How QuiltCon Disturbed Me

I came home from QuiltCon with mixed feelings. Yes, QuiltCon was great! Yes, I came home inspired! Yes, I came home with inner turmoil!?

Let me explain…

Thomas Knauer, straight-up off-the-bat turned me inside out. His lecture on “modern vs. Modern” disturbed me tremendously. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is amazing. A former professor of design, he’s now a fab quilter and fabric designer, among other things. I loved both his lectures and could’ve/would’ve attended a third had there been one. But at the end of day one, I went back to the hotel feeling a little dejected.

Later that night, I sadly said to my husband, “I don’t think I’m a modern quilter.” I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it did. I guess I just wanted to be one of the cool kids. And, yeah, modern quilters are cool kids.

One of the cool kids: Thomas Knauer

Thomas Knauer’s lecture was jam packed with information and whether he meant it this way or not, I interpreted his words to mean that to be considered “modern” your work/art/quilt has to speak to the questions of the day. In my notes, I have the following jotted down: 

“…not just of its time, but about its time.”
“The fabric doesn’t matter, the reference does…”
 “…it’s not just about design and pretty…”
So this makes me wonder…If something is just pretty, does that mean it isn’t art? And honestly, “just pretty” in itself is hard to do. I can make an ugly quilt with my eyes closed. And while I hesitate to call the quilts I make art (that’s another discussion in itself) the quilts I do make are mute. There is absolutely no story behind them. Pretty, for my purposes, is what they’re all about.
I am in no way suggesting that the message given was “don’t make anything unless it has a message”. Actually, as Thomas wrapped up one of his lectures, he said this:
“Make good things. Sometimes they will be modern.”
Below is a photo of my quilt at the show. My foot was on the same playground. But in the scheme of things, being able to label myself a Modern Quilter just doesn’t matter. It won’t change the fabrics I use or the way I put patterns and colors together. It won’t increase my enjoyment of creating. And it won’t make the recipients of my quilts love them more.
And you know what? That’s okay. I can still hang with the cool kids.
P.S.  After several comments and emails, I must defend Thomas! He didn’t define modern as this or that, but simply discussed ideas as we have related them to art and the world around us for decades. Following his lecture I had a 20 minute discussion with the woman beside me. What a great thing! That’s exactly why I went to QuiltCon in the first place. To share ideas, to get out of my box, to shake it up…goal achieved!
And read the follow up to this post HERE.
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17 thoughts on “How QuiltCon Disturbed Me

  1. I actually just like to call myself a quilter. I'm not a traditionalist, modernist, scrappiest, etc. I like portions of them all. More important, as long as it speaks to me, that's ok. I hope no one turns their nose at something I create…at least not to my face!!

    You are you, and I have never seen you create something that isn't beautiful. I really don't care if it has a story or not! My stories all involve procrastination!!

  2. Everyone is entitled to their opinion– I just wonder why this guy spoke as if he had all the definitions and could make the rule as to what is "modern." And why does "modern" matter anyway? It is just a box. Don't try to put what you make in a box, make what pleases you, and if it pleases others, fine. If not, fine. Art doesn't have to have a message. Art doesn't have to be "of its time." Art is what YOU decide it is. Besides, if everyone tried to stay in a box, then there is no change, no growth, no evolution, and then– we would have no art.

  3. You are SEW one of the cool kids. I do not want to take anything away for Thomas Knauer, but that was just HIS opinion. The one thing I LOVE about (M)modern quilting is that there are NO RULES. You just keep rocking out your quilts, with or without what you think should be a story! I am a (M)modern quilter and I'm in love with your quilts!!!!!

  4. I think you may be underestimating yourself. I truly believe that the references and relationships are what matter, and that they must come from and be about now, but just want that means, and the scope of the references, and the stories any particular quilter tells is wide open. Now is a big and little thing and it is everywhere. I don't think everything is modern, but I do truly believe that once one is asking the questions that person is pretty much already there. Even the word pretty is complicated; just what is pretty. Asking what pretty is or might be and searching to find one's own relationship to that is a pretty modern concept (historically speaking). I think the essence of my talks boils down to modern being about stepping outside of and interrogating received wisdom. And part of that involves questioning one's relationship to the idea of modern itself. From talking to you and reading this post you seem to be deep in the throes of the modern crisis (and in so many ways modern is always a crisis). I also think it is important to be willing to be not-modern in the examination of modern. Right now is always a razor-thin instant in the flux of time; it is impossible to be precisely in it. Thus, what really matters is the work itself and one's relationship to it; even the point becomes to be part of a category the work is already profoundly bounded and limited and in many ways always about yesterday.

    In the end modern is really big, enormously so. It is always about more, but that doesn't mean it isn't also about all the little parts as well…

    Or at least that all is the case in my head.

  5. Interesting. I think the whole thing about modern vs traditional is a mixed bag anyway. I too wish I was a cool kid. But at the end of the day, I think the word MODERN is so many things.

    I don't listen just to one type of music. I don't sew just one kind of quilt. I like reading your words on your feelings about modern too.

