I recently read some criticism about art quilters: that they tend to be more interested in learning techniques than Art. But I’m not so sure that this is student driven, or that it’s a bad thing. I do feel that every option should be open, however, and that excellence be recognized. I have noticed in the last 3 years that I’ve been teaching workshops at various retreats and conferences that there is definitely an emphasis on learning specific techniques and on making a specific projects.
Michael James is reported to have caused considerable controversy by suggesting that quilters as a group are noticeably ignorant of contemporary art and design and that they prefer to learn specific techniques – ways of piecing, or f**ing (!) or appliqué or surface design. Why does this happen? Is this chance? The teachers’ choice? The students’ choice? Or the perception of the organizers as to what will be most popular?
In my own workshops I definitely focus on everyone (especially me!) learning more about art and the basic principles that aid in the composition of a successful design. ( Least you skeptics ask what a successful design is (!), I would define it operationally: What d’you want to communicate with your quilt? And – is that idea actually communicated? Do people want to look at it for a long time, and do they want to keep coming back to look at it? Does it reward their persistence?) Obviously you need to bear your audience in mind too – what would intrigue an Appalachian truck driver is not going to interest a
Which, by the way, is where some art quilters of note go wrong – they want to be collected by museums but at the same time sell to interior decorators – there’s probably some overlap in the taste of curators and designers, but I doubt it’s much.
I think it’s important to have a good basic knowledge of composition and design, and how to evaluate a potential design. It’s important to plan ahead, testing designs on paper, working first to be creative, then to evaluate. Right brain – left brain….a continual sequence. The emphasis of the workshops I teach is on the importance of learning more about art, and the thrill of taking the first steps on a long and fascinating journey. Those who take the class tell me this is the information they’ve been wanting – that they want solid art knowledge – they want to know why a piece is strong or weak and how to improve it. Many of the students are willing to put in the time necessary to learn more about colour, line, balance and so on.
There are, however, several reasons people take classes: some definitely do want to learn more about art, others are there for fun. There’s nothing wrong with being a “Sunday quilter”!! Others love to go every year and don’t really care which teacher they get because they meet up with friends and this is their annual holiday, others go because they want to go home with a finished piece plus the formula for making more such pieces. It isn’t always possible - or desirable – to try to satisfy all these needs within one class. I think it would be helpful to educate the people who set up the conferences to the need for all kinds of classes. I have actually had the experience of being told to keep the “art information” to a minimum and instead to encourage the people to make work as fast as they can so as to finish a piece before the end of the class!
Students have different agenda, and so do the organizers of the various conferences/guilds/retreats. I have met many students who sincerely want to improve their work and who recognize that there is a lot of work out there – frequently winning prizes – that is very weak. But I have met few organizers who feel that way. It actually really isn’t in their interests to do so. Think about it: if you are a business – d’you want to teach somebody something where they can make lots of things (and thus need to buy lots of supplies), or d’you want to set up a class where students are encouraged to slow down and think hard at each stage in the process……
The reason there has been so much emphasis on technique and very little attention paid to learning more about art is because the former sells more classes and products than the latter.
Also people have less and less time and are thus easily led into buying magazines or workshops that promise “fast and easy” results. I do not think it’s because there is anything lacking in Art Quiltmaking per se, nor in Art Quiltmakers! As long as those who want to learn about art within the context of quiltmaking can do so – all is well!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!
PS for more abstract quilts based on the medieval buildings in my home town please visit my website!