On Being Judged

RGB Modern returned from QuiltCon a couple of months ago, but a couple of weeks ago while I was spring cleaning I noticed a piece of paper in the bottom of the sack that my quilt was shipped in. It was the judge sheet with the juror’s notes.

I’ve entered my work into juried exhibitions before, where it is either accepted or rejected but I’ve never submitted my quilts for juror’s comments as is the tradition for quilt shows. In fact I typically advise my students against submitting their improvised quilts for jury by an outside authority. Why? Because finding and trusting one’s own authority is essential to developing authenticity in improvisational process.

So finding the unexpected juror’s notes on RGB Modern was a jaw dropping experience. I’m so satisfied with everything about this quilt, and consider it to be one of my recent bests. However the jurors thought differently. Comments included, “ineffective use of color, does not fit the modern quilt aesthetic, pattern to busy, piecework imprecise and too ambitious.” MY MY I had no idea! After the initial shock I began to laugh. (btw- this is not a criticism, or put-down of the QuiltCon jurors or organizers, they were doing their duty according to the system normalized by the community.)

In life too, I’ve had to learn to laugh at people’s judgements. Recently after a date, the person I was out with sent me a follow-up email saying I was splendid in every way but I needed kissing lessons. I retorted, “I’m a fine kisser, thank-you-very-much, however I’m not as accomplished as you are in turning on the instant passion.” The point being, I never take anyone else’s judgement of me or my work just personally. There may or may not be some seed of truth in it, but mostly other peoples judgements are about their personal preferences or insecurities, and I don’t find it useful.

I  don’t find my inner judge to be very useful either. I don’t know who controls that bitchy voice or where it comes from exactly but I’m not going to listen to her any more than the jurors at QuiltCon! My inner judge will knit pick my best quilt to pieces and leave me despondent if I let her. Instead I ask myself the following questions as a way to evaluate my work rather than judge it.

  • What surprised me while I was making this quilt?
  • What did I learn or discover during the process?
  • What did I find satisfying about the process or the outcome?
  • What am I dissatisfied with?
  • If I have a dissatisfaction, then what can I do differently next time to increase my satisfaction?

Even though QuiltCon is long over, it’s not forgotten. Cruising the blogs recently I noticed a couple of other people who shared their experiences of having their quilts judged, Cinzia at duex petites souris (whose quilt above was one of my favorites at QuiltCon), and Jodi at fiberhaus. If you’ve run across any others, or have posted one yourself please share the link or your story in the comments.

I think the notion of being judged is one of the “big life” issues built into traditional women’s craft. It provides us as quilt makers (modern or traditional) with a golden opportunity for exploring and re-visioning  our relationships to authority,  perfection, criticism, and judgement.

With all of that, I leave you with a few more personal favorites from QuiltCon.

This entry was posted in Mantras for Creativity, Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt, Tools, Tips, Tutorials and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to On Being Judged

  1. Christina says:

    I like that you are having a positive attitude towards the comments. It’s always hard to do. I shy away from the word “modern” in quilting, especially when it comes to my own work. As much as I love the “modern” movement, i’m so steeped in traditional and it’s beyond my perfectionist brain to have wonky pieces…I think. I do try to get outside of the perfect squares and accurate measurements, but it’s hard. There are very few quilters that I truly consider “modern” in my view, but your style definitely fits the bill in my mind. I remember before the MQG was formed, and the younger generations attitudes about “traditional” guilds (me included). They didn’t like the judging and expectation that everything was always done a certain way, and that all quilts were made from blocks or rectangles or perfect Drunkard’s Paths. The crowd wanted a change to more free form piecing. Now, I just shake my head at what the MQG has grown in to. How are they different from a traditional guild? I struggle to find the difference, but i’m sure it’s there. You’re quilt, to me, is a “modern quilt” in every sense. I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder, but I don’t agree with any of the comments made by the judges. The quilt is beautiful and I would have been proud to have made such a piece and I definitely would call it modern in every way, shape, color and form. Congratulations on a beautifully executed quilt!

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  3. roccagal says:

    what a great post! I totally luv that interpretation of the critics words-b***sh*t in my mind!
    You made it is meaningful to you and you are happy-is there any other critieria that is as important! no!
    (personally I get a thrill each time I look at RGB Modern!)

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  5. Amy McAllister says:

    Such a loverly quilt!
    It almost angers me that the jury could not see the obvious joy in the use of color and the free-ness of the piecing….both qualities the “modern” quilters prize.

