My apologies. I am immensely flattered by the requests for school interviews and papers, but I am definitely getting snowed under and have found it impossible to reply to each of these queries with the kind of seriousness and attention that I would like to give.
I am finding it increasingly hard just to find the time to keep up with a minimum of business correspondence, paperwork, web updates, photography, workshops, lectures, internships. and making work. (nope…no time for a life outside all that!).
So I hope this will be a beneficial compromise. I have gathered here a collection of questions (from over the past 10 years) that I have been asked, and my responses to them, and I hope this will help you with the information that you seek. If you have a question I have not answered here, let me know.
I may not be able to answer you right away, but I will try to update the information here for future use.
I have secreted this webpage away, so that it still contains insider info for you to use. Please feel free to use the things that I have written- the only thing that I ask in return is that you use proper quotation, note the date of the quotation, and please try not to quote things I have said out of context.
You have my thanks, and I wish you the best of luck!
Also, I do check up on the Wiki entry that some wonderful fans started up, and it has A LOT of information on basic career and life facts if that is what you are interested in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_Cavener_Stichter
List of Questions
Where/When were you born?
1972, Pasadena, California.
However, we had moved by the time I was 2 years old, so it is not where I grew up. We moved *a lot*- almost every 2-3 years. I have lived in California, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, and now the state of Washington. I grew up all over the place.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from taking a close look at the people around me. Sometimes the portraits I create are of people I have known closely for many years, while others are snapshots of someone with whom I have exchanged no more than a glance, a 5 minute conversation, or some other brief encounter. What they all have in common, however, is that some aspect of their human character- whether it is alluring or repulsive- struck me, and I have sought to understand and articulate that moment through these animal skins. I think it is also important to mention that while these pieces take their inspiration from the people around me, they have all been filtered through my own perceptions. Since I am overtly conscious that this is how I see others, rather than any specialized secret knowledge of their inner motivations, these sculptures can also be seen as also as partial self-portraits. They are product of self-examination and a desire to understand the relationships and motivations of everyone around me.
What would you say to people who say your work is lewd?
(laughing) I don’t believe I have ever had anyone say this to me before, though I can understand that some people may have had that reaction. I absolutely do intend to provoke a response- in some pieces it is a subtle provocation, and in others it is quite sharp. In all cases I am reflecting the way I see myself and others in a carefully examined study. About 4 years ago, I realized that despite my efforts to deal directly with every aspect of human behavior, I had been subconsciously omitting any reference to sexuality for fear of turning people away. Thinking through it more directly, I began to think about how much psychological space our sexual identities occupy in our conscious and subconscious selves, and I felt it was important to tackle these issues more directly.
There are a couple of the pieces in this particular exhibition that imagine may be more controversial than other works I have created before. “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is the centerpiece of the entire exhibition, because more than any of the other pieces, the sculpture of the two kissing goats deals with something that is profoundly human. The kiss is specifically a gesture of human intimacy. The passion and tenderness of the embrace is likely to provoke a sentimental response, despite the fact that is completely unnatural for two animals to display affection with their mouths in a kiss. When you are just looking at the upper half of the goats, you are dealing with issues of human intimacy and passion that are identifiable by almost anyone. But then we come back to that initial reaction – why does viewing the sculpture in its entirety so often change the viewer’s reaction? When you are viewing the sculpture as a whole, it addresses a complex and controversial social issue which everyone is familiar with. My goal was to make this piece as alluring and passionate as possible, so that there’s always an element that calls to people to remain engaged despite any uncomfortable feelings with its sexuality.
– Interview from 10/25/09
Ultimately, how would you like people to react to your work?
There is a sense of Otherness when you see something that isn’t quite normal; when I was creating human figurative sculpture, I would slightly distort the body shapes in order to express intense emotional states. However, as soon as I did that, people would stop identifying with them. They didn’t want to imagine that altered figure as themselves. It didn’t take much – even sheer nakedness would destroy that moment of empathy. Given that my primary aim is to coax people into empathizing with these portraits, I began using an animal form to embody these very human expressions….and it seems to work very well.
