30 March 2008

Mindfulness and Quilt Shows

I've alluded to the practice of mindfulness recently and have discussed how mindfulness has changed the very process of my art, providing me with more patience and productivity. My recent trip to the Lancaster's Quilter's Heritage Celebration shows how mindfulness is also changing my relationship both to my own work and to the greater community of quilters and artist I'm part of.

In the past, I've found quilt shows to be awe-inspiring and angst-inducing in equal measure. While I've always enjoyed looking at the quilts, I've never been able to just enjoy them. That harsh little inner critic was always making comparisons and judgments between my work and the works I was viewing.

I was insecure and trying to find my own vision and place in the art/quilt community. It was easiest to do so by defining myself in opposition to other quilters. I would look at a traditionally quilted piece and think, "I would never make a quilt like that." Or, look at technically perfect art quilt, "I could never make a quilt like that."

Even though I was looking at other people's visions, I made it all about me. What did I think about the piece? Could I make anything like it? Do I have the skills to complete a work like that? Do I have the patience to spend that much time on one piece? Would I ever enter a piece in a show?

Most times, I would walk out inspired and exhausted, dreaming of entering my own quilt in a year or two. But dreams they remained. I expended so much energy comparing myself to others that I had nothing left for myself. My motivation was winning a competition rather than sharing and expressing my vision. That is ultimately not inspiring because the thought of having to win leaves open the possibility of actually losing. And losing was too painful to contemplate.

At least that was my typical response to quilt show before I started practicing mindfulness. But I didn't even realize it until I attended QHC this past Friday.

Friday felt different. I enjoyed the show and each quilt on it's own merits. It wasn't about me, but about each quilter and the time and effort they put into expressing their own vision. I was able to appreciate each quilt for what it was, without judging or comparing. Wow, how did they come up with that idea? What a beautiful quilting design! That's a great combination of fabrics! What patience this quilter must have.

And as I looked at each quilt, I began to feel part of the community of all quilters, regardless of their level of proficiency or preferred style. People often say that they feel a connection to past generations of quilters when they quilt, but I never knew what they meant. But on Friday, I understood that all quilters, whatever our level of proficiency, preferred style, or personal vision, share something in common: to use fabric and thread to create something beautiful.

It wasn't about competition or comparison anymore. Instead, I felt a sense of community and connection. And, I began to hear my muse because her song wasn't drowned out by insecurities and judgments.

I am inspired now to enter a show. The work I have done this year shows me that I have the patience to complete a show-worthy quilt. And the increasing volume of my muse's song tells me I have the vision. I'm no longer concerned about winning or losing (or even whether my piece is actually accepted into the show), but rather I'm motivated by the thought of sharing my vision with the broader quilt community.

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