Today let’s talk about what kind of shows are available to the textile/quilt artist. I’ll divide them into three general categories: Quilt Shows, Art Quilt Shows, Fine Art Shows
1- Quilt Shows
This is what the general public thinks of when you say “quilt.” A gymnasium with traditional quilts and grey haired “quilt police” counting stitches with a magnifying glass. Fortunately this stereotype, while accurate in some instances, is sometimes not accurate.
I love traditional quilts and and greatly admire the mastery of technique that wins many a ribbon there. And I DO think that traditional quilts are works of art in and of themselves. It’s one of the things I love about the quilt as a medium of expression. There is room for everyone at every level of creative expression in the quilt world.
In many cases, a large quilt show is a wonderful place to share your work with a large audience. Women love quilt shows. You will be speaking to your quilting tribe… or at least fellow fabric lovers. Keep in mind that while many quilt shows now have art categories, the judges rarely have an art background and will still be awarding prizes based primarily on technique rather than visual impact. If you are making cutting edge art and winning a ribbon is important to you – think hard about why you are entering a quilt show.
Many quilt shows offer the chance to be seen by a large number of people in a short time. If you want to teach quilters, it is great for them to be familiar with your work. Sometimes prize money is offered. In fact, sometimes, a LOT of prize money is offered.
Most of the people that see your quilt are more interested in buying fabric than your artwork. There is rarely a mechanism set up for people to buy your work from a quilt show. Only a very few people actually win those cash prizes – but, hey, it could happen!
Do your research. Does the show have art categories? How many people see it? Does it have a great reputation for treating the quilts with respect? Are you in it for the awards, for the visibility, to make sales, to sell patterns, to build a reputation as a quilt teacher?
2- Art Quilt Shows
A show that is looking specifically for textiles but is presented as a fine art show. The jurors are looking for original work, excellent composition and design. It is up to the curators how far into the innovative arena of textiles they want to venture. Some do not want work mounted in a hard frame, some require all the materials to be cloth rather than mixed media. Most are quite flexible in their requirements.
These shows can often do a great deal to educate a broader audience about the medium of textiles in the fine art world. Showing a group of quilts that were created intentionally as fine art gives them presence. They often draw an audience comprised of both traditional quilters and fine art lovers.
Your work will be treated as fine art. Period. I know that in my town, the art quilt shows we sponsor at the community galleries draw the biggest “crowds.” The organizers of the show will know how to manage your artwork – unpacking, hanging and handling should not be an issue here.
I’m having a hard time thinking of any. Tell me some in the comments. Some of the venues don’t get a large viewership.
Just as with any entry – do your research to see if your work fits. I maintain a list of these types of shows on my website – take a look. Ask yourself all the same questions, especially the “why am I doing this?” question. Are you in it for the awards, for the visibility, to make sales, to sell patterns, to build a reputation as a quilt teacher?
3- Fine Art Shows
This is your regular gallery, museum, or whatever-space-available show but is geared primarily towards traditional paintings or sculpture. Most are more accepting of textiles these days. Not all – one show I entered (and won a prize in) insisted my work be put in the “fine crafts” category and displayed it on a pedestal on the floor with ceramics and wood pieces instead of on the wall even though it was wired and ready to hang. Getting your work into an art museum or a gallery will do wonders for your resume! The Grand Rapids Art Museum
The people who go to these shows are expecting to see fine art and will not think of your work as a blanket. Unless of course you entered a ratty old blanket as a piece of conceptual art and then they would probably give it best of show. (Apologies. My personal and definitely NOT authoritative opinion of some conceptual art leaked out there.) Most of these shows have a mechanism for viewers to purchase the work. A museum or high end gallery showing might make you feel like you’ve finally “made it.”
Some fine art shows won’t even look at textiles. Some staffers or volunteers will be stymied when you ask for two nails in the wall rather than one to hang your work – even when you send in a clear and simple instructions pinned to the back of the work. The competition is tougher because your work will be more difficult to fit in among more traditional hangings of paintings and sculptures.
I’ll say it again – do your research to see if your work fits. Ask yourself all the same questions, especially the “why am I doing this?” question. Are you in it for the awards, for the visibility, to make sales? Honestly ask yourself if your work will hold its own against high quality paintings. Consider mounting or framing smaller textiles to give them more “presence.” I have a great online course on how to do this here.
Bottom line = do your homework. Ask yourself why you want to enter a show and then make your decisions accordingly. I’d love to hear your opinion!