In a couple of recent posts Kathy Loomis (Art with a needle) has been talking about pictorial quilts and their significance in the modern quilt world.
I fully agree to what she has to say about quality and beauty of design, and her desperation about the fact that leaves, trees and flowers seem to be en vogue at the moment. I have to say that looking at catalogues of, say, Quilt National in the past few years, had kept me from entering in an American show as I felt that my designs differed rather too strongly from the American taste, and that was mainly due to the many pictorial quilts in these catalogues.
In Europe, pictorial quilts have not been quite so abundant as in the States, but I have the feeling that lots of quilts are being painted on, splashed on, glued on - and from a European perspective the Houston Winners gave a bit of hope that perhaps the time of „the painted quilt was over“ as Barbara Lange has called it in a personal communication.
What I don’t quite understand is why quilting turned pictorial at all – after all, it began as something else. For what is a Log Cabin block, if not an abstract representation? Quilting design was abstract before painted art had even seriously thought about abstraction.
Personally I have never felt the urge to make a (serious) pictorial quilt – with one exemption, a crib quilt for my son which consists of several animals, mostly taken from the pieced animal patterns by Margaret Rolfe, except for one cat pattern that I developed myself. It was fun to make, in expectation of the child that would lie on it (though my friends then convinced me to put it on the wall in his bedroom instead of letting him drool onto it) - yet I would never show it in an exhibit, nor show a picture of it here on the blog.
As Kathy Loomis mentions, fabrics don’t lend themselves easily to quasi-photographic representation. So why do people feel the need to turn a picknick scene in front of a waterfall into a quilt? I’d rather have a painted picture of that, or an enlargement of the photograph that depicts the scene, if I need something to keep my memories of it alive. Tell me: why do you want to have a quilt of a waterfall on your wall – and what reasons should somebody else have to buy that quilt from you?
In the design classes that I teach I try to get the participants to understand the value of abstraction, as the process of abstraction is what turns their design into their very own. In a recent class I taught one participant came to the class with a copy of a picture from a famous German children’s book and wanted to turn that into a quilt, and I asked her „Do you really want to make a quilt with the little witch on a broom flying over the trees?“ In the end she had come up with an abstraction that to her symbolized the fire that the witches were dancing around, but could mean something completely different to another viewer.
In times when photography can give us pictures that are almost as real as reality itself the process of abstraction is what turns any kind or representation into your piece of art. And then the beauty, and perhaps the significance of it, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Or what do you think?