In the Studio – Beth Ann Short

We stopped by The 100th Monkey a few weeks back to chat with our November artist, Beth Ann Short, about her art, art therapy and the community at the studio. We are so excited to have her in the gallery!

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Duplex: How did you get into art and art therapy?

Beth Ann Short: My dad was an artist; one of my brothers was a potter and does work in the comic book industry. I’ve always been around it. Growing up, I always made art, and I always thought it was funny when I would go over to other people’s houses and they didn’t make art, it just seemed weird. I was a photographer in high school but when I went to college I fought it for the first year. I decided to be an English major and loved it, but there was always part of me that wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I ended up taking a life drawing class my sophomore year where I met my mentor and realized I couldn’t deny I was going to be an artist in some way. Going into my junior year I declared a double major and completed both within 4 years.

D: Were you able to work the two together?

BAS: No, no they were completely separate. And at the time I didn’t know what art therapy was. When I was younger my dad passed away and I got all of his photography equipment and really got into it.  That was definitely therapeutic for me. When I finished college, I thought ‘now what am I going to do?’ I figured I would teach. I had loved my teachers so much.  I began taking masters level classes at Eastern Michigan University.  There I took a psychology course and that is where I learned what art therapy was. It was the moment of clarity when the light bulb turned on. From then on, I knew that’s what I was going to do. At that point stopped school and moved west in ’92. In ‘96 I was able to get back on the school track and started Marylhurst in ‘97. Once I got into the field, I worked in a variety of places. I worked at the hospital, in juvenile justice, and foster care and loved all of them. After working in community mental health for 8 ½ years, I figured out how to make my vision come true while creating a balance between fine art and art therapy. It was open studio art therapy. In 2006 I opened the 100th Monkey Studio with Joy Leising.  Here I found balance between the clinical and creative worlds.

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D: Your show is coming up after Kathryn Cellerini Moore’s and she describes her process in a similar way, her venture into art as a therapy so it’s a really neat transition. So what happens in a typical art therapy session?

BAS: It’s funny, I have a couch my office, but it’s really only used in the initial consult. Where clients get to know me and I get to know them, to see if we are the right fit. The individual sessions primarily take place at the table in my office where clients make art. It’s not the same for every client. I’ve worked with individual, families, and couples. I have a sand tray and I’ve even done phototherapy with clients, which is exciting because in technology there is a whole new approach to phototherapy.   Each session has a check in, an art making part, and then clean up which is an important closing down part of the session. One thing that’s usually incorporated is an art directive and media is offered based on client’s needs, strengths and struggles.   An art therapist gives the client a prompt, depending on what they are working on and that helps them to get started. Art therapists don’t make assumptions or analyze the work. It’s all about the process, the client’s affect, what we talk about during the making, there are many layers to it and lots of conversation. The art and the art making become this beautiful third voice in a therapy session. I use two theories in my work. I believe in the potential for people to make changes if they want to make improvements in their daily experience of life. The cognitive behavioral approach supports clients developing new tools for coping with stress or struggles. The other approach I use is the object relations approach, which focuses on the transitional object in the work. Much like a child has a baby blanket or a toy they project feelings and thoughts in their interactions with it, the art and the process of the therapeutic session becomes that transitional object. In a session the art and the process become a vehicle they are able to project feelings and emotions that may not have had words for. Through our work they often find those words.

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D: Tell us about your encaustic process because it’s very different then most encaustic work.

BAS: I make sure to say I’m not a traditional encaustic artist, I’m not really a traditional anything, but I know that real traditional encaustic artists don’t always like my process because it includes paraffin. I use beeswax, which is traditional, but I use crayon instead of toxic pigments.  Crayons are paraffin. When I do add any traditional materials, they are oil paint sticks and I wear a mask, but primarily most of the colors are crayon.

