Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding one's voice as an artist

That was the subject of a panel discussion I took part in this morning at the Northwest Quilt Expo. The panel was sponsored by Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). Here we are:

That is Laura Jaszkowski and Georgia French, our Oregon SAQA reps, on the left. They led the discussion. The panel consisted of Jill Hoddick, a beginning art quilter, myself and Gerrie Congdon. Gerrie was a substitute for Jean Wells Keenan, who was ill and could not make it. I think the discussion went pretty well.

Jill talked about how, as a newcomer to art quilting, she is eagerly taking in as much information, classes, books, magazines, shows as she can find. I agreed that was important as you begin your journey and how I had done the same thing for several years, but that I believe there comes a time when you process all that input and then go into your studio and listen to your own voice and begin to do your own work. Gerrie agreed and commented on how seductive those classes can be for someone as social and people-oriented as she is and that working on your own can sometimes feel a little isolating.

Boy, I look serious here, don't I? Maybe I was trying to answer the question about how we keep our work "fresh." Gerrie said she keeps hers in the refrigerator. Yuk, yuk! Then, more seriously, showed the sketchbook project that she is working on and she feels keeps her exploring new ideas. I had to admit that it was not something I ever think about. "Keeping it fresh" feels a little like marketing lingo to me—not really one of my strong points. Jill said she hadn't been at it long enough to have had an opportunity to be un-fresh.

At one point we were asked to define the difference between traditional and art quilts. I hate that question. It really gets people who make traditional quilts riled up. Many believe all quilts are art. Well, they can be depending on how you define art, so it is a no-win proposition if you disagree. I paraphrased Robert Shaw, the quilt historian, and defined art quilts as functionally as I could, as works of art, made using quilting techniques and materials and made with the intention of them being viewed and judged as art, not as functional objects. Jill and Gerrie had similar thoughts. I probably confused a few people when I went on to try to explain that I use the word "art" simply as a category of work, not as a value judgement on the quality of the work and that not everything that is beautiful is art, nor is all art beautiful.

We were asked what our personal goals were for the next five years regarding our art. I got a laugh when I said mine was to get organized. But that really is what I hope to do. In the coming months I will be sharing the plans we are finalizing for the small studio we will build for me to work in. I'd like to be able to work more consistently, enter a few more shows and build a coherent body of work that would be worthy of a show.

It was an interesting experience and worthwhile, just in making me think about some of these things and how I would answer these questions. I'm never very comfortable in front of a crowd, but it was OK. Exhausting though. Being "on" saps my energy. I came home and quilted all afternoon. All by myself. Ahhhhhhhh.


  1. Excellent summary! And to show the difference between you and me, the extrovert, I was on such a high that I could not settle down and get anything done. Not, exactly true. I came home to find a request for a Constant Contact e-mail with images which I completed and sent on its way.

  2. Thanks for the report. It is so refreshing to hear fabric artists concisely explain their philosophy and way of working.
    P.S. Gerrie's humor is priceless.

  3. Thanks for the recap, Terry. I'm like you... I can get up and do the public thing and enjoy it even, but then I need to go recharge.

  4. "I'm never very comfortable in front of a crowd ..."
    It looks as if the three of you are sitting on top of a table. I think it would be scary to be purched up so high.
    What was the setup?

  5. Sounds like a very interesting and inspirational talk. I wish I could have been there.

  6. I agree with Christine, you look like you were in a very precarious situation. I would have been sweating bullets wondering if I were going to make it down.

  7. I like your definition of art quilt. It's very similar to one I saw at a display of art quilts from the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum a few years ago (can't remember the name.) Anyway I liked it because it seems to remove value judgement and also includes the idea that some quilts have ALWAYS been made for the purpose of display rather than use; in other words art quilt is not some new-fangled thing to be sniffed at by the traditionally minded. Instead it continues and of course extends a tradition.

  8. Thanks for the summary Terry, sorry I missed the discussion.

  9. Anonymous4:49 AM

    Thank God you didn't lean backwards...or sneeze.