    Seeing your quilt spurs me on to keep creating and not listen to my wicked inner voice that sometimes tells me my work is no good, not perfect and not precise.

    Keep your fabulous work coming! I am so glad I stumbled across your blog via etsy.

  6. Nikki says:

    Sherri, I too received negative comments on both of my quilts. I was pretty hurt by it, as all of the positive marks involved workmanship (yes, I know how to sew thankyouverymuch) and not design. It seemed that there was no aspect of the design in either of my quilts that appealed to the judges. I received similar comments about my color choices, too.
    I decided to share a bit of my experience on my blog as well (here: http://www.thegirlwhoquilts.com/2013/03/the-one-that-i-almost-didnt-blog-about.html), although I almost didn’t. Blogging about it was quite therapeutic for me, as it made me realize that EVERY negative comment from the judges was something that I especially loved about my quilts.
    One of my quilts was chosen for the International Quilt Festival in Ireland, so I’m anxious to see how the feedback from that show compares to QuiltCon. I appreciate constructive criticism, but my QuiltCon critiques felt cold and DEstructive….hopefully that’s not the norm.
    FWIW, I love your quilt. I was quite awe-struck by it when I saw it at QuiltCon!

  7. Erika says:

    AAAAugh that quilt is so wonderfully wonderfully fabulously great. Ignore my judgement! I will just sit over here letting the picture scratch my itch for COLOR awesomefabulosity.

    And, thanks for your thoughts on judgement. So much to learn. Thanks for teaching.

  8. Feli says:

    Hi Sherri,
    I’m so sorry for that!
    It seems to me that people are not ready for improv quilts.
    Three years ago I went to an in Europe very popular international Quilt Event in France called “Carrefour Européen du Patchwork” http://www.patchwork-europe.com/index.php?language=GB
    All exhibitions were overcrowded except the exhibition of the magnificent “Gee’s Bend Quilts”. I was happy because I had the opportunity to admire them in peace and silence. I love them, but most people don’t probably for the same reason as the judges of your beautiful quilt.
    Just don’t care and continue your extraordinary work!
    Good luck!
    Love from Feli

  9. I like the point you make about trusting your own authority….often we are afraid to do that because we are conditioned to worry about what others will think (how we will be judged!) so we stick with the norm; in how we dress, how we behave, what we make.
    This, as you say is counterproductive to the creative process.
    I, like you, have learned not to take criticism personally. I make things as I like them, making sure to enjoy the process as much as possible. And I know that no matter what I make, there will always be some who love it some who don’t. It’s great when they do and it’s okay when they don’t. It won’t change how I feel about it.
    I recently heard a quote from a Gee’s Bend quilter that really resonated with me. What she said and the look on her face when she said it, reflects the pure joy she feels when making a quilt :
    “Basically, I love my quilts when make ‘em. They be beautiful to me. I don’t know ‘bout how to anybody else, but to me. And then when I quilt ‘em…oh I get another breath of ‘em!”
    Amen!

    (And as for the fellow who made that comment about your kissing…perhaps you were uninspired.)

  10. pat cooper says:

    Thank you for your post. I am sorry you got a negative feedback but I am delighted with your post and the wonderful, thoughtful comments it engendered. I LOVE your questions as a criteria for evaluation. Thanks for sharing, thanks for your attitude and thanks to the other posters. Keep laughing

  11. Sheila says:

    (smile) Great post Sherri,

    First, I have to say that guy that emailed you about the kissing is a jerk! Who would say that, how strange, and he really did you a favor by showing that side of him so early on.

    Regarding judging, I have a different take on this, and by the way, they rejected both of my entries to QuiltCon, so at least you got in. :) I guess I’m not “modern” enough, but who gives a crap anyway. I love being a part of the “entire” quilting community!!!

    As you know, most all of my work is improv piecing, and I do enter lots of big shows. I enjoy the experience and the people I meet, and I enter to share my work with the attendees of the show. I would never hold back because of concern for what a judge thinks of my work, because I know that it is totally subjective. If you don’t love what you do, then who cares what everyone else thinks. I do think it boils down to a matter of personal taste, for some judges, and that’s just the way it is. People are attracted to certain kinds of work, or colors, and often, they can’t see past their preferences. However, I have found that this is not the case with all judges. You’ll never really get a thoughtful critique from a quilt show judge, simply because they are too busy. If they don’t love it, they’ll pop off a few short comments and then they have to move on to the next one.

    Personally, I love the organic style and colors of your quilts and I know I’m not alone. I’m one who is for sharing your work and not being concerned about rejection. If we don’t put ourselves out there, not only do we not experience rejection, we miss out on a lot of other great experiences also.

