Queer Designs for Living in My America
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Division: Parsons The New School for Design
School: School of Art and Design History and Theory
Department: Art and Design History
Course Number: PLDS 4004
Course Format: Lecture
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
Since the emergence of “homosexuality” and “transexuality” as identities in the late 19th century, queer culture has been presumed to develop in the margins of American life, ancillary to and shaped by heterosexual norms. Yet the vast majority of queer people in the last hundred years have lived (to at least some degree) in the closet, allowing them to exist in the mainstream while maintaining a distinctly non-normative identity. Thus, to quote bell hooks, allowing them "to bring the margin into the center." As America transitioned into a consumer culture, many of these queer people found themselves working in the design fields: interior design, architecture, fashion design, illustration, and product design. How did their queerness, as an identity and a body of experience, shape their vision of the world, and how did they repackage this vision as the ideal of normality for mainstream America? Conversely, how did they also resist. What does it mean for Elsie de Wolfe to have so influenced the interior design of the American family home from inside her lesbian relationship with Elisabeth Marbury? If the “Arrow Collar man” defined masculinity in the early 1900s, what does it mean for illustrator J. C. Leyendecker to have based him on his lover, Charles Beach? How did Rudi Gernreich navigate the fashion industry as the designer of the topless bathing suit and his involvement in radical gay politics? How did queerness, as an identity and a body of experience, shape these practitioners' visions, and how did they repackage that vision as the ideal of normality for mainstream America? Through the lenses of current queer theory, evolving queer history and mainstream design history from the late 19th century until the present, this course will engage students in the practice of mining not only the available literature but archives and collections ranging from the New Schools Kellen archives to the libraries at the Cooper Hewitt and Bard's Design Center to collections of the Museum of Sex, Leslie Lohman Museum of Lesbian and Gay Art, and the New York Public Library to piece together little explored manifestations of queer history and culture.
Course Open to: Majors Only
Open to Undergraduate students.