The Science of Selling Out

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Artists are people that don’t tend to have many rules (or at the very least are somewhat flexible with them). However there is one rule that seems to be taken very seriously and that is never ever ever “sell out.”

This rule can mean different things depending on the type of artist you are. If you’re a musician it might mean never trying to go on “American Idol” or singing certain songs or genres. If you’re a writer it might mean constantly pursuing the great American novel as opposed to trying to write the next “Twilight.” Directors and actors might try to make small art-house films instead of Michael Bay blockbusters. Whatever kind of artist you are, you are probably familiar with a code of sorts about what constitutes authentic art. These codes can be seen in our media and culture. In “Rent” the main characters, a group of artists and musicians, clash with their former friend who married into a wealthy family and wants to build a state of the art studio in the middle of their bohemian neighborhood. In “School Of Rock” Dewey Finn chastises his former band members, who kicked him out in favor of another guitar player exclaiming “You’ve been focused so hard on making it you forgot about one little thing; it’s called the MUSIC!” He leaves the practice space stating “I don’t wanna hang out with a bunch of wannabe corporate sellouts.” We all might know someone (or even be the person) who seems to be constantly saying things along the lines of “Oh I liked so & so until they went mainstream.”

For years I’ve had my own codes I’ve been determined to play in an original rock band. I balked at the idea of going on shows like “Idol”. I loved those characters that rebelled and never gave in. However over the past few years many things have happened that have made me question these stances. Since I don’t want to go into potentially endless details it should suffice to say that a lot has happened that has made me wonder if being the suffering artist who never sells out is really making me a better artist or any happier. In both cases I’m not sure this is true. It is hard for me to be a productive artist when I’m having trouble writing songs, finding an audience, etc. Furthermore, while I’m willing to work for my art should I have to suffer for it? Shouldn’t I enjoy it? I remember my professor in college quoting Xavier Cugat who stated, “I would rather play ‘Chiquita Banana’ and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” At the time I thought the very idea was horrendous, even somewhat blasphemous. However after two years of hard knocks I’ve started long for the swimming pool.

Another reason I’ve had many of these thoughts is I came across yet another Cracked article, that pointed out that even my heroes The Beatles had changed many aspects about themselves to become…well The Beatles. Among the changes were switching from jeans and leather jackets to trousers, getting those now famous matching haircuts, and no longer doing any inappropriate behaviors onstage (eating, drinking and swearing). Of course, as the article points out and fans of The Beatles realize, making these changes didn’t exactly stifle the creativity of the band. It might be worth asking whether The Beatles would have made it as far if they’d said to hell with Epstein’s ideas and stayed in Liverpool. Would we even be talking about them today?

There is a big part of me that hates the fact I’m writing this (heck even the fact I’ve been having these thoughts). I always swore that I’d never be that person who caved in to “bourgeois ideals” and other seemingly corrupting influences. This being said I still have enough idealism in me that I wouldn’t want to become some Gordon Gekko like character who’s only concern is what’s going to be the next hit or how much will an album sell. When I think about that day in my professor’s class when he quoted Xavier Cugat I remember my response was “Why does it have to be one or the other?” Maybe that’s the trick. You make compromises where you have to, you wear the costume or sing the occasional song through gritted teeth but you try to stay true to yourself on the big things. You pick the battles instead of waging what might be an endless unwinnable war.

There might be those of you reading that absolutely hate what I’m saying. You might feel that just by contemplating these ideas I’m turning my back on true art and simply becoming another hack. To that I say ok. Honestly I hope you’re right and I wish you well on your artistic journey. I hope you can go out and do things that I can’t. I hope you knock down walls and create a path for yourself. I hope that you never have to contemplate the choices I’ve been finding myself making and that you can find success without having to make a sacrifice that would violate your artistic integrity.
However maybe there are others of you who identify with what I’m saying. To you I say let’s try to redefine what makes us a “true artist.” Let’s pick our battles where we can. Let’s carve our own paths where whatever choices we make are the ones that are right for us and not ones that we are pressured to make by the idea of what an artist should be. In short, let’s not give up but maybe every so often give in.

Bibliography
“The Beatles.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. .
“Chiquita Quotes and Sayings Quotes about Chiquita.” Chiquita Quotes and Sayings. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
Iannone, Jason. “5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out.” Cracked.com. N.p., 08 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
“Rent (musical).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
School of Rock. Dir. Richard Linklater. Perf. Jack Black. Paramount, 2003. DVD.

