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Piper Matthew

Coming Out as Gay Artist: A New Perception of Art

Piper Matthew
2017 Intern

High School is tough, and being in the closet as a flamboyant gay kid who loves art, only makes it tougher. My freshman year was spent trying and failing to fit into the masculine stereotype that all male students are pressured into. The arts did not exist inside that stereotype. Growing up I played baseball, basketball, gymnastics, swam, and even did martial arts. I barely found any enjoyment out of all of them, and lamented going to every practice or game.

Yet as a freshman, I was still trying to play soccer and ran track. I didn’t care about what I looked like, I would wear sweatpants and these awful waffle-knit long sleeve shirts. I just didn’t feel confident. I even dated a girl for a while, (we’re best friends now) Needless to say, I was not happy. Thankfully that situation didn’t last.

Piper Matthew

By the time I was well into my sophomore year of high school, I had finally come out as gay to my family. I couldn’t stand pretending to be straight and masculine, because it was everything I wasn’t. I knew if I continued to lie about who I was, I would never truly be happy. Within one weekend I found the courage to tell my Mom, Dad and two sisters. I’ll never forget the smile that spread on my sister’s face.

My family needed some time to adjust to this, but throughout that year I was accepted, loved, and we grew closer together as a family. With the support of my family, I finally gave myself permission to be who I was in every way. Before this, everything I did was about survival. I could finally start living the life I always wanted to live.

Now I didn’t have to do what I thought was expected of me. Instead, I did what I loved and it felt right. I finally and fully embraced the arts. I took semi private art classes on weekends, and filled my school schedule with studio art classes and band. Ever since fifth grade I had played the alto saxophone, so I joined marching band, wind ensemble, all town wind ensemble, jazz band, symphony orchestra and pit orchestra for musicals.

Needless to say, I was occupied and happier than ever. The combination of music with art kept me inspired and fulfilled with art commissions for family and teachers, murals, work from my art lessons, while also leading both the gay straight alliance and art club.

My perception of the arts began to shift.  During that year, the arts transformed from being a coping mechanism/side hobby, to a commitment that I could be happy and proud of. The idea that I could pursue art in some form as a career and build it into my daily routine quickly became my dream. The thought of being a part of the art world for the rest of my life enticed me.

Through my extra curriculars and art classes, I kept realizing that creating art was what I wanted to do more so than anything else. I didn’t know exactly what direction I wanted to go in for college, but I knew I loved to draw. I let that intuition inform which schools I wanted to go to, finally embracing my reignited passion.

Taking art classes outside of school was probably the best thing that came out of coming out. I went to a painting & drawing studio in New Hampshire on weekends. The class was taught by a professional working artist, and I loved every part of it. It was the first time I was given concrete instruction on my artwork, rather than family and friends saying “I love it!” to whatever I showed them. The artist’s studio classes ranged from four to six teens or adults in total, and we all got to have one-on-one critiques with her as well as the opinions of everyone in that class. The environment fostered camaraderie between everyone. Each time I walked into that studio, any doubtful stereotype about the arts as a career vanished.

Being introduced to a creative environment, where everyone was actively engaged and excited about drawing was invigorating. This was where I learned how to use charcoal! I was afraid of the medium because I had never used something so messy and delicate, and I was very comfortable with just pencil and line drawings.

Charcoal became my favorite material for most projects. I learned how to create tone, draw realistically from life,began to build a portfolio, and developed confidence in my artistic abilities. The drawing studio quickly became my favorite part of the week. The entire experience made me feel as though I was part of the art world. I wasn’t alone in my love for drawing!

Having that artistic community outside of high school was a privilege I won’t ever forget. That experience helped me become a better artist, and taught me how to be true to my art. My perception of art transformed from a shameful side hobby into a viable career path to work towards. Having a professional artist teach me how to create invigorating pieces and help build my portfolio was important because I had never even thought about contemporary artists.

Before that class, I thought of artists as being people like Picasso or Leonardo: dead artists from another century. I used to think that if you wanted to be an artist, you would have to do it as a side hobby once you had a different career established.

Piper Matthew

If I hadn’t come out, what would I be doing now? Would I have continued to pretend to enjoy sports? Would I have ever reached for the art world? I know I wouldn’t have. Before I came out, I was living a life of survival. My only concern was how to hide the fact that I was gay. When you’re just trying to survive, the possibilities of the future become bleak. You don’t reach for your dreams. Instead, you reach for whatever creates a comfort zone to be safe in.

Finding the courage to come out empowered me to fight masculine stereotypes that were holding me back. I could reach for my passion, no matter what people thought of me. This propelled me into a life filled with the arts, and as a result changed my perception of art. Art as a career was now a real possibility, filled with friends and teachers who were there for me. I had found a community that shared the same passion for art, and who helped me realize that art was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

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2 responses on "Coming Out as a Gay Artist"

  1. Piper, this story of finding yourself through your art is really inspiring and encouraging! The thing that I love so much about art is that it can flex to whatever you need it to be. For some people it is a hobby or a way to relax, for others it’s a safe haven or a space to work out trauma or understand your place in the world. And for others still, it’s a constantly evolving profession and livelihood. All of these forms art can take are valid, and one of my favorite things as a teacher is watching how art’s function is unique for each one of my students. It sounds like art has been many of those things for you growing up, and it will only become so much richer as you continue on your path as an artist.

    You mention this dichotomy between art and sports, with sports being masculine and the arts being feminine or the other. This is a really common stereotype played up by both non-artists and artists (my art school had a joke of a hockey team with a very foul mascot). I wonder how you feel about the subversion of this stereotype, and if it will ever play into your own work. I’m thinking about things like Yuri!!! On Ice, Maria Molteni’s basketball courts and sportswear. If there’s a system you don’t like, break it down!

  2. Piper,

    Your story reminds of me a quote I once heard from a man named Chris Gardner (his biopic is a film entitled “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith). He says:

    “You have to be bold, because there will be folks who will say, ‘You can’t’ or ‘You shouldn’t’ or ‘Why?’ There is a certain boldness to saying, ‘Well, I really don’t want to be a high-powered corporate lawyer. I’m really passionate about painting.”

    Your story is a powerful one and I’m more than confident that you will find so much fulfillment doing something you love, such as art, that you can really pour your soul into. As you’ve already alluded to, life is too precious for you to waste time doing things you don’t care about. I’m the same way, I grew up not caring about the sports I was always enrolled in (and I did a lot of them) but, after all that, I found that I enjoyed drawing more than any of those things. And I’m so much happier because of it.

    I’m also glad you found a community of artists around you to support you, that’s incredibly important as you grow on your artistic journey. Continue to make your art! Your hard work and your love for the craft will take you farther than you know!

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