Michael James

How does working in the academic world affect your own quiltmaking style?

I don't like the notion of "style." It suggests something that I latch on to, that I then allow to define me, and that I exploit until I find myself working in a predictable, formulaic way. Rather, I prefer to think of what I do as a process, one that moves ahead into unknown territory, one that doesn't run in place. I don't want to be on a treadmill running five miles an hour and getting nowhere. I'd rather be off on pavement, moving ahead toward the next horizon. I realize that the so-called 'public' prefers not to be challenged or surprised--they find some comfort and reassurance in the status quo. This is so deadening. I'd rather subvert people's expectations, and even my own. Life is too short to get fixated on a 'style.'

I love the intellectual stimulation of academia; it's a kind of fertilizer for my creative work. There's lots to stimulate and lots to build on, and the opportunity for inter-disciplinary exchanges is a real bonus. I don't feel locked into one tight and restricted box: I'm pulling ideas and energy from colleagues in a range of disciplines. It's a rich and dynamic community, and it drives me crazy that people often diss their universities as 'ivory towers' where sloth and inertia reign. Nothing could be further from the truth. This country wouldn't be where it is but for its universities.

If you could offer one piece of advice for quiltmakers today, what would it be?

It's the same I've always offered: just do the work. And don't try to figure out what other people want. Figure out what YOU want your work to be, and what you want it to say. Where imagination is concerned, the average American is shortchanged--she's been dulled into quiet compliance by the forces of conformity. Inventive people (artists and scientists among them) think outside the box--that's where they're most comfortable.

Quiltmaking has historically been an art of conformity. I think it's high time that we relegate that fact to quilt history, and move this art form fully into the 21st century where it should take its place alongside other exploratory and creative media.



Michael James's Diamond Lattice quilt appears in Quiltmaker's May/June 2005 issue (No. 103). Sophisticated printed stripes make this an easy pieced gem. If you cannot find this issue at your local quilt shop, order back issues at www.villagequiltshoppe.com.



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