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Reactions to “Art School Stole My Virginity” (Or When Art and Society Collide)

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A little over a week ago art student Clayton Pettet finally presented his piece “Art School Stole My Virginity” to a crowd of 120-150 people. The public and the media were certainly divided last year when Pettet announced his piece (a controversy that only grew when Pettet indicated he would be having sex with another man). The reaction now that he has performed his piece (spoiler: there wasn’t any sex involved) seems to be a mixture of confusion and outright viciousness with many accusing Pettet of narcissism, mental illness and desperately seeking attention among other observations. However the piece and the reactions to it might say a lot about society’s perceptions of virginity and sexuality in our society. In this sense Pettet might have done an excellent job and the joke may be on all of us.

The piece was presented in two parts. Part one was what Pettet referred to as “being purified and the fetishisation of the young virgin.” This involved Pettet’s body (which was covered with words relating to the sex act) being scrubbed clean and his hair being cut by his assistants (two men and one woman wearing only underwear and sheets over their heads. Following this Petett made his way to the basement while two of his assistants selected groups of twenty from the audience to follow. Those that remained watched a video of Pettet eating bananas while Serge Gainsbourg’s “Les Sucettes” played in the background alternating with media commentary regarding the piece. As Dan Wilkinson, a friend of Pettet’s, pointed out this could symbolize the waiting and anticipation experienced before people lose their virginity. Pettet said as much himself stating on his blog that the piece came to him when he was sixteen and his peers were losing their virginity and that this made him question why he was still a virgin and why virginity or (losing it) meant so much to the people around him (Pettet, Tumblr).

In the second part of the piece, the groups made their way down to the basement which was covered in graffiti that represented the public’s perceptions of the show.  They were then shown one by one into a pink box where Pettet asked them to insert a banana into his mouth to take his “virginity”.  Dan Wilkinson’s remarks are reprinted here as they seem to convey most the awkwardness but also the vulnerability and poignancy of the situation (feelings which could be very much ascribed to the loss of virginity).

“One by one, we’re then taken away to a large pink box. I get down onto my knees and enter the rabbit hole, to find Clayton alone, in his pants, surrounded by bananas. “You’re going to take my oral virginity,” he says, with the manic, cranked-out look of someone who hasn’t slept for a fortnight. “Put the banana in my mouth eight times.”

I want to make a joke or smile at him or, really, do anything to detract from the awkwardness of a guy you’ve known for quite a while telling you to mouth-fuck him with fruit. But I’m frozen by how vulnerable he looks, and how focused he is on me. So I oblige, not really knowing how else to handle the situation.

“Go now,” he says after. I leave feeling like I’ve done a bad thing. I’d wanted to see him lose his virginity, and it was me who ended up penetrating him. We as an audience have kind of half got what we wanted, but I don’t feel any better for it.”

 Is Pettet’s piece art? Well the first thought that comes to mind is one of the key scenes in the film Mona Lisa Smile.

                                          
Betty: Art isn’t art unless someone says it is.                                          
Katherine: It’s Art!                                          
Betty: The right people.                                        
Katherine: Who are they?

 Whether or not Pettet’s piece qualifies as a work of art obviously comes down to the individual’s definition since (as I’ve discussed on this blog before art is subjective). However I think Pettet is brilliant in the way that he incorporated the public response and media frenzy into his work and how, in a sense, the responses to his piece became a part of the work. Pettet’s piece also brings to my mind some intriguing questions. What was it about this piece that caught the public’s attention (the sex, the artist’s sexual orientation, etc.)? What does it say that, according to Wilkinson, over 10,000 people were willing to (potentially) watch this young man have sex? What does it then say when they are faced with the discomfort of actually engaging him in his little box? Whether you love him or hate him Pettet’s piece has created an intriguing intersection of art and society where it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Bibliography

Mona Lisa Smile. Dir. Mike Newell. Perf. Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, & Maggie Gyllenhaal. Revolution Studios/Columbia Pictures, 2003. DVD.

 Nichols, James. “Clayton Pettet Finally Performs ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ (NSFW).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/04/art-school-virginity_n_5084148.html&gt;.

 Petett, Clayton. Tumblr. N.p., 29 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://thankyouartschoolstole.tumblr.com/&gt;.

Tsjeng, Zing. “What Actually Happened at Art School Stole My Virginity.” Dazed. N.p., 03 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/19437/1/clayton-pettet-art-school-stole-my-virginity-what-actually-happened-interview&gt;.

Weinstein, Adam. “Dumb Art-School Project About Live Anal Sex and Lost Virginity Is Dumb.” Gawker. N.p., 04 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://gawker.com/dumb-art-school-project-about-live-anal-sex-and-lost-vi-1558404755&gt;.

Wilkinson, Dan. “I Went to See My Friend Lose His Virginity in Public.” VICE. N.p., 04 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/i-watched-art-school-steal-my-friends-virginity&gt;.