  12. D R E W says:

    i love all your quilts. who cares what some fuddy-duddy quilt police grandma said about a quilt she didn’t understand.

    as my mother always says… “subjective judging is the cruelest form of power.”

  13. Kristin L says:

    I’ve been thinking about this all day, especially when I met with some local fiber friends and we discussed a curated show we’ll be attending tomorrow. I have to say that I am at a point where I welcome some sort of context for my work. It could be formal critique, or comments from a judge or juror or someone reviewing a show. I am confident that my work is of reasonable technical quality, but I wonder if I’m effective at conveying a message, or somehow engaging the viewer. And I wonder if my work can hold it’s own with other works I admire. I think that traditional quilt show comments like those from Houston, or Quilt Con are not helpful to me (especially when they seem to be so very narrow in their expectations), but I am very much looking forward to hearing the juror’s talk at tomorrow’s show.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Oh, please report back on any insights you gain from the juror’s talk. I think it is helpful to consider what kind and what form of feedback can be used during a jury to be of most benefit. Many of the comments on the QuiltCon form were multiple choice, with occasional brief extra commentary written in the margins.

      Still I think the most important thing for me is to evaluate my own responses to judgement and be prepared to process negative and/or positive feedback in ways that support my learning and growth, rather than shutting me down.

      Thanks Kristin.

      • Kristin L says:

        Reporting back. The juror’s talk was short and although she offered to talk to anyone about their work, I got distracted and never got the chance for a one on one (bummer). She did say that she had a soft spot for narrative works, so now I think I know why she chose the pieces of mine that she did! I see your point that learning about our own responses to feedback is often of more importance than the feedback itself. Very insightful.

  14. Liberty says:

    Sherri Lynn- I’m SO glad you wrote this. I loved your quilts in the show and wholeheartedly disagree with every comment I’ve heard from the quiltcon judges so far – I’m not quite sure what their point of views were, but without spite and snarkiness – I have to say, I have no clue where they were coming from. You posted Liz Harvatine’s triangle log cabin quilt in your favorites and I know she had similar reactions to her “comments” as well.

    This has been a major deterrent to me entering my own work in shows! Each time an opportunity comes up, I struggle with the inner conversation… “Are you ready to hear the negativity?”

    • sherrilynn says:

      Libby you are not the only one who has expressed this reservation. I would say to you and others not to be afraid of receiving negative comments when entering your work in a show. Certainly don’t let it stop you from sharing your work with the community. Instead see it as an opportunity for practicing not taking things personally, and for affirming your own authority over the opinions of others. Thanks for your share.

  15. Cleta says:

    Sherri, Your quilts are wonderful and I love all of them. I have had to use so many different longarmers because of the judgement calls I get from them. I love “Ethnic” quilts and use a lot of material that I’ve gotten from my friend who lives in Africa. You would not believe the critiques I get on the use of the fabric and the designs that I choose to do. I think I’ve finally found someone who will just quilt my quilts and send them back to me without including any notes. Sherri I love the use of all the color in your quilts.Blessings

  16. denyse says:

    Your quilt got my vote for People’s Choice. I think it’s awesome, and am grateful for the work you put out there. Just got the copy of “Who’d A Thought” which I ordered after we corresponded. Love it. Thanks!

  17. Dan R says:

    I also laughed out loud at my negative Quiltcon critique. It struck me that there was no room in the critique framework to understand the quilter’s vision or process, and therefor no way to evaluate success. In all, the comments just seemed entirely irrelevant and trivial. What does “poor use of color” mean? It means precisely nothing.

  18. Julierose says:

    Hi Sherri: As a performing pianist I totally understand the ideas you espouse and fully agree with them.
    Judgment is definitely subjective–or as my teacher told me after a horribly criticized performance of mine– (because I dug deep within my “self” and played the piece as I “felt” it–evidently not as it “should have been played” according to some canon out there in their minds!)it’s in the ear of the listener/or in the eye of the beholder. Believe in your self and your work and your “gut feeling”–and anyway–it is the PROCESS and not just the product that counts in the final evaluation. Feeling good about your work is its own reward…I am so thankful that you generously choose share your process and your quilts with us–they are a gift from the “real” you….they speak volumes….hugs, Julierose

  19. Diane says:

    Holy Moly, I love this post so much! I’m really inspired by your firm commitment to trusting your own impressions. And I’m quite surprised to hear that QuiltCon opted for an old-school style of judging – it does seem to run counter to what I perceived that movement to be all about. I could not disagree more with the comments made about your beautiful quilt!

