Secret lives of our profs:

Naveed Islam

Assistant Professor of Art History Elizabeth Carlson sees art as a lens with which to look at history and culture of the past. While a teenager growing up in a small town in Southern Ohio, she frequented antique stores collecting old photographs to see what society was like in the 1920s and 1930s. “I was really interested in the history of digital culture,” she said. “I look at history through art, so I don’t really see a distinction between the two.”
As a junior in high school, Carlson spent a summer in Hungary where she was exposed to art from the Baroque period. “From then on,” she recalled, “every time my parents and I went to big cities I was always like, ‘we have to go to an art museum.’ I’ve always loved art, and when I found out that I could major in it, it was really exciting.”
She went on to attend the University of Cincinnati where she earned her bachelor’s degree in art history as well as in anthropology. “With anthropology and art history, you’re looking at culture and trying to understand culture. With art history you’re doing it through images and with anthropology, ethnography.” She quickly moved on to graduate school, finishing both her bachelor’s degrees in three years.
Carlson focused on works from the 19th century for her master’s degree but soon found her interest shifting to more recent periods as she moved on to her doctorate. One experience she recalled as influencing this decision was during her undergraduate studies.
“The whole time I was an undergraduate, I worked as an intern and then later worked at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati and fell in love with contemporary art. At that point I realized that I want to focus on modern and contemporary art. It was very exciting to meet these new and talented artists.”
One of her professors was very influential in her decision to focus on contemporary art and become an art historian. “I was at the University of Minnesota to try and figure out what I want to do. I went in absolutely sure that I was going to be a museum curator. That’s why I was in art history, that’s what I wanted to do. And while working with this professor I was inspired to teach because she was such a good teacher and that changed my path.” Before coming to Lawrence, she taught at Macalester College in St. Paul for three years.
“I love the students at Lawrence,” she said, “but my biggest complaint is that you guys just do too much.” When asked what students should expect from her courses, she replied, “I hope that my students learn to think more critically about the world in which they live today. I always make an effort in all of my classes to connect things back to contemporary society and think about how images have changed. Are the images of today pop-ups on our computer or films that we watch? I try to get my students to think about how important these images are.”
Her favorite movie is “Man with a Movie Camera,” an experimental silent documentary film by Russian director Dziga Vertov. “I hate to be so cliché – an art historian whose favorite film is an art film – the film has no dialogue, just images and, it is beautiful.”
She also enjoys traveling to small towns and visiting antique stores and thrift shops. Currently she is working on a book project, “about Paris in the 19th century and visual display. I’m specifically looking at the use of mirrors on the city street and within cafes and department stores.”
She is also researching an art exhibition that took place in Milwaukee in 1913. “It was labeled the first Cubist exhibition in the United States. It took place not in an art museum or an art gallery but in a department store. I’ll be presenting a little version of that at the Lunch at Lawrence,” an event that will take place Friday, Mar. 13, in Lucinda’s.