The Incredible Lightness of Being an Openly Gay Artist

Creativity naturally expresses more truth when it is the product of a person’s entire being.

david hockney 1965 painting swimming pool creativity

Artist David Hockney, whose 1965 painting ‘Swimming Pool’ is shown here at Sotheby’s in London, incorporated gay images and themes into much of his work.(Photo: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

I work with artists.

And being one isn’t easy. We get rejected for the most arbitrary of reasons. People make judgments about us and about our work based on completely subjective criteria. In today’s information age, our exploits—especially if you’re a celebrity—are made fun of or ridiculed in the most public displays; shared on gossip sites and blogs, and picked over and analyzed in a way that has nothing to do with our art.

But part of what I’m dedicated to teaching artists is the exploration of the genesis of our own individual and collective creativity. As we understand where creativity comes from, we can access our innate potential and achieve mastery in our own work.

MORE: Detroit Soup: Young Artists Revive the Motor City

We all have an inner creative genius within us. An inner Shakespeare or Einstein or Oprah. We just have to find him or her.

This is accomplished by putting in lots and lots and lots of hours. (Malcolm Gladwell had it right when he talked about the 10,000-hour rule in becoming an expert in any field.) But it’s also obtained by discovering that the best art—the most truthful art—art that is significant and moving and revolutionary—is art that is created through you.

By being you.

Gay artists face a unique challenge. We have to first come to terms with who we are in our own personal process of self-acceptance and self-love and then take that knowing into our work in a deep, personal, unapologetic way.

This takes guts. It’s hard enough to get honest with ourselves about our challenges, shortcomings, insecurities and fears. But now you want me to share all of those parts with the world?

Yep.

In order to realize your potential as an artist—period—you’ve got to be honest enough with yourself to express those parts in your work. If you’re disconnected from who you are, then what do you possibly have to share?

Gay artists face a unique challenge. We have to first come to terms with who we are in our own personal process of self-acceptance and self-love and then take that knowing into our work in a deep, personal, unapologetic way.

At one level, like all creators, gay artists are traditionally on the leading edge of humanity. Artists show the rest of our culture how to feel, express, create, love, heal and forgive. This is the job they’ve been doing for millennia. It’s the artists who innovate and push forward the exploration, meaning and ever-evolving consciousness of what it is to be human. Since being an artist is about an exploration of the self, the willingness to go to those deepest places within us is why artists play an empowering role in our culture.

Don’t let corporations fool you. We artists are actually the empowered ones.

Gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals in traditional cultures also played necessary roles of being on the leading edge. In traditional Native American cultures, gay men and women were known as “Two Spirits.” In traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures, they were commonly called “Mahu,” and in Australian Aboriginal tribes they were referred to as “Two-One” people.

In these cultures, gay people were thought of as the intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds. They took on duties as medicine men and women, were healers, often became the chief storytellers of the tribe, performed song and dance, and were clairvoyants. They helped solve conflict between the sexes, were caregivers and were considered auspicious and conferrers of blessings and prayers. They were valued as significant members of their societies because they had important gifts that heterosexual men and women didn’t innately possess.

We share those roles as artists still today.

Artists to me, especially gay ones, are modern-day shamans. We can heal. We can enlighten. We can touch. We can transform. We can uplift. We can inspire.

That has always been our role—and always will be our role—in society.

I think it’s an exciting time to be an artist. Gay and straight. It’s about reclaiming our empowerment in these roles in a society that needs us in a more demonstrative way. We can only do that by knowing who we are and being comfortable enough with ourselves to then share these unique gifts with the world.

As we converge on fresh discoveries in science and spirituality, technology and creativity in this New Age, what an awesome responsibility we—as artists—carry as the bearers of light and possibility into in this world.

It makes you kind of want to quit your day job and become an artist, doesn’t it?

Who are some of your favorite LGBT artists? Leave names and genres in COMMENTS.

Comments ()