GLBT arts: Why a GLBT Focus?

WWW - Whitman, Wilde & Woolf triangle graphic Why bring a gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender (GLBT) focus to a work of art?

That's a question which many people, of all orientations, have asked.

The brief answer is, Because it does make a difference in understanding both the work and the artist.

While a person's sexual orientation is not the sole basis for their life, it is an integral part of who they are and of what they create. Experiencing literature, film, the visual arts, or music in this context can reveal more levels of a work's meaning: aesthetic, biographical, even historical and cultural.

A related question is, What defines an artist, or any person, as GLBT? I think the rigid standard of the U.S. military is right on target. Someone is GLBT-identified if they have "homosexual tendencies," that is, profound emotional connections to persons of the same gender, whether or not they act on those feelings.

Our sexual nature is at the core of our being. It informs not only how we live, whether openly or in some form of hiding, but how we perceive ourself, the world, and what we create.

Virtually every society has made an issue of sexual identity, whether holding GLBT people in esteem (classical Greece and Rome, many Native American cultures, feudal Japan, an increasing number of modern societies) or opprobrium (Europe from the Dark Ages until the latter 20th century, parts of the United States, the Middle East). No one can escape a connection to their culture, whether they embrace its values or struggle for change. One such response is art.

Fassbinder, Kahlo, Beethoven triangle graphic GLBT artists have produced works as diverse as the scintillating, and socially conscious, wit of Oscar Wilde's comedies and Leonard Bernstein's musicals and Andy Warhol's canvases, the brooding mysteries of Dickinson's poetry and Murnau's films and Francis Bacon's paintings, the ambiguous beauties of Tchaikovsky's ballets and Woolf's novels and Cocteau's fantasies, and the celebratory visions of Michelangelo's architecture and Handel's music and Whitman's poetry.

Sadly, even some people who admire these and other classics (or at least their cultural cachet) simultaneously mandate silence, or obfuscation, about their creators' lives. A substantial number of the artists highlighted at this site are bisexual, but while their opposite-sex relationships are given prominence – by some scholars, the popular press, even Hollywood – their same-sex relationships are kept in the closet. So the need simply to identify those artists as GLBT still exists.

Such a focus can promote a deeper understanding both of a work of art and the person who created it, as well as of their particular culture. That can increase our appreciation and enjoyment of their enduring achievements, and perhaps even expand the bounds of our empathy.

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