I’m definitely a process artist and not necessarily a product driven artist. With these pieces, there are many layers and I usually work on multiple pieces at a time. I worked on this collection for about a month and a half. Each sitting I worked at a long table with my griddle and had most of these going at the same time. Before they got to the table, some were collaged upon.  Some of the pieces have things that have been left behind in the studio and have been turned into something else. This one has a textbook brain underneath; my mom has Alzheimer’s so it is an in-between about that. I selected two words to title each piece; the art piece is what’s happening in between those two words. They are very organic; I don’t plan anything but react to the materials developing imagery as it emerges. The only thing that was very intentional in these pieces was that small watercolor of the bee. I have to give credit to the small child who left it at the studio.  I just I had to incorporate it, I just couldn’t believe it was left behind!

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D: But it definitely relates back to what you do. You work with a lot of children, this is a material that everyone is familiar and has memories of. And each crayon has a past. You can see how they have been used or abused and the labels may or may not be in tact.

BAS: I love crayons and these are really mixed media pieces, though they are all encaustic too, some may have acrylic painting or gouache paintings underneath. And then some may have collage and some writing.

D: Which one is your favorite?

BAS: Well this one I feel strongly about because it is about my mom. There are these little silver wisps that look like small birds and I thought of them as brain eaters.  As they emerged I needed to preserve them and then create a boundary to trap them.  It’s process trying to find some meaning in all of it, it’s called Vulnerable/Impervious.

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D: So you imbue a lot of your own meaning, how does it feel to hear how others interpret your paintings?

BAS: I love it; I love to hear what people say and why they like certain ones. It’s just exciting to see what meanings people take from them, when they may have not been so bright and shiny for me.

D: The process of encaustic is such a covering and revealing practice.

BAS: And also trapping, because when you place something inside the wax, it’s preserved there. There’s something nice about trapping my words and thoughts in there. Sometimes you can’t really tell what they say, it’s my secret.  My purging.

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D: Are you taking new clients?

BAS: I am, but I am pretty packed right now with my individual clients.  I wear many hats. I also do group work with a wide variety of clients including developmentally disabled adults as well as teens in the juvenile justice system. In addition to my art therapy practice I also teach private lessons, as well as an annual job with Eastern Oregon State University teaching students studying to be elementary e.d. teachers. What I am doing each day greatly depends on what season it is.  I do have a wide referral network of other art therapist in our community if I can’t see someone.

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D: Whom would you recommend art therapy to?

BAS: Anyone! There is no wrong way to do art and it’s not an art lesson but work on the self. Sometimes art therapy is hardest for an artist because some artists can be product driven.  Art therapy is a process driven experience.  The product is important, but the process is undeniably acknowledged and explored in the therapeutic experience.  It’s so rewarding and dynamic, because you cannot ignore this concrete voice present in a session.

D: What do you tell people if they are interested in becoming an art therapist?

BA: We have an internship here at the studio and all the information is on the website.  I have 2-4 interns a term and do school credit with Lewis and Clark and Marylhurst. I have both psychology and art students. Interns shadow me in my group sessions and they see what open studio art therapy is all about, which is a pretty broad clinical spectrum. I’ve worked in heavy clinical spectrums and the open studio setting is me, this is where I belong. I love being able to do an art therapy session one day and do an art lesson the next. I love that balance between both. It’s just so much fun creating a place where individuals of all ages feel safe to explore their creativity.

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D: I can see that with the cuts in the art programs in schools, that can create a demand if parents want to see their kids get to experiment in art.

BA: Oh yes, we have a lot of supplemental art classes here because of that. We are working with middle school and high school students weekly.  We offer Tuesday after school and Saturday open studio sessions where we focus on specific periods in art history or on an artist, the kids explore that era and my interns get to practice teaching.

The open studio is a process driven space, we teach people how to use the media the way that’s it’s meant to be used, and then let them have their voice. We aren’t going to critique people’s art, but support their process. People often say to me ‘oh I’m not an artist’ or ‘I’m not creative.’ Creativity is a choice, you aren’t born with it, you choose to be creative.

See more photos here. 

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