Quite a few of the works in the exhibition deal with some of my own personal struggles in my career as an artist as well as the personal and autobiographical stories. The smaller works in particular seem to provoke a distanced or thoughtful reaction from the viewer rather than evoke a moment of intimacy. The three larger works are meant to engage this more visceral sense of empathy- using both human scale, gesture, and an indirect gaze to seduce the viewer into a sympathetic state. As a group, the medium and smaller pieces in the show return the gaze of the viewer, addressing the frame of the space and the context of the encounter in a confrontational manner. These emotional states require another’s presence on which to focus their attention. Conversely, all three of the larger works are locked in private inward moments.
The initial impulse for creating these sculptures is the struggle to overcome my own assumptions about the thoughts, motivations, and feelings contained beneath the surface of the people around me. I am often tangled in a mess of frustration with my own limited experiences, inhibitions, fears, and prejudices that create a barrier between understanding and communicating with the people around me – whether they be strangers or my closest acquaintances.
What really drives the work is the attempt to lure others into confronting these same issues. This is the main reason that I shifted from using the human form to the animal figure. In my experience, I found that most people empathized more readily with animals than humans. There is an assumed moral and emotional innocence that we associate with the animal image which allows me to delve into territory which we normally find too uncomfortable to dwell on. I want to create images that address some tough questions, while at the same time addressing why we find these questions uncomfortable.
– Interview from 10/25/09
Why have you chosen the animal figure for your work?
There is a sense of Otherness when you see something that isn’t quite normal; when I was doing more human figurative work, I would slightly distort body shapes, and as soon as I did, people would stop identifying with the images. They didn’t want to imagine that altered figure as themselves. It didn’t take much – even sheer nakedness would become alienating. In order to try to coax people into empathizing with the work, I switched to using the animal form to express the human condition.
People often ask me, “How do you know animal anatomy so well?” and I just chuckle. If you were to see a real goat next to my sculptures, you’d see that something is terribly wrong. These figures are human bodies that have been subtly morphed into other creatures. They have belly-buttons, collarbones, and surgical scars that I bear on my own body. Most of them have human genitalia. A good deal of the time, these details escape immediate notice.
– Interview from 10/28/09
Out of all the animals, why did you choose the rabbit and the goat?
It all stems back to when I was a really young — we moved every two years of my life, all the way up until high school. I was always in different schools, which meant I would always be the outsider, the stranger. In response, I developed a defense mechanism in order to classify people into groups in order to figure out how I fit into that situation — more subconsciously than consciously. Since I was a child at the time, these categories were defined in terms of animals, because all the picture books I read categorized human behavior this way. You know, the pigs are this human character type, the wolves are this other type. I’m interested now in what that says about the person making the distinctions rather than the animal being personified.
When I was in graduate school I decided to make the shift into using animal forms, but I was worried about doing it because there are so many animals and cultural associations with particular species – how would I establish developed characters if I used a random animal every time? So I chose three distinct animals that would embody three different personality types: the victim, the bully, and the manipulator. At the time I chose the hare, the wild boar, and the goat to represent those three character types. They were way over-simplified, but it was fun to subvert that – how could I make a manipulative victim? Or a bully-manipulator?
– Interview from 10/28/09
You seem like a generally upbeat, happy person- why is all your artwork steeped in such pain and sadness?
Your last question asks about the contrast between my outward image and the dark subject matter in my work. An overly simple answer to that question is that I am very good at hiding. However, it is -not- the case that I am really this dark brooding individual and I wear a false mask.. Like most people I have a lot of secrets…..ones that devour me a little bit every day. Making these sculptures is my way of fighting them off…of pleading with you ,the viewer, to see past the surface, and tread softly. I feel like I see the same thing mirrored every day in the slightest unconscious gestures of the people around me. I am drawn to those hidden feelings. .I keep wanting to peel back the layers of cruelty and apathy that seem to foster this silence and say, “stop this. it doesn’t make any sense”. Sometimes I think of my sculptures as emotional reliquaries. I pack all these thoughts inside them, so that I don’t have to carry it around all by myself.
– Question from 4/17/04
Would you be willing to review my portfolio?
