As in every industry, there is a tier of juried shows from small, local ones to the big national shows where getting in is tantamount of making your career. The mother of all shows is Quilt National, a biennial event featuring the best of the best, closely followed by Quilt Visions, another biennial event in the alternate years. There many are other prestigious art quilt shows including Quilts=Art=Quilts, Fiber Arts International, Art Quilts Lowell, Art Quilt Elements as well as the many national and international exhibits sponsored by SAQA.
Of course, I knew nothing about any of these shows when I started entering them in 2006. Perhaps that is why I entered so many in the beginning, thinking "its all about the process -- not the result"! I just wanted to see if I could get in. That year, I entered 4 local juried shows and 1 non-juried but judged show. I got into all of the shows and won a 2nd place ribbon. I thought to myself -- good start! This is easy!
So now I have to tell you the story of the first show I was juried into. It was sponsored by the local art quilt group I joined -- FRCQ and was held in Steamboat Springs, CO -- about a 3-1/2 hour drive from Denver. I was so thrilled I told my husband we had to drive to Steamboat and rent a condo for two days so I could attend the opening and see my piece hung with all the other pieces in the show.
When I arrived at the gallery and saw all the other pieces, I hoped the floor would just swallow me up and I could disappear. My piece was the absolute worst piece in the show. Honestly. To this day, I have no idea how it was chosen -- perhaps because the juror liked orange and it was the only orange quilt submitted.
Here's a picture of this piece. It's called Slings and Arrows. I thought this was fabulous when I made it. I simply choose a colorful background and fused on top, all the discarded pieces from another one quilt I was working on (hate to waste anything!) and voila! A piece of art!
What I didn't think about was composition (where IS that focal point, anyway?), craftsmanship (yes, NOTHING is set in a straight line), or color theory (what WAS I thinking???)
The worst part was yet to come.
At the opening reception, the artists had to stand in front of their pieces and speak about them. My headache started to get worse. I tried to hide behind other people, hoping they would never get to my piece. And then I started listening to what the artists were saying. I started to hear "art speak" and knew I had nothing interesting to say about my work. I also started to think I had a lot to learn.
I don't remember much from that awful night except when it came to my turn, I mumbled something about working in orange since no one like that color but Bronco fans, getting lots of strange (pitiful) looks and leaving the reception feeling like I was the worst quilt artist in the world.
And it cost us $500 for the weekend! Think of all the fabric and thread I could have purchased for my stash!
But it was a lesson well learned. First of all, I learned quite early that getting into a show does NOT mean you are a good artist. I also learned that if I took this seriously, I would have to begin learning my trade and spending a lot of time in the art world. I learned I needed to acquire the vocabulary of an artist and understand line, marks, meaning, color, and composition. I also learned that I needed to improve my techniques!