My friend Daisy posted this on Facebook the other day: Have any of you given any thought to submitting anything to QuiltCon next year? I’m playing with an idea . . . Not sure I’m ready for that kind of rejection, though.
I hear you, sister. Rejection’s the worst. There’s almost no context I can think of where it feels good. The problem is that if we don’t risk getting our hearts broken now and then we stay stuck in our little corners and ruts. We remain unstretched; in fact, we may begin to grow brittle. Fearful. Curled up like dead spiders on the windowsill.
Does that mean I think Daisy should go for it?
Not necessarily. I mean, it depends.
On the one hand, if making a quilt to enter into competition seems like fun way for Daisy to push herself as a designer and improve her quilting skills, then why not? As Zina, one of the quilters that responded to Daisy’s query, said, “You can’t look at a rejection as an assault on your character or talent. Especially with a show like Quilt Con, where the emphasis is placed more on design than anything else. You should still make a quilt that speaks to your heart, because if you don’t get into the Big Show, at least you are left with a quilt that you love!”
What are reasons not to enter? Some of the respondents had specific concerns about the judging at QuiltCon. Katie, for instance, felt that QuiltCon judges privilege art quilts and “emotional” quilts over quilts that are functional and apolitical, suggesting that she doesn’t feel that the kind of quilts she makes would get serious consideration. Others found that the possibility of being rejected made the idea of submitting quilts to any juried show untenable. They admitted that it isn’t in their emotional make-up to take that risk.
But it was Tina who tapped into something that goes beyond the fear of being judged and rejected. She wrote about the fear of being shamed.
“I have no problems with quilt judges,” Tina said. “I was very sad for Melissa [Averinos, whose quilt “My Brother’s Jeans” won the 2016 QuiltCon Best of Show] because of the public remarks made about her very emotional quilt. I’m sure we all know the pain of overhearing disparaging comments about ourselves. Being a member of the quiltcon rejects [a flickr group for people whose quilts weren’t accepted for the show] sounds great, but the idea of actually getting in and hearing that I was unworthy or my art was unworthy is scary to me. Maybe I’m a little too insecure but I find such massive scrutiny terrifying.”
Yep. As far as I’m concerned, these days it’s not the idea of being rejected that’s so scary; it’s the idea of winning.
Like Tina, I don’t have a problem with judges; I have no reason to think that quilt show judges don’t take their jobs seriously or work hard to make responsible, defensible choices. That their ultimate choices might be somewhat subjective, particularly at QuiltCon, where the aesthetic and criteria are still evolving, is not a surprise nor a particular concern. This year it’s one sort of quilt that wins, next year it’s going to be another. It’s refreshing, if you think about it.
Now I think a lot of people were surprised that the judges chose “My Brother’s Jeans” for best of show. It’s an idiosyncratic quilt, sui generis, deeply personal, one that doesn’t really scream “modern quilt” (at least not to me). I actually think it’s beautiful quilt, but a lot of people I respect remain unconvinced that it was the right choice. And that’s fine–of course we’re going to have differing opinions.
But our opinions should be stated respectfully, with our compassionate understanding that a real, live human being stands on the other side of the quilt we’re discussing. I don’t think this has entirely been case with the discussion around “My Brother’s Jeans.” There’ve been great blog posts, like Katie’s over at Katie’s Quilting Corner, where I feel she tries to think seriously about the quilt and give an honest response. But there’s been a lot of snark. A lot of “I don’t get it.”
To which my response is: try to get it. Even if it’s just for five minutes, try to see what the judges saw. Try to open your mind and heart to the quilt. Because we all know how hurtful it is to be dismissed, swatted away like a fly. Could we please learn some compassion here? We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to stop shaming each other.
I propose we make a Quilter’s Code of Public Conduct. Maybe it could go something like this:
On my honor, I will try:
- to not say snarky things, in person or online, about someone else’s quilt. I understand that different quilters have different goals for their quilts, different aesthetic preferences, and different skill levels. If I find a quilt unattractive or poorly made, I will keep it to myself unless it’s part of a constructive discussion in which my real identity is known to all participating. I will not hide behind an avatar or screen name when putting forth criticism.
- I will look for the good in all quilts. If I can find absolutely nothing to like in a particular quilt, I will entertain the notion that maybe I should just move on and keep my mouth shut.
- I will make any and all critical remarks with humility and compassion. I will ask myself what is the point of making this remark? Does it truly add to our community discussion? For every criticism I make, I will try my best to find something to praise. In fact, I will preface my critical remarks with my praise.
We all feel vulnerable when we take risks. We are vulnerable. We could get hurt. But how about we all make this promise to Daisy and everyone else who dares–who has the friggin’ amazing audacity–to put herself out there in a big way: we will stand behind you. We’ve got your back. So go out there and give ’em hell.