    BTW, I think you are cool;)

  6. Modern art refers to a time not a style. I am familiar with Mr. K.'s work and don't really understand why he feels as though he is the person chosen to define modern. He's the one that's in the box, constricted by his own rules. You made a choice some time ago to challenge the norm and have pleased and inspired many along the way. Get togethers like Quilt Con are great opportunities to open one to the work of others, not to define and restrict. It's okay to challenge but it's not okay to constrict. Challenges open one's mind, constriction closes it.

  7. Jemellia told me a bit about Thomas' lecture. And it sounded really inspiring. Like a challenge to think about it, to think about what you produce, what you will produce, what it means to you, the community…. Why. Why do you do it? What does it give you? And knowing how much you and I alone have discussed this at meetings, retreat, etc…. I came away from QuiltCon feeling like…I'm a different person with every quilt I make. I grow, expand, change, develop, and revisit…all are a part of my life. My time. And I think that's part of what he's getting at. And knowing you and how you plan/attack projects…that's what you're doing. So, keep on keepin' on girl! 😉 Now we just need to find you time to do it.

    And if I haven't share with you my awkward encounter with TK…remind me. He was a hoot, but I felt like such a dork. lol I wish I saw you more there!!!!!

  8. Since you like being shaken up a bit – I wonder what you would come up with if given a theme from current events or a particular situation in your community. What would you be drawn to when choosing fabrics and how would having that theme in your mind affect how you piece it all together? I think it could be a really fun/rewarding project.

  9. OK, my Dear Friend – first, give yourself a freakin' break!!! Seriously? How can you say your quilts are not about our "Time". How many people do this anymore??? And "no story behind them"? PUUHHLLEEEZ!!! Your houndstooth had a story, your Seaside Avocado's had a story….and there's more. You do beautiful art…and I want to be JUST like you when I grow up.


  10. Aww, crud! I thought I WAS hanging out with the cool kid! ;). Seriously, though, I know what you mean. I felt QuiltCon was both inspiring and overwhelming, but it also confirmed for me that I am a quilter and a maker, but I'm not always "modern". I don't always like what wins the awards at a "modern" show, or the color schemes that have been deemed modern, or the designers that all the modern quilters rave about. I like what I make, and I like challenging myself to try to come up with things that are new and relevant to me. And sometimes I like just making things that are cute or pretty. Heck, I love batiks…how decidedly uncool am I! And yet you sat by me! And I was thrilled to meet you in person (and also happy to know you made it home ok)! 😉

  11. PLEASE don't be burdened by defining yourself. No limits – no labels. I have been sewing/quilting for more than 50 years and boy have I changed over that time. Just be open and I would suggest you not listen to anyone but yourself. Enjoy it. That's all that matters. And – by the way – your quilts and beautiful and you should be so proud.

  12. I just commented on your latest post then came back to this one. And here's my thought from someone who will turn 64 this summer so has a lot of quilting, stitching and creative experience and loads of life experiences……….if you enjoy stitching/designing the quilts you make then that should be enough. If you are stitching/designing the quilts just to be "one of the cool kids" then that's not a good reason to quilt. Do what you enjoy, not because someone else tells you it's what's in or what's cool. This reminds me of that old saying when your kids say "but mom, everyone is doing it!" to which my mother would reply…."so? if they were jumping off a cliff you'd do that?" You have talents and gifts. We all do. Each of us has our own way of expressing it. I don't like every quilt, song, photograph, book, etc. that's out there but I can appreciate every ounce of work that someone put into what they created. Just keep creating and you'll be fine. Sometimes it might be modern and sometimes not, but if you are creating, then you are alive. Just my 2 cents worth.

  13. As someone that has been professionally quilting for 12 years, I couldn't have agreed with Thomas' lecture more. There are so many topical, vapid, surface quilts. And for me and Thomas, two FINE ARTISTS with art school backgrounds….it's offensive to our education. It's really ignorance, but at the same time, I cannot expect every stay-at-home mom to understand how my quilt is influenced by Basquiat. Think about it from the other side—so many of us are striving to create ART, not just a freaking blanket. Your blog offended my culture. I respect who you are, but I feel that you are misguided and upset that you are not in some proverbial "in crowd" that you self-defined. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it's not there. I ask you just to dig a little bit deeper. With all due respect, and with no intent to be malicious, just simply my opinion.

    And for the comment that was cowardly anonymous: "art doesn't have to have a message"……seriously? Sigh. In the immortal words of Kaffe Fasset, "Some people just don't get it."

  14. In trying to make a criticism, you have chosen a very poor reference indeed! "I cannot expect every stay-at-home mom to understand how my quilt is influenced by Basquiat." Please! Basquiat was a homeless, drug addicted alcoholic with no art degree. I'm pretty sure he would argue that they were meaningless. Additionally, I'm fairly certain that the women of Gee's bend do not hold art degrees either. How dare you label someone elses quilts as "topical" or "vapid" when you know nothing of the maker or their intentions?! But then again, what do I know, I'm only a stay at home mother.

  15. Bravo Andrea! To *Remnants* ~ Art degrees do not equal talent. Art degrees do not enable the innate ability to see design, color, shape and how they fit together. And shame on you for dissing "stay at home moms". What does that have to do with being able to create art? You need to rethink your narrow minded view of art and apologize to "stay at home moms" everywhere!!!

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