Originally published February 24, 2016.
The basement of Breidenstein Hall flourishes with passion, creativity and energy; this location offers solace for ceramics students and faculty. Millersville and the surrounding Lancaster area are blooming with beautiful artwork and electrifying energy that leaves visitors and residents in awe.
It was this, among other reasons, that drew Zimra Beiner, ceramics instructor, to this area. “The ceramics department here is full of energy, and the arts community in Lancaster and the surrounding area is thriving, so it’s a great place to plug into,” Beiner said. “There’s a lot going on here, and it’s a great place to be.”
Toronto-native Beiner grew up with two artistic parents, and was therefore immersed in art at an early age. He said it was on a fluke that he initially took a pottery class, but ended up finding his passion that still reigns true 15 years later.
“From an early age, I knew art was how I wanted to make a contribution. And now, it’s really a question of how much of a contribution,” Beiner said. “It’s a very difficult thing to do, but I certainly feel ambitious and energetic about making a serious contribution to arts and to ceramics.”
All of his education was ceramics-centered—he started at Sheridan College, then received his Bachelor’s degree in fine arts from NSCAD University. He later went on to get accepted into one of the most prestigious ceramics universities in the United States, receiving his Master’s degree in fine arts from Alfred University.
It was right out of grad school that he received his first teaching position at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. From there, he came to Millersville. “I’m happy here,” he said.
Beiner is also a practicing artist, and, like students, is constantly growing and improving, going back to the books if need be. His art background and experience has made him a more confident artist. “Confidence just comes with experience… Like when you go to an art school, you develop confidence by being around other people who are exhibiting art at all times,” he said.As a professor, he focuses on being there for his students. “You’re there to be supportive, which to me is being really good at listening; be approachable,” Beiner said. “My job is to constantly show students stuff that is specific to their interests,” he said, noting that he does this to energize his students, so they find things they might not have found otherwise.
That was one of many lessons he has learned from being an artist. “[My inspiration] comes from looking at things and being very observant about the world,” Beiner said. “That’s the first step of being artist, is being observant of the world; if not you have nothing to ground yourself in.”
He continued, “Looking at a lot of domestic things, like chairs and those unusual cigarette dispensers—it makes me come in here and make things, because I have questions about the world and I want to address them; you can’t make art out of nothing.”
That passion does come with some setbacks, though; however, Beiner sees the silver lining. “It’s sort of like having a midlife crisis once a week… constantly going up and down, bringing yourself back up somehow,” he said. “[Sometimes you have to] go back to the books and put yourself back in that environment where you’re open to seeing new things… constantly renew yourself.”
“Art is all about risk and receiving tensions,” he said, noting the delicacies of ceramics. “Ceramics is very difficult and things break a lot, so I can’t tell you how many things I’ve broken. It’s like pouring everything you have into something and destroying it because of one mistake. It sets you up for a lot of things in life.”
This is one of the many things he reinforces to his students—moving away from the past and growing, undergoing constant rejuvenation. “Education is about personal growth, that’s the first incentive,” Beiner said. “If you can put yourself in a place where that becomes an ongoing goal outside of school, then you’ve benefitted a lot.”
Beiner consistently stresses the importance of work ethic and self-immersion to be an artist. “Without a work ethic, there is nothing; it all stems from working hard… By that, I mean 10 – 15 hour days, 7 days a week. If you’re not willing to put that time in, it becomes very difficult,” Beiner said.
“Constantly be looking at things and reading things; that is motivation,” he continues. “It’s really difficult but it’s also really exciting. I think art needs to be challenging; I like the challenge of being an artist… Being an artist has to do with breaking all the rules, and coming up with your own technique.”