Knowing and understanding the history of the LGBTQ+ art community is the first step in supporting their lineage of artistic endeavors.
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The queer narrative, no matter the medium, is a varied one. The modern art world is famous for showcasing endless stories from different walks of life under the LGBTQ+ umbrella alone, and it has been for decades. Though not always out, artists who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, non-binary, gender-fluid, and alike have rarely been in short supply throughout art history.
LGBTQ+ Artists: Then and Now
Filmmakers such as Jack Smith and Chantal Akerman made significant contributions to the Queer Avant-Garde cinema and art worlds. Famed photographer Andy Warhol used “Pop Art” and home movies to document his life from childhood memories to his adulthood in the counterculture art scene from the 1960s on. Lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer showcased queer women proudly existing in the world in the 1974 short film “Dyketactics,” widely considered to be the first lesbian film. Drag performers Paris Dupree, Willie Ninja, and Hector Xtravaganza popularized both the voguing dance form and ballroom culture, and introduced both to the larger mainstream cultural conversation in the 1980s and 1990s.
Queer art, with its layers of inspiration, has existed in many forms throughout history. What’s more, it continues to make an impact.
Many works from queer artists came to be thanks to strong support systems, something consumers today can help contribute to by seeking out the work of LGBTQ+ photographers, illustrators, videographers, graphic designers, and more. By supporting members of the queer community in their artistic endeavors, consumers and customers can both support a marginalized group as they create art from a unique perspective, and also aid in maintaining their individual livelihood.
Impact of LGBTQ+ Artists and Their Works in the Art World
Representation matters and the works of famous LGBTQ+ artists, over time, have no doubt served as inspiration for queer artists creating artwork today. Storied LGBTQ+ artists like painter Frida Kahlo and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe created works including self-portraits and photo books that are still remembered today for their creativity, considered bold and “out there” for their time.
While Kahlo frequently portrayed her miscarriages, her physical disabilities, and references to her sexuality in her paintings, Mapplethorpe’s photos put the naked human form and BDSM at the forefront of his artistic identity. The scope of inspiration for queer artists is vast and wide, just as they would be for a straight artist.
But, just because the works of famous LGBTQ+ artists are well-remembered today, in a significantly more lenient time than the early 20th century, doesn’t mean that they didn’t get their fair share of criticism at the time. The queer identity was and still is considered “other.” As a result, a creative livelihood is sometimes a struggle for LGBTQ+ artists.
In an ideal world, all queer art would sit on the same pedestal as artwork produced by a straight artist. Just like their straight counterparts, LGBTQ+ artists have stories to tell, which is why their vision and the resulting art has and always will matter.
The Importance of Self-Education on LGBTQ+ News and Trending Topics
Staying on top of LGBTQ+ news, whether in the cultural or reported new sense, can help a consumer seeking the work of a queer artist to better understand their motivation for creating. It also helps to just be aware of the goings-on of a community that may not relate directly to their life.
LGBTQ+ news sites like them., Out Magazine, and The Advocate, as well as mainstream publications like Teen Vogue, regularly keep readers up-to-date on the major queer cultural and news-worthy happenings of the day. Organizations like The Trevor Project, GLAAD, The National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association, GLSEN, and PFLAG hold events and provide educational resources for parents, those working in media, and people who just want to be better allies.
Books written by LGBTQ+ authors and writers also provide an educational and heartfelt look into life as a queer person. Read trans artist Jacob Tobia’s memoir Sissy; Alison Bechdel’s coming-of-age LGBTQ+ graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; and queer author George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, a look at growing up as black and gay, to see the many ways queer people tell their stories.
Arts Organizations and Collectives to Find LGBTQ+ Artists
Queer Design Club
This online community and directory of LGTBQ graphic designers celebrates identity and their love of the medium. Artists set up their own visual profiles showcasing their design work.
Art Hoe Collective
This online collective was created by a group of queer Black people. It provides a space for LGBTQ artists of color to submit their work in a variety of mediums including music, poetry, photography, and film to their popular Instagram page. The Art Hoe Collective also offers microgrants.
