Vivian Maier, QuiltCon and Why We Create

Has anyone seen the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier?  It is a story of one of the more accomplished American street photographers of the 20th century who took thousands of pictures during her lifetime . . . and never shared them with anyone.  Her amazing art was discovered posthumously and this woman who worked as a nanny for her whole life never claimed the title of artist she so deserved.  Why did she spend every free minute perfecting this art and never share it?

This movie came to mind as I watched the people prepare their art in the form of quilts for Quiltcon 2015 and then acknowledge their entrance or rejection from the show that so many of us are looking forward to attending in February.  It had me thinking  much about art, the judging of it, why we share, what makes it art and what makes us artists in the first place?  In some ways the phrase Art Contest seems like an oxymoron.  How do we judge art?  And for those of us who create in fabric, do we call ourselves artists?  None of my local friends sew but many paint, take amazing photography, create jewelry and are creative ceramicists.  All appropriately so would call hemselves an artist but I would never refer to my work as art.

In our modern age it would be almost unheard of for an artist like Vivian not share their work with the world via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogging etc.  Why do we feel the need to share it?  When we share it, does receiving a ribbon in a contest or acceptance into a festival make it more worthy or more arty?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions for anyone else but myself.  I create because the process of creating makes me unbelievably happy.  I love exploring new ideas, using my imagination and mastering skills.  I choose to share it because I love kibitzing with and being inspired by other creative folks.  I so look forward to going to Quiltcon this February to meet some of you artists.  And someday, when I am comfortable with how far I have come with my own art I will bravely enter my work for consideration in big shows like Quiltcon.  Then again, maybe not. 🙂

I would be oh so happy to hear why you create and why or why not you share your work to a broader community.

(I am including a little bit of my recent work.  I made my first concentric circle experiment into a pillow and played around with improv curved piecing to make up a quilt top I am calling “Batten Down the Hatches” as we in Northern California face the “storm of a century”.  By the way, I have learned so much about curved piecing with my latest projects.  I may be done with circles for a bit . . . maybe.)




27 thoughts on “Vivian Maier, QuiltCon and Why We Create

  1. I come from a family of lawyers and doctors and artists. And although like you haven’t supported myself with what I create I do feel it absolutely necessary to create. The process of making be it a home cooked meal , poetry or a quilt is such a personal experience. I guess I’ve never been a big fan of attaching labels to something so very personal. No matter what I ( or others) called me ( fingers crossed they are similar) I would still make and create what I create. Call it art, therapy or just fun it fulfills a very essential part of who I am. The journey has just begun and I hope all my new creative friends continue to inspire and create right along with me.

    1. Essential? Yes! Therapeutic? Yes! Art? Yes at least your work is so in my mind. And do you know how much I have loved being included in your circle of creative folks? Such a gift to me. I am endlessly thankful for that and for sharing your work with me and letting me share mine with you. 🙂

  2. I’m so in love with your circles especially since they have the mustard color instead of the rainbow bright colors. I think your concentric circles would be perfect for QuiltIng.

  3. I started quilting at first to do something creative. My mum sewed a lot so that was the thing I thought of. It mainly served as a stress reliever at first till I started getting into it. I would call myself a quilter but not an artist as it is not my primary profession. Actually I like the social aspect of quilting. I had no idea it was such a communal activity before I took it up. I appreciate the comraderie and makes an otherwise isolating activity fun.

    1. Agreed Rachel. i never realized how social quilting can be. It is a joy to share work for the camaraderie alone. And I would argue if you are a quilter or sewist, you are also an artist.


  4. I have enjoyed thinking about art and artistic expression and have found a few quotes that speak to my own feelings about living with a creative spirit. I like to think that my home, my garden, the meals I feed my family and, of course, my quilting, are each facets of an artistic life.

    ‘With age, art and life become one.’ George’s Braque
    ‘There’s no retirement for an artist, it’s your way of living so there’s no end to it.’ Henry Moore

    This one is what I strive for, and what you seem to have effortlessly:

    ‘Individuality realized is the supreme attainment of the human soul, the master-master’s work of art. Individuality is sacred.’ Frank LLoyd Wright

    1. Thank you so much Gayle. Those quotes are fantastic and yes especially loving the Frank Lloyd Wright one. Going to save those for future use!!


  5. Your pillow and quilt are beautiful and I will take a look for the documentary to watch. I am happier to be a quilter than to be seen as an artist – it feels more useful and less full of pressures.

    1. Thanks Leanne. The term Quilter is not a pejorative one by any means but have no doubt in my mind you ARE an artist. The Albers inspired works in color, the amazing designs and that quilting . . . ART!


  6. First of all, let me say I hope you AREN’T done with circles – yours are so amazing. As for why I create, I’m compelled to do it – be it as a teacher making lesson plans, a wife/mother/friend cooking a meal, writing stories, painting, or creating quilts, there always seems to be an undeniable need to express the creative ideas that well up in me! As for why I share, there are a couple of reasons – first, I really appreciate that others share their work. Not only do I enjoy the boundless creativity, I’m more often than not inspired by it and I want to feel like I’m in some small way part of that. Also, art is, to me, meant to be seen. My goal is for my art to bring a positive vibe to whoever sees it – smarmy, I know, but I want to spread the joy I get from creating it around.

    1. Carrie you should take about being amazing with circles! Love the curves in your pieces. The themes of giving to others, sharing our work and exploring our creativity all resound with me too!


