I’ve been entering quilt shows since about the time I moved here to Southern California. The closest one was Road to California, and in those days, I always was accepted. Schooling interrupted my quilting, and when I got back to my craft, the ground had shifted underneath me. I couldn’t get my quilts accepted any more.
I felt pretty badly about this the first time it happened, especially since the quilts I saw at the show seemed to be all spangle and sparkle and glitz and flash, along with quilting that was perfection, due to the advent of the longarm-quilted piece. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement.
I kept trying, and kept getting rejected. It felt a lot like grad school, where I’d write up my short story, or poem, and take it into workshop and they’d get out their figurative knives, blades, guns and other weapons and slash my pieces to bits, then shoot holes in them. I think I cried all the way home that first time, but it got easier to separate myself from my work, and take the critiques in stride. Some were helpful. Some were NOT helpful. I had to know that my writing still had value and worth, and to keep going. It was the work that mattered.
Fast forward to this week, watching the feed blow up on Instagram as people cooed or moaned about their acceptances/rejections to QuiltCon. Whether the organizers like it or not, they have created a couple of problems and I was watching the fallout happen in realtime, in people-time, as comments started flying. The problems most prevalent appeared to be:
1) Too many entries. This came about because there was no limit on how many quilts could be entered. I haven’t checked every show, but the ones I’m familiar with limit how many quilts you can enter. Because QuiltCon had 1300+ entries, and maybe only space for 400 quilts, well. . . you do the math. But the odd thing was this line in the rejection letter (yes, I got rejected on all three of my quilts): “Please do not be discouraged. We received more than 1,350 quilt submissions and the jurors had to make many difficult decisions.”
This was weird how they commented on the recipient’s emotional state and then flipped it around so that the person being rejected should feel sorry for the jurors and their difficult work of wading through over a thousand quilts in order to chose the ones they wanted for their show. Just the facts are necessary: “You didn’t get in. It was a good effort. Try again next time.”
2) The perception that there is a mysterious criteria that determines who gets in and who doesn’t. The key word is “perception.” And the perception, judging by what I read on IG, is that this mysterious set of rules is not given out to mere mortals, but only those in the inner circle, the claque, the clique, the friends and buddies of those running the show. I can hear the snorting going on now. Yep. But this problem persists because the modern quilt movement can’t figure out what it thinks is a modern quilt enough to be able to describe it, or communicate it to the masses. People like me. And then they hold a contest in which we are all supposed to submit, which feels very much like going to the top of a busy freeway overpass and throwing our quilts over the edge, watching them sink down into the morass.
On top of that, there seems to be an overabundance of graphic artists at the helm, or with some graphic arts training. Might this not mean that the graphic punch, that visual snap, the elements of high contrast off the grid have become ascendent? Maybe. Then put that into the judging/juror criteria and disseminate it.
When I entered, I was surprised to see there were really no categories to select into. Yes, there are categories, but I didn’t get to nominate my entries into any of those; the assumption is that those on the other end of my internet connection will do that for me, further confusing the experience. So I don’t know if my quilt was judged against other similar quilts, or if it was thrown into the pool of 1300+ entires, with bleary-eyed jurors watching quilt after quilt pass by their eyes, until the whole thing collapses into Let’s Get This Done, sort of like I feel when I’ve graded too many papers in a row. I have total empathy with the jurors, but perhaps there are some solutions that might rectify this difficult situation. I hope they find them. And I hope the show I’m about to see in Austin in February will put aside some of my concerns and be a great experience. I am happy for those who got in, and can’t wait to see the quilts.
But in the end, what matters? Are you only as good as your last rejected quilt? Or are you the sum total of your work, the cutting, the sewing, the creating? Given the number of times I’ve been rejected, I could have melted into a puddle on my floor. But my training in grad school, although sometimes painful, gave me stories like this one: a famous author used to mutter to himself “I’ll show them this time,” every time he started a new novel. And the knowledge that I am more than just my latest quilt. And that I won’t melt if someone tells me “no,” although it feels really good when they tell me “yes.”
One lovely side effect of all this sturm und drag (storm and stress) is that I have loved the reading on the #quiltconreject and the #rejectedbyquiltcon hashtags on Instagram. I’ve been introduced to some fine new quilters, and fallen in love some new works from familiar quilters. It’s been quite the wild ride.
Yes, the modern quilt movement may or may not survive the problems I mentioned above. But it’s not really my concern. My concern is to get going on the next quilt, to say a hearty yes to this creative adventure.