Are the Arts Gay Enough?

You know the problem with the arts these days? In case you didn’t know, Philip Kennicott will be happy to tell you. The problem with the arts, he says, is that they’re homophobic.

Quit laughing.

In a recent Washington Post column, Kennicott takes issue with “a litany of shameful events and grievances” committed against homosexuals in the arts, from “the ‘super-macho’ ethos of the American abstract expressionists” to the recent removal of an explicit exhibit from the Smithsonian Museum. Basically, he believes that despite the disproportionate contributions of homosexuals to the arts world, the arts world has failed to honor them appropriately. And he believes that the only way to do this is to make sure that museums are upfront about (1) the sexual proclivities of artists and their subjects, and (2) the subjects’ role, if any, “the iconography of same-sex eroticism.”

For instance, since Saint Sebastian has been appropriated as a homosexual icon, museums are supposed to mention this wherever they display paintings of him. Never mind that he was not himself homosexual.

And if all this openness makes museums seem a little less “family friendly” to some, well, they just need to get with the times. “‘Family’ is now understood to include gay parents, married gay couples and people with gay children, and the absence of basic information about the role of same-sex desire in art history has become an overt sin of omission,” Kennicott explains. Because society is now more accepting of various forms of sexuality, clearly, kids need more sexual information shoved in their faces! (Since, you know, they’re not getting enough of it already from the culture around them.)

Whether or not this is actually good for the arts themselves, Kennicott doesn’t spend much time considering. He should. As Mark Steyn notes in his brilliant book Broadway Babies Say Goodnight, the modern theater’s relentless focus on homosexual issues has made the theater world more insular–and shrunk audiences.

Using the musical Rent as an example of this trend, Steyn writes:

Well, I was moved, but not because of the transvestite sculptor or the lesbian performance artist. In Puccini’s bohemia, the artiness is merely the specific characteristic of universal characters. . . . But there’s nothing mythic or emblematic or enlarging about the characters of Rent: La Boheme is about everyone, Rent is about its participants. I was moved by its inability to move us, by its inability to speak to the world beyond. . . .

A theatre that loses interest in all but a few select minorities is doomed.

And so is a museum.

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