Profiles in Art: Monica Sklar

Monica Sklar is the Assistant Professor and Liaison to the Historic Clothing and Textiles Collection, University of Georgia. Based in Athens, she is also the former founder & editor of 

Interview conducted by Tiffany Chan

Edited by Kathryn Griffith and Tiffany Chan

Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with your current field of work/study?
When I was about 5, I went on a trip with my parents, and saw one of those Dover paper doll books on a turnstile rack, this one of Erte fashions. Thankfully my parents bought it for me and set me on my path. I still have all the cut outs stored away. 
Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?
It has been a fairly circuitous path, yet always moving around the central idea of fashion, research, and popular culture. I always knew I would work in this field but what to zero-in on was tougher to decipher,as I loved the intersection of design and expression and have a knack for merchandising. Also, I should note I am not much of a craftsperson myself. My heart was in research. But how to put that together a career using those tools was not obvious to me. I worked my way through retail, media, and eventually museums and now academia. I am thankful for a diverse professional background as [it] provides for a fun classroom and I feel like I can relate to different types of student interests.
Q: What inspires you? What motivates you?
I try to stay highly involved in arts and culture, media, current affairs, pop life, travel, my family and friends. As someone in history & culture as well as merchandising, if I go too far into the rabbit hole of academia, only then I would lose sight of what I am really working on. 
Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?
For the past decade the number of jobs in academia focused on culture and history has reduced. This is where having a background in merchandising, or for someone else, in design, is quite useful. The ability to provide multiple services to an apparel & textiles department is crucial in getting a job these days. 
Q: Were there every moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?
I came up in Metro Detroit which did not have a large fashion infrastructure at the time and then completed my PhD during the height of the recession. I try to make 5-10 year plans and stick with them so I have goals and am playing the game, but am not committed forever. This has helped with some flexibility and times when I have doubted my career path. I have often resolved such issues by finding adjacent ways to do the things I love professionally if it could not be a primary source of income. Patience is also of value and feeling like you are on a larger path, not just trying to get the next task done. With that, it has helped to make manageable lists and timelines and accept not everything can happen at once. It leads to satisfaction on a daily basis and also things to strive for professionally. 
Q: In your opinion, what is an under-researched topic in the field?
I am passionate about studying subculture not only because I personally am involved in it, but more so because it is an area with vast influence on topics as wide ranging as the fashion cycle, politics, cultural zeitgeist, social movements and civil rights, and trend forecasting. Yet so little work has been done on sub-cultural apparel history, particularly in the United States. There are a handful of scholars committed to charting that path and I am grateful to work alongside them. 
Q: What advice would you give to young art historians just starting in the field?
Four things: 1. Do not get your BS, MS, and PhD in the same thing. Get two the same and one different, so you can be employable and knowledgeable in multiple areas of theory and background. 2. Join academic and professional societies and get highly involved in them 3. Find an area to study you truly love and stick with it 4. Do your best to enjoy your career and free time taking it all seriously enough to do a stellar job and one step less serious so you are a nice person to be around who can relax sometimes
Q: What is one (or two) things you would like the general public to know about your field of study or art history in general?
Fashion is not frivolous. Not only is it one of the biggest money making industries in the world, but dress is also our primary mode of communication as humans. [It is a] non-verbal expression using signifiers and codes [and]  a universal language [that we] are all better off when we understand.

And just for fun…

Q: Can you recommend a wine (any alcohol/cocktail) and cheese (any drunk food) to us?
I can give you my prized guacamole recipe which is just as fun at a party: 2 medium avocados perfectly picked (look under the stem if it is green and it should be slightly soft to the hand), one teaspoon minced garlic, one teaspoon kosher salt, one wedge of lime, a pinch of cilantro, two cherry tomatoes diced. Serve with lime garnished chips and carrots.

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