Take part in a debate
What is art?
Yesterday evening, Julia Brown, Hannah Warner and myself debated about the recent news that a 19 year old Central-St-Martins art student, Clayton Pettet, plans to lose his anal virginity in front of an audience, as a form of ‘art’.
We each had varying opinions about this, and wanted to discuss whether this is really ‘art’, and if so, what implications this has.
Julia seemed to defend Clay Pettet’s right to call his work ‘art’, because the word is subjective, and part of its purpose is to be able to be redefined by the practitioner. People cannot label others work in this way, because if a person does something, and refers to it as ‘art’, then it is. Every day happenings can be referred to as ‘art’, if they make us question, and explore the everyday, giving it meaning. The work of performance artists such as Yoko Ono, is often based on very everyday occurrences. It is the questioning of the mundane by putting it in a gallery space that produces the meaning.
This lead us to contemplate, what is a gallery? What makes the space different, so that when something is placed in that space it adopts a new meaning? What about a gallery changes Pettet’s experience from being pornographic, to being artistic? It is hard to understand how a gallery can redefine meaning.
One point of view is that performance art is very much about the reactions of the audience, and their effect on the performer. The performance is heavily effected by the audience’s reaction; whether they laugh, are disgusted, or applaud. The fact that Clayton Pettet intends to perform the act in front of an audience, may create the ‘artistic’ nature we are contemplating. If this is true, without the audience, is Pettet’s act still ‘art’, or is it just a normal sexual encounter? Hannah and myself seemed to take the opposite stance, in that we believed that the proposed performance perhaps undermines the word ‘art’. I personally am doubtful of his intentions: he may have wanted his work to be shocking and controversial to gain publicity, rather than just to explore his subject. I think that there probably are better, more appropriate alternative ways of questioning sexuality and virginity, that do not involve a live performance.
From a different point of view, although his work may not be the most appropriate, and it may be pretentious and controversial, but this does not mean it is not ‘art’. This was followed by a discussion of what ‘art’ is, and what makes something ‘art’? Hannah and myself felt if anything can be art, then it devalues the word – a child could produce something meaningless and refer to it as art. What we agreed on was that if the person who creates the work reflects on the issue/subject etc before creating the work then this gives it a deeper meaning, making it artistic.
I personally feel that if literally anything can be art, and art itself cannot be defined, what even is the purpose of using the word? What does describing something as ‘art’ really achieve? And therefore it seems pointless for artists to bother arguing that their work is art, why don’t they just call it what is is: a painting, an object, a performance etc? The three of us began to contemplate the idea that perhaps ‘art’ is often a word used to justify something that might otherwise be distasteful, or controversial…