What is art without visibility? How can it exude any meaning without the means to convey it? If darkness is the opposite of light and black the absence of color, then brightness is essential to art. Although merely a means perhaps, it is a necessity for purpose of the art. Thus I have decided to study and incorporate the ideas, as political pieces of art, of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay individual to be elected to public office, and the legacy of his life and political ideas and beliefs that have been expounded upon by the gay and lesbian community into political work of art in itself.
Milk’s political work centered around two ideas: gay rights and the exposing or in better words, the cliché “coming out of the closet”, of gay people. According to an article printed in the Gay and Lesbian Review Magazine, “…”Milk’s dream: visibility” (“If they know us…” by Andrew Holleran). His tactics, i.e. his political work of art, was tied to his belief that gays should be equal in the eyes of the government and in practice only a change in the social environment that countered this could change be achieved. Resistance to the gay movement came predominately from the Christian church and Anita Bryant, a leader within the movement. Those within these groups spent copious amounts of time denouncing gays as “thieves and prostitutes” whose goal was to undermine the structure of the nuclear family and the institution of marriage, conceded as a union between only a man and a woman (“If they know us…” by Andrew Holleran). At that time Proposition 6 was introduced. Proposition 6, if passed, would have kept teachers who were gay or lesbian from working in California public schools. This proposition was supported by the ideas of Anita Bryant and other groups who countered the gay movement. Ultimately, Proposition 6 did not pass and this was due mostly to the campaign and political acts of Milk.
Initially the idea for my research paper centered around the release date of a feature film titled “Milk,” which was two weeks before the vote for proposition 8, more adequately called the Californian Marriage Protection Act, which specifies that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Californian.” However in preliminary research, a more elaborate spectacle ascends into a sublime, yet ornately pragmatic spotlight: the “visible” component of Harvey Milks political campaign. The highlighted theme of my research essay and presentation will be the political work of art of visibility as purported by Harvey Milk and as seen in the latter works drawn from his life, such as the feature film “Milk” and other documentaries.
Primarily focusing on the objective nature of his political works, I intend to analyze his ideas, gay rights, and the means to achieve them, mainly that of visibility of gays in society, as a collective work of political art that is manifold in practice and encompasses both social and political ideology.
Ultimately, my concession to the political work of arts of Harvey Milk is based on its objectiveness. Milk upheld values that affirmed a person’s value regardless of their sexual orientation, and he intended to truncate the process of change in the social attitude towards gay by showcasing gays as who they were: human beings. The objective nature of this act is both intellectual and invokes without first intention, the emotion that propels a movement forward. Gay rights may have been the ultimatum, but without the visible component of the movement, initiating collective and individual reinforcement as well as social presence, it could not have achieved its goal.