Friday, October 29, 2010

to judge or not to judge

There was a brief conversation on one of the lists yesterday. An art quilter had been asked to judge a "contemporary" show and was wondering whether she should. The few people who actually answered the question encouraged her to do so. I certainly did.

Most of the other posts were about stupid comments from quilt police judges who criticized their art quilt entries for things like bobbin thread showing on top (a deliberate move by the quilt artist) and other nonsense.  Either these artists should not be entering traditional quilt shows, or the judges need to get some training in knowing the difference between a QUILT and ART which just happens to be made of textiles and thread.  Maybe both.

I posted my story to the list, but nobody replied so I will repeat it here (in an expanded version, of course - LOL) because it triggered a good memory and serves as some kind of lesson for anybody who serves as a judge and leaves comments for the entrant. I guess I also have to get it out of my system.

I owe my career and the fact that I became an artist to the two judges of the only non-juried show I ever entered: my former guild's show in 1998. Not that long ago, was it?   Because anybody could put in a quilt or two, I submitted two quilts I had just finished.
Prozna St., Warsaw
Last Stop
I was lucky: the two judges were art quilters, and as a result, judged the entire show on the visual impact of the pieces as art - not as technical exercises.  If they had been looking at stitching and bindings, my two pieces would have had a raft of critical comments on poorly mitred corners, uneven machine stitching, and edges of applique'd elements not turned under.  Instead, the pieces each got a second place award.  I was stunned.

One of the judges compared Prozna St. to work by an artist who did wonderful minimalist work. (IMO, not justified, but it was his opinion, which was very nice). Both encouraged me to keep going and develop as an artist. Not a word about technique. 

This was the encouragement I needed to enter them into a national juried show - and was equally stunned when it was accepted to Quilt 21. I was off and running and haven't looked back. I am sure that if I had not had the encouragement from those two, that would have been the end and I would not be where I am today.  Like teachers, judges have no idea of the impact of their vision (or lack thereof) and even more -- their words.  My 7th grade art teacher told me I had no talent.  These two judges of a guild show told me I did.

I can never thank them enough.  Liza Lucy was one of the judges and of course, has forged a career of her own with Kaffe Fasset.  The other judge was John Swiatek, then a member of Manhattan Quilters. You can see his work here if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. To me, it was the strongest piece in the exhibit and I am sorry I don't own it.  Along the way, take note of the other members.  John moved to L.A. and teaches at The Fashion Institute there.

Thank you, Liza and John. You are two judges whose words changed a life.

13 comments:

Linda Branch Dunn said...

Great story. Thank you.

I have a question for you, Best Teacher of the Year. Picture an evening adult ed class. One conservative artist looks at the stamps, paint, fabric and says "This doesn't work for me." Later,"I'm artistically constipated. Nothing works. I'm too symmetrical" What would you do?

Juanita Yeager said...

I suggest to Ellen directly that she should do it. I jury and judge and think of it as my public service project not as a way of making money. I too had the experience of having two adults in my formative years tell me I had no talent, A friend's mother who found me coloring outside the lines in her daughters coloring book qwhen I was about nine years old and my 8th grade art teacher. So I encourage and mentor and teach and always look for the positive.

Martys Fiber Musings said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences while breaking into the non-traditional. I live in a very large traditional quilting community (translated: a very small art quilt community) and my work is not well received. I've learned to do it my way in spite of rejection and that has worked very well for me. I will not allow my creativity be stifled by those who think my work is not very creative and in the process I've grown very thick skin!!

Dianne Hricko said...

Love the link and will devote some time to snooping through Yardworks artists images. Your post speaks to me as I am struggling with my first quilting effort that is beyond clumsy. Of course it is currently rolled up and balanced against the piano waiting for me to rip out a ton of stitching. Thought it would be good tv work, but I have been too invested in watching to merely listen.

saraz said...

I think some of the problem might be with the phrase "Art Quilt". Is it really necessary to describe it that way? Do we say "art silk screen", "art painting", art wood carving"? We do say "art on paper" which I think is sort of strange, really. Perhaps "Fabric Art" is a better phrase? Leave the quilting (if there is any) as part of the description. Just a thought. And as for Judges comments--one of the best ways to learn!

Eva said...

The idea is that a quilt can be art and hence doesn't have to be perfect in the way of traditional quilts. I guess it was less difficult to spread this idea in Europe, in countries that don't have a quilting tradition and no quilt police either. I found it easy to experiment because I never knew much about quilting before I started.
I think it is a good advice for your friend to join a jury because she can help spreading new ideas, encourage individualist quilters and in this way make life easier for all those who leave the trodden path.

Terry said...

It is shocking to me how often artists are discouraged from doing the work they must do. My story was my HS art teacher who told me I shouldn't even enter the local art scholarship competition because I would be competing against some "really good artists" and I wouldn't have a chance of winning. You can guess the outcome--I won the scholarship. I would have followed his pessimistic advice if my mother had not urged me to enter anyway.

Libby Fife said...

Such a fine line between offering helpful criticism and completely squashing the impetus of creativity. Honestly.

My own experience involves silence. For the most part, people just look politely which is nearly as bad as directly saying, Don't go on." I have even had a lack of understanding from another artist working in a different medium. It is difficult to just forge ahead isn't it?

kathy said...

I missed your story because I deleted all the judging comments on the list, but I'm glad I read it here. I dislike your 7th grade teacher already! How awful of her to do that to you. But I am so glad you had the two great judges to bring you to where you are supposed to be.
Could it be the term Art quilt came about to distinguish the contemporary from the traditional work in the quilt world? And once we go outside the quilting world, that term is not needed? Just a thought.

Susan Ettl said...

HI,

I did not get a chance to read this post until this morning. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience. Next time I am having fun in the studio, I will tell myself to continue to play.

Vivien Zepf said...

I'm so glad you shared your story. It's important to remember that not only judges, but we as members of fiber art groups and/or guilds can also -- unwittingly -- give support or crush dreams if we don't keep an open mind and a kind heart in our words. I'm going to work hard on that going forward....

Nina-Marie said...

I love the story Rayna - but I really love your comments concerning the List. A couple of weeks ago I posted a question about hand dyeing a color and do you know I only got one private response. With the thousands of art quilters on the list only one person could offer help. Still if I had posted some gripe - or opinion or whatnot God knows when the postings would stop LOL sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (oh and yeah the advice was good - fabric got dyed - so guess only need one response after all LOL)

quilthexle said...

I'm pretty glad I did not just simply delete all the unread posts from my reader - otherwise I would have missed this post! Thank you very very much for it - and thanks to everybody who commented on it, too! Guess there's a crowd of people who got bad comments at school for their "artistic talents". Me, too - and till today, I kind of freeze if I have a pencil in my hand and should start to draw. BUT - in 2009 I entered a quilt in a show. Just give it a try - maybe they'll show it? They did - and it won a blue ribbon! So, there I was, poor grades in school in my art classes, but a blue ribbon??? maybe I should go on? And I went on - gaining confidence in my abilities babystep by babystep. And once in a while, somebody gives me a further push by something they say about my work - or I realize that I do that to other people who find the courage to try something new because they saw me doing it. Either way makes me happy and proud - and gets me empowered to GO ON !!