Ask the Editors: Art School Stole My Virginity

Clayton Pettet has caused a stir in the art world by announcing his plans to lose his virginity on stage. But is it art?

Yes – Amber Benbow-Hart, Deputy Arts Editor

Clayton Pettet’s conceptual piece ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ is art. The Oxford dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium” and we have all those elements here.

Clayton’s piece may be conceptual but it is also undeniably visual; media outcry has focused on the detail of the audience who are there to see it. The medium is him and his partner. With “a light smattering of paint on their bodies” while they are “having sex on an upstretched piece of canvas”, not only will the performance be visual but also the resulting permanent work.

You can’t question whether the ‘creative imagination’ is there either. His artist statement displays detailed thought around his subject and in particular does what any art piece does, it challenges societal views: Is virginity significant? Inherently heteronormative? A social construct? The art of the act opens up these questions to debate.

Art is all about prompting thought in its viewers and this piece does that. Certainly Clayton Pettet’s piece blurs the lines of art, but it doesn’t cross them. This piece is art – just perhaps not the type we expect when we walk into a gallery.

No – Amy Blumsom, Arts Editor

If it takes place in an art gallery, it’s art. Theoretically. But that doesn’t mean ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ can be considered artistic.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, the project devalues intimate relationships between two people – regardless of gender. By having sex on a public platform, the intimacy of the relationship and significance of Clayton’s virginity is lost.

What’s more, the word “stole” in the title of the piece has an aggressive quality, creating a sense of negativity surrounding the loss of virginity. This conveys Clayton Pettet’s virginity as something which has been forcefully taken, rather than willingly – and dare I say it – lovingly given.

By drawing attention to virginity Clayton is not losing the supposed social stigma of being a virgin as he claims, but monopolising controversial subject matter for the sake of being provocative.

Pettet’s ‘piece’ is being used to stimulate debate without making an explicit statement about modern perceptions of virginity and sexuality. This is dangerous ground, as people will be, and have been, far too quick to project their own message onto the piece – which may not be the message Clayton intended.

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