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Friday, May 11, 2012

Where is the Art? My Opinion...............

White Coneflowers, by Ann Fahl, my first "big" prize winner!
So I've been home from the big show in Paducah for awhile, and have been re-evaluating what I've seen and where my quilts should be displayed in the future.  As I walked through the show this time, instead of being overwhelmed by all the amazing work; I realized that my work no longer belonged there. Why? This is my same old song.  I am troubled by the lack of good design in so many quilts at so many shows. Oh yes, there were some wonderful pieces in the AQS show, but there were some that were not. AQS has been very supportive of me and my work, so I'd like to make it clear that this is about my opinion on what I see in all competitions, not just in Paducah.

What direction is the quilting world headed? I've been asking myself this for some time now, and my answer is: I don't understand where it's going and I don't want to follow along; I need to take my own path. It is  important that my quilts are uncluttered in design with strong visual impact.

A Brighter Day, by Ann Fahl, the most prize winning quilt I have ever made
I love thread work, of all kinds, but quilter's have gotten all tied up with doing too much thread work and heavy heavy machine quilting--to the extreme!  We have forgotten that the original design of the quilt is the most important element, the thread work in whatever form, just adds texture and surface interest.  As we have gone overboard on the heavy quilting, so have the quilt judges.  They are impressed by the quantity and quality of the thread work and they seem to have forgotten to consider the overall impact of the color and design of the quilt FIRST.

In my opinion, the overall design should be the first consideration when judging, then the workmanship should be considered next. In other words, only those quilts with good design should be selected from the category, then the workmanship should be evaluated to determine which ones are winners.  It appears to me that the quilting/thread work is evaluated first and wins the judges consideration so the design qualities are overlooked. This would account for so many quilts with poor design winning at shows. Yes the quilting is totally amazing on so many of the quilts today, but it isn't the only part of the art form. Great quilting cannot make a poorly designed and conceived quilt-- a good one!
George's Garden, by Ann Fahl

Whether one makes traditional quilts or original designs, quilting is a visual art form. We must step back from our work, and examine its visual impact.  Does it have a focal point? Does something draw the viewer in? Is there balance in the composition? Is there contrast between the colors and elements of the design?  Is there something that unifies the design (ties the quilt together,) such as repetition of shape or color?

Orange Coneflowers By Ann Fahl
What can you do to improve the visual impact of your work?  Take photos of your work in progress or look at the quilt with binoculars backwards. Always use a design wall to design and view the progress of your composition.  Read books on design or take a class. Look through books, magazines and websites and see what you like best, and what is most appealing to your eye. We need to take a step or two back from heavy quilting and spend more time on the initial design, this is what should "sell" your quilt to your viewer or a judge.

A prize winning or a successful quilt should have both a well designed top and great quilting!

Amen.

Ann Fahl

29 comments:

The Artful Diva said...

I agree with you 100%.

Leona Harden said...

good for YOU to say so! Your book Coloring with Thread got me interested in MORE thread actually, and to see when I could do.

shannon said...

amen sistah! :) this is a hot button topic for me as well...

i, too, have walked shows and found myself wondering, "wth?"

as a long arm machine quilter (with show ribbons on the wall) i see the quilts where the quilting does nothing for the piecing and vise versa and those are the quilts that win awards, where the quilts with a good design (color, focus, design, and quilting) seem to be looked over cause they aren't over the top...i could go bat-crap crazy and over quilt a quilt- that's easy. quilting should be a supporting role, not the star. that eye for design is what should be rewarded.

another concern i have is not having separate categories for quilts made from patterns and original design. grouping quilts solely on size is not really fair...

i am reconsidering my participation in future shows.

i feel like there is a gap in judging. i feel there should be 'continuing education' classes in order for judges to retain their certification...as new standards are reached, the judging should reflect that. heck just 15 years ago, machine quilting was frowned upon.

this is a discussion i can easily get carried away with...and don't even let me on the computer-assisted soap box.

SewCal Gal said...

I agree with you 100%. While I do love threadplay, I sometimes feel I'm attending a free-motion machine embroidery show and not a quilt show! It is the whole design that needs to be the focal point of any quilt.

You can put loads of makeup on a beautiful woman and it truly doesn't make her look any more beautiful!

SewCalGal
www.sewcalgal.blogspot.com

Martha C. Hall said...

