 9, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Well, I for one am not doing decorative art. I have done some in the past, just as I have done quilts in the past. But at the moment, I’m doing what, for lack of a better phrase, I call “fine art.” I have something to communicate visually, I have a toolbox of skills and techniques with which to approach the subject(s), and I’m passing my view of the world through my own peculiar lens, changing it as it gets filtered.

    In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, there was an art movement, which still has adherents, called Pattern and Decoration. It was taken seriously by the “fine art” world. I’m too brain dead to find the references, but on the Yahoo site, the archives can get you to the posts around that subject. I think Dijanne Cevaal is perhaps the biggest proponent of a version of Pattern and Decoration that I know of, although many people doing stitched and quilted wall hangings are also working in that mode. I will try to add the references tomorrow.

  12. 12 Sheila March 9, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Eileen said, “I propose that the real reason we are not accepted into the art world is that so few of us are saying anything of notice with our artwork.”

    This may be true but I propose another or perhaps additional option. I suspect a goodly number of art quilters (or would-be art quilters) want their work viewed as fine art when in fact it should be termed decorative art. Or perhaps just the fact that the art is in the form of a quilt leads viewers to categorize it as decorative art. And we all know that decorative art does not hold the same cachet as fine art. Never mind that it takes skill and vision and talent to produce decorative art, and that some very well known names such as William Morris were essentially decorative artists.

    More than being concerned about whether our artwork is saying anything important, I think we first need to get our terminology straight, then analyze what we are making and be honest with ourselves about what category it truly falls into. I think most of my work probably does fall into the decorative arts category, but I’ve made a few that I think transcend that into fine art. And a few of those may even be making a statement.

    Here are two of several definitions I found by Googling:

    Fine art: Art produced or intended primarily for beauty rather than utility. Art created for purely aesthetic expression, communication, or contemplation. Check Wikipedia which gives an interesting history of this term.

    Decorative art: Artwork intended for ornamentation purposes. Passive, inoffensive subjects. This kind of art is considered to be KITSCH by purists.

    Clairan’s quote from Hampl, by the way, best describes for me what true art is.

  13. 13 thelmasmith March 9, 2007 at 10:07 am

    I would like to add the idea of societal commentary to the mix of thoughts and comments. To limit ourselves as artists to only the political focuses on the rather lowest common denominator of society, at least in my mind.

    Society and humanity need a much broader commentary than that just narrowly defined as political. There is a point and place for political commentary. I just think it is the tip of the iceberg.

    As June said, artist’s statements have the capacity to open doors for the minds of the viewer. Let’s learn to use that part of our art form thoughtfully and succinctly. thelmasmith, who apologizes for taking so long to get around to these comments.

  14. 14 thelmasmith March 9, 2007 at 9:36 am

    For Shari Day: >>the reason I stop myself from creating the kind of work I want to is fear I suppose, fear of rejection, criticism and ridicule, but also fear of ‘upsetting the apple cart’ and disturbing the peace. I can’t seem to let go of the negative voices from childhood telling me not to do it. or ‘don’t do that’

    Shari, the first Left Turn Lane left my DH with the terrors. He was sure I would be tarred an feathered. It created a lot of stir and a lot of very nervous, uncomfortable, laughter.

    I persisted, however. The work took seven years and twenty two pieces. I am not the same person who started that series. Check my website for #22; it’s the only figure with a face.

    Yes, lots of people get angry. Most of the anger comes from the exposure of their bad acts or the fear that the world will know who they truly are.

    If you have things to say use textiles and hold your chin up high. thelmasmith

  15. 15 Annabel Rainbow March 9, 2007 at 12:51 am

    Apologies for the length of this.

    Wow, well what a lot of interesting and intelligent comments. No one reading them could have any doubt about the desire to make something more than a “best in show”.

    Lisa hit the nail on the head for me, and I wonder if I could explain my experiences in a simple and straightforward way. I came to quilting by accident and it became a hobby; a craft I enjoyed doing in order to pass time and fulfil a natural desire to be creative. I enjoyed it so much I went on to do City and Guilds courses at college to learn about design and translating my thoughts into orginal ideas.

