Yesterday Gemma (of Pretty Bobbins) wrote a really raw post about her creative process and the impact that trying to define herself as “modern” has had on her creative process.
Now I’m about to go way out of my comfort zone and come out of the stash closet and tell you all a little about how I think about using labels to define my quilting journey.
I’m putting this upfront and saying that this post is all about me. It’s about how the use of labels relates to me. It’s not a judgement on how others use them or apply them (there’s some exemptions to that statement). It’s about what the use of labels does for my creativity and why I loathe them. (Whoops, might have let the cat out of the bag there…)
When I started quilting I had no idea that there was this whole debate raging online and in quilt groups all over the world about “what is modern?”, “who is modern?” and “am I modern?”. I thought the biggest point of discussion was what fabrics to pick.
Then as my journey progressed and I became a little more addicted and wanted to know more I branched out and found quilters online, in print and in person. We shared our work and we talked about people we admired and it was all puppy dogs, unicorns and rainbows. Then I heard my first ever discussion about “modern quilting”.
Holy shizballs, where did all the puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns go? There was real emotion tied up in this term. People were choosing sides and big blog posts (not unlike this one) were being written. There was a movement (and I’m not just talking about the one I did in my pants when I realised I was standing in the middle of all these terminological land mines that could cost me all these new creatively awesome people I’d found).
People were really invested in being a “modern quilter”. It surprised me (and it still does) and put me on the back foot (and it still does). I was not prepared for my wonderful little creative outlet to become an ideological war zone.
So, I did what I always do when confronted with the possibility of someone not liking me – I just avoided any situation in where I thought I might have to do some navel gazing and people might ask my opinion. (Although, really, who gives a toss what my opinion is on the subject as I’m about to go to lengths to prove, I’m just a quilter!)
Through quilting I have found a passion and a community that I have never had before and never realised I was missing from my life. I’ve met some amazing people, had some amazing experiences and have finally found an outlet for my creativity. I love my life and quilting, and it’s associated community, has a lot to do with that so if there was a chance that coming out of the closet and admitting my true feelings about “modern quilting” could see me shunned by that community than I wasn’t going to risk it.
Funny thing, if I really listened to my inner voice I’d know that any community that shunned me because I don’t want to refer to myself as a “modern quilter” isn’t a community I would want to be a part of any way, but sometimes a gnome just wants to be loved.
So here I am, just a girl, standing in front of her community, saying loudly and proudly that “I am a quilter”.
No more, no less.
I’m a quilter.
I’m not modern, I’m not traditional, I’m not mod-itional – I’m just me just having fun with fabric.
There’s no other title I’m looking for…. well maybe Supreme Commander… or Batman… I have found myself declaring “I’m Batman!” a lot lately…
For me, personally, I’m not comfortable putting any other descriptive word in front of it. (Ok, I lie, I often put “awesome” in front of it when I’m doing my pretend interviews like Jimmy from The Commitments.)
Maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the definitions. Or maybe it’s because I’m scared of inciting the anger of the “quilt police” by incorrectly labelling my work. Or maybe I’m scared of losing my place in a community I really love because I don’t want to label myself. Maybe it’s just because I try not to think too hard about something that brings me such joy and risk overanalysing my creativity away. Maybe it’s all of this and none of it – who knows.
Now, I don’t care if you want to put a descriptive or clarifying word in front of “quilter” or “quilting”. That’s awesome and I’d love to hear what the word means to you, what creative empowerment it brings you and how it feeds your creative process. I’m all about sharing in the joy and passion of quilting in a respectful and considerate way.
But, so help me, if you use that descriptive term to try and belittle someone else’s creativity, form a clique, mock someone, put yourself above someone else, look down your nose at someone who doesn’t fit your definition of a term or anything else that just smacks of insecurity, small mindedness and pettiness then we’re done.
This is where I draw the line and why I loathe labels and why I’ve come to resent and rally against the term “modern quilter” as it applies to my passion.
I admire and respect those that think about their creative process, their place in the community, their impact on the story of quilting and discuss it with respect, bravery and an open heart. These are the people that will help the history books define “what is modern quilting” and “who was a modern quilter”.
I’d love to say I wish I was one of those people that took the time and energy to think about what I clumsily refer to as “the intellectual side of quilting”, but it’s all a little over my head and these days I’d rather avoid the drama that having these discussions often brings. My days of staying up till the wee hours of the morning vigorously debating the intellectual merits of art are beyond me, I no longer have the brain space or the need to know the answers.
I guess if quilting was a classroom I’d be up the back doodling over my books trying to make them “look pretty” while attempting to make those around me laugh all-the-while trying like hell to avoid the intellectual debate happening down the front. In the immortal words of philosopher Murtaugh, “I’m too old for this shit.”
So, why am I posting this? Good question. I guess I’m just tired of bottling this particular opinion up and Gemma‘s post has given me the impetus to finally post what I’ve been trying to post for the past 18 months.
I also have a questionnaire sitting in my inbox that I need to fill out and it’s asking me if I’m a “modern quilter” and I’m tired of dodging the question out of fear that when I say no the people who identify themselves as a modern quilter are going to think that I’m casting judgement on their choices (because for 99.9% I’m not).
So instead of doing a massive brain dump on an unsuspecting Editor here I am doing a unsuspecting dump on my blog. (oh heck, that didn’t come out quite the way I thought it would… but I’m leaving it in because it made me laugh so hard when I read back over this for typing mistake.)
Gemma and I have spent a lot of hours (it’s a long way to Sydney and back) talking about “what is modern quilting” and “am I a modern quilter” and the conclusion I’ve come to is thus: I don’t care what it is or if I am.
The only time I care about labels is when they’re being used as a weapon of hate, segregation and bullying.
I used to think I was the lone reed (anyone else thinking of “You’ve Got Mail” now?) on this topic, that it wasn’t “cool” to not want to label yourself as a “modern quilter”. That I must be not seeing something that everyone else is seeing because they’re really passionate about being a “modern quilter”. But here’s the thing – that’s them, not me. Just because I don’t want to call myself a “modern quilter” is no judgement on others who do. Each to their own. I don’t like to call myself a feminist either, but I’ll sure as heck be out there fighting for equal rights (I just think equal rights is a human thing, not just a female thing.)
I don’t give a toss about labels – unless they’re attached to a quilt. The only time a label has any impact on me is when it’s used in a negative way and I hate to say it, but I feel like “modern quilter” sometimes falls into that category. We shouldn’t use labels to define our passions and separate ourselves from each other because in doing so we run the risk of robbing ourselves of the joy and creativity that sharing that passion with others brings us.
For me, personally, I just want to make and create works that speak to me and brings joy to others. I want to share my excitement and passion for quilting with others who are easily excited about their quilting journey.
I’m just a simple girl with simple pleasures.
Edited: If you’d like to read some more thoughts on this topic, check out Jane’s piece on the Make Modern Blog. If you’ve written about your own thoughts on this matter please leave a link in the comments so we can all check it out. I love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas and feelings. There is no wrong or right answer, just thoughts and our own personal journeys.