    This all reminds me of this talk, which was the keynote of a polymer clay conference: http://www.slideshare.net/Harriete/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-in-the-age-of-the-internet . The speaker here makes a case for the benefits of academic critique as a means of artistic improvement, claiming that the internet does away with that system to the detriment of artists.

    I’ve always had a problem with the critique model, even in my college-class critiques. It’s just so hard to separate the actually-useful feedback from what’s purely subjective (or even petty and motivated by factors far outside the work). We’re all flawed humans, no matter how educated or experienced – and productive, helpful critique is a delicate instrument requiring far more skilled hands than most of us have.

    I love the questions you ask yourself – listening to those answers makes a whole lot more sense to me!

  20. Susan K says:

    I was surprised at some of the quilts at QuiltCon that won awards. I personally enjoyed your quilt and appreciated it. I enjoyed the freeness of it and the curved lines. After hearing some of the comments in general at QuiltCon by different quilters, I came to the conclusion that some have a very restrictive view of “modern” quilts and haven’t developed enough in the quilt world to appreciate different pieces. They have a preconceived, narrow view and hopefully will realize that the quilt world is ever-changing and developing and “modern” is only a word that has different meanings for us all.

  21. Chandra says:

    Your ownership of your work and your inner authority inform your craft and your teaching in ways that are really powerful and inspiring. I am so thankful I could take the collaborative Round Robin class with you at Quiltcon! I had enjoyed improvisation before but I am now much more grounded in the improvisational design process.

    I identified two of the quiltmakers you sought over on flickr, but I wanted you to know that the fourth Quiltcon quilt you posted here is by Seattle’s own Becca Jubie. It is called “Oreos and Creamsicles” and I like it very much too.

  22. Kim says:

    Just wanted to add, I feel the exact opposite of all the juror’s comments! I think the color sparkles and I didn’t know there was such thing as “too ambitious” piecing! RGB Modern was also one of my favorite quilts in the show. It’s alive and leaves me wondering “how on earth did she do this?”

    Judging … it’s just taste, and sometimes taste is given power and authority, and maybe the guise of objective criteria. Your words on this are very wise. I don’t think modern quilt aesthetic or any aesthetic, for that matter, needs to be defined.

  23. Brenda says:

    I’ve only seen positive comments on blogs about your quilt and your classes. I don’t agree that your quilt doesn’t fit in the modern esthetic –that comment shows signs of quilt police, which is what I thought the modern quilting movement was getting away from. I think this is one of those remarks that fits into the “it says more about them than you” categories. I really like this quilt — because of your use of colour, and how technically challenging it is. Thanks for sharing the judging comments with us.

  24. patty says:

    You piecing was too ambitious? To ambitious for who? It wasn’t too ambitious for you! I thought QuiltCon was about enbracing a different view to the quilt world and shaking it up a bit! Maybe your shook the world too much! I think you work is wonderful!

  25. john wiercioch says:

    Yay for you!!! Thank you for sharing this revealing note (revealing about this whole notion of jugment). Even us painter’s have to deal with the lousy concept. I’m so weary of it! I regret “crafters” (I don’t like labels, but for clarity–potters, furniture makers, sewing artists, anyone doing something beyond the clear definition of painting or traditional sculpture) have often suffered a double whammy regarding their work. First acceptance into the elite art world, and I regret taking on the same unconfortable system of judging. Discernment in your own work is good, as is talking things through with trusted friends and mentors, but that’s altogether different.

    A short tale: Years ago, I was a young man working in a museum where a famous expert who’d written one of the art history texts many used, was the juror for a biennial competition. It was a big deal–he was sort of an icon. To ease his task reviewing hundreds of works the watercolors were generally together, the sculptures, the photos, etc. When he came upon the area with the quilts, he dismissed them all with a wave and without a glance and said “this isn’t art.” And that was that! for all those wonderful artists’ efforts and lots of great stuff! I was stunned! At that instant, even at 20, I realized, something’s very wrong with this “art world” picture. Thankfully much has changed since then and boundaries have been broken in many directions. Closed minds have been opened. People like your friend Eli deserve credit, and in many museum’s modern quilts are right beside great contemporary paintings, and many barriers continue to be removed by folks like you Sherri! Rather than a barrier breaker, I prefer the term “bridge builder.” Work like yours (and many of your quilting friends) offers the “art world” and all those who visit musuems the chance to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful things happening in your “crafter’s world.” Without question it has been to the great benefit of us all!

