Thursday, March 31, 2011

why I make quilts

Something was up. Yesterday I suddenly began getting comments on a blog that I posted way back in November. The gist of these comments were all pretty negative--I didn't know what I was talking about, I had no business appointing myself as an art critic, my quilts were fine but they didn't like them. Clearly there was something behind this besides lots of passion. But why?

An e-mail I received in support of my position let me know that my blog post had been mentioned in an article on a large Yahoo group that I am not part of. OK. That post raised the question whether the American Craft magazine should have published an article on the "modern" quilt movement. Was this what American Craft was about? For those interested you can read the post here and the comments are the last five.

Now I welcome all readers to my blog and am interested in their comments--I try to raise issues that I interest me. Isn't that what blogs should do? However,  I do wish they had read further posts--if they had they would discover that I have also questioned whether some of the quilts in the so-called Art Quilt movement are art. What is craft? What is the relationship between craft and art? Can art be functional? Indeed the essential issue I keep returning to again and again is what is art--if that question matters and where do quilts--and in particular my quilts--fit within this framework?

An interesting question and one made even more difficult within the context of one of the traditions of quilt making--the reliance on patterns.

Now I will be the very first to admit that I love many of the so-called traditional quilt patterns. My sister--alas--received the double wedding ring quilt that my grandmother made. I remember as a child sorting through the patterns that Granny had clipped from the newspaper back during the Depression. Not that she would ever purchase a pattern--there were much better uses of her hard earned money after all. But these patterns were the beginning of dreams--quilts that could be. It is my understanding that many of the so-called traditional patterns were actually designed back then.

Indeed the first quilt that I made was an Ohio star. Yes, I even sewed it by hand. Oh those long endless seams. Green and brown calico fabric. How excited I was though to see the patterns within patterns that evolved from such a simple design.  I still enjoy looking at the quilts that guild members have made when I give a presentation. There are so many colors and designs my mind always spins.

But--and this is a large but--I think that quilts can go beyond this--to a place where they do become art. Now art is of course a concept that is hard to define. Is it something you know when you see it? Is it a universal? And where does the craft world intersect the art world?

Good questions. I think of the work of Heather Allen-Swarttouw that I saw at CraftBoston. Clearly that is art. You can read about it here. The quilts of Erin Wilson that I saw at the Baltimore Craft Show--you can see some of them here. I think of the quilts that I can visualize way of in the horizons of my mind here--the ones that I strive for. The feelings that keep me going and that are both personal and universal.

I pick up my latest copy of American Craft magazine. Along with their reviews and bright pictures of what is new I also see a quiet article--a retrospective of the pottery of Karen Karnes. The retrospective is now showing in Asheville, NC--you can read about it here. Now I actually met Karen once ages ago. We were both doing the Philadelphia Museum of Art Show. She at the end of her career and me at the beginning. The image that comes to my mind is of Karen and her partner dollying her work into the show just like the rest of us. Craftspeople commenting in amazement that she was still doing shows. How I wish I had purchased something then--I should have. Her work was simple, elegant and functional. So basic and essential.

And this is the concept that I see in my quilts. That distant horizon that looms in the distance. That desire to find what is simple and essential about quilts. This is my vision--this is what my questioning is about. This is why I get up in the morning and what I think about as I go to sleep at night.

And you--what is your vision? Why do you get up in the morning? Is there a universal concept as to what art is? What do you think?


  1. I personally don't see anything wrong with your earlier blog post and think it's unfortunate that people have taken you to task for sharing your opinion and some very valid questions about quilting and art. I thought your critique was well thought out and not at all personal, unlike the Amazon reviewer who really got Malka's "dander up."

  2. I agree that you know it when you see it -- that's about the best definition I can think of. Because otherwise it's too prickly to put a finger on -- so many voices in the argument! So what gets me up in the morning is the hope that my best work, the real thing, the ART, is yet to come. I enjoy your blog, Ann. Keep doing what you do.

  3. If you have issues with the artists American Craft magazine is featuring, maybe you need to question their choices and not the artist. Most artists would never turn down the opportunity to be featured so the responsiblity of the magazine's content goes directly back to the editorial staff.

  4. Thanks Elizabeth for your kind words.

    Patty--I agree with you. It is American Craft magazine that I question and the direction of the craft movement as a whole.

  5. Thanks so much Susan. Love your work and blog too.

  6. I own one of Malka's quilts. I commissioned her to make it, and for us, it is a shared vision. I look at it, and I can almost hear the rustle of autumn leaves and smell the bittersweet of burning jack o lanterns. I sleep under it, I make love under it, I LIVE under it. It inspires me and it feeds my soul. If that's not art, then I don't know what is.

  7. I think most people feel it was a personal attack on Malka and her quilting abilities and not so much an arguement about art.
    Whether you are misunderstood in your November post or you have just changed your thought process, I think your November post could have been hurtful to Malka and to those of us that find her work fascinating...
    sorry you are getting so much heat on the subject.

  8. Thank you Kelly for your kind and considered words. I truly did not mean my post to be an attack on anyone or to be hurtful and am sorry for any pain that I caused.

  9. I really appreciate your comments. I saw Karen Karnes work at Haystack one year, beautiful. and I am drawn to Heather Allen Swarttouw's work too. I once took a class with her- Haystack again.
    Great seeing you at Craft Boston!

  10. Thanks Wen. Great seeing you and your work also. Hope you survived driving in Boston.