    I followed the design “instructions” and thought I was doing ok; finding things that interested me and developing them into an idea – usually abstract geometric colours and shapes. Pleased with myself I entered shows etc. Everyone I knew in the quilty world went to these shows and seemed to see them as the pinacle of achievement. If you won you became a “name” and taught classes and could make a living doing what you loved.

    I then began to realize that these quilty shows were judged by people who were these names and established quilt groups like the Quilters Guild and were based on – let’s face it – archaic self imposed rules. This caused me great problems because these criteria seem to be based mostly on sewing skills. Yes, there are bits about design and impact, but I doubt if you could make a prize winning quilt without perfect “craft” sewing skills.

    And there’s the rub for me. Art is a different thing entirely to craft (yes I know they can overlap, but broadly speaking the two are distinct) I am no longer interested in the sewing part of textiles and see it simply as a method of achieving effect. What art is could be discussed infinitum and frequently is, but I can’t see how the quilt can progress as art unless we collectively dismiss the priority for good craft in our work. Afterall a quilt is merely 2 or 3 layers held together, nothing more. No need for edges, exact sized stitches etc (you can fill in the other rules here yourself)In art, I believe these rules are irrelevant to the finished statement.

    The shows will go on because people enjoy going to them, seeing what techniques are new and what other people have made, and I suspect the vast majority of quilters are not interested in making political statements etc., they do what they do because they love the process of sewing and playing with colours and fabrics -and yes, they want to make something beautiful and perhaps be admired for it. By doing shows the judges are able to find work and keep their names to the forefront, and the organizers and traders make money.

    I am currently in a group who have an exhibition at a local museum. Its a group with varied skills and I have to confess that I am a little disappointed with the overall effect – much more craft fair than art gallery. I think Lisa is right and we should have the courage to put on single or 2/3 person shows with like minded people and say “look closely this is art”. However, it takes courage and where do you find those local like minded people? I suspect we’re quite a small group. I certainly can’t, which means taking a great leap and going it alone. So, I’m on a bit of a limb at the moment because I also love the process of sharing and need imput/support from others

    My journey is just beginning I guess. I don’t think you can change the quilt world as it is – it exists for a reason and may never change. Quilts as art though, well, that’s a different thing and art quilts either need to become fashionable in the art world itself- perhaps someone like Tracy Emmin is helping here – or we just keep trudging our own paths and support each other, leaving the established quilty world behind because it’s slightly irrelevant.

    Or is it the quilt itself that’s irrelevant and we should just ditch it too as a process and move into the wider textile world where there are fewer limits? Does it matter if it’s a quilt or not?

  16. 16 Olga March 8, 2007 at 12:53 am

    I agree with so many of the responses here, especially with June saying that it is the idea or soul behind the work that is important rather than simply a statement. I very much am of the opinion that a great artist is one who helps us see afresh, who makes us think – even if the thought stimulated is one of opposition.

    The original by Eileen asked if we made separate work. I do, but not in any way dictated by external forces. My main body of work derives from my own process of looking at human behaviour. Each individual piece is me glimpsing elusive figurative gestures which send powerful signals within cultural interaction. This is a longterm pursuit of mine which will end when I die; but within my desire to examine body language there is also often a powerful intellectual desire to comment on more spcific inhmanity. I do so in very few instances however, because I find that just splashing out is too simplistic. It is only when I have distilled the essence of the inhumanity to my satisfaction that I will attempt to make a piece of work to try to capture that universal.

    I sometimes think that quilt makers are making tsunamis out of the ripples in their pond – some should leap out and make the most of the wetland that is life!

  17. 17 Rita March 7, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Hello Everyone,
    I am new to the group and have enjoyed reading the responses to the question why the textile artist is not given the same recognition and not compensated the same as the fine artist.
    I recently found a very good DVD on Andy Warhol produced by PBS. I was not impressed by the work of Warhol’s very political and social Pop Art imagery. I was most impressed with his expertise and technique in graphic art. At the time, in the 50’s and 60’s commercial art and fine art did not mix nor did the artists show thier work together. Warhol was a very successful graphic artist, working in New York but his ambition was to become a modern master. Eventually after many unsuccessful attempts, He decided not change his style of art to become more accepted in the fine art world but incorporated his techniques, the clean lines and flat color into his paintings. What made him a modern master was his expanding the language of art, simply the combinging of graphic and fine art which became Pop Art. I encourage all of you to show your work in any gallery. It’s time to expand the language of art.

