Monday, October 10, 2011

When is an Art Quilt No Longer a Quilt?


As a quilter who also loves art quilting, I shy away from contests and challenges where my art will be unkindly commented upon, or judged. I always feel that my real life takes me away from the time I would truly want to spend on a big project that is meant to represent my skills or talents...so I don't do it at all. I also know that my chronic and severe lack of sleep has taken away from my ability to sew 'logically' and there are times I wonder why I sew at all with so many people to help ..in real life and online. So I also use that as an excuse. That makes me very sad to know that about my self.

I recently had opportunities to create quilts for a number of quilt shows, found out about them within a few weeks of their deadline, and couldn't find my fabric that I'd knew would just be perfect ...if only I wasn't "so darn tired and could remember where I had put it!!!"

I spent two days looking for my decades old specialty fabrics and still have never found my 'circus' fabrics ....I'm talking 4 inch polka dots, people... and then only had three days left to create. I gave up.

I was just too tired and didn't care if it I did make something that it would travel to awesome places and be seen by thousands and thousands. I was too tired, and too unsure of myself with this theme and no obviously appropriate fabric at hand, and so little time to care to try. Turns out they let quilters in who at first appeared to break the size requirements and all of their online and printed off list rules. I should have just made something! I was sorry that I had made excuses and given up.

Ever been in that place and time...oh, the regrets!

I've done my share of saying things out loud ...I thought I was being quiet, of course and talking to a friend.....judged others for dangling threads I wanted to pull off (can you just imagine if I had tried to?) at quilt shows and so on. I'm just as judgmental deep down inside as the next person. I just usually try harder not to be... and try harder to empathize with their quilt and quilting. So, thank goodness for my last 6 years as a 'liberated' quilter. And isn't it just so interesting that those 6 years coincide taking care of my mother at home with Alzheimer's. Both have changed a lot more than my quilting..it changed my heart and my mind about judgment. Well, I thought it had, at least ;)

But when I recently attended one of several quilt shows a few weeks ago, I found myself looking at some flying elephants and saying out loud...out loud!!!!....'How can dangling stuffed toys be considered a quilt?'

Then, I was instantly ashamed of myself. The stuffed elephants hung from a ring and under a circus tent...that was quilted. If you counted the entire length the mobile hung in space..from the quilted tent it met the size requirements. It was unusual, it had a quilt in it and it met the other rules. So, I had to ask myself...what makes a quilt? What makes it an art quilt? And why in the world was I judging and doing it out loud where even it's creator might have heard me??

What I was....was jealous. 'If that was all it took to get a project into a show'..my judging brain was saying...why hadn't I tried? That person, that quilter had created something, something unusual, something with a quilted section, something that in art might be called a quilted art installation piece. Loosely interpreted, for sure..for a lot of us, but they had made fabric art and entered fabric art..and it had been accepted into the show.

I had not... and I had nothing. So, this piece taught me more about myself than perhaps about quilting. But it had its own impact...as all art should.

I had wasted two days searching for that 'perfect' fabric in a horrendously packrat garage and the next two days deep in a rut... and artistically paralyzed. I had created my own artist's block and now I was comparing what I was seeing with judgment.

There weren't very many entries in the "Flying Circus" challenge from a local quilt shop in this part of the bigger show and I know art is art and fabric is fabric. But what makes a quilt besides three layers sewn together? It doesn't have to be on a bed, obviously. It can be on a table, on a wall, hanging from a tree or a telephone pole or covering a car

But when does art quilt cross the line and become an 'installation' as some of those more unusual artists call their works.....you know the kind...silk banners all over Japanese hillsides...that kind of art. And when is an art quilt no longer a quilt?

So, yes, I still have my judgments and my thoughts on this. But I'm trying to be more open and not voice them out loud ...in public, out loud ;)

Well, it was interesting to think about... and good to know how, and why, I might judge. Judgment, as they say, is one finger pointing at someone else... and the rest of them pointing back at me. Ouch!

Sometimes art can bring out beauty and sometimes it brings out pain. I think I might just be bruised from this one ;) Will I enter the next quilt show challenge I am offered..I don't know. Will you?

Michele Bilyeu quilts for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) With Heart and Hands at www.with-heart-and-hands.com Join my friend-connect to receive my frequent updates on quilting, crafting,and updates for thousands and thousands of free patterns and tutorials.