To write an artist’s statement

Material Marquetry

I’ve been sitting here for at least an hour, probably much longer than that actually, trying to write an artist’s statement for a quilt I’d like to enter into a juried special exhibit. I’m beginning to think it’s a completely wasted exercise, right down to entering the dang thing to begin with. The quilt in question: Material Marquetry.

The exhibit: In the American Tradition V.

The point of the exhibit:

This special annual exhibit features the very best in contemporary traditional-based quilting. You are invited to submit work for consideration for the fifth year of this very special exhibit, In the American Tradition. We are looking for both contemporary interpretations and traditional quilts, either by hand or machine, appliquéd, pieced, or wholecloth.

Material Marquetry seems to fit right in, contemporary quilt based in tradition that it is. So where’s the issue, you ask? The “write an artist’s statement” requirement for entry seems to be beyond me. Here’s the assignment:

The artist statement explains the artist’s impression for creating the quilt and/or how it relates to the theme; concise, well-written, and no longer than one-half of an 8.5″ x 11″ page

What the heck do they really want here? Is this artist’s statement to be used in the jurying process, or is it for the end viewer’s benefit? I feel like the most that I could say would be stating what the viewer can already see for themselves, which is not the point of an artist’s statement as I know it. Sure, I can say that the quilt is an innovative interpretation of the Seven Sisters quilt block, and I can say that…oh, never mind, here’s what I’ve got so far:

Material Marquetry is an innovative interpretation of the Seven Sisters quilt block. The Seven Sisters block design is thought to be based on the Pleiades star cluster in the night sky. When imagining the design, I saw seven dancing stars, twirled slightly for more movement and interest. The stars became seven dancing sisters, twirling on a patchwork floor, each of their skirts a different color.

I envisioned a rather formal quilt, with traditional elements arranged in new ways. The border fabric provided the color palette as well as the root design elements for the traditional feather quilting designs. When the quilt was finished, it looked akin to wood Marquetry designs.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I really don’t have any mystical design process, I just do what I like and what feels right at the time (or I follow where the quilt leads, sometimes), and there aren’t any hidden meanings in any of my quilts (that I intentionally put there anyway). I’m not trying to make a statement with my work, and I do it purely for the enjoyment of creating something of beauty. So exactly what does one write in an artist’s statement, when all that’s there is just creativity? I don’t know how to explain that the quilt relates to the theme, without just saying “Material Marquetry relates to the theme of the exhibit because it’s a contemporary interpretation of a traditional design.” What more is there to say? Am I just making too much out of this?

Things like this tend to contribute to my ambivalent state of mind about my art and where I’m going. I’m not an “art quilter,” but my work is art. I think sometimes that I’d like to be “in the business” more than I am, IOW, making a full-time career out of my art. Other times, I get put off by the whole thing, and just don’t see it ever happening. There are various things to do if you want to be a full-time artist: sell your work, teach, and write books and articles among other things. As for selling, in the “art quilt” world, quilts are considered “art,” and can fetch higher prices than traditional work in general. I’ve sold some of my work, but not to the tune of many thousands of dollars as some art quilters I’ve seen out there have. I’ve had appraisers tell me the market value for some of my pieces is in the “thousands of dollars” category, but would I really find anyone out there who would pay the price?

I teach here in the local area, but the market for it here is slim, to be honest. The American quilting community is small and for the most part rather transient since the Military moves everyone around all the time. The German quilting community is larger, but obviously there’s a language barrier that makes teaching a bit difficult, though I have taught machine quilting to a few lovely German groups. It’s a much different situation than it would be if I lived in the States.

In the writing department, I’ve submitted book proposals in the past and been turned down for publication. I guess I just haven’t come up with the “thing” that publishers are looking for. It’s also difficult to think about writing a book when I don’t necessarily have an audience to teach the material to here, and traveling to teach might not be easy at the moment (especially from my DH & DDs’ points of view; they all thought they’d surely die last time I was away for more than a weekend. OTOH, they do appreciate me more for a while after I get back from trips like that! ;)).

So that leaves what I’m currently doing, which is making quilts for shows and contests, and sending them around. Showing quilts gets your name out there at least, but the real reason I do it (one of them anyway) is that I hope that one of my quilts will be good enough to win a top award at the AQS show in Paducah, so that it will be a permanent part of the collection at the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society (the money that comes with one of those awards wouldn’t go amiss either!). Sometimes, an award like that leads to great opportunities for writing and teaching. That’s not the only show to enter of course, and I do send my quilts out to others a lot. Other major reasons for showing: feedback, feedback, feedback! The feedback from the judges is (usually) invaluable.

Which brings me back to this exhibit, and the problem of the day. After all this thinking, I’m probably just going to go with what I have, and not stress over it. I think I don’t need to have a quilt in this exhibit anyway; it’s nice on the resume, but I think my time today could have been better used working on some current projects, rather than obsessing about what to write for this artist’s statement for this exhibit. Of course, this does nothing to answer the original questions, but at least it’s a decision of sorts.