  18. 18 June March 7, 2007 at 6:50 pm


    I would never have understood how the fish and death could be connected except that I read your comment. The quote is “freaky” but I think it’s perhaps a good example of why artists statements can widen our delight.

  19. 19 jdavila13 March 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Lisa, I’m having trouble with this statement “When I look at the juried all media shows out there, I think they are mostly junk.” Do you have specific examples? These are the kinds of shows I’ve been focusing on for the last couple of years, seeing them as a progression from the all fiber or all art quilt exhibitions. I’m curious and would love for you to expand on your statement.

    Goals are a fluid thing. When starting out your only goal may be to get into _a_ show, then once you’ve gotten into a few your goal may change to getting into top echelon shows, after you’ve done this, your goal will change again, perforce. Goals can also be dictated by circumstance, the goals of someone who is self-supporting as an artist will be different from someone who has no need to contribute or sustain themselves or a family financially. Pragmatism plays a large part in the decision-making process of many artists I know, working in many media – all of whom I would consider to be serious artists.

    I too have been questioning whether my art is “saying” enough. I know that my fish quilts, for the most part, represent my feelings about death and dying and memory and hope, (brought together in a quote by one of my favorite directors, Emir Kusturica, who said: “the man stands between life and death. the man thinks… the fish is mute. expressionless. the fish doesn’t think, because the fish knows everything.”, –which freaks me out a little, a total stranger is in my head, vocalized what I couldn’t). But my thoughts and intentions aren’t apparent to the viewer, they see a “pretty” fish quilt. Is it enough that I know what they mean? Is it enough that I know that in my insect quilts I’m working through some of my frustration at the irresponsibilty and negligence that is ruining our planet? Or that some of my leaf quilts are visual metaphors for a child’s depression? Often the meaning of a piece isn’t even apparent to me until it’s done and I’ve had a chance to get away from it and analyze it. And often I don’t care if anyone else understands what I’m saying in my work. June is right, the thinking is the hard part, it is where the work is.

  20. 20 June March 7, 2007 at 10:10 am


    I don’t see anything controversial about what you have said. It seems a natural part of the process of improving our art — from one-off single pieces in group shows to series and solo shows.

    I think that as the world of stitched textile art has evolved, it continually cycles new people into it — people from the quilt world who see exciting possibilities but are beginners. The new people enter the group shows until they get a good start and then see that the group shows are limiting. So they look for shows with smaller numbers of participants, etc. But what happens to those of us who have been around a while is that since we know what the process is, we think everyone should know it. It’s what I call the freshman syndrome — after you’ve taught for a while, you think everyone should know about comma splices; but then, thinking rationally, new people are, well, new. They haven’t been in enough group exhibits to make them see the limitations.

    Now, having said that, it’s great, Lisa, that you are making comments such as you have about expanding (or perhaps contracting is a better word) our goals to focus more clearly on exhibits that will best show our talents. One problem is that there is not the same kind of group energy around the solo shows as you get around the group shows — more energetic bodies to exude excitement. So there are a lot of solo and small group exhibits going on, but in some ways those of us who participate in them are tossed into the greater world of individual art and art exhibits — it’s lonelier, more isolated. And that may drive some people back into the comfort of the big group exhibits. That and comradery in general.

    So, all of what has been said in this post and comments have been the kind of thing that those textile artists who are right on the edge of moving along can hear and profit from. We need to deal with ideas that have some substance and depth of visual thought, we need to deal with the traditional elements and principles of design, and we need to move beyond the excitements of the group exhibits and make our way into the larger art world of individual shows. And perhaps, additionally, we need to make it clear that this is a process, that the group exhibits cannot be reviewed as if they were solo shows, and that it’s absolutely the case that some pieces in a group exhibit will be much better than others.

    It may well be, as Lisa has said, that the expectations of art quilters and textile artists for fame and glory start out higher than they should, but I think that is part of the democratization of art, not merely a flaw in the textile arts. What the textile arts have in particular is the possibility for large crowds and money making ventures and that makes them more susceptible to overuse.

