The quilt world got another dose of controversy recently, this one sparked by a blog post from The Modern Quilt Guild at the end of July (note that the original post underwent changes based on some uproar from the community, and was then taken down and archived, with this one in its place – and the original+comments is now a 44 page PDF that you can’t get to unless you have a login to the MQG site). They are attempting to draw a line around what could be considered “derivative” with respect to entering shows. A rather HARD line.
Several friends and colleagues have ably commented on their perceptions of this statement by the MQG (and I will link them up at the end of the post). I found it heavy-handed, exclusionary, and sadly in opposition to what I perceive to be the role of any organization in quilting… that of promoting inclusion, and encouraging people to learn, and to enjoy making more stuff. I didn’t see the post as supportive or reflective of the membership, and I also question how it supports members who make a living through teaching when it’s scaring their students away. I have heard/read so many people who now believe they shouldn’t take a class or enter a work in the MQG’s QuiltCon show, based on their interpretation of the MQG’s statement.
And this really saddens me.
Instead of exuberant curiosity for new frontiers, I see a contraction of interest based in fear of the MQG handing down judgement. And I see the likely rise of a new type of quilt police (oh no!) helmed by people who are going to nitpick the definition of derivation to death and beat us about the head with it. Won’t that be fun?
While Fear is pretty much always Art’s companion (for a brilliant discussion on this, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic*), Fear should never be in charge of stopping you from making art. Fear also gets the upper hand if you let it keep you from learning more about HOW to make your art. Fear can be a real party-pooper, and frankly, we should push back on anyone that tries to use fear as a tactic to control us, in the arts or otherwise.
Taking classes from masters and copying their work is a time-honored tradition in art. Entire schools were founded on this principle during the Renaissance, and artists toiling in the masters’ studios don’t seem to have stifled innovation in the arts in any way for centuries. To assume such studying could squelch quilting is, to my mind, a disturbing vote of no-confidence in the abilities of our makers to continue to evolve. We haven’t failed yet, and I don’t see it coming anytime soon.
Few, if any, of us are born into any art or craft with a master’s knowledge and prowess. We gain mastery by practice. We figure out what to practice by getting curious about something that turns us on. We buy the book, follow the maker on social media, and take a class from them if we get the opportunity. To “copy” a master is to hope that walking in their footsteps for a day will give you access to a little of the magic that drew you to them in the first place.
Let me give you an example from my beloved photo professor, Larry Lytle. He encouraged every one of us to go sit on a hill, in the dark, next to a curvy road, and capture that long exposure shot of the headlights winding around a bend. You know this picture, you’ve seen it a thousand times. Well, so had Larry. He would have been happy to never see another, but he emphasized the importance in learning how to make it. To fire off an hour’s worth of exposures was to learn what you needed to do to capture it, and those lessons were the foundation of other things necessary to a photographic practice. I leaned heavily (and gratefully) on that lesson when I set out to take pictures of fireworks, because learning the skill was the point, not making the picture:
The same goes for us in quilting. Make the 4-patch and 9-patch while you are figuring out your basic skills. Graduate to more complex patterns. At some point, take that knowledge and graduate to making something that has no published pattern, if and only if you so desire. Keep learning. Keep making. Keep getting inspired by what you see.
KEEP ENJOYING. Suffering for art is a terribly tired trope. Have FUN with it, for heaven’s sake.
Should you enter it in a show? Maybe. Maybe not. If you’re worried that QuiltCon might be too judge-y for your modern quilt, then there are plenty of other venues to offer it to. The MQG is not the only game in town; there are larger, more established venues with waaaay more foot traffic that would love to see your work.
But consider this too: If you are only making your work for a competition, I think you’re missing the boat. Such fame is fleeting, and in the big picture, being Quilt Famous is to be a notable fish in a very small pond. Out in the big world we barely register. Making for shows can also unleash the Perfectionism Monster, a cousin of Fear, who likes to keep us paralyzed. Who needs this Dynamic Duo of Destruction?
Not me. Not you, either.
Why not, instead, make your work for the joy of expressing your vision? For the challenge of conquering an idea? For the victory of figuring out something that was really hard? To just make something beautiful?
Competition, schmompetition. Quilting is so much more than its blue ribbons. And so are you.
There is one upside to the MQG edict on derivatives though. It should mean we’ll see less of the “wonky improv log cabins in a field of negative space, matchstick quilted to death” quilts, right? Which, if you know your quilt history, are derived from Nancy Crow, Gwen Marston, and the ladies of Gee’s Bend. Just sayin’.
