Rant 60: What is Gay Art?

Rant 60: What is Gay Art? Matt Smith, Untitled I, Other Stories, 2012. Antique oak and brass. 5cm x 30cm x 50cm

What makes art 'gay'? Is it the sexuality of the artist or the work itself? Is there a specific queer aesthetic? Postgraduate student Eilidh Gilfillan investigates what gay art might be and what support there is for LGBT artists in the UK.

When discussing with a gay friend the other day the qualities of a painting by a gay artist, we found ourselves questioning why the painting was ‘gay’. 

We were unable to pinpoint why it was gay. It became quite clear within minutes that neither of us could define ‘gay art’.

The conversation then went on to explore all the possible interpretations of gay art and what this meant for living gay artists.

If two wannabee student art enthusiasts couldn’t come up with an agreed definition of what it meant to be a gay artist and to create gay or non-gay art, then how is gay art positioned in contemporary society? I was curious to find out.

I wanted to know if there is a difference between what it means to be a gay artist, or an artist who just happens to be gay? And whether this is important or not.

So off to the internet to find answers to my questions: is there an accepted UK definition of gay art? It turns out there is no such thing.

OK! That’s fine, I’ll continue.

Enter ‘gay art blog’ or ‘gay arts network’ into a search engine and you will find much about gay culture in general, yet little about LGBT artists, support networks or forums to discuss art.

To my surprise, there is not one UK-wide arts or cultural body dedicated to promoting and supporting LGBT artists and their work.

If there is a queer aesthetic, it can certainly encourage an analytical view of mainstream culture whilst demonstrating creativity and a sense of humour.

However, the sense of isolation and exclusion that often affects gay people, the formation of an individual’s identity, and the drive to protect human and civil rights are topics related to every human being.

Is it difficult to promote and present visual art that is relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people?

The problem is not the lack of a forum for discussion – there are plenty of platforms to talk out there. It is that there is no organisation to defend or speak out for the needs of LGBT artists.

If there is so much criticism facing gay culture in general, I wonder how is this being challenged in the arts?

Contributed by Eilidh Gilfillan

Eilidh Gilfillan gained an MA in Art Gallery and Musuem Studies from the University of Manchester in 2011. She is now based in Glasgow.

The views expressed in The Rant are those of Eilidh Gilfillan and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions


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