Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Art Quilts - a personal view (beware .. serious post!)

This is a bit of a rare serious post, but one I would like to make .. so please bear with me!
Some of you will know that I recently I joined up with Annabel Rainbow to look at creating some sort of group/forum/something to champion British Art Quilts. We both felt that the judging of art quilts at Festival of Quilts  showed a fundamental misunderstanding and lack of appreciation of what what art quilts are about. Annabel started us up with  facebook page and we arranged to meet up when we were both quieter after getting exhibitions off our hands. We both feel very strongly that the art part of the quilt needs a much better understanding and fairer judging ... and needs  some judges coming from art rather than quilt backgrounds. As we talked about various ideas to take this all forward, it became clear that whilst we agree on so many issues, we actually have a fundamental difference in how we view and define art quilts. So after discussion we decided we would still offer mutual support, but would take our own routes forward, as the two would dilute and complicate one other. A recent post on the FB page. very much highlighted this difference of position between us, and I think it would be useful to clarify where we stand ... the discussions become very confusing otherwise!! So I am posting my response to that post here too, as I know many people don't use FB, andI would like to make my views quite clear. So here it is:

I undoubtedly make art, but when I choose to call that art, an art quilt, I feel an obligation to show respect to the tradition that has given me that word. Otherwise, I would just call it art (and sometimes I do - not all my work falls in the art quilt arena). I choose to make quilts on occasions as I do love the format, but also because I love the connection to all those women in the past, who were compelled to make something beautiful out of necessity. They could not avoid but try to use their materials creatively and it is that heritage I want to honour. But I do not see conflict with this and my art ... I have choice about what definitions I use for each piece. I do not want to dump or forget that heritage.  My feeling is that if you don’t feel any connection to that history .. then why are you even using the word ‘quilt’ (I am aware that you may not Marion).  So that is where I stand – I am passionate about art quilts and want to see this unique and (almost all) feminine form of art respected and displayed in the art world, embracing all it’s roots. And I do believe you can instigate change from within. I only have to look at the number of students and currently visitors to my exhibitions, who have told me that I am converting them from purely traditional quilts to a real appreciation of how art can be expressed through the medium and a desire to move forward to try and embrace the concept of art quilts. I am sure it helps that they know I have a full understanding of and admiration for our quilting history. This is not a revolution I know – but showing by example is a good route to change – and  will stand the test of time in the future. 
All this said. I respect and understand that Annabel (and yourself) are coming at this from a much more activist sort of a place, and do not wish to be burdened or held back by any connection to the past history of quilting and of course the inevitable misunderstandings and confusion that causes. Annabel is an extremely talented fine artist and has a mission in her mind, to cut through the past and simply concentrate on the art part of the quilt. She is still working out exactly the best way to achieve this, but I am very confident she will – old Beanbonce is an activist without doubt.
But I just could not, and even on reflection, cannot feel comfortable with this severance of all that is past. For me personally that would feel a betrayal and lack of respect for a very female history– please note the word ‘personally’ – I am not making a comment on others choices/beliefs here. I also have too much regard for and far too many friends in the Guild to want to draw such a line of separation from what they stand for.  
So I shall aim for change from within I guess and you two can spearhead your pressure group for severance from without. I hope both groups can support and respect one another … our common ground is that we all love art! – Hilary B

I hope it is not necessary to say that Annabel and I are still great mates and will remain mutaully supportive of one anothers paths. And we both like cake alot too.
I promise the next post will be back to lots of lovely images and my usual not very serious style - Hilary x


  1. In one way, life would be much easier if bed quilts were known as quilts, and the rest of it, as textile art, rather than quilt art. But life isn't like that ;-))). I call my work textile art, you're right, but equally, the description of a quilt also applies in a technical sense, given that a quilt is a piece of work that has several layers (at least more than two), with stitch holding the layers together. To be honest, I don't see why I can't call my work art quilts if I chose to.

    Having said in my FB post that there is a schism within art quilting between those of us who use traditional techniques and believe themselves to be rooted within the tradition, and those who don't, I wonder if the truth is actually closer to this: I respect the tradition, and use many of the techniques used by traditional quilters, but I use them outwith the traditional format of following patterns. Furthermore, my work expresses ideas, feelings and emotions, and I use the techniques as I need to, to express these. I leave interpretation to the viewer.

    None of this, however, means that I don't respect the tradition; I'm just coming to things from a different perspective. That doesn't make me a traditional quilters' enemy... but it does mean that my work is routinely denigrated as 'not a quilt', when, technically, it clearly is.

    1. Hi Marion - I agree with so much you say - I like to push the tradition as far as I can too and also get very pissed off when I am told my work is not a quilt, when it clearly is.I also agree that you and anyone else can call their work an art quilt if you choose .. we live in a free country thank goodness! But that is where I don't feel comortable for myself ... if I call something an art quilt, as opposed to a collage, a piece, textile art, painting etc etc (all of which descriptions I do use), then I feel an obligation to honour that words' historical sense and meaning - which for me is 'layers held together'. Others don't have to, but I feel I do. Now I would include two sheets of metal held together with bolts as a modern quilt, two peolpe held together by love/hate/guilt etc, as a modern interpretaion of quilt ... a real push of definitions, but for me, the history and meaning need to be respected and that means a definition. . I understand the wish to be free of this possible burden ... and will honestly support you two whereever you take this ... but I just can't ignore the historiacal connotations of the word quilt. Does that make sense?? - Hilary x

  2. I can see where you are coming from Hilary and thank you for taking the time to articulate your thoughts on this. I agree with you that, although your work is both contemporary and innovative, it is still grounded in the quilting tradition. I have little interest in that tradition although I respect those who do. I feel that textile art is a better description for many pieces out there than using the word quilt which immediately raises the expectations of reference to tradition. There is, fortunately room for everyone out there and I look forward to seeing to where you and Annabel travel.

    1. Thanks for this response Maggi - and I am glad to hear you use the word respect ... it is so key I think. We can all differ, but respecting anothers view allows so much more useful discussion and avoids defensive retreating to the extremes. I think you are right about using the word textile art for a lot of work ... quilt is a word with a definition and history, so if you don't want to concern yourself with that - don't use it. I wouldn't call a piece of art an oil painting if it wasn't, a cubist interpretation if it wasn't, a coolagraph if it wasn't, etc etc etc .. for me it ls that simple. But again - I know others don't see it that way and I am fine with that ... it's a big world! - Hilary x