On Friday night I gave a talk to the Bristol Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild. It went very well. I did my hour and they gave me a very generous cheque for Medecins sans Frontiers. Everyone was happy and they have home made flapjacks with their tea and coffee which is certainly worth remembering. There were lots of questions, more than usual, with quite a few people asking real ‘how to’ questions, questions about materials and sourcing them, technical questions on phototransfer onto fabric and so on. In the middle of all this was a question which I don’t tend to get asked very often in environments in which I am talking to makers: what are they for? For academics this is the equivalent of the so what question, another one everyone dreads. What do you make these quilts for? It’s a good and fair question. But I was, on reflection, a bit disappointed by my response.
I started to talk about using the pieces in my work, and using them as the basis for writing learned journal articles. It’s a fair enough, academic justification answer, but a bit of a dull one. What I should have said along with Oscar Wilde in the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, is ‘All art is quite useless’. Or, despite the fact that it sounds so pretentious, is because I have to. I don’t feel as if I have much choice in it. I get very frustrated if I don’t get the opportunity to make, as I have mentioned recently. I do it because I have to work things out in three dimensions using colour and texture. I do it to see what I make. To paraphrase Karl Weick, how can I know what I think until I see what I make? Making my pieces is part of my thinking. And, I like to make beauty. Again, it sounds pretentious, so although I can’t afford a lot of very beautiful objets but I can make simulations of them. So what are they for? They are for me.