Lately I've been following some discussions about the field: the art quilt in the fine art world, the shortcomings and advantages of entering juried quilt shows, the path of the artist to success. These discussions (which I suppose take place among artists of all sorts) are certainly stirring my brain dust.
Principally, I have been following the thoughtful discourse on the blog of Lisa Call, whose quilt work and writing both I admire, Rather than recap her remarks and that of those commenting on her posts, I invite you to look in on the conversation. Perhaps you will find them as delightully disturbing as I did.
First, I need to tell myself (and you if you stay with me) my story as an artist. Warning: this may be far more than you want to know about me, but in order for me to get to where I am trying to go with this "success" discussion, I really need to succinctly chart where I have come from.
My path into art quilts is a bit odd. I was always an arty kid -- hand me a crayon and I was one happy kid. My parents enrolled me in an innovative and creative art/theater program at Baylor University, after I had won and had to leave behind a scholarship to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts school. A bit later, I earned an art degree (B.A.) from a liberal arts university in the late '60s -- about the time that even conservative universities were throwing out some of the traditional curricula and giving students a rather freehand in their education. For my senior project I sewed a room full of paper bag sculptures -- no one really got it. And, as a young woman, I was still (in 1970) living in a rather patriarchal world where it seemed pretty impossible to be a "real" artist. (I never learned anything about how I might make a living as an artist at university!)
Continuing within the construct of an arts-in-education research and teacher training foundation (the outgrowth of that childhood theater program) I made art banners/tapestries. I was inspired by Martha Mood, whose work stirs me, and Becky Crouch Patterson, whose wonderful fabric wall art dances in my memory when I sit down to work. I also ran into Sister Mary Corita (Corita Kent) though work with several of her students who taught me the joy of found imagery, to cut rather than draw, and to make a mean alphabet stamp. My personal art work was mostly within the context of community art projects, collaborations with children, using a variety of media for installations, exhibits, art works and experiences -- Happenings, books, banners, and performance events. Some of which took place in quite prestigious settings -- the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Blaffer Gallery at U of H, to name a few.
Ten years after that art education career had morphed into journalism, and then to work as a designer of interactive exhibitsmostly for children's museums -- I found myself wanting desperately to make art of my own. I added art cloth techniques and a devotion to making it via study with Jane Dunnewold. Then I took a weekend workshop with Sue Benner and WonderUnder was the answer to a question I hadn't even figured out to ask. Jumping into the world of art quilts with the mentoring of Jane, of Beth Kennedy, of Judi Goolsby, of Leslie Jenison and many others who worked and talked and shared ideas and techniques at Art Cloth Studios, I have in the past 8 years slowly but steadily found my voice in cloth, in art. Through conversations and our Complex Cloth sales booth I discovered the Houston International Quilt Show, that there was such a thing as an art quilt, and that maybe that's what I was making. Along the way I had joined Fiber Artists of San Antonio, (intentionally not-a-guild group, but still with some guildish qualities, like juried exhibits).
You notice, there is scarce mention of quilting or quiltmaking in any of this. And hardly anything about sewing, except that I had to learn to do it in order to keep the WonderUndered edges in place. I didn't even know it was called raw edge applique. So now, 13 years after taking that first complex cloth class, I find myself a fulltime professional artist and teacher. And not quite sure how to define success, or at least not the NEXT success.
I haven't entered any national art quilt juried shows -- but, yes, have had work in local and regional fiber arts exhibits. I've been part of several invitational shows or exhibits put together at the sort-of co-op gallery that I was part of for three years. Part of my reluctance to enter the big time national quilt juried exhibits is that I really don't have the precise sewing skills that seem to be highly valued in such venues. To tell you the truth, I don't really care about burying my threads or making a perfect mitered corner (I avoid the whole binding issue by just edge-stitching around the edges.)
So, this is where I've been. Next, where to go? It seems I've gotten here without much planning -- I just knew eight years ago that I did not ever want to have to take a fulltime job working for someone else. I've managed that. But now I need to chart the next ten. And as I turn 59 in a couple of weeks, my sense of time is certainly not what it was when I was 35 or 45.
I still feel awfully new around here. Only since I've been reading some good blogs by quilt artists, have I even begun to fathom the pathways and pitfalls to "success" in this in-between art world. I still bristle against the capitol A Art World that, to me, has often worked itself into such an elite language, that the work fails in approachability. I see a place in the world for this level of visual art work -- but for me, and I think to many people, its relationship to where we live daily is the much the same as that of string theory or particle physics. Perhaps it's important that someone is doing that work, but it doesn't touch me much, and I'm not really aiming at being in a contemporary art museum anytime soon. I have a parallel and equally passionate devotion to the teaching part of my life (a vocation I have followed since age 12). I'm not sure whether I make art to have validity as a teacher, or teach to have viability as an artist. So where am I headed? Stay tuned for Art and Quilts and Art Quilts. part two. And maybe, if you are an artist, you might try this same map charting exercise. What got you here?