ARLIS/NA Annual Conference 1997, San Antonio, Texas

If anonymous was a woman,
who is the gay or lesbian artist?

Before we can talk about how to gain access to bibliographic information on gay and lesbian artists, we need to know what we mean. Or rather we have to be sure that we can attempt to answer whatever variant the user wants or to get him or her started effectively toward the answer. Does our user want information about art by gays and/or lesbians? If the artist is gay, does the user want to know about art which has gay content? Does our user want information about art which has gay content but doesn1t care if the artist is gay or not? And of course there is the added question of artists who are outed after their death or against their will?

As a matter of fact, this panel was perhaps spawned by a discussion on ARLIS-L about whether we should indicate in our catalogs that an artist was gay. The general article on gay and lesbian art in The dictionary of art by Chris Reed has a significant discussion of how one can define "gay and/or lesbian art" and of course the issue has been addressed by numerous others.

The speakers so far on this panel have more or less assumed that there is something we can call gay and lesbian art. Let's further assume, because it's almost certainly the case, that users will sometimes want material about gay artists whether or not the content of the art is gay, other times they'll want gay content whether or not the artist is gay, and probably most times they'll want some of both. How do we gain access to this literature other than looking at all the things that have been mentioned by Al Willis and Ray Reese?

I've already mentioned the Dictionary of art. It is now on the shelves of many libraries and is likely to be a good place to start research on an art historical topic. Let's start our access discussion with an analysis of how it deals with the issue of gay art. There is Chris Reed's article on gay art but no entry under "gay" in the index. In a round of messages on ARLIS-L earlier this year, it was noted that several African American artists did not have their own entries but were included in the article on African American art. Others added that some Native American and gay artists also did not have their own entries. One wonders if there is a count of how many artists are mentioned in some article but don't have their own entry. With luck, the user will find an index entry for any of these artists that are included in a general article. I did some checking of entries in the index and indeed found that the artists mentioned in the various ARLIS-L messages did have entries as did a number of artists that I would identify as gay. I looked in the index for the artists mentioned in Reed's article and found index entries for all those I checked. As an aside, I noticed that Kate Millet's name was misspelled with one t, and the index entry matched the article's misspelling. While checking for African American artists, I noticed that Faith Ringgold's name was misspelled in that article. There are two index entries for Ringgold, one correctly spelled with two g's, one with one g. Typos, and other inaccurate or incomplete information, is a different access problem which I won't address here. David Wojnarowicz is mentioned in the gay article; he has two additional citations in the index. David Hockney has many entries in the index and there is one labelled "erotic art." This refers to the gay article and the sentence there is "With the growing demand for homosexual rights, such painters as David Hockney felt encouraged to create explicitly gay imagery, and other artists concentrated on expressing their preference for men." Though the article does go on to address explicitly homoerotic works by Gilbert and George and others and though Hockney certainly produced some erotic gay paintings and drawings, the actual sentence in the article does not address "gay art." To me, it is interesting that the indexer uses "erotic art" rather than "gay themes" or some similar subheading under Hockney. And while the index does not have an entry under "gay", under Winckelmann there is a subheading "on gay art" which returns us to Reed's general article on gay art. If the Dictionary's index were to be searchable by keyword, the Winckelmann subheading would be retrieved. My searching in the Dictionary of art supports how I imagine a researcher would address his or her question. If they ask about gay art, they go to the general article on gay art and maybe then go to some of the individual entries or to the sources listed in a column and a half of bibliography. If they ask about individual artists, they'd check either the main listings for an individual entry or the index for citations in the Dictionary as a whole.

In my opinion, using the index to vastly expand the access to individual artists in the Dictionary of art is good; it does not show prejudice or an unhelpful editorial process. It's much like our library catalogs where works on gay art or several gay artists would have entries under gay subject headings. A book on an individual artist might not have a topical heading unless the book dealt significantly with homosexuality. Of course we don't like to admit it, but our book cataloging is based on t he title page and a cursory look at the book. Jill Johnston published a book in the past year with the title Jasper Johns: privileged information. The cataloging has subject access for Johns and "Artists--United States--Biography." The issue of the helpfulness of "Artists--[place]--Biography" is also a topic for another discussion. Johnston does include considerable information about Johns's denied homosexuality. Suppose the subtitle had mentioned this theme, the cataloging might well have also included a topical subject heading to that effect. Since it is clear that Johns does not want this aspect of his life discussed, how does a museum that is holding an exhibition of his work deal with the issue in the exhibition and related catalog. The museum, say the Museum of Modern Art which had a major Johns retrospective late last year, needs the cooperation of a living artist in order to do the "right" exhibition.

For the last century at least, our normal subject heading practice in library catalogs is to be as specific as possible. If a book addresses one artist, there is a heading for that artist. This idea of specificity affects how we guide our users as they do research at any level. If the user says I want material on David Hockney, we1d probably do searches on Hockney. If she or he says I want material on gay and lesbian artists, we wouldn't start with a search on Hockney though the path might lead to him from reference works or general surveys of the topic.

