Join us in congratulating our faculty art advisor, Rebecca Fish Ewan, on her new book Doodling for Writers, published by Books for Hippocampus. Rebecca Fish Ewan is an artist and author and founded Plankton Press. In addition, she is currently a professor at ASU and teaches for the landscape architecture program. She has previously written two books, A Land Between and By the Forces of Gravity. Her new book Doodling for Writers features her own cartoons, as well as tips and tricks for authors who want to incorporate drawing into the writing process. It guides the reader through processes that will enhance their writing with prompts and activities to guide the way. Rebecca’s book will be released on October 6th, 2020 and is available for pre-order here.
Superstition Review would like to welcome faculty advisor Betsy Schneider. She will be advising the art editors starting this fall. As an introduction to the staff and readers, we interviewed Betsy and we are very glad to share the interview with you.
Betsy Schneider is a photo-based artist and educator. Her artistic concerns range from trying to understand time, decay and the body, to exploring childhood, culture, and relationships and looking very closely at strange visceral things such as candy, placentas and the mouth. She uses a variety of photographic tools including APS, digital, medium format and view cameras and digital and computer generated video. Her work manifests itself through exhibitions of rectangles on the wall, video installations and books.
Her work is in several private and public collections including that of actor Jamie Lee Curtis, Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. She has taught and lectured across the US, Scandinavia and the UK. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and an Associate Professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University.
Superstition Review: What is it about the medium of photography that first drew you to it?
Betsy Schneider: My mother always encouraged me and my sisters to express ourselves through art. My birth interrupted her PhD program in psychology focusing on children’s art. So I had a crayon or a pencil in my hand from as early as I could hold it. But I was a very active child and didn’t have the focus to be good at drawing. I was a cartooner—a doodler. My notes from school are covered with intense little doodles—even now at faculty meetings I can’t stop making these little drawings. But they don’t go anywhere.
So when I was about 11 I was picked to be a yearbook photographer—and I loved it. At the time I didn’t really see it connected to art—but it seemed like something I did well and enjoyed. But even photography took patience and I didn’t have enough through high school. So throughout high school I kind of forgot about photography and art—thinking I would be a lawyer and later a writer (yeah—that doesn’t take any patience at all).
While I was trying to write I realized that my ideas flowed so much more well, so much more fluidly through photography. This was at the end of college—and I thought –this is it. That was when I was about 21—and to waaay oversimplify it—I’ve been here making photos ever since.
SR: What are some of your influences and favorite artists?
BS: Why is this always the most difficult question? But it’s a good and important question. I tend to be influenced in waves and by a huge variety of things. First the people in my life (and I’ll get to that in the later question). But also wider cultural influences like politics and history and cultural history. I don’t watch that much TV but when I do I can’t stop talking about it. I tend to be totally overwhelmed by my life experiences and I flow with them.
But specifically—literature—I majored in English at Michigan. William Blake, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Maurice Sendak,–but also TV shows from my childhood, like MASH and MAD magazine.
Photographers and artists—Emmet Gowin, of course Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Michael Apted’s 7 Up Series. I could go on and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a new list.
SR: How long have you been with ASU, and what are some of the classes you teach?
BS: I have been teaching at ASU since 2002—and I teach the range of photo classes from basic photo black and white to the graduate seminar in photography. A few of my specialized classes are Portraiture—which focuses on the meaning and purpose of making pictures of people and a class in Digital Culture which addresses the ways in which digital technology does and doesn’t change the meaning and function of photographs. Some of my areas of concentration are time and the relationship between the still and the moving image, childhood and family, relationships, but also the visceral. I’m interested in why we make pictures and what the result of making pictures is.
SR: What do you enjoy most about teaching in your field?
BS: The energy and ideas from the students and the feedback between what I do, my life, their ideas, their work and my own. I love that I teach something that connects so closely to life and I love that I form strong bonds with the students and that I think I make a difference in their lives; they certainly make a difference in my life.
SR: It seems that much of your subject matter is very personal and very simple, like for example, your children playing. Would you say that your art is a part of your lifestyle?
BS: Yes—its essential. The fluidity between my everyday life and my work is essential to who I am as both a person, a parent, an educator, and an artist. They are all intricately connected. I thrive on connections.
SR: Your Guggenheim project is now drawing to a close. What can you tell us about the experience?
BS: That’s a subject for a long interview. Intense and moving. I’m exhausted right now. Will be finished with taking the photos and interviewing 250 13-year-olds by the end of October. I am exhausted and thrilled and ready to give birth to this work.
As an installation artist, I have two different practices: I create privately in the studio and work on large-scale public art commissions. Here are some thoughts about how I try to balance these two ways of working — the open-ended studio process and the structure of site and client in the public art world.
In the Studio:
I begin by “doodling” with materials. I usually don’t have a plan, but I have something in my head that interests me. Recently I’ve been looking at tall grasses with slender stems that sway in the wind. As I’m working, I try to translate thoughts and images into material form.
Often I create a modular unit and repeat it, altering it slightly each time. As the elements accumulate and the installation takes shape, I think about the mood or ambience of the piece and how people will experience the space as they walk through it. The materials I use are translucent or reflective, so they do interesting things with light and shadow.
The “Luminous Garden” series is a good example of my current indoor light installations. These glowing environments are inspired by nature but made entirely of man made materials–cast resin seedpods, LEDs, wire, and electronics. I use the magic of light to create spaces that are experiential and immersive, involving viewers as participants. Here are two images of the gardens: “Luminous Garden” 2003 and “Luminous Garden” 2009. The pieces evolved organically over time through a process of improvisation, rather than being planned in advance.
“Luminous Garden” 2003
“Luminous Garden” 2009
The Public Art Process:
When developing a public art concept, I need to consider certain “givens”: How is the idea appropriate to the client, site, time frame, and budget? Hopefully, these constraints are useful and I don’t put myself in a box. I try to satisfy the needs of the project and remember my own personal need to be playful and loose, as I am in the studio. That’s where the best work comes from. Then the challenge is to hold onto the beauty of the concept and not let it be compromised as I adapt to twists and turns in the process.
Right now, I’m working on two permanent public art commissions: “Sound Wave” at Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee; and “Prairie Grass” at Northwest Service Center in San Antonio, Texas. Here is computer rendering of “Sound Wave,” a 120 foot long suspended sculpture made of undulating metal forms with computer-controlled blue LED lights.
It’s based on the image of a sound wave and a musical staff with notes. A sequence of lighting changes ripple through the space as people pass through.
I’m trying to bring aspects of my private practice into these public works. How to involve light and magic as I do in the “Luminous Gardens”? How to use nature as an inspiration? How can I engage viewers so they are immersed in the environment? I want these projects to be as personal and rich as my studio work.
What do I like best about public art? Learning about new places, meeting new people, and creating an artwork that becomes a part of peoples’ daily lives.
Can I combine the best of public and private worlds? Stay tuned…I’ll let you know when these pieces are installed in the spring of 2013.