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It never fails… the first time a person new to you finds out you make quilts, the first thing out of their mouth is “my grandmother made quilts.” These days I just smile and say “mine did too.”


That has not always been the case. For many years, I would launch into this “arty” description of what I do and the more I talked, the more their eyes would glaze over. Occasionally they would “get it” but mostly they would not and/or were just not interested.


Those of us involved in the process of making quilts find that we are divided as to what we should be called. Some labels are Quilt Artist, Fiber Artist, Studio Quilt Artist, Artist, and a number of variations.


There seems to be two ways that most of us have found our way into the modern quilt movement. Many, like myself, came from the mainstream, traditional quilt world. Another major group found their way to quilts from the art world.


Many from both groups feel that the word “quilt” or the title “quilt maker” have the image of the proverbial grandmother making quilts such that using these terms is just too much to overcome when marketing their work in the art world.


Over the years, I have given this a lot of consideration, have tried on a number of titles and decided that I am a Quilt Maker.


First and foremost, I love making quilts. I also love being part of the quilt world. I belong to several quilt organizations; both mainstream and art quilt groups. The quilt world has been very good to me and has enriched my life and I could never give back as much as I have received. My life revolves around quilts, shows, friends, and all things quilts.


Another part of the equation is that I am too pig-headed to let what I do be defined by someone else. In all the years that I have been doing this, there has been tremendous growth and acceptance for quilts in the arts, and I see that trend continue to grow, so I see no reason to back off of the word “quilt.”


I am a quilt maker and that is what works for me, and I am not ready to give up on that label yet.






On my book page, I listed many publications dealing with these two subjects. Yes… these are two different subjects.


Being creative does not necessarily mean creating… but it can. Creating does not necessarily mean being creative… but we hope it is.


Creativity can be defined by two words; problem solving. Most of us use our creative skills many times a day without even thinking about it. We figure a way to make a household chore easy, we juggle a busy schedule and make it all work, we make our office run smoother and decorate to reflect our own personality and so on and so on.


While you are doing all these creative things, you are not creating anything tangible.


On the creating side, lets say a person makes a whole bunch of quilts. They go to the quilt shop, buy a pattern or kit or buy a pattern and pick out the same exact fabrics as shown. Using this same formula, she turns out beautiful quilt after beautiful quilt. This person is certainly creating but is she being creative?


I do believe that in most cases the more you create, the more creative you become but not without challenging yourself.


Referring again to the reading list, I want to share some of the easy-to-describe points that made an immediate impact on me. Maybe you share these issues and maybe not. We all take in information in different ways and sometimes I need a bop on the head to see the obvious.


In The Artist's Way, I enjoyed doing the steps for awhile, but found it did not work with the way I do things. The main thing that has stayed with me from that book was the chapter on "Crazymakers." It became apparent that I was letting behavior of others control me instead of dealing with them from a position of strength and understanding.


Sometimes Crazymakers are people that you can distance from, but more often than not, they are close friends or family and people you love. Once I was able to define this it was up to me to take charge of the situation.


Another big thing that I learned, or should I say was able to put a label on, was a basic thing that happened to me a lot when I was in the different stages of creating. I would be working on something and then decide that I needed to clean my closet or sort my sock drawer. My rationale was that I was over-thinking or need space from the project.


Robert Fritz in his book, Creating, describes this as a critical time in the process and says it is tension/resolution that must be resolved. He indicates that this is when your right brain wants to kick in and is fighting with your logical side. His point is that you need to keep working. When you get that uncomfortable feeling that frustrates you that when you should forge ahead. That is the “block” stage.


These days I work at forcing myself to work through the problem. Now… I’m not always successful but at least now I know I’m doing it.


It made me aware that I had always used a form of the tension/resolution method but called it something else. When beginning a project, I give myself a problem or set some guidelines. It may be a drawing to translate into a quilt or I may select a pile of fabric that I would like to use in a quilt. Sometime I will dye or paint a piece of fabric and decide to build a quilt with that being the focus.


Sometimes all of the elements fall into place and a solution comes easily, but many times it’s at this stage that the floor gets mopped or the yard raked. Yet another thing happens from time to time… the original project that got me started becomes something totally different and that drawing or pile of fabric never gets used or is used on something else. Since identifying this phenomenon, my productivity has increased and my house and yard have suffered.


Another point made that had an impact was from the book by Peter London, No More Secondhand Art. In chapter one he explains what it takes to really conquer your art and how just having a creative mind is not enough.