    [And Lisa, I am trying to do something about fixing your comment, but I changed my email address and now WordPress thinks I’m no longer a legitimate person. So first I have to deal with WP, then find my poster for today, and then, after that, I’ll try to get your later comment up and running.]

  21. 21 Clairan March 7, 2007 at 9:26 am


    Our responses to art are all very individual, I hope. For myself, I have to say, that art with overtly political messages never stays with me, and that of great beauty often does.

    I happen to have just begun reading a book called Blue Arabesque by Patricia Hampl. In her 1st chapter she talks about having been riveted by Matisse’s “Woman Before an Aquarium.” It literally changed the course of her life. I know the painting well (it’s at the Art Institute of Chicago) because I remember distictly the first time I saw it (in 1973). I’m not sure I had seen any Matisse before that, but I certainly looked for his work after that. Here’s what Hampl has to say, “A painting must depict the act of seeing, not the object seen. . . .it must pass through the veil of the self to be realized — to be art. For it is the artist’s fully engaged sensibility –mind/hear/soul/–that is really at stake for modernity. We have wanted to look not at the *thing* but at the mind beholding and rendering itself in the act of attention.” She goes to say that modern art is “weirdly spiritual” and that all the movements of modern art (including Fauvism, which Matisse was a founder of, and Picasso’s Cubism) “have tried to define what it means to convery visually, *all one’s emotion* in the presence of the resolutely material world.” So perhaps I have missed seeing the political art into which a great artist has poured her soul.

    (I have recently been reading about Matisse’s collection of textiles. Certainly his use of patterned wallpaper, tablecloths, kimonos, etc. struck me long before I knew of his interest in cloth. But I’m sure thiis accounts, too, for my long fascination with his work.)

  22. 22 Zelda K March 7, 2007 at 3:38 am

    You’ve all expressed it so well, I’ve nothing to add.

    But to respond to Eileen’s question about two bodies of work – I do, sort of, have two bodies of work. There is the stuff I’ve done, and then there are those pieces I’ve thought of for years, the ones with political impetus but which I’ve not done. Why (or why not)? Part of the reason I’ve not done the latter is because I’ve not seen the potential for showing them anywhere, and I guess couldn’t/wouldn’t take the time to do them just for myself, although I’ve done plenty of other things just for myself.

    However, last night I pulled a box of fabric from my closet that has been waiting for a long, long time, and am making plans to do some of those other pieces now. I think I feel a series coming on from this fabric, even though the original concept was for a single piece.

    Thanks, Eileen, for the nudge over the edge!

  23. 23 Lisa March 6, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Well darn – the second comment got held for moderation anyway (I suspect). So I posted it on my blog and you can read it there (and about my misgivings about commenting here at all).


    June – please only approve the second comment – I added more after the first attempt at submitting (didn’t realize it got held up) – please just delete the first one or it will be confusing to have 2 comment about the same.

  24. 24 Lisa March 6, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    To expand on my thoughts about there being too many venues to show the bad art. I know this isn’t exactly worded as an opinion but that is what it is – I’m not saying I’m right – but I do think it is worth thinking about.

    I think in other art forms the top artists don’t waste their time on juried group shows but in the quilt world I don’t see that happening. Sure there are a few top top names that have walked away from them but these shows can still draw work from some of today’s top quilt artists. So they still have clout with art venues and are easy to book. But there are just too many of these shows to fill with really top quality work so they end up being very mixed shows – many reviews I’ve read point this out (as does my own experience).

    I’d like to see the top artists leave many of the juried shows behind and move on. This would leave juried shows as the place for those just starting out – absolutely essential – I’m not saying all juried shows should go away. But I think the relative importance of such shows is the problem.