Thanks for your views, Ann. I agree. I was at a quilt show this weekend and one quilt in particular, not a prize winner, but nice, was a simple design with wonderful color selection. It was then quilted so heavily with feathers and frills that it obliterated the color and design! There was nothing about the quilting choice that complemented the piecing! On the flip side - I don't enter many 'conventional' quilt shows anymore, but I do enter some. Three years ago one of my quilts earned a 3rd place at one of them. I was delighted. A fellow quilter who won a first place with a really wonderful art quilt, and who loved my quilt, suggested that I should do *more* quilting on it. I said, "no, I'm not going to get sucked into more quilting. I choose my quilting based on what that quilt needs", and it is usually minimal. I guess the judges actually showed that they can appreciate a quilt without all the heavy quilting! Thank you for emphasizing good design qualities.

Anonymous said...

Some day I'd love to walk through a quilt show with you...I'd learn so much!

Janet

Lori R said...

Bravo.

Exuberant Color said...

I agree with you Ann, and that's why I don't go to the big shows any more. I think the over the top quilting belongs on a whole cloth quilt where it is the star. I'm just wondering about the judges and where their heads are. Do they feel they are expected to give the prize to a certain style? Or is there a reason they do not recognize and reward good design?

Catherine Smith said...

To a great extent, entering competitions at all is offputting when the makers of a single yearly blockbuster quilt with all the bells and whistles will surely win.

Good design, color and symmetry are seldom sufficient for notice and gimmicks and novelty often rule the day. Sadly this trend negatively influences new quilters who strive for artistic expression without elementary knowledge of the basics.

Excellence in tradition is disappearing from view over every media.

The Invisible Woman said...

Ann, thank you for posting this! I have felt the same way. My stomach turns seeing some of the quilts that win ribbons. On a computer screen the quilting is completely lost. So from my perspective the quilt was made hastily just so the quilter could get to it and over-quilt it for a ribbon.

Your quilts are absolutely eye-catching and amazing. This trend toward overquilting ugly quilts will pass. True art always endures!

: )

peggy bass said...

thank you ann for putting your thoughts out there....yes the quilting is important...but what the piecer has labored with and designed into his/her quilt top is equally important...and should not be overlooked at all...when i started my longarm quilting business i stated that the quilting would be the vehicle that holds the layers together and i would do my best to showcase the piecing on the quilt....and i still feel that way...peg in ks

lrdesignsquilting.com said...

So true! Thanks for your post. I've started to call myself the practical quilter because I want my quilts to be used and cuddled!

Theresa Lillibridge said...

I am a novice at long-arm quilting as have just purchased one but, have machine quilted many. I have not entered any in any shows because of this very reason. When I have gone to shows and seen what they have done to such beautifully pieced tops (basically buried in thread) too stiff to be used as a quilt is intended to be used(on a bed or lap), I tend to think I will never win because I like you all do. I feel intimidated! It's more of a competition as to who is the better artist. It needs to go back to the original art form like Peggy Bass stated "the vehicle that holds the layers together and showcases the piecing".

Ardelle said...

Another longarm quilter here applauding your words!!!!!! The quilting should compliment the quilt, not be the star....

Renee Hynes said...

I agree! Thank you for feeling the same way!
Renee

annieQ said...

Thank you all for posting your brief or lengthy comments. Sometimes we feel we are the only ones with that perception or opinion. But once the subject is brought up, we know there is credibility to our opinions and feelings.

Ferret said...

I've had quilts criticised at both ends of the scale for quilting, so my view is it depends on the quilt. The quilting should be sympathetic to the quilt. My personal bug bear is pantograph patterns right across applique especially when it is done in a contrasting thread.

I do a lot of wholecloth quilts where the whole design is the thread work, or the thread work plus the dying of the fabric. Yes I quilt heavily, it gives me the strongest colour change I can get, and for that type of work it's what I am looking for. Should wholecloth quilts be in shows? They don't really have a designed top. My current quilt to is a single piece of plain black fabric, so that would fail all design principles. On the other hand so would a plain sheet of paper.

annieQ said...

Wholecloth quilts are a traditional quilting category. Whatever design is created to make the surface is fine. In this case the quilting is the design, and they should be judged on design and worksmanship just like the others. Many whitework quilts are just magnificent. The sad part is that the design isn't visible from a distance.

Ferret said...

It can be visible from a distance if you have high contrast between the thread and the fabric, which I love doing :) I like to draw with my machine.

Sophia Yu Cuckoo Quilt said...

Totally agree with you.
I have been to quilt festival in Houston twice before, and have been to Tokyo quilt festival almost every year. I find the heavy quilting seems to be accounted for the majority of visual focus at the winner works. And there's full with Longarm machine advertising in the american quilt magazine.
In Taiwan, Longarm machine has not been imported yet, machine quilt are more popular in this two-year , there are more quilter to learn free motion quilting skill instead of design knowledge.
Exhibition is one of my important issues to improve my quilting, but the over-quilting or sophisticated quilting on the winner's works in this year, seems to cause me some thinking, is this the focus of the art of patchwork? what should I set the focus in my works?Design or sophisticated quilting?