Good posts to read:
Mandy Leins of Mandalei: You can’t break up if there wasn’t a relationship in the first place
Juliet, the Tartan Kiwi: Copyright/Copywrong
Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio: United We Stand
Lighthouse Lane Designs: Of Cabbages and Copyrights
*NOT an affilate link – and the audiobook is superb 🙂
What a mess. I had been unaware of the controversy but followed your link to the original post and read it and the comments. What slays me is how vague these quilt police define their rules and criteria, yet feel able to judge what can and can’t be entered. I think the original MQG post was ill-considered and is now being defended by them in somewhat of an embarrassed fashion. What weasel words! ‘Only a court can decide’ what is and isn’t derivative and yet the MQG will judge you negatively if you try to enter something that some undefinable ‘they’ think is a copied design. This can only stifle the industry if people take it seriously.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this debacle – you raise some great points which have not been covered elsewhere. The MQG has several times revised their “definition” of what they believe to be modern, each time without consultation or notification from/to their members. It increasingly appears as if the leadership there feels that the membership are their flock – of sheep – to direct as they please, to be delivered sermons which cannot be questioned.
NB, a couple of other posts you might want to consider linking to:
“Why not, instead, make your work for the joy of expressing your vision? For the challenge of conquering an idea? For the victory of figuring out something that was really hard? To just make something beautiful?”
Brilliant. And all good expressions to see in a show. Whether incorporating trends and derivations or not (and I think that in some way, there’s always a connection to what’s come before), it’s all worthy of appreciation.
Well that’s as clear as mud.
“…there is nothing new under the sun…(ECC 1:9 The New International Bible) MQG is taking itself waaay too seriously. The rest of us will just enjoy quilting.
I love that you are addressing this issue with such positivity. That shows, in addition to your general great disposition, another difficult lesson in art education: constructive criticism. We can all find flaws in an argument, statement, piece of work, but the learning part is being able to pinpoint those flaws and come up with a different approach to move beyond. Thank you again for bringing a level and well-thought perspective to this discussion, Sam!
I don’t know who is worse the people who spout pretentious bull****
or the people who pay too much heed to the bull****er.
thank you – thank you – thank you… for reminding us to find the fun in quilting 🙂 it is what brought us here the first place! I always remind my fellow quilters that if you are not enjoying what you are creating then what is the point? do what you love, the rest will follow 😉
Great post! From day one of quilting, I have said that I will never enter my quilt in a show. Friends would say “Never say never!” I am not the least bit interested in having someone judge a quilt that I’ve put my heart and soul in to making. I’m just making beautiful things because it makes me (and the recipients of my quilts) happy.
Wonderful article, thanks so much for posting this. Making it, learning it is the point–always. XOXO
Well said, Sam! It’s all about the joy of making, expressing, experimenting and learning.
Such an excellent post. Thank you for articulating my thoughts so eloquently ; )
This is the best post that I have seen on this topic! There is no need for panic…WE are in control here. As I always say about so many things, “It’s my hobby…not my job.” (However, I do realize that for some people that is not totally true). Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! (and let’s see how many cliches I can fit in one run-on paragraph!)
Thanks for reminding us that our quilting should be enjoyed and not stifled! A lady in my quilt group always asks me who/what I’m making my latest project for. I always put my hand on her arm, look her in the eyes, and say “For no one. For nothing. just for the joy of making it.” I’ve been quilting for 40+ years, and I still love it. Period.
Sam, thanks for this lovely positive spin on a topic elsewhere approached negatively. Having come of age in the 60s this kerfluffle reminds me of a quote from the time: we are the people our parents warned us about. Ha! Be joyful. Celebrate one another.
You always bring such insightful thoughts and keep us on our good toes. Thank you for all you do for the quilt world. I agree that if you are not having fun quilting, then why do it? For someone else?? That is the way to get dragged into the mud.
Thank you Ursula!
Hey there. Just wondering if I said something that offended you in my comment? I am curious as you are clearly vetting comments for more than just spam. I don’t think I said anything out of line but I wanted to follow up in case.
Thanks! x Allison
Sorry, I see that you have now approved my comment. Thanks. I didn’t see it for a while and was concerned I had put my large boot in my big mouth and done something to offend someone that I was intending to support.
Actually, my comment system put your comment on hold because of the links you put in it (it tags those automatically as spam) and I just missed seeing that it wasn’t active. I don’t actively hold comments for approval, I sort of let the chips fall as I think an active dialog is a good thing, as long as it’s not hostile 🙂 I think I’ve killed maybe a handful of comments over the lifetime of my blog – all for what I consider to be an unacceptable level of ugly – this is, after all, my house.