    I hate to refer to the same guy but Edward Winkleman did a really great post on why he feels too many juried shows are a problem for an artist. You have to read the comments also to get all of his comments – but the key word is overexposure. Also look for a post on June 29th about what to put on a resume – priceless information coming from a gallery owner:


    Juried shows are a great place to start but after a while it’s time to take ones career further. I’m very guilty of sticking around those shows way too long – they are easy (I suspect most top quilters get into just about all of these they enter – I know I do – there isn’t much challenge). But it’s only a great way to pretend your career is going somewhere – but the reality is it is not. This is my 3rd year in quilt national and I can assure it is neither a start nor and end of a professional art career – it’s just yet another show and another line on the resume that the larger art world really doesn’t care about.

    I’m not sure what the problem is with we quilters – why we don’t move past the juried shows quicker? Is it the traditional quilt world that gives these shows more importance than they deserve? I know the large quilting lists put a significant amount of importance on these shows – ones standing in the art quilt community seems to be closely tied to the list of juried shows one has gotten into.

    Another caveat – I know many (the majority?) of “art quilters” are not looking to be professional artists and they would probably read what I wrote and say that getting into juried shows is their only goal. I think that’s great – we all need to do what is right for us – but I’m not talking about this group of quilters. I’m talking about the group of quilters that do want more from their art career. Those of use looking to make it as a professional artist.

    Maybe the problem is there really aren’t that many quilters looking for more? We all say we want respect in the larger art world but if all we have as a goal is getting into Quilt National what do we need that respect for?

  25. 25 Lisa March 6, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Here’s an interesting read about contemporary political art.


    While I recommend the entire article here’s an excerpt that is similar to my feeling about much of the "statement" quilt art being made today and why I find it lacking in quality:

    The problem, as I see it, is that most artists working with political subject matters spend little to no time attempting to understand opposing viewpoints. I mean really understand them, not just read and dismiss them, but “get” why the opposition feels so strongly the way they do (without assuming it stems from some character flaw). What I see instead is artwork built around a naive POV but offered up as if it had been handed down on tablets from God. What this leads to often are laughable cartoons, easily (and rightly) dismissed as shallow by those with the opposing viewpoints.

    The messages are generally uninteresting to me because they are so obvious. Yawn. Make me think if you want me to be interested but I find much of the statement art being made today in the US too easy as our country is so divided. Make a statement to unite us and I’d be impressed. Say something I don’t already know – great. But if we just heard it on The Daily Show then chances are I’m not going to be all that moved. We’ve been bombarded with the same messages over and over again and it seems to me most people are just preaching to the choir (yawn) and those they are looking to wake up aren’t moved.

    I just watched the movie Jesus Camp (look on wikipedia for a summary – sorry no link or this will be moderated) and found it to be fascinating because they presented an amazingly controversial subject in a very objective way allowing the viewer to decide for themselves what to think. If someone could do something similar with their art quilts I’d love to see it.

    I don’t think any type of art quilts has cornered the market on bad – there are just as many bad decorative quilts out there masquerading as art also – but I disagree with the premise of this post that if we made more statement art we’d be more accepted by the larger art world.

    I think if we behaved more like professional artists we would be more accepted by the larger art world.

    More in the next post but I need another link and I don’t want the comment held for moderation.

  26. 26 Susan Polansky March 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    I may be biased and somewhat uneducated in art history, but I can remember “Guernica” but cannot remember clearly any of Matisse’s pictures. His style, sure, but not individual pictures. They just do not have the impact upon me that a piece of art with a message has.

    When good stuff happens sometimes it doesn’t get as much notice as when one bad thing happens, the one bad apple spoiling the rest. Do you think that this goes to why something with a message stands out in your mind? With art that is playful or beautiful or intriguing but lacking the “message,” can it just be savored and absorbed into your being, but the message ones pull you out of the sensory moment and require neurons in some other part of your brain to fire up to digest it?

    Some art that has deeply affected me is on some level that is hard to verbalize. And especially talking with someone that doesn’t get affected by what they’re seeing in the same manner that I do, talking about some intense feeling an abstraction has given me can be pretty difficult. Messages can give an added way for feeling or talking about art.

  27. 27 eileen March 6, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks to everyone who has posted on this topic – and I hope there are more of you out there that have read this thread and are at least thinking about it!

    Matisse was given as an example of a well-respected artist who does not have any obvious message in his work. I agree that he is a master. However, aren’t many artists such as Matisse remembered and respected primarily because they were the *first* to work in a new style or medium? Surely there were others who followed Matisse and worked in that style, but how many are remembered. Their art may well be just as good as Matisse’s, and they may have been in hundreds of exhibits in their day, but the history books don’t have room for them.

