The huge Houston quilt show happened two weeks ago, and I wasn't there. Although I like to attend this show, and have done so many times in the past, this year it didn't work out for me to be there. What I love about the show is the huge variety of vendors, and the many special exhibits. (Those outside the International Quilt Association juried show, which constitutes only about half of the quilts.)
What I don't love about the show are the winners.
They're on view on the IQA site, and as I scrolled down the very long page -- one fine thing about IQA is that they give lots of prizes -- it struck me that the big winners all look alike. They're all symmetrical, bordered, full of fussy, intricate little appliqued or pieced bits. Most of them read as monochromatic, even though the little bits might be in contrasting colors.
I particularly noted that the Master Award for Traditional Artistry winner and the Master Award for Contemporary Artistry winner, displayed side by side on the website, could easily have been interchanged -- I could see no difference in character, sensibility, technique, composition, fabric or color that would lead one to be seen as traditional and the other to be seen as contemporary.
As you keep scrolling, finally you come to one that's not cut from the same cookie, made by Naomi Adams, which won the Future of Quilting award. On the IQA site it looks like a section from a nice knitted sweater; on Naomi's blog it reveals itself as an intriguing 3-D woven piece.
Keep scrolling, and finally you get to the "category awards," in such genres as "art-abstract, small," "art-naturescapes," "art-people, portraits and figures," "art-pictorial," "art-painted surface," and seventeen other slices and dices. I find this proliferation of categories depressing as well as daunting. What if you make a quilt with a little girl standing in front of an old truck with mountains in the background? Do you enter it in naturescapes or pictorial or people, portraits and figures? What is gained by having so many categories except the opportunity to give more ribbons to a lot of quilts that look a whole lot alike?
Certainly the many, many pictorial categories in shows like this encourage quilters to make pictorial quilts, which I am not a fan of. I think the medium of fabric is not particularly suited to representational images, especially those copied from photos. Even those that are executed well tend to be sentimental and sweet. Nancy Crow once commented that she prefers abstract designs for quilts "because pictorial quilts are too easy" in composition.
Let me run through the subjects of the winning representational quilts. Trees by a path, trees by a lake, trees in snow, trees with a sunset, trees with two women walking. Orange flowers, yellow flowers, white flowers, purple flowers. Buildings by the oceanside, buildings by the lakeside, sailboats. A woman in a garden, women in a marketplace, a child in a marketplace, people on the street, people in the desert, a man in the desert, a man in a doorway, a doorway. A cat, a dog, a tortoise, three different birds, farm animals. And those were just the winners; I suspect there were a lot more flowers, birds and trees in the rest of the entries.
Decorative, most of them, but there were only a few that would have called me for a closer look had I been walking down the aisles in Houston. Is it just me, cynical and snobbish, who gets tired of pretty and interchangeable quilts? Is it just me who wishes the quilt world would set its sights a bit higher, its boundaries a bit wider?
I'll write more on this subject later this week. Meanwhile, what do you think?