He describes what Monet and Rembrandt did to get the images we see. He talks about “drawing for ten hours a day, six days a week for forty years” and that Monet “excavated a huge hole, then diverted a river to fill the hole, planted it with lily pads, then built a Japanese bridge over the whole thing, all at a vast expense. Then he bought a boat, made a floating studio out of it and for twelve hours a day, for over twenty years, he paddled around that pond and painted and painted until his eyes glazed over.”


Most of us cannot make that type of commitment today, but how hard are we willing to work and how much time are we willing to give? How much sacrifice are we willing to make before we are maximizing our creative selves and creating the work we strive for?


The next question is: how hard will you work at this without some sort of recognition? We all must ask ourselves if we are doing this for ourselves or other reasons, like making money and/or fame? For me, I love the attention when a nice thing happens, and I love it when a quilt sells, but I cannot imagine that I would not have my hands deep in the middle of a stack of fabric, trying to figure out something to do with it.



There is one simple answer to this question: “whatever you think it is.”


Every person has their own idea about what it is. I know that my ideas differ from others as to what art I like and I always try to be open to others and see new things.


Art is so huge. We generally think about it in terms of Visual and Performing Arts but in my mind it can cover most everything. In writing this, I will speak to the common definition.


There are categories of art: good art, bad art, and everything in between. Now… the people making good art don’t always know it’s good but they hope it is. The people making bad art generally do not know it’s bad but they may suspect… or they may think it is really good.


It’s widely perceived that your art comes from a place deep inside you. We have visions of the artistic genius, the tortured, disturbed artist, singers, actors, dancers, painters, quilt makers (?)… you get the picture.


All of us that do what we do are coming from our own unique perspective and do our art for all kinds of reasons. For many It’s because we can’t not do it. For many it is a creative outlet and satisfies the need to create something. For some makers of art, it is their job; and for others it may be social, or it may bring attention and acceptance. It’s possible for some to fall into all of these descriptions.


It is very hard to analyze yourself and difficult sometimes to determine where you are and where you are going.


In the quilt world and especially in the non-traditional or art quilt side, the dialogue regarding art is addressed by a number of issues. We want to be recognized in all areas of the art world, our work to be routinely shown in galleries, museums, and art centers. We don’t want our medium to be restricted or shut out in any way.


The range of the work we do is as far reaching as any other discipline. It goes from small to large, beautiful, colorful, sophisticated, cute, mind bending, shocking, jarring, emotional, and everything in between.


There are common complaints that we hear from some makers that feel that their art is not being accepted or understood in the mainstream quilt world because of the Quilt Police and not accepted into the art world because of the word “quilt” or because it is fiber.


My personal take on this is that those prejudices and barriers are coming down all the time. The mainstream quilt world has plenty of room for the art movement and the art community commonly accepts the quilt and fiber mediums. It is common to see quilts and other fiber work being included in exhibitions of all kinds, worldwide. When an artist is working hard, and doing solid work, chances are better than not they can get their work shown.


It is the expectation of instant recognition and acceptance for early efforts that leads to disappointment by many new artists. It’s easy to fall in love with something we make that has great depth of feeling to us. Sometimes it is hard to look at it objectively because it means so much to us. It may be a very personal subject or it may be that we spent so much time on it… for some reason we only see it through our own eyes. It is helpful to some to belong to groups that are not friends, in other art disciplines to help in this regard.


My analogy to this is my story of a person that dreams of being a dancer. This person is a mature adult that becomes very interested in dancing. She goes to a small studio near her home and becomes passionate about interpretative dance. At home while alone, she puts on the music and dances her heart out. She moves with reckless abandon and great passion. She is sure that no one ever could feel more deeply about dancing and after a few months was ready to shape her enthusiasm with the world. She starts with her family who has caught some of the action, then shares with friends who think she is courageous and could never try such a thing themselves.


At the dance studio the reaction is more a mixed review. While everyone really wants to be supportive, she is not given a solo at the recital. In fact, because there are excellent dancers that have been studying for years, she is lucky to be dancing in the background.


She decides that since she has not been appropriately appreciated by the small minded people that do not share her passion, she widens her circle and goes to auditions in other venues.


This is where the story can go in a number of different directions:


One scenario is that she keeps on trying to share her passion for dance with the world and continues on for a number of years and gains acceptance as her work continues to mature.


A second one is that the criticism and lack of interest make her so disillusioned that she gives it up completely.


A third possibility could be that she just loves to dance so much and puts the music on and dances for herself because it’s what she wants to do.




Okay… in answer to the question, “What is Art?”


Who knows… but I will know it when I see it.

BARBARA OLIVER HARTMAN | 122 RED OAK LANE, FLOWER MOUND, TX 75028 | 972.724.1181 | barbaraohartman@aol.com