Friday, May 13, 2016

Form, Not Function opens tonight -- with something missing

I went to the Carnegie Center for Art and History earlier this week to look at the quilts in Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, which opens this evening.  The purpose: to choose a winner for the award for political and social commentary that I have given every year since 2006.  I do this award because I want to encourage people to make quilts on serious, even dark subjects, art that will challenge society and its priorities and decisions.  Several times in the past there have been more than one piece in FNF that fits the description, and I've had a hard time choosing the winner.

But I was surprised and disappointed to find that not one of the 20 quilts in this year's show had even the remotest connection to political and social commentary.  They were beautiful quilts, most of them with superior craftsmanship, but none of them seemed to be about anything that I could identify as socially relevant.  Most of the quilts were abstract, so I even looked at the titles to see if any were called something like "climate change" or "homeless" or "failing infrastructure" or "remembering Glass-Steagall" that I could infer to be social or political.  No such luck.

I don't know why there was nothing in this year's show that would qualify, and hope it's only a glitch, that commentary will be back with a bang next time.


  1. I bet this was a hard blog to write. You hit the right tone of looking to next year. I commend you for not compromising the purpose of the award and picking "something".

  2. as someone who does make a lot of work to do with social and environmental issues I often wonder why people do not do more work of the kind you were looking for. So many classes seem to focus on techniques and perfection that I think many textile people can see no further than producing the quilt with the most perfect technique and finish. If you ask people about shows they often pick out the landscape and close ups of flowers and people. I am sure there will be a flurry of responses to my comment but I do not think quilt shows cater for social commentary work.

  3. Irene -- I agree with you on all counts. So frequently I have heard "I don't make that kind of work because it won't get accepted into shows." That's why I decided to give the award.

  4. Ultimately, it's the jurors call. They only selected 20 quilts out of the 281 submitted for consideration from 128 individual artists and I'm sure there were some with political/social relevance. Unfortunately, they didn't make the cut this year.

  5. Everyone likes 'pretty' and few people want to be challenged with ideas. I have to say though that with all that is going on in the world, you'd think there would be something. Refugees, climate change, orange trumptasticness, homelessness, opiate addiction, hunger, it's all still out there howling at the door. However, there hasn't been a large disaster that has happened to US recently. No Katrina, no nationally headlined shooting, no big news story that catches everyone up.

    Maybe social commentary needs its own show?

  6. I don't know when the selections were made, but I have to wonder with the election primaries, shootings, terrorists, etc. all so contentious and hateful, the jurors were just burned out on commentary? This year they just wanted pretty?

    1. you may be right, but my opinion: times contentious and hateful are exactly when we need people to speak out