Friday, February 17, 2017

My thoughts: Susan Brubaker Knapp

This post was written by Susan Brubaker Knapp. It is the first in a series of posts by members of The Artist Circle, explaining why we organized the Threads of Resistance exhibition, and our feelings about the role of art and artists in our democracy. Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. 

“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.” – Robert Henri

Most of my art is “pretty.” I like showing people the miracles I see in the natural world. I think that is because at heart, I am an optimist. I choose to turn my face to the light. Even in troubling times, I try very hard to keep my chin up. 

It’s been hard lately. I look at my country, which I love so much, and I see so much discord and hate and fear. So much failure to communicate. I believe that if we do not figure out how to start listening and talking to each other, our country is doomed. And I believe that art is an essential part of communication.

I am a complex person, and there is more to me than my beautiful fiber art and photographs. I know who I am. I have strong emotions and strong opinions. And I am not afraid to speak them. This, apparently, makes some people angry. Very, very angry.

When I posted the Call for Entries for “Threads of Resistance” on social media, and each time I posted updates, I got nasty comments. Some contained offensive names for our former president, mocked Hillary Clinton, and dripped with vitriol, with tones by turn scornful, angry and jeering. Sadly, the long presidential campaign season has hardened me to this kind of language. It is the language of Donald J. Trump, now made acceptable, and echoed by millions of Americans. I expected it. Im used to it by now. 

What did baffle me were the comments that basically told me that my role was to provide eye candy and keep my mouth shut. That I was using my “platform” to undermine the government,” that quilting and politics should never mix, that I was making people sad or disturbing the sanctity of the peaceful quilting community. Or that I was being unpatriotic by not completely supporting the president or “giving him a chance.”

Ummmmm.... what? Here are my thoughts on those points:

1. It is not my job – or the job of any artist – to make pretty pictures that make people happy. Sure, I do that most of the time. But I also don’t put my head in the sand and ignore what is happening around me. I make art about what moves me emotionally, what I am passionate about. Yes, I keep my face to the light. But I will not ignore the creeping shadows.

2. Quilts can be art. Throughout history, artists have used their work to protest. For a quick look at some protest art, try googling "protest art" images. Women, who have throughout history had fewer options available to them, have long protested in their needlework – embroidery and quilts. One could argue that Betsy Rossfirst American flag was protest art. Women have made quilts in the cause of many protests: temperance, women's suffrage, reproductive rights, anti-war, and civil rights.  
 3. Telling me to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself is flat-out intimidation, and it is wrong. It is especially wrong if it is said in a rude or threatening way. It would be very easy for me to keep my mouth shut right now. I am taking a risk, and I know it. I am willing to do it because I think the risks – to me, to my children, to Americans, and to democracy itself – of not speaking out are greater. If I dont speak out, I am complicit.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), pastor and outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler

4. Protest is patriotic. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.If Americans had not chosen to protest, we would still be a colony of England. We would still have slavery. People of color and women would not have the right to vote. “Coloredswould still be using separate drinking fountains and bathrooms and going to separate schools. People would not have the right to marry the people they love, regardless of gender. The list goes on and on...

I am not advocating a violent overturn of the government. (One of the commenters suggested that I sided with Madonna, who said that she thought about blowing up the White House. I do not; I think her remark was wrong.) I am merely exercising my right to speak freely through art – a right given to me as an American under the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When things that are important to me come under fire – truth, a free press, religious freedom and separation of church and state, the influence of hate groups in government, to name a few – I will always speak up. 

• • • • • 

At its core, art is communication. It is an artist’s way of saying, “Look at this! Please… see what I see!” Sometimes that is beauty. Sometimes it is pain. Sometimes it is a viewpoint. It is my hope that the fiber art in the “Threads of Resistance” exhibition will make people think, make people feel, make people consider another perspective.


  1. BRAVA!!!
    I commend you & thank you for sharing your viewpoint.

  2. Very well written, Susan. Quilters have historically used their forum to state political and spiritual opinions. We are raising our voices in a manner that combines art and truth. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this. I confess it moved me to look up Kohlberg's theory of moral development, hoping to find some clues to the propensity for name-calling that has emerged on both sides of the aisle. Intolerance is rife and often accompanied by misspellings and poor grammar. Which makes me wonder.

    I recently decided to vent more openly about my own political leanings on my blog. Knowing I might offend someone, I offered to remove anyone's blog links from my site if they preferred not to be associated. No one took me up on it, but my following is small.

    Still, I think explaining oneself clearly, calmly, without judgment ... but firmly, as you have done here ... is the way to go.

  4. Thank you Susan. So much of what I have worked for in change-making over my seventy plus years is being toppled and broken; so hard to watch this happening. My choice has been to work with Refugee children and women teaching English. A spin off from this has been to teach needle techniques and assist the women in developing products they can make and sell. A work in fabric and thread is designing itself in my head and heart, soon to the journal so I can make a piece to enter.
    I appreciate your openness and honesty in your words an din your work. Kristin

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and convictions, Susan. I am sorry to hear that you have been so abused by quilters. I like to think of our community as being a helpful, civil, and civic-minded group, so it's disheartening to hear of the nastiness that's been directed to you. Anyone who says that quilts are or should not be political does not know the history of quilting in this country. More than ever, it's important to stand up for traditional American democratic and civic values, and to oppose those who want to turn our country into a whites-only, Christians-only, perhaps males-only, dictatorship. Thanks for working to provide venues and a focus for our more political works.

  6. It amazes me that "we" have let ONE MAN flip this country on it's arse. And so quickly! Am I being naive?

  7. Thank you. Very well written. I never thought I would see our country take these steps backward and I never thought I would fear what the future would bring. Yes, Vicky aka Stichr, you, and I, are naive. You probably think like I did. People cannot possibly agree with #45. But we are wrong. So many still support him and all we can do is continue to resist and fight to get support back in future elections as those that didn't want to vote HRC find their way back to sanity. We must support strengthening our network.

  8. Susan, bravo! I know your thoughts are echoed by thousands of us out here! Thank you so much for your strength and rational discourse! The resistance is strong.

  9. Susan, Brava! I agree that artists don't have to make "pretty" all the time. Actually, I usually stay away from that and instead try for "truth" and "beauty". I applaud this great effort of Threads of Resistance. I'm Canadian and cannot participate, for financial reasons but I wait with anticipation any sharing of your experiences. She was warned and still she persevered.

  10. Very well put, Susan. Thank you! And thanks to Threads of Resistance for providing the platform for artists to creatively share their voices.

  11. It is very encouraging to see artists speaking out through art. I am Canadian but this affects us all and has motivated me to create art which speaks out as well. Thank you.

  12. I always loved you on Quilting Arts, now I love you more! Here's to using your voice through both art and words!

  13. Susan, I so wanted to participate, but was unable to, due to family issues. I look forward very much to seeing and supporting the exhibit and the movement. Thank you!


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