The Society for Photographic Education’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Caucus
The Society for Photographic Education’s LGBTQ Caucus provides a running list of queer photographers and image-makers in their accessible resource guide. They also provide Skype mentoring sessions for members.
Black Trans Femmes in the Arts
Black transgender and nonbinary femme artists are able to connect with each other and clients thanks to this massive database. The collective also offers events like meetups, talks, and open mic nights.
This volunteer-run collective provides grants to queer comic book illustrators creating the art they love. Prism Comics also regularly shows the works of LGBTQ artists during national culture conferences in cities like Seattle and San Diego.
LGBTQ+ Artists to Note
From illustrating to filmmaking, queer artists are making waves in every medium of the art world. If you’re an LGBTQ+ artist who’d like to be included in this list, please email us here.
Sophia Yeshi, Illustrator
LGBTQ designer and illustrator Sophia Yeshi proudly focuses many of her artistic efforts on black women, the queer community, and women of color, which is the crux of her brand Yeshi Designs. Mental health, voting, and self-care are also among the major themes of her personal work and professional work with brands like Rock the Vote and Instagram.
Alice Wu, Filmmaker
Alice Wu became a mainstream name in 2020 when her coming-of-age LGBTQ film The Half of It debuted on Netflix and was praised for its heart and depiction of teenage queerness. The Half of It won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
Lanee Bird, Photographer
Queer, indigenous photographer and cinematographer Lanee Bird showcases fetishism in her artwork, with major themes of kink and fashion. Bird also curates the “Dressed for Pleasure” Instagram page, which explores “the intersections of fetishism, fine art, and pop culture.”
Cheyne Gallard, Illustrator and Photographer
Illustrator and photographer Cheyne Gallard’s award-winning comic book and superhero-inspired artwork have been commissioned by MTV, Penguin Random House, and Conde Nast, among others. Gallard has transformed drag culture, including famous queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race; pop culture staples like Stranger Things and American Horror Story; and historic LGBTQ icons like James Baldwin and Harvey Milk into superheroes.
Gio Black Peter, Painter
Peter, who has been globally recognized through years of solo shows for his unique and colorful style of figure drawing and portrait work, explores themes including politics and queer love in his paintings.
For more artists, check out this article featuring 5 Queer Photographers on the Importance of Representation.
Grants and Organizations to Fund that Support LGBTQ+ Artists
For customers seeking LGBTQ artists, it helps to turn to organizations that specialize in amplifying queer voices. Donating to arts organizations that dedicate part or all of their mission to doing just that helps keep the works of LGBTQ artists readily available for consumers. If you think we should add another organization to this list, email us here.
Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project
This organization supports female LGBTQ filmmakers by giving them the training and tools to create films, primarily around the themes of social justice.
Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking
This annual grant, established by Barbara Hammer, is awarded to self-identified lesbians for making visionary moving-image art. Work can be experimental animation, experimental documentary, experimental narrative, cross-genre, or solely experimental.
Initially created as an organization supporting queer artists who lost their mentors to the AIDS crisis, the New York City-based Queer|Art has since expanded their organization to “practice, present, and award” LGTBQ artists and their careers. Queer|Art also offers mentorships, exhibitions, shows, residencies, and grants — achieved though partnering with foundations — to queer artists.
Southern Fried Queer Pride
Non-profit Southern Fried Queer Pride, also known as SFQP, hosts two annual art festivals and regularly scheduled events like art galleries, drag performances, film showings, artists talks, and more, for local LGBTQ artists in the Atlanta, Georgia community. Their multiple events, held for both the fun of things and to educate, show that they’re invested in making Georgia’s queer art community more visible. In case their large and supportive community presence wasn’t enough, the mission of SFQP, confirmed by their mission statement, is to make sure the voices and works of queer artists are heard and seen.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art
This New York City-based museum has prided itself on being a “home for LGBTQ+ artists, scholars, activists, and allies, and a catalyst for discourse on art and queerness” since 1987, though back then it was known as the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation. The Museum was created following almost two decades of showcasing queer art in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, and with the goal of preserving the artworks of LGBTQ artists. Today, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art offers fellowships for queer artists, a performance residency, and educational open houses for larger conversations and networking among their many offerings.
Top image by Maskot.
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