    I may be biased and somewhat uneducated in art history, but I can remember “Guernica” but cannot remember clearly any of Matisse’s pictures. His style, sure, but not individual pictures. They just do not have the impact upon me that a piece of art with a message has.

    Those of you who posit that there are lots of quilts with messages but they are bad art, that there are too many bad quilts being shown – do you think this is the case with other genres? surely there are a lot more bad painters than bad quilters, just because there are a LOT more painters than quilters to begin with. Do you think the painting exhibits are more successful at weeding out the mediocre stuff? i do not see enough exhibits to have an opinion about it.

    and of course my argument(s) are grossly oversimplified. the variations and exceptions may be as many as there are artists – quilters and otherwise – in the world.

  28. 28 Lisa March 6, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Terry said:

    I think one of the reasons art quilts are not getting so much respect is that there are so many bad* ones, political and otherwise, out there.

    There are a lot of bad paintings out there also yet painters are taken seriously.

    So I’ll expand on this and say something that is probably very controversial and will likely anger many people.

    I agree part of the problem is there are a lot of "bad*quot; (whatever that means) quilts out there but I think the real problem is there are way too many venues for showing these really bad quilts and so the world goes and looks at what is supposedly great quilt art and they see a lot of less than impressive work.

    I think if there were fewer group art quilt shows and the artists placed more focus on obtaining solo and feature shows that things could change. I think we don’t need yet another juried art quilt show with 1 piece from everyone. I think we need solo and 2 or 3 person shows that showcase the best of the best. I believe this is what will lead to more credibility in the larger art world.

    When I look at the juried all media shows out there, I think they are mostly junk. If I want to see top quality contemporary paintings I don’t go see to the juried group shows – I go see the solo and featured exhibits in galleries and art centers. [and yes of course there are exceptions]

    I’d love to see curators that have the opportunity to show quilts to not do yet another juried group show but instead invite a select small group (1 to 4-5) artists and do a really focused show. So when the world comes to see quilts they aren’t surrounded with a lot of "bad" work with a few gems here and there but are instead treated to a roomful of solid work.

  29. 29 june March 5, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Hi Shari,

    Shari commented quite a while back, but I failed to see that she needed approved, so anyone who has missed her comments, scroll back up and you’ll find them. She has sent URLs for Tracy Emin, whom we have talked about before, and Maxine Bristow, whom I didn’t know at all. Here’s what I responded on the Yahoo site, for those of you who may have missed that, too:-)

    Welcome Shari

    I just found your comment on the WordPress blog site and approved it. WordPress thinks anyone who has found more than one URL is spamming, so I have approve those comments (which are always some of the best!) I hope I wasn’t too slow for you. Thanks for replicating your comments here.

    I didn’t know of Maxine Bristow– extremely interesting work. The repetition is fascinating and I like it that she refuses to make her pieces lie flat like paintings. I can’t tell if all of them use the repetition of folded or canted off-the-wall presentations, but the repetitions of the wonky unflatness works well for me. The work reminds me of that of Agnes Martin — same subdued, perfectly crafted subversive stuff. It always takes me a while to get into art that has that utterly modulated colors.

    Tracy Emin has always appealed to me, although there are others who object. I like her cheekiness. I haven’t seen much of her work lately — I should go and check it out.

    Thanks again for the Bristow information.

  30. 30 terry grant March 5, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I have been thinking about Eileen’s post—a subject that I think has come up before, but is nevertheless always interesting. I came ready to write my thoughts and found that Clairan and June had both expressed my feelings on the subject and done so much better than I could have.

    Like June, I have strong political opinions, (though June is much more passionate and knowledgeable in these areas than I) but also, like June, that is not where my artistic impulses come from. And I just have to comment that the statement about art quilts not being taken seriously because we are not saying anything of note in them, strikes me as vast oversimplification. I think one of the reasons art quilts are not getting so much respect is that there are so many bad* ones, political and otherwise, out there. And I have to also note that a badly done political statement quilt is just as embarrassing (maybe more so) as a too, too pretty, cliche.