  7. I have thought long and hard about this over the past year or more. As you know, I left my full time, highly stressful engineering job in April. Quilting for me was an outlet and release and “therapy” while I was working. I was hoping to turn it into something more when I left my full time job, but I didn’t want to put deadlines, stress, or restrictions on myself. So I just started creating more. And I found my way to the online community because sharing creations is joyous and a great way to learn and get feedback. For me, the journey to having quilts I was proud enough to enter into QuilCon was all the “win” I needed. Yeah, it would be nice to have a quilt accepted, but the odds were pretty long and I am more than OK with this learning process. As recent tragedy in my former work community has pointed out to me, I am so, so thankful that I took the leap and tried something new. I have to say that I know I have a lot of love to give. My friends and family know this, and through quilts, I can put my love into a physical form that others can share and warm their spirits and souls. That is why I quilt. Because it is a safe expression of love and care that can be shared and handed around. The literal hug that I might not be there in person to deliver, but my quilts can for me. Quilt shows and judges approval can never, ever top that.

    1. Yvonne, I hate that many jobs like your previous one require so much that they inevitably end in burnout. I have been through burnout and back with my job and the most important way I have been able to stay sane in the craziness of my life and the stress and demands placed on me is forcing time to nurture my creativity. It is life giving as you allude to as are the creations that come of it. Love your perspective always and thanks for being in my circle of creatives.


  8. I am really glad you asked these question. I started quilting because I have always loved and admired a well made quilt. I found when I started quilting I seemed to have an aptitude for quilting that I didn’t have in other creative things I had tried. Making a quilt really speaks to my analytic side while allowing me freedom to be creative. I was drawn to Modern Quilting because of the simplicity of line and color. Even when I made traditional quilts, they were simple and spare. I admire the work that goes into a quilt made of intricate blocks, bedecked with crystals, heavily quilted, etc….but honestly I will never make one. It is just not me.

    I entered one quilt into Quiltcon knowing my chances at being accepted were slim. Oddly enough, my primary reason for entering was not to have my quilt accepted but to get over the hump of, ‘if you don’t try, you won’t know’. I entered because years ago I wanted to be a writer. I never pursued it past college because of the rejection factor. I’m older and wiser now and realize that rejection is a part of life. The key is to learn from it…..learn what to keep and change…….learn what to discard and move on. I won’t be entering my quilt into any other shows because I want to use it 🙂 Maybe some day when the right quilt says, ‘enter me’ I’ll do so again. In the mean time I look forward to seeing everyone’s quilts in February.

    1. Good for you for making that leap! I think many were surprised that I didn’t enter anything but truly, my makings had not lived up to what I would feel comfortable entering and in the end like you say, that is the most important thing (even beyond whether the judges would find it acceptable or not). Thanks for your perspective. 🙂


  9. Thought provoking! I don’t think I have ever really considered why I make things. I think the answer is no more complex than ‘I enjoy it’. I like making tangible things, and I like how many of the things I make have a function. I know that I am happier playing with construction – be it knitting or sewing or whatever – than I am toying with abstract theories. I think I would enjoy other crafts like carpentry too, but I am not starting a whole new collection of tools! My house cannot contain another hobby!
    I think I can relate to why Vivian chose to keep her work to herself. Sharing is fun and sociable, but I make things to please myself more than to show other people.
    Love the porthole quilt!

    1. Really Karla? You seem like such a social person, it is hard for me to imagine you keeping all of your lovely works to yourself like Vivian. Keep making your amazing art!


      1. I understand what you are saying, but for most of my teens and twenties, I was the uncool sewing nerd without a friend who shared my passion. When I married, I didn’t make my dress as I knew no one who I could ask to pin the hem (my mum was living in Korea). It is much more fun with friends, but I kept sewing (and knitting) when no one but me cared. I found and joined my craft group about 6 years ago when we moved to this city, and I am so thankful.

  10. I entered three quilts in the Quiltcon and I hoped that one of them was rejected because the back of the quilt was a complete mess. Why did I enter it, who knows, I was high on endorphins. Luckily, it was among the two quilts that were rejected. I know how much I suck at certain things, and how much improvement I need in some areas, but I also want to see the judges comments in case I am missing something. There are lots of benefits in being judged by your peers. This is why I enter quilts in contents, to improve my technique. My esthetic is my own, so is my taste, and my design. I am not looking for approval, well maybe a little bit, but I am mostly looking for positive criticism of my pieces. I am also a glutton for punishment…all that waiting and stressing makes me want to create more, design more, quilt more. I am leery about using the term artist because the purpose of my creation is twofold, but ultimately it has to utilitarian. I like terms crafter, or artizan, and yes, I managed to earn decent living with one of my crafts when it was only me and not two other mouths to feed. Creative energy is very positive, and I need it to live as much as I need food, air and water. It makes me happy to create, especially during the dreary winter months.

  11. I love your blog because it’s so inspiring and makes me miss the east coast museums even though I know you’re a west coaster! I share to and to be inspired. Sometimes I need advice but most often I think I get lifted by the shared sense of joy in seeing a creative endeavor. I sew/quilt because it’s brain candy for me and a release from the science I do (or try to!) all day. There’s an ease to just following a pattern and knowing what the result will be but I have found since my sewing skills have improved that I am venturing out into more improv, independent work. I’ve been thinking a lot about your previous IG post on John Squire and am plotting to make a small scaled version, when I’m brave enough and when the holiday season is over!

  12. Sweetie, you ARE exactly the kind of quilter that can pass the Modern muster! I appreciate that putting oneself & one’s work out there to be judged is not for everyone. You need a thick skin. I have found it rewarding — fun to see my quilt hanging for all to see & educational. Failure is an especial learning experience — a bit painful, but valuable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s