As for the links you shared – I did not add them to my blog because 1: I’ve been traveling so handling this wasn’t at the top of my list and 2: 13 Spools says “its OK to copy my quilts even if you don’t buy the pattern” and I just want to boil over on that statement. It’s NOT OK. The people creating the intellectual property are owed a portion of the revenue stream, and saying this hurts us all. She has another job, so she can afford to say it, but I don’t – this is my entire livelihood, and I need the support of all makers to raise the bar on this. Every time we give something up for free, we teach the buying public that free is the going rate. When a blogger/designer legitimizes it through writing it on their blog, it now can be pointed to as evidence that “she doesn’t mind” so why am I whining about getting paid?
Anyway – thanks for caring enough to write. Yep… interesting times.
While I was looking back in my mind’s eye while reading this, I was thinking about the Dear Jane quilts, that memorialized the initially known quilt blocks — hundreds of little blocks from the 1700’s … it just doesn’t matter how wonky the MQG makes churn dash blocks using gray fabric, it’s still derivative from the churn dash blocks women were making 300 years ago … and leaving ‘negative space’ in quilts is derivative from Amish quilts from hundreds of years ago …. the entire attempt to patent and define a ‘movement’ in art is ridiculous. It’s why ‘movements’ in art are called movements — they don’t have firm edges — all art is a flowing stream of creativity that eddies here and there, emphasizing an idea or perspective for a while — and then flows on again toward something new ….
thanks, this was a delightfully stimulating way to start my day!
I totally agree with the value of imitation as a learning tool. I wish I knew enough art history to know if those students who copied the masters got famous for their copies or not until they had somehow developed their own style. If you have examples near your fingertips, I’d like to know.
I’m also making a comparison to writing. I’ve written many a term paper that was a good exercise in learning, but it was not publishable. To what extent is a quilt show like/unlike publishing?
Hi Claire – one of the most cited examples in art history is a young Leonardo Da Vinci’s angel in a Verrocchio painting – info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baptism_of_Christ_(Verrocchio). Camille Claudel did a lot of hands and feet for Rodin, and had a career as a sculptor herself, but her career was stunted by Rodin’s refusal to support her talent (while continuing to enjoy a relationship with her as his mistress). He was a brilliant artist, but not a great human 🙂
As for the quilt show… each show makes its own rules, so it’s important to know what they are when you enter. It’s effectively their party, so they can refuse to invite the quilts they don’t deem a good fit for whatever reason. Some shows are happy to hand examples that have obviously sprung from other sources (like patterns), others look for something else. Knowing what they want is the first step to getting in.
Thanks. Fascinating! Seems the fame of the baptism painting came after Leonardo became famous for his own work. Is there anyone famous for a piece that is totally in a master’s style, almost a copy? (And not one first mistaken for the master’s)?
As to quilt show/publication, what you describe shows the parallel almost exact. One would not submit for publication to a journal with a very different mission than the article submitted.
Can’t think of one off the top of my head. The fine art I see copied most in fiber is Klimt’s work – the women in gold. Anything that tiles in different colors is usually a riff (knowingly or otherwise) on Warhol – who got inspiration for that by being in church with his family a lot, looking a walls and walls of paintings of orthodox icons. Art comes from anywhere and everywhere!
I do love a good wonky log cabin in negative space, but I wouldn’t ever want to enter it in a quilt show! My quilts are made to snuggle with, not necessarily to hang in a big building so people can stare at them. I say this but I just took a class from Melissa Averinos who won Judges Choice AND Best in Show at QuiltCon but she kept saying over and over that her work is more art quilt than modern quilt. Do you think they did it so that they would have fewer people entering QuiltCon and therefore fewer being in an uproar about being rejected?
The MQG are the self-professed keepers of he modern movement, and defining it is important to them. QuiltCon is their flagship show, and the set the rules to support their definition. I’m not sure why it was important to speak about the “derivative”. I think they should have perhaps spoken to their membership before they did it, but they are soliciting input now. I hope it was done to hopefully encourage some really original work, and that we keep an eye on and call out any inclusion of what seems to be the popular cronies. As for rejection – as long as judging is in the hands of humans (who are as different as snowflakes) there will always be differing opinions as to what is acceptable and/or good. With rules, you have something by which to measure these very subjective things. I will say this tho… if you want to enter this or any other show, read the rules and follow them. Don’t deliver something that doesn’t fit and then be surprised to be rejected.