I am afraid there no way I can answer all the requests that I receive! I remember clearly how valuable input was from my peers and mentors,, and while I wish I could connect with all of you, I am already stretched as thin as I can go for time in the studio. (You still want me to keep making things, right?) If you are really serious about having me give you feedback about your work, the best way is to sign up for a workshop so that I can spend that time set aside to work with you.
Why do you work with clay? Would you ever work with any other materials?
I have worked in other materials briefly…mostly in graduate school, where I spent my first 10 weeks building with sticks and wire, 8 months working with robotic sculpture, another quarter welding with steel, one quarter using fall leaves and tree resin to construct a burrow 15 feet square, filling my studio to the top of the walls, and another very long stint working with molds: casting in paper, resin, rubber, wax, plaster, and bronze.
All of these materials divorced me in some way from the fluidity of expression that I grown dependent on in clay.
Although they all centered around aspects of construction, and therefore the tactile sense, they seemed very separate from the touch of my hands…more of an intellectual exercise.
I enjoyed all these processes immensely…and still do! I still use quite a bit of metal fabrication as support for my work, and occasionally there are some other elements like sugar, fabric, wood, found objects, and mechanical bits that find their way into my images. Mostly right now, because I am in a ceramic residency, I think I am primarily focused in the clay.
It is my first language, and the one that is ultimately the most satisfying.
I get asked a lot about the lack of drawings, and I am not sure what to answer to that, except to say that it is a practice that I never developed. When I try to express something in 2 dimensions, I get frustrated in minutes, and my lines seem awkward and overly controlled.
I can do it, but it feels like a forced thing…does that make sense? I am more apt to pick up a small ball of clay and whip some idea out with a 3-D stick figure than I am to pick up a pencil and scrap of paper. I think the other thing worth mentioning is that when I am sculpting in clay, I tend to look at the image as a silhouette- a drawing really.
I keep my studio walls all bare and painted white, so that I can see that dark outline of the clay…then I turn the piece slightly, and work on the next drawing. I often think about my pieces as thousands of drawings…all done on the same surface.
What do you see young artists struggle with?
I will tell you honestly that I struggle all the time in my studio…sometimes with the technical aspect of working, but most of the time it is a fight with an almost crippling self-doubt.
I also started out in the sciences…I was a triple major in Physics, Astronomy and Fine arts up through my senior year as an undergraduate. The reason that I gave up my studies to be an astrophysicist is that a very kind and concerned mentor sat down with me and told me, quite plainly, that I would have to work twice as hard just to be mediocre (I am number dislexic…not a good trait for a field every with practical math). It was hard to hear. I really loved science, but the thought of not being able to …well, for lack of a better word, “shine” in my field was unappealing, to say the least. So, I threw myself into my artwork. It was a bit late, and I was driven with a misguided urge to prove myself, if you know what I mean. I worked really hard….and I was still not very good. Fortunately, I was stubborn.
I worked for three years in my basement studio after I had graduated. I tried to teach myself, and I made a lot of bad work. But someone once told me that you have to make at least 10 really terrible works to get to the one mediocre one, and 20 mediocre pieces to get to something not-bad, and 40 of those….you can see where this is going. I feel like I am still in the mediocre numbers. I am still just as stubborn.
If I had anything to offer in the way of advice to someone I haven’t ever met about such things, it would be this: First, that moment of brutal honesty…have an unbiased mentor from another field in the art department come and talk to you about your work………and then, it is a lot…and I mean a lot of work. And I think for most people, it is also a lot of failure and disappointment too. I am still wading through plenty of that. I am always a little surprised when someone asks,”how did you become fluent with the figure?” and I tell them:
In undergraduate, I spent 6 hours a day working from the model. That after each 3 hour session, I was made to throw away my drawing/painting/sculpture and start over. I didn’t ever keep any of those studies or finish them and we never got around to “expressing our ideas”. It was boring and awful, and I almost dropped out several times. 6 hours a day, five days a week, for four years, and I still only received a BA. When I got out of school, I bought a small kiln and blew up everything I tried to fire, bcause I didn’t know what I was doing. I was pretty frustrated, I guess. But what surprises me, is when I tell people I had to go through all of that in order to make the things I make now, they still think I am hiding something. But, honestly….I don’t have any especially nifty anatomy books, or clay tools, or any secrets. I had a dawing instructor once who told me, after looking a particularly bad drawing of mine, that if I made a thousand more marks on the paper, _one_ of them was bound to be true. Heh…it pissed me off at the time, but I still love that comment. Best advice anyone ever gave me.
