Lesbian and Gay Artists in the Curriculum: A Survey of Art Teachers' Knowledge and Attitudes

By Lampela, Laurel | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Lesbian and Gay Artists in the Curriculum: A Survey of Art Teachers' Knowledge and Attitudes


Lampela, Laurel, Studies in Art Education


Homosexuality is gaining greater acceptance in society and as a result various organizations are calling for increased awareness and understanding of lesbian and gay concerns. This study explored the attitudes of art teachers toward the discussion of homosexuality in the art classroom. It used a 31-item self-administered questionnaire that was sent to a random stratified sample of 2000 individuals from a population of 13,169 individuals who were members of the National Art Education Association in 1998. The questionnaire provides descriptive data concerning art teachers knowledge of and attitudes toward including lesbian, gay and bisexual artists in the curriculum. Average respondents were heterosexual female art teachers employed over 10 years. A large majority of respondents were aware of lesbian, gay, and bisexual artists and included the work of these artists in their teaching.

For centuries information about the sexual identity of artists who were lesbian or gay has been hidden from the average person. Unless one spent time researching the lives of individual artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bonheur, and Brooks, one would not know that these artists had romantic attractions for members of the same sex. Speaking from experience, the sexual identity of artists was not overtly discussed in art history classes but assumptions were made that these artists were heterosexual. It wasn't until 1986 that information about many artists who were gay or lesbian was made available in one book.1

Although it has been a slow process, information about historical artists who were lesbian or gay is becoming more visible, as is information about contemporary gay and lesbian artists. This is due, in part, to the scholarship of Ashburn (1996), Boffin and Fraser (1991), Cooper (1994), Hammond (2000), Katz (1993), Smyth (1996), among others, and the concerted efforts of such organizations as the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the College Art Association, the Alliance of Lesbian and Gay Concerns of the American Association of Museums and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Issues Caucus of the National Art Education Association. Each organization is committed to providing greater visibility to the discussion of artists who are lesbian or gay (Lampela, 1995).

The subject of homosexuality is gaining greater acceptance, as evidenced by the inclusion of gay characters in television and the movies and the proliferation of educational materials addressing gay and lesbian issues. The subject of gay rights also showed up in a thread of messages for Getty's ArtsEdNet discussion group in February 2000. Yet Wolfe (1998) noted that the general public's acceptance of lesbians and gays in the U.S. has not occurred. He conducted interviews with 200 people in the suburbs across the country and found that even though Americans were willing to accept almost anything, most middle class Americans were not prepared to accept homosexuality.

HRC, GLAAD, and GLSEN

That is why a number of organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), are committed to increasing the public's understanding of lesbian and gay concerns in the context of America's commitment to basic fairness. HRC is a national lesbian and gay political organization committed to protecting Americans from job discrimination based on sexual orientation and including gay people in basic protection under federal laws that are tough on hate crimes. HRC (Human Rights Campaign, 2000) reports on its web site that violent crimes committed against lesbian and gay Americans remain the third highest reported category of hate crimes in this country. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 2000) notes on its website that the organization is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of individuals and events in all media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. …

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