Many quilters don’t like to discuss their work with non quilters and according to Marybeth C Stalp in her book Quilting, this is partly to do with perceptions by the rest of the world that quilting is ‘Fuddy duddy’ and pointless. I would also argue that in general attitudes to womans work and craft have also been patronising and negative. So I decided to look at Critical responses to the Victoria and Albert Museums recent Quilts; Hidden Histories, Untold Stories 1700-2010 show.
This show according to The very helpful person at the Quilters Guild said that this had been the most succesful ever exhibition at the V&A, attended by tens of thousands of visitors, and was generally celebrated by the press, as a return of craft and make do and mend and probably singlehandedly likely to save the world (perhaps that last is an exaggeration)
The response from average quilters although overwhelmingly pleased that quilting had a major show at the V&A, (therefore visible) was that they loved the antique quilts by ordinary makers with stories behind them or the work, but did not understand why there was no work by “ordinary” contemporary makers which they would rather have seen than Tracy Emins work. The Show was reviewed by Art Critics at the Sunday times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Evening Standard among others, and discussed on Radio 4 , (all articles referred to are available through the links) almost all began by stating that they had not wanted to attend, implying dull duty, one stated “to enjoy them you don’t have to want to make one (and I really really don’t)” (Groszkup 2010) before going on to be pleasantly surprised, mentioning, the obvious time taken, their emotional response, and comparing the intricacy of the stitching of the old quilts to the “poor” quality of the contemporary. Waldemar Januszczak of The Sunday Times, arguably one of the most influential art critics, commenced his column with
he continues with a paragraph on why quilts can never be great art, then tells us that the exhibition is “two shows masquerading as one, a fine show and a silly one”
The contemporary quilts “task [is] to emphasize the continuing relevance of the quilt, but they usually suceed in proving the opposite.”
Finally, after being moved to tears, he says that the contemporary quilts “scream ‘me me me’ and the traditional quilts sing ‘us us us” (Januszczak, Sunday Times 4.4.10)
Though he did approve Tracy Emins, “To meet my past” (I thought Tracy Emin described herself as ‘me me me’?)
The language used by Waldemar Januszczak, is almost a parody of the patriarchal fine art critic reviewing womans work, he certainly seems to uphold these values.
It would appear after reviwing the reviews, that attitudes to quilting remain ambivalent, occasionally hostile, while recognising the appeal of the quilt, the associations appear to make many feel extremely uncomfortable.