How do we define art?
And what is the line between artistic expression and obscenity?
As a young girl, I visited a modern art display in a museum and saw a canvas that had been painted blue. That was it. A plain blue canvas hanging on a wall. Compared to the paintings of Impressionists, the sculptures of Michelangelo or the photography of Ansel Adams, that blue canvas doesn’t quite cut it.
Pretty sure a five year old could do that.
If that blue canvas was benign, the latest story of personal expression as art is shocking. Or simply such a blatant attempt at attention that it’s sad.
On January 25, 2014, 19-year-old Clayton Pettet from London is planning on having gay sex in an art gallery in front of a group of purported art fans. Having spent three years planning this, he’s calling it the “ultimate once-in-a-lifetime” performance art piece.
I’m torn trying to decide which is more disturbing:
That a young adult is offering to turn a very private and intimate affair into a public display or that there are individuals interested in attending so as to gawk at what is essentially pornography without a film crew?
Pettet is quoted as saying, *”I’ve held on to my virginity for 19 years, and I’m not throwing it away lightly. Basically it’s like I am losing the stigma around virginity.
I want the audience to see if anything has changed between me and my partner.”*
Websters defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Does Pettet really see it as a mark of disgrace that he is 19 years old and has yet to have had sex? (It’s unclear from the interview whether he’s referring to vaginal sex or anal sex but for the sake of this post, let’s just say both).
The double standard of female virginity being valued and male virginity derided is all too common, with men applauded for multiple partners and women labeled any number of names for having a number that is “too high.”
But what is the problem with someone being 19 years old and having never had sex?
Rather than a mark of disgrace, I see that as cause for applause.
In a culture that promotes sex, that person has managed to forge their own path, to make decisions that are outside of the mainstream (the average age that a teenager first has sex is 17) and to uphold a personal guardrail in the face of constancy questioning, pressure and little support. Trust me, I know.
Applauding virginity does not by default mean shaming those who are no longer virgins.
Not having sex is as much of a choice as having sex.
It’s a choice people make for any number of reasons, and often, make again after they’ve already been sexually active. In many ways, it’s a more difficult choice because it means postponing what one wants in the moment for what one wants in the long-run. It means learning to control your body and your heart without stifling your sexuality. No small feat.
I agree with Pettet that there is unfortunately a stigma attached to virginity, especially if you are male and beyond the age of about 15 years old. But having sex in front of a crowd doesn’t change the stigma that virginity is something to hurry up and get rid of, it merely reinforces it.
The way to lose that stigma isn’t to give in to it, but rather, to push against it. To boldly and proudly live in a way that goes counter to the cultural, to demonstrate control when others promote abandon, and to speak up when others would bully you into making a different choice than what is best for your body, mind, and heart.
You never forget your first time, whether it’s in the back seat of a car or on your wedding night. It can be powerful, intimate, awkward, and emotional.
Unfortunately for Pettet, he may have to process all that in front of a crowd of strangers. For his sake, I hope he changes his performance piece to something less exposing and a bit more artistic.
What do you think of Pettet’s planned art display?