The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

The voice of De Anza since 1967.

La Voz News

    Instructor of the week

    If anyone knows art, it’s Mjelde

    Bright blond, in a long, ornate, black and white dress, Elizabeth Mjelde, who teaches a Women in the Arts class at De Anza College, looks like an artist herself. She is open, smiling, and willing to talk about her job.

    Mjelde joined a group of De Anza professors to organize a Women Studies class in the mid 1990s. She chaired a committee for Women’s History month for many years.

    “I created this course specifically for De Anza. Since so many students here are interested in social change, I wanted to include discussion about activism. We consider in this class ways to change the art world to a more attractive place for women,” Mjelde says.

    “Women today are very well represented in the academia, there are many women who get their master’s degrees in art. But it’s still not equal in terms of getting women to galleries, exhibitions, fairs, auctions.” Gallery salespeople, Mjelde says, are particularly impatient with artist mothers who need to spend time at home.

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    “We discuss with the students’ alternatives to traditional ways of selling art. For example, a number of women can get together and sell their work as a group where members can take turns to show and sell the works created by the fellow members of the group. Also, the Internet doesn’t require specific sanctioning of a dealer to sell art. That’s definitely the alternative,” she says.

    Activism is just part of her course. She devotes most of the time to teaching her students to analyze art works expressing their own positions and thoughts.

    “We look at works of art, we also look at documents from the period when the works were created. And then, students are free to interpret the work of art and the document and to write their own art history based on the evidence that we provide.”

    Her “ideal” students are those who “[are] willing to share their own personal biases and their own personal voices in writing art history. “I think history is a very subjective thing, history is as personal as whoever is writing it. So, my ideal student is somebody who is willing to be very personal. I find students here very motivated and willing to put themselves into their writing.”

    “We spend part of the course looking at the ways how women have been used as symbolic figures, representing an idea. In particular, a woman embodies the idea of freedom – look at the Statue of Liberty. However, we talk about the disparity between representation of a strong woman as an ideal and her social status at the time when the art work was created.” Also, she says, women in art bring a question of morality.

    “I think all women are complicated. I think all men are complicated. But in works of art women don’t usually get to look complicated, they are either very good or very bad but not something in between,” Mjelde says.

    Her favorite artist is Vermeer, a Dutch artist from the 17th century.

    “His works are very complex, you can read them in many different ways; I find them intellectually provocative and also wonderful to teach with regard to technique. He painted men and women, mostly scenes of daily living.” Mjelde also loves contemporary photography, especially by women photographers.

    “We talk about social function of works of art and also about the visual power. One of the subjects that I focus on are certain decades reflected in the art. And one of the decades that I like to look at is the 1930s. We look at the art produced at this period all over the world.”

    There are, of course, male students in Mjelde’s class. But neither gender nor cultural differences influence understanding the specific matter that she teaches.

    “I think those who cannot understand why women in the arts should be studied as a separate discipline, they don’t enroll in the class,” she says.

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