We had the good fortune of connecting with Beth Shook and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Beth, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
When I think of balance, I imagine it as an ideal – equal and stable. However, the reality of balance is that its awkward and almost always asymmetrical. My work life balance changed dramatically after 2017 when I stepped away from the classroom. After 30 years as a professor of Fine Arts, I made the move to focus on my studio practice after scar tissue from an injury began affecting my voice. When I was teaching balance was neatly packaged in 17 week semesters with anticipated spurts of creative energy in between. A fairly predictable rhythm that alludes to the ideal. Now in the studio full-time, the asymmetry is more apparent and the awkward overflows. I’ve found it helpful to keep a journal in the studio. At the end of each day I note where I finished up for the day and where to begin the following day with a list of what I want to accomplish. At times the clay and creative energy are on point. Other times I bounce around my notes for want of the clay to cooperate or distracted by thoughts disguised as brilliant ideas only to be taken down a rabbit hole.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Still wet behind the ears when I began teaching at Arizona State University as a graduate student, I struggled with an almost professional identity. Only a few years older than my students, I worked on my skill set and over researched so that I might be allowed a little grace while I defined myself as an artist and teaching professional. Along the way I’ve learned that if I want to be taken seriously, I need to do what I do so well that I become the expert. When people visit my studio they almost always shuffle through the detailed paper studies hung on the wall. Because I draw on clay, I first create a laborious paper study of the image for clay. This study does a couple things for me. First, it allows me to learn the visual forms and spatial relationships – I don’t get to erase on clay. But, it also helps me continue to practice seeing – to be the expert.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Downtown Gilbert has such a fun dining atmosphere we would definitely be there for a lunch and dinner that week. Also, a stop by Bergies Roast House Coffee for coffee or tea one morning in the garden is a must. What is Arizona if you can’t play outside? We’d be hitting a few trails around the Superstitions, hike South Mountain or Camelback. Just outside of town, the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum is beautiful all year long. Whenever I have guests and time allows, we head to the studio and spend some time creating.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband, Steve has always been an encouragement and support. He’s an engineer and thinks in numbers, so though he might not always understand how I process and work through work, he is by my side to help me see it through. The years I spent as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at El Paso were remarkable. The best fine arts education a mining school could provide! I learned the value of craftsmanship and absolutely fell in love with dinnerware. We were taught how to live and make a living as artists – a very practical process to a creative endeavor. I still lean in on those lessons.
personal photo: Rick Burress studio image: Lisa Olsen