Sophia Yu
A quilter live in Taiwan.

annieQ said...

Sophia Yu,
From your comments, it seems quilters around the world are all concerned about the direction of quiltmaking in large shows in competition.
Our goal should be to have a strong quilt design, and the quilting should harmonize or accent the top, whether pieced or appliqued.
Ann

Rachel said...

Well stated. This echoes my own viewpoint. The voice of a quilt is in the design. The quilting simply enhances the voice.

Flyawayjil said...

This was my first trip to Paducah since 2007, where I first saw extensive use of threadwork and crystals. While the effect is stunning,it has no appeal for me. This year's judging left me feeling that this is no longer an art form in which I care to compete. My first comment regarding this year's show was "they have raised the bar", but that isn't really accurate. Perhaps,"they have MOVED the bar" might be a better description. In retrospect, I would describe most of the top award-winners as GAUDY. There were some stunnig quilts at this year's show, too, but many of those I thought were the best examples of our art were relegated to "also ran" status. Pre-programmed quilting, embroidery modules and crystals applied with glue...meh!

Donna Becker said...

This is a very interesting discussion, one that reminds me a bit of the older tensions surrounding the handquilted-versus-machine quilted debate. Can machine-pieced and quilted works be accepted as "real" quilts? There's still a a big divide within our local quilting community about that one.
As for whether to use heavy or minimal threadwork? It seems to me that a decision about when and how to use any particular technique should be made only in service to the entirety of a quilt's design (traditional or art). Certainly, using any technique to hide overall poor workmanship is a disservice to the quilter and to the viewer, isn't it?
From my observations, judges, too, succumb to their own biases, no matter what "standards" are encouraged. At a recent local art quilt show, I studied a rectangular quilt that had not one side straight, only one squared corner, numerous unmatched points, but was heavily thread-worked and embellished ... and sported a best-of-show ribbon. I was aware that the sole judge was a quilter of high standing locally who has produced some incredible work of her own. So what prompted her to plant the top honor and a cheerful, yet poorly assembled piece? Haven't a clue.
Of one thing I am sure. We must keep the conversation about standards alive, even if we never come to an agreement. The struggle to understand what makes a truly beautiful work of quilt art will push each of us to become technically and artistically better.

sherry reynolds said...

Very well said Ann, there is a tremendous need to include the "total package" in judging. you should be able to take all the quilting off a quilt and still have a work of art.

liz said...

I think this trend has been coming for a long time. I've felt that quilts have been over quilted for awhile. In our town we have a very well known teacher who is famous for her machine quilting. She for a brief time quilted for other people. She did some quilting on a beautiful applique piece and ruined it. The person who's quilt it was, was so pleased that she had her quilt done by so and so. Silliness...

Debi R said...

Two thoughts come to mind. First, things evolve. Sports evolve. Gone are the days of backyard "souped up jalopies" outrunning the local sheriffs just to sell some moonshine. Gone are the days of the Tour de France being won by a "run of the mill" bicycle bought off the show room floor. Art evolves. Different art forms are produced in different eras. Good or bad, this seems to be an era of heavy quilting. If heaving quilting, embellishments, or use of other things on our quilts is not where you want to see things go, then it's up to you/us to do something different. However, and this is my second point, as long as heavy quilting is what makes an object d'art catch the judges' eyes and win the big bucks then that's what we will see in the big shows. Maybe there could be more/separately judged categories: one for the quilting designs, one for judging on both the designs and quilting, one for heavy quilting, one for whole cloths, etc.

Debi R said...

Oops, sorry, I meant to write: Maybe there could be more/separately judged categories: one for the *piecing* designs, one for judging on both the designs and quilting, one for heavy quilting, one for whole cloths, etc.

jacquie said...

Ann,
While I've never had a quilt judged (I'm not much for the idea of quilting as a competitive sport), but I read your post with interest. I too have been dismayed by what I have seen as the "best" in quilting. I thought it was a conflict in my aesthetic. I am drawn to simple, graphic designs. I never really considered that maybe judges are drawn to overly complex, embellished work. Could a simple, well designed, simply quilted quilt win in a big show? I don't know. While I think craftsmanship is important I don't think it trumps good design. I've been asked to help work on the judging process, criteria for a group and your post has given me much food for thought.
Thank you.