Over the years, I have been involved in many discussions of the role of the catalog. At one end of the spectrum are those that think the catalog should be able to answer every question. I don't think this really or realistically reflects how we do research. It might help at the very moment the item is cataloged, but catalogers fifty years ago certainly couldn't have successfully anticipated all the cultural studies we are now doing though I'm sure there are sources that they were cataloging that will be of interest to the cultural historian now. Specific headings, whether topical or name headings when appropriate, will I believe stand the test of time better. They are less likely to express the biases of the cataloger. If I am cataloging a book on a African American lesbian artist from Missouri, am I to bring out all those aspects? Or should I give access to the artist, and rely on the monographs on African American artists and those on women artists and those on lesbian artists and those on artists from Missouri to cover the individual artist. The latter course is less reflective of the cataloger's biases though of course it also will reflect the coverage of the more general materials. Specific subject headings come directly from the book and are less concerned with anticipating the user1s question. The seesaw of subject cataloging and anticipating what the user will want is far broader than our subject on this panel.

If our user comes to the library catalog, they will be fortunate if the catalog includes references from LCSH or they may have consulted the red books before hitting the catalog. LCSH is quite good at making references between related headings though it hasn1t built the complete hierarchies of AAT and other modern vocabularies. Since gay topics are increasingly important, they may now be better off than topics that have been more stable over time and have therefore not been studied recently. The basic headings one might use in a library catalog using LCSH are: Gay art; Gay artists; Lesbian artists; Homosexuality and art;

Of course, the library catalog does not represent the end of our searching. I looked at several of the major indexes to see how they dealt with the topic and with individuals.

Starting with Art index, I looked first in the 1994/95 annual cumulation under "gay" and found a reference to "Artists, Gay" where there were six entries, one of which was on Wojnarowicz and another on the Lesbian Avengers. For comparison, there were three and a half columns under "Women artists" but there was no reference from "Artists, Women." I couldn't figure out the pattern of which headings were inverted and which were in direct order though I'm sure the index uses guidelines. I'm also certain that their guidelines change over time, as LCSH does. LC subject headings created some time ago may not reflect current guidelines ... yet, and new headings may be different in character. In my work in LCSH over the years and in my studying of Art index for this paper, they both seem to make strong use of references.

I also did some searching in the online version of Bibliography of the history of art or BHA, available on RLIN as a CitaDel file. My entry search was for the subject "gay art" and I got nothing. I tried subject "gay" and still got nothing relevant, which is to say a few surnames of Gay and then off into the gazettes. I tried the title word "gay" and the first entry in the small response was Ray Anne's "Vanguard anthology" from Art documentation. It had a panoply of subject headings, including Art, Homosexuality, Art history, Art--and homosexuality, Homosexuality--and art, General history of art, and combinations of these terms, and their French equivalents. One might argue that some of those subject headings seem a bit broad for the topic, especially in the context of an art history index. Other articles I looked at had a similar wide range of relevant and broad topics. For example, "Queers in (single-family) space" from Assemblage (August 1994) included: Houses, 1900-2000, Projects, Homosexuality, United States, 1994, Architecture, as well as four personal name headings and the combinations and French equivalents of the topics. I haven't done enough searching of BHA to say if this splayed indexing works well in practice but it sure seems to me that it is trying to cover the whole hierarchy for an individual article. If one had a thesaurus and/or authority file working interactively with the indexing, it seems one could cover much of this ground there rather than on each indexed item.

Of the 110 article response on "Art--and homosexuality," from the titles 34 seemed to be articles on single artists and a couple more on two artists.

Before I left BHA, I also did a search on David Hockney and on David Wojnarowicz. Hockney had 45 hits, none of which mentioned homosexuality though it1s hard to imagine that one of those articles didn't talk about it. With the hierarchical indexing of the other items, this surprised me. Wojnarowicz had two hits, neither with a mention of gay or AIDS, perhaps even more surprising given the stridency and sociopolitical nature of his art.

From BHA, I went to the Avery index, also the online version as a part of RLIN CitaDel. Again, "gay" didn't get me a relevant response so I tried "homosexuality." The 13 hits under homosexuality included the forementioned "Queers in (single-family) space" from Assemblage. The subject headings were "Housing--Sociological aspects" and "Homosexuality" plus two subject headings for the architects discussed and two added entries for the authors. This response was much more like book cataloging and that is perhaps why I found it much more satisfying. This exercise in looking at the library catalog and several indexes does however show how successful searches must reflect the prejudices of the database we1re looking at.

So, how can we as librarians, whether catalogers, indexers, or user services librarians, or all of these roles, assist in providing access to material on gay art and artists? In 1994, the Gay and Lesbian Caucus which is affiliated with the College Art Association published its Bibliography of gay and lesbian art. Copies of the second printing are still available for about $25. A second edition is in the early planning stages by our own Ray Anne Lockard, who has produced several bibliographies for her GLIRT papers and elsewhere. Ray Anne and I are the co-editors of the Caucus newsletter and each issue we include several dozen bibliographic citations. Jim Van Buskirk, one of the first co-moderators of GLIRT, is the book review compiler. I've already mentioned the significant bibliography in the Dictionary of art. Several anthologies have been published recently on gay art and artists, including Gay and lesbian studies in art history from Harrington Park Press, also in 1994. All research however is an evolution from general to specific based on the needs of the researcher. Our principal role in helping the library user is perhaps to be as unbiased as possible in listening to the user's question and as knowledgable as possible about the library catalog and the reference works including indexes in our collections. Anticipating the current or future needs of the user is best dealt with by objective cataloging and indexing, balanced by an inquisitive mind and sure knowledge of how to tap that objectivity.

Sherman Clarke
sherman.clarke@gmail.com


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