    *I know I can’t just talk about “bad” quilts without defining that. I wish that shorthand worked. I mean thoughtless design, poor execution and general lack of anything visually compelling.

  31. 31 Susan Polansky March 5, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Gotta be more careful of my wording – I didn’t mean to imply that only statement pieces are valid and i did say that there’s all kinds of excellent work out there. Anything is fair game, and what one does, truly believing in, makes that “soul” that June speaks of. And that is the thing that I think a lot of quilts lack. What I meant with a subject matter that is about “issues” is it can give some immediate handle for a person looking at it to care and inspect further; for someone who would say these are just quilts, and because they’re quilts, wouldn’t give them time to consider their artfulness(is that a word?). I wouldn’t want to see every quilt be about some issue, but I would like to see more quilts make a clear statement – whether it be about how the light hits an image, or how colors can vibrate with each other, or social commentary, or whatever, just not more of the collection of techniques or let’s use up random piecings of fabric stash to clear the closet.

  32. 32 June March 5, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Eileen said:

    “We often complain about the art world not taking art quilts seriously. Usually we blame this on the general public’s misunderstanding of what a ‘quilt’ is (always referred to as ‘not your grandma’s bed quilt’ in the reviews) or that quilts are historically women’s work and so they aren’t accepted in fine art. I propose that the real reason we are not accepted into the art world is that so few of us are saying anything of notice with our artwork.”

    I would add that the textile artists who are taken seriously — Tracy Emin, Magdalena Abramowitz, Rachel Bruner, Marion Shapiro, Faith Ringold — are in the business of saying something beyond “ain’t this pretty.”

    The kvetching about not being taken seriously seems to me, as it seems to Eileen, to be a cover-up, an excuse, even sometimes a whine, that allows us to avoid the real work that it is to be an artist. Creativity is fun and a basic part of human nature; to make art goes beyond creativity — it’s hard work and it necessitates doing what we might find distasteful, like thinking.

  33. 33 June March 5, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I’ve had this conversation with Eileen and Thelma and others many times — I have a couple of different notions about it.

    The first is that while I’m as politically and socially aware and active as anyone I know (a flaming feminist in my youth, a life on the left coast on the left side of the river of the city known as Little Beiruit to certain unnamed politicians) nevertheless and having said all that — my visual imagination and my political/social/ethical/moral concerns mostly don’t come together.

    I sometimes see socially concerned art that I like — occasionally even love. (and sometimes what I see leaves me less than cold). But I simply can’t make it. My art comes from elsewhere.

    The next nevertheless, though, is different: I strongly believe that if you aren’t working out of some deep-felt emotional ideas, even if you can’t articulate them, then you are doomed to superficial chasing after you-won’t-know-what. That’s what happens to some quilt artists — they simply don’t know why they are doing what they do — even after doing it again and again. We might say their work lacks “soul.”

    Now this says nothing about beauty or lack thereof. But to say that you love flowers and that’s why you replicate them in your quilts makes me want to say, “why would you do that? You can never match mother nature.” But if you say, you love flowers and you are trying to take commercial prints and capture the evanescent light that evening plays across the iris petals — and then the light that happens at noon and at 9 and at midnight — then you are working through an idea that could bring you to art.

    I don’t believe that you have to start with an “idea” — a vague notion of how to begin will suffice. But after you have done, you need to see where you might go further and further and at some point, I think in order to go further, you have to have within you some strong concerns that you are working out.

    I am currently working on landscapes. It turns out that my interest in this landscape — 100 million years old to 15 million years old — attaches itself to a long-held theme that I’ve pursued. Variations on the theme, to be sure, but ultimately the point is not the landscape but what it says to me and how I can evoke that “saying” so others can hear it. I can even tell you in words what I “mean” by these pieces: “Death is the mother of beauty,” “I’m a cenozoic patriot,” even, “the world is nothing but dust, but what a shimmer sunlight shining through dust makes.” But the visuals express the idea more strongly for me.

    What these ideas do for me is to tell me what to do next — not what glitzy technique I need to pursue or what “beautiful” landscape I want to try to imitate — but what force within the landscape will bring me around to “cenozoic patriot” — the melding of my love of life and my life and my life on this earth — and the realization that humans are the tiniest of insects in what on the earth is called life.

