Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Modern Quilting is to me

I want to start this post off by saying that I have enjoyed debates I have seen through social media on what modern quilting means to different people. It always makes me think about what modern quilting is to me. This is my two cents on the subject.

In a Nutshell

Like it or not, the term modern quilting has come to represent a particular type of aesthetic. In the most broad way, I define a modern quilt as any quilt that feels "of the moment" and is made using current aesthetic preferences. I hesitate to use the word trendy because that implies some sort of transience or faddishness and not timelessness. Many modern quilts are timeless. At least some aspect of a modern quilt makes a departure from the quilt aesthetics of the past although many modern quilts still pay homage to previous quilt styles. For a quilt to be modern, there should be some quantifiable way in which it feels new and contemporary vs. old or reproduced.

Old is New is Old Again

This may mean that some quilts made decades ago are still modern in style, because they feel like they belong to the hear and now. This is not a new aesthetic that just developed, but it is being embraced by more quilters (myself included, although I'll never stop loving and making traditional quilts). It's awesome to see it growing and all the new ideas people come up with.

Specifically Speaking

Here's where things get tricky for me: defining a set of visual characteristics that define exactly what that modern quilt aesthetic looks like. This does have value because I don't see another way to more explicitly define the ideas above, but I worry that listing too many specific points becomes limiting and will eventually make what we call modern quilts today into a style we find very dated in a decade or so. There has to be room for evolution and innovation.

Ultimately, for a quilt to be what would broadly be considered a modern aesthetic quilt, these characteristics must be met:

  • novel and/or fresh feeling design
  • bold, fresh, contemporary color usage

Right now, those characteristics often manifest themselves with*:

  • graphic elements (such as geometric shapes or simplified organic forms)
  • visually striking blocks or design elements
  • asymmetric balance
  • minimalist design
  • increased use of negative space
  • less reliance on repetitive block based designs
  • less reliance on a square grid for block layout
  • engaged edges (blocks or elements that are cropped at the edges)
  • free-form improvisational elements
  • increased use of solid fabrics (they increase design clarity)
  • use modern fabric prints (fabrics that meet the requirements of bold, fresh contemporary colors and design motif)

*I see this list as evolving over time as the aesthetic develops.

A quilt will (probably!) not feel modern if it has these characteristics. I'm only pointing out elements will likely make a quilt not characterized as a modern aesthetic—please do not feel like this is some commentary that quilts with these elements are not to be admired or are not valued as a high art form!

  • uses fabric and color schemes typical of or inspired by a past historic period not associated with modern art (baroque, renaissance, civil war reproductions, feed sacks), especially when used in a traditional quilt design
  • lots of batik fabric in a quilt (Batiks tend to not have the minimalist design or clarity that is preferred in modern quilting. The colors mottle one into the other and the design motifs are not sharp and clear. They are gorgeous, just not part of the modern aesthetic.)
  • elaborate and ornate design elements
  • figurative or photo realistic quilt compositions
  • a strongly patterned border fabric surrounding a grid of repeated blocks
  • could strongly or singularly be defined as a cottage style, country style and/or traditional

There are always blurred lines where one aesthetic blends into another. The exact line where traditional quilting meets modern quilting and again where modern quilting meets art quilting is impossible to sharply define. In particular, I see examples of what people had been calling an art quilt that I would also classify as a modern quilt aesthetic. I think of art quilts as non-functional objects, like a wall hanging, that encompass more than just a modern aesthetic. Not all modern quilts are meant to be used in a functional capacity but I'd still call them modern. Maybe there needs to be a sub-genre of modern art quilts.

Final Perspective

Well, these are my current thoughts on the matter of defining what a modern quilt is. There's still lots of room for interpretation. I hope new ideas will get me thinking about another aspect of "what is modern."

Here is something that I know my opinion will not evolve on:

If you love what you make, who cares what style it is!

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