What was the most difficult for you when you finished school?
The only instruction I had received previous to graduate school was sculpting from the human model. I had developed an intimate understanding of the language of the human form, but I was not equipped with the skills necessary to create a sophisticated idea or think conceptually.
At the end of my graduate studies, however, I had just begun to understand how I wanted to structure my concepts and how to evaluate each idea as it fit into the entirety of my work.
Although I had the rudimentary tools for self-critique the most difficult part of leaving school was the crippling self-doubt. The best part of my experiences as a student was having the time and encouragement to push and challenge myself while making tons of mistakes.
Outside of school, time and professional concerns have made this exploration much more difficult.
Can you comment on the practical side of being a full time studio artist?
It has been my experience that each person must find a balance. I believe that time is my most valuable commodity. Most of my day-to-day struggle is ensuring that I have saved enough time to work in the studio versus the time I must spend managing the practical aspects of earning a living.
During the first year out of school I worked at a 9-5 job in order to save money to set up a studio. I decided then, that I wanted to pursue a career as a professional artist, and in doing so, I would need to make a lot of sacrifices and compromises in other areas of my life.
Since then, I have had a lot of support and a tremendous amount of luck, but it is amazing how far determination and stubbornness can carry you.
Can you give some tips on grant writing?
There is an abundance of opportunities for funding of which most people are unaware. Many are from private sources who strongly believe in supporting artists through specific projects or at a certain stage in their careers.
The best advice I have found, is to look carefully at what the granting institution wants to fund and decide if it is a good match for you and your work.
Knowing that I hadn’t any previous experience with this type of writing, I was fortunate to work with someone from a non-profit organization who taught me how to structure these proposals.
As with most elements inside and outside my studio practice, I try to seek out advice and help from those with an intimate knowledge in that field.
How did you begin to approach galleries, and when?
I started approaching galleries immediately after leaving my undergraduate studies, but soon found that most venues were only willing to exhibit emerging artists as part of a group.
The following years were crucial for building up contacts and experience showing my work. I applied for every juried show I could, and I had a lot of failures at first. After graduate school, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to work at the Archie Bray Foundation for two years.
It was a remarkable time for meeting fellow artists, collectors, and curators who would later help me in so many immeasurable ways. This also gave me the chance to show alongside the other residents on a national level.
In seeking places to exhibit on a continuing basis, I researched the type of work carried by a group of selected galleries in order decide if it was a good environment for my own work. Although I have sought to work with venues that would help to support my career, it has always been my hope that my sculptures would eventually find a permanent exhibition space, such as a museum collection, so that the work would live beyond the exposure of a single show.
Which do you find exerts a stronger influence on your work, success or failure?
Generally speaking, I am a ruthless self-critic. I never seem to fully grasp those elusive threads of meaning that I am trying so hard to bind to each of my sculptures.
Optimistically, I believe that I have it in me to create powerful work that has an emotional or psychological impact on the viewer. However, through the creation of each sculpture, I find that my initial impulse changes and evolves, so that by the time I am finished, the work is never as sophisticated as the thoughts in my head.
What keeps me driven to tackle each new piece is a combination of these successes and failures, and a hope that the next work will come closer to realizing my concepts.
How can I apply to come and intern with you in the studio?
I have been running the internship program in my studio for over 15 years, with over 25 people from all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels. I -love- being able to mentor in this way. In exchange, people have given me a month (or more!) of their lives to help me make these ambitious projects come to life. I am beyond grateful. If you are interested in coming to work with me, then I have one hard rule: I have to meet you first. And ONLY at a workshop or demonstration. I need you to fully understand how intense and crazy my process is, and you only do that by hearing me speak about it. So catch me me at one of my future events, and *make sure* to come up and introduce yourself and tell me of your interest. I’ll let you know how to go from there!