    I didn’t come to this understanding all at once, but when I look at my work, I can point out the pieces, from 1997 to today, that come out of my visual thoughts on the subject. “The Coming Dark” from 1997 is a piece with “Miocene” of 2006.

    So, I’m in agreement with Eileen and Susan, if they will allow a broadening of “idea” to include something beyond what we might find in newspapers.

  34. 34 Clairan March 5, 2007 at 10:09 am

    I agree with a lot of what you say, Susan. There’s a lot of bad art out there, not just bad quilt art, and that’s not really the crux of the problem with art quilts not being taken seriously enough by the conventional art world. But am I hearing both you and Eileen right when you say art should be about issues (ie, politics, the envbironmnet, poverty, whatever)? Matisse’s art is beautiful, decorative and about something, but not political. That’s just an example of how large the art world can be. I think rt can be about something, something the artist is passionate about without being political or “issue” related. And someone can be passionate about something, political or not, and be a bad artist. And it has nothing to do with fiber or paint or clay.

  35. 35 Susan Polansky March 5, 2007 at 8:52 am

    What Eileen has to say really struck a chord with me. I’m finding that the quilts I can really sink my teeth into are the ones with a message. When I’m working on one that has a statement, I feel a compelling need to make the quilt, like the issue inside has hit some nerve and working out the quilt relieves the pressure. Not that I’m conciously thinking of the issue while I’m creating the piece, what’s on the surface is more the “artistic” side of composition, design, etc., but it’s all got to work together to speak about the issue. I find myself tearing out articles from the newspaper because they’re striking a chord within, and my art will be stronger when I use subjects that arise like this. I have been affected by the daily barrage of media, and wonder about where all these images are going in people’s minds. When my work is in a show, I love that it stops people in their tracks because it’s not what they’re expecting at a quilt show. And they talk about what they’re seeing, but it’s in a safe environment. I would hope that it acts as a release to some of the disturbing imagery that people see daily, to see it in a different setting, to see it used in a way that attracts the eye, rather than making us numb to all that we see.
    I agree and disagree about quilters not having anything to say and that’s why art world has difficult time recognizing quilters. Yes the whole getting caught up in techniques and ignoring basic conventions of composition and design makes me not want to look at quilts. But there’s alot of that out there in the art world too. And lots of work in both worlds that revels in lush colors and intriguing subject and wonderous techniques that are just oh-my-god amazing to look at. The difference is that with recognizable issues, ones that make statements, pulls a piece into an intellectual assessment and out of just seeing through a lens of “I’m looking at a quilt.” When a viewer sees first the visual statement then how it is done secondarily, that will be closing a gap of segregation between art and quilts.

  36. 36 Shari Day March 5, 2007 at 4:19 am

    I’ve been a member of this group for a while now, but haven’t posted anything yet. I have just been to the RCC blog and thought I’d quite like to get involved in this discussion. I live in the UK and we have quite a different aproach to textiles and pieces created with fabric and stitch over here, yet we also have the philosophy of if it’s pretty it’s not art anyomore. Some of our most popular artists aer very controversial and it seems that controvasy sells art these days. Has anyone here heard of Tracy Emin or Maxine Bristow?
    If not, here is a couple of links to their work. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/1364485.stm and http://www.chester.ac.uk/cpra/staff.html I really think that Maxine Bristow is pushing the boudaries of traditional crafts and creating amazing pieces of work, Tracy Emin I think is more of a shock tactic artist, who opens up her inner self to be critisised or relished, depending on your opinion of her. I’m not a huge fan but Maxine Bristow is amazing.
    As for my work? well, the reason I stop myself from creating the kind of work I want to is fear I supose, fear of rejection, critisism and ridicule, but also fear of ‘upsetting the apple cart’ and disturbing the peace. I can’t seem to let go of the negative voices from childhood telling me not to do it. or ‘don’t do that’
    Looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say :o)

    Shari (in the UK)

  1. 1 New Work and Inspiration » Respect Trackback on March 6, 2007 at 9:03 pm
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