Art School Stole My Virginity
Art School Stole My Virginity
In his recent Reith lectures for BBC Radio 4, Grayson Perry argues that art has lost the power to shock – it is defunct as a medium of protest, because it’s become accepted by our mainstream culture.
We have become accepting of pretty much everything that 50 years ago, would have defined us as societal outcasts. We no longer have to conform to get ahead in life. Old ways of rebellion such as tattoos and wild hairstyles have become so common that they are, now, conforming.
Grayson Perry believes we’ve seen it all before. 19-year-old Central Saint Martins student Clayton Pettet believes that there is more to come – and to prove this, he is going to lose his virginity in front of an audience. The idea for the art-performance piece is to test the public’s presumptions of virginity and how it can define us. For example (and something I’m sure we can all relate to), not having lost it quickly enough in your teenage years results in it being used as an insult – maybe you’re not attractive or bold enough to have sex, therefore virginity becomes a stigma. The virginity of young girls in earlier centuries was considered a precious gift that should be preserved, and was only to be taken by her husband once the young woman was married.
Pettet imagined this idea for his work, showing in early 2014, when he was in school and aged 16 years old. Sexuality is a vital aspect of British teenager’s lives. At a time when all of his peers were getting frisky and Pettet was left out, he questioned why virginity meant so much to people. The artist claims that the motivation for the performance isn’t so much to make a statement, as it is to arouse questions (no pun intended!).
Anyone with their eye on the art world will know that modern conceptual art is 90% thinly disguised showmanship and the rest is real, outraged objection to events/dictators/ideologies. So does Clayton Pettet’s work fit in to the remaining 10% and is it really going to challenge people’s thoughts on virginity?
If you want a bit of background reading on the artist, his Tumblr tagline states “Clayton as called by some “The Teenage Narcissist””. I remember speaking to artist friends of mine, and them stating that they actually don’t like the attention they receive… I mean, c’mon, really? If you wanted to live an anonymous life, you’d have chosen an office job. I think if Pettet’s sole interest was to challenge people’s beliefs he would have written an article for the Guardian or published a book. The performance is certainly gaining Pettet a lot of nationwide publicity, but does the notion of virginity really require this much attention?
It’s certainly not the first time live sex has been used in art. American artist Andrea Fraser eloped with an art collector for $24,000, although the premise was that this punter was paying for the ‘art’ and not for the sex. Chinese artist Cheng Li had sex on the roof of an art gallery and was sentenced to one year of ‘re-education’ at a labour camp.
Not surprisingly, cultural context plays a huge role in the shock-factor element of coital theatrics – Brits are fairly open to sex, whether it be gay, straight or transgender, we can talk about it openly – now, imagine this happening in Iran. Performing anal sex in a gallery is too much of an obvious attempt to try and shock the public into noticing you and the egotistical nature of the work could decry the value of the point Pettet is trying to make – which I think the public are aware of.
Pettet is sensationalising the losing of his virginity, which ultimately echoes what his teenage peers at school did. Having sex for the first time is a fairly big deal, is it not? It’s a right of passage into adulthood and maturity – you are now able to reproduce and start your own family.
All in all, this is going to be a great PR stunt for Pettet, who I believe will pave his way in to the young British art world alongside the likes of Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin. Pettet has created fame – already – very early on in his career. Fame puts a value on art, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Pettet again in the future. Watch this space.