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5 LGBTQ+ Artists You Should Know

Happy Pride! June is the official month of Pride to recognize the achievements of LGBTQ+ people.

As art educators, we can take this time to examine our curriculum and highlight different LGBTQ+ artists and issues.

By providing positive representation of all people, you will create an inclusive learning environment for everyone. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the article, How to Be an Ally to Your LGBTQ+ Students, and dive into the Celebrating Diversity Through Contemporary Art PRO Learning Pack.

Of course, there are many LGBTQ+ artists you could share with your students, including Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Frida Kahlo. Beyond these household names, there are several others you could add to your existing curriculum. As always, be sure to preview work to make sure it is appropriate for your students.

Here are 5 LGBTQ+ Artists You Should Know

1. Rachelle Lee Smith

Part of cover of Speaking Out by Rachelle Lee Smith
image via rachelleleesmith.com

Rachelle Lee Smith is an excellent artist to introduce to your students when discussing photography. Even with younger students, much of her work is easily accessible with universal themes. Her book, Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, features photo essays showcasing LGBTQ+ youth. The portrait subjects write or draw directly onto the photographs of themselves. The work is genuinely inspiring and speaks directly to students who may share similar experiences.

Art educators could introduce Smith for a portrait photography lesson, use of composition, lighting, altered photography, and more. She would also be a great artist to include for a class critique, allowing students to practice describing, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating art. The fact that Smith allows her subjects to alter the photograph raises an aesthetic debate of who becomes the artist, the photographer or the subject, or both?

2. Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon artwork
image via lisacongdon.com

Lisa Congdon is an incredible illustrator with work ranging from abstract paintings to line drawings to hand lettering. While her work is not overtly about the LGBTQ+ experience, many of her illustrations include quotes about courage and authenticity to be yourself.

Congdon has published several books your students may find inspirational. Titles like A Collection a Day, and Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, can motivate creative thought and practice. Art Inc. The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist may be a great resource or graduation gift to your senior art students.

Art educators can use Congdon’s A Collection a Day series to inspire creative drawing prompts, or still life drawing exercises. She would be a great illustrator to include when introducing the use of text the in graphic design. Students could choose a quote to illustrate, and look to Congdon as an artist to help them see one artist’s unique approach to inspire their own.

3. Kehinde Wiley

Chad Nurse as General John Burgoyne, 2017 Oil on canvas 72 x 60 in Kehinde Wiley
Chad Nurse as General John Burgoyne, 2017 Oil on canvas 72 x 60 in via instagram.com/kehindewiley/

Kehinde Wiley has become one of the most famous contemporary artists of our time. His grand portraits of men are painted to challenge the gaze and the role of masculinity in our culture. Wiley’s work is inspired by art history and references the poses of several old masters paintings.

Wiley’s work is an amazing example of an artist looking to the past for inspiration. Art educators could share his work during any portrait unit to analyze his use of paint, pattern, light, etc. Students could create their own portraits in his style of referencing the old masters and incorporating contemporary fashion and design.

4. Mickalene Thomas

Trois Divas, 2009
Trois Divas, 2009 via mickalenethomas.com

Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary artist who is known for her use of mixed media paintings. Thomas incorporates rhinestones, acrylic paint, and enamel to depict portraits of African American women and celebrities. Her work addresses issues of race, gender, and sexuality.  She is influenced by artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Henri Matisse, and Romare Bearden.

Thomas would be a great artist to introduce along with any pop art unit or to share as an example of a contemporary mixed-media artist. Students could add unique materials as Thomas does, to create their own pop art portraits.

5. Robert Rauschenberg

Collection 1954/1955
Collection 1954/1955, via rauschenbergfoundation.org

Robert Rauschenberg was a prolific artist who may be best-known for his Combines. He also worked as a painter, printmaker, photographer, and performance artist.

Not only would Rauschenberg’s life serve as inspiration for students to experiment and excel in a variety of artistic processes, but his work can also inspire specific projects in your classroom.

Students could collage images from popular culture to express their personal feelings, or comment on social or political issues. Rauschenberg’s famous silkscreen, “Retroactive I” reflects on the iconic imagery of the 1960s, such as John F. Kennedy and an astronaut. Likewise, students can reflect on their own visual culture by looking to Rauschenberg as an artistic blueprint.

Celebrate Pride Month by incorporating some LGBTQ+ artists into your curriculum this school year! LGBTQ+ individuals have made a significant impact throughout history, particularly in the arts. As art educators, we can celebrate these figures in our classroom and share them with students to create a truly inclusive curriculum.

Which LGBTQ+ artists do you share with your students?

How are you celebrating Pride Month?

Jordan DeWilde currently teaches grades 3-6 in Oregon, Illinois. He strives to create an inclusive curriculum by developing lessons with positive representations of diverse artists and issues.

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