    I can tell all of you quilters out there (from direct experience as a museum educator for many years) that something very different happens when a viewer approaches a quilt, vs, when the come up to a painting. No matter how radical the pattern, style or design, the quilt is instantly more approachable, less intimidating, and will usually get a fuller viewing! There’s a softening, an opening, that seems to touch a chord within people of all generations and all cultures. It’s a wonderful, almost magical thing to see. So the wheels HAVE turned! Speaking of turning I hope that famous juror is rolling in his grave!

    Spurred by the story above and a few others, I came to feel “juried shows” were so antithetical to the creative spirit that for many years I refused to enter competitive shows. For me “Art” is not about competing, it’s about exploring, sharing and giving! I’ve had to balance this ideal with the reality this is the system we have and so admit I do occasionally do enter things these days. but I take light stockj in whether I’m in or out knowing judgments are usually only in a very limited fashion about the quality of what I’m entering.

    And so too with other’s comments in our lives. I like to think we are on a dynamic adventure together, not in a race to compete! We sustain ourselves and each other by sharing, giving and enjoying life. Taking care of each other is what it’s all about. It seems to me the roots of this great tradition of quilting, from whatever culture, speaks directly from this heart-centered idea–making something that makes life better for yourself or another. Damn the stupid judges and their torpedos, full stitching ahead!

    PS: That bozo mentioning kissing has some pretty big issues–maybe this is exactly what you sensed and why you didn’t feel open to kiss him with passion!

    • sherrilynn says:

      Thanks John for your inside perspective of the jury process. And yes I think many quilt makers can relate to both the automatic rejection of quilts as art and the allure that quilts have on the beholder. I’m glad we are seeing change in the definitions and cannons of art and craft.

  26. cauchy09 says:

    It was an interesting first experience of quilt judging for me too. Although mine were all positive, I still wonder who set the standards and why the assessment is so personal and cryptic. The making, as you say, is a personal journey and the judging seems really unnatural. Oh well.

  27. jamie haney says:

    Sherri– I have to say your color choices are perfect in the quilt! When I look at it, the colors and shapes work together to create beauty and movement. The pink centers were a daring choice that are on the edge of not fitting but because of that, they fit exactly right:) Personally, I believe the best artists are under appreciated, and you are a great artist.

  28. I think part of the issue is that it’s judged by “quilters” and the only way to remedy this is to begin judging modern quilts possibly as art rather than quilts. This would require having them judged by people educated in ART not quilters who know what a “pretty” quilt should look like. But then, it’s back to getting quilts recognized as art versus or in addition to being a quilt.

    I think your pieces is beautiful. The graphic designer in me finds your use of color wonderful. Also – I’m not sure when the definition of “Modern quilt” because “AMISH” – really?? They have to be simple non moving designs to qualify as “modern” now?

    Keep going with your work, it’s beautiful (not that you asked for MY judgement) and your comment about the question of women’s craft being judged has sparred a possible idea for a post for me, so thank you for that as well, and I’ll be linking back to this when I get to writing it!

  29. Jenny Squawk says:

    I have not heard of one good judging comment that came from QuiltCon. Maybe that’s my fault because I’m following the wrong people. A lot were dejected. I understand judging, but it can’t all be bad or why did the piece end up exhibited by the show? What I found beautiful and the judges did were completely different. Isn’t that where the definition of modern quilting is needed. You RGB didn’t have enough negative for the judges.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Let me add that RGB Modern did get praise for its hand-quilting, and my other quilt in the show Log Cabin Improv, which one a prize in the Best Hand Quilting – Large Quilt category only got positive remarks for quilting and design.

      The other funny thing about criticism is how easy our minds will focus on the negative and forget the positive. So I wanted to be sure to clarify that I did receive some positive feedback.

  30. Dear sherri, I was surprised and offended by that small-minded judges note, if only it had got lost like bits of paper that are vital in the Bermuda Triangle of my office. I often look at your quilts, which I find inspiring in every aspect from their technique to their exuberance and sheer joy. I can also say that I don’t think anyone else could make one of your quilts, they are truly your own,which, I would have thought was the whole point. Hooray for you, my quilt maven! X

    • Debbie says:

      Sherri, I agree with your opinion on judging. I have asked my small modern quilt group to give critiques only when requested by the artist. I often think of a comment from my daughter, a young writer, following my literary suggestions. She snarkly but appropriately said “you can write that story any time you want to”. In an emerging art style, like modern quilts, judgments become limiting definitions that are counter productive. Thank you for raising this important issue.

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