Cultural Consumption Task 2

Take part in a debate

What is art?

Clayton Pettet

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’.

You can read the details about his proposal here…

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…

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Consumption Task 2

  1. Pingback: Cultural Consumption 2/30 Get involved with/ hold a debate. What is art? Gay Student To Lose His Virginity In Live Sex Performance For Art. | Peacefully disturbing the Culturally Comfortable

  2. Reblogged this on Peacefully disturbing the Culturally Comfortable and commented:
    This was a debate that myself, Mary and Hannah had a few months ago. I’m really glad to be only blogging about it now because I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and think about how I feel.

    This controversial performance grabbed the attention of the media but soon seemed to lose attention after the performance took place. His project “Art school stole my virginity” ended up not actually containing any sex.

    Clayton Pettet’s idea has been of interest to me from the beginning. I’ve been following his Tumblr for a while now. I was very sceptical about it.
    A quote from his Tumblr says this,

    “I want my piece to inject some speed into the arts, a performance of the people if you will. I feel like now is the time for the new scene. To lose my Virginity with the new age is the Avant Garde that London has been unintentionally waiting for.”

    From briefly studying performance art I’ve learnt that performing sexual acts to an audience is most definitely not anything new or Avante garde. If you’ve heard of Hermann Nitsch (which I’m sure Clayton has) then how can he think he is doing is really so different.

    Anyway, as you can see in Mary’s post, I still am going to stick to opinion and say that everything can be art. I like to think about it in terms of cave painting – any type of activity, which was initially considered to not be art, can become art! Cave paintings were not executed as expressive pieces, they were where created for practical reasons like planning for hunting and now have been redefined as pieces of art simply because they have been proclaimed to be.

    I’m writing this blog post even after the performance happened so I’ve learnt that Pettet’s piece didn’t actually involve him losing his virginity at all. When asked about this in an interview for Dazed Magazine Pettet said,

    “I’ve always said I didn’t believe in virginity, so it kind of defeats the point if I’d actually lost my virginity for my art show! It was always about me stealing the word ‘virginity’, rather than having it stolen from me. That’s why I pushed the date back about 75 times. Because of the press the piece got, galleries assumed I was going to trick them and do what everyone thought I was going to do. But I’m not going to give what everyone wants, it’s not the point.”

    From researching this performance I found that a main aspect of the piece involved participants being asked to take a banana and penetrate Clayton’s mouth. It sounded like a very uncomfortable performance, but it seems that was the point. It made me think about how we view sex- the obsession with it and why it grabs such attention. It is certainly was a thought provoking piece as it seems the main complaint about the piece is that Pettet didn’t actually have sex. This piece really is a work of art. I really enjoyed discussing this piece with Mary and Hannah and getting to reflect on the piece more extensively in private.

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