International Journal of Art & Design Education

Preface: 'Anything You Can Do': Proposals for Lesbian and Gay Art Education

Volume 26.1   2007



This preface introduces the themes of this special edition: the contribution that lesbian and gay individuals make to the development of the discipline. These include a non-heteronormative perspective, and an emphasis on irony within parody. Second, this preface considers the experience of LGBT students and teachers dealing with sexuality within the school curriculum. Third, the current approach to civil rights within the school is considered especially in the context of homophobia, bullying and physical danger. Finally, areas of specific curriculum advance are noted particularly within art history, media education and teacher education.
Irving Berlin's witty little song 'Anything you can do' epitomises the taken-for-granted assumption that relationships between people are always adversarial and that personal achievement always involves outperforming the opponent. The song title in full runs 'Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you.' The second stanza underlines the theme 'I'm superior, you're inferior, I'm the big attraction you're the small.' The rest of the song develops the theme but it constantly expands a tongue-in-cheek ironic infection. The lyrics serve to subtly undermine the master narrative by showing the ridiculousness of empty boastfulness. I suggest that there is a strong analogy between this adversarial parody and that between 'heteronormative' culture and its disdain for gay perspectives and experience. One of the major propositions in this collection is that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ('LGBT' throughout this volume) people bring great benefits to all in our efforts to explore and develop an increasingly inclusive art and design agenda.
My argument in this introduction has four interrelated themes. First, I outline what I think are the legitimate claims that LGBT people can make for their contribution to the development of the discipline. It is important to start here because, as will be come clear, there are several significant issues that LGBT teachers and students have to face in education. These issues should not distract us from the positive impact we have made throughout the art and design curriculum.
The second theme is one that I take from Andrew Sullivan's title Virtually Normal. The ambiguity built into his oxymoronic title is worth exploration. The LGBT experience of growing up has particular paradoxical features that are singular and significant. I consider some of these features for their salience to the general argument.
The third theme that is particularly pertinent internationally is what is termed a civil rights agenda. Many educators are using this concept as a basic building block in the construction of an equality programme into which LGBT fits as a significant beneficiary. It is in this context that the issue of bullying is considered. Undeniably, bullying is a major issue confronting probably every young LGBT person on a regular basis. But I, and other authors in the collection, argue that relying solely on this equal rights approach has some major drawbacks in the promotion of an LGBT agenda.
The fourth theme, which is developed by the authors of the papers throughout this volume, is that a specific LGBT art and design curriculum can be developed away from a civil rights approach. This curriculum can provide what we all lack currently, material that reflects and expands the learning of LGBT students, provides opportunities for Continuing Professional Development for LGBT and LGBT-friendly staff, and thus enriches the whole art and design curriculum by embracing new ideas from within and outside the discipline. At the moment there is a gaping empty space in the art and design curriculum that badly needs filling. I conclude this introduction by considering such innovation in relation to Swift and Steers' Manifesto for Art in Schools which still seems to me an excellent benchmark against which to measure change and progress.