In his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde famously refuted Plato and wrote, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Reading like a stage play, the essay continues, “…the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.”
Nineteen-year-old Clayton Pettet, a student at Central Saint Martins art school in London, is echoing Wilde in behavior, if not thought.
On January 25, 2013, Pettet will be staging a one-off performance of “Art School Stole My Virginity.” At the live show, he plans to have sex for the first time with a male friend before an audience of up to 100 art students and observers. A question-and-answer session will follow.
On his Tumblr blog the Jewish art student gives a window into the psychology behind the project.
“The Idea of ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ came around when I was sixteen, when all my peers at school were losing their Virginity it was incredibly hard for me to ask why I was still a Virgin and why it meant so much to the people all around me.”
The show has drawn the ire of artists, gay rights activists and the religiously observant.
In a candid interview with the Daily Beast, Pettet says he is “clueless” as to why he hasn’t yet had sex and doesn’t understand the outcry against his art. “I’m just showing you what everyone’s already seeing and doing,” Pettet told the Daily Beast.
“I am clueless as to why I’ve chosen not to have sex. I honestly don’t know — maybe this piece will tell me why. It’s a question as well as a performance. Maybe I was innately waiting for this piece,” he said.
Advertising the piece has come relatively easy, with major news agencies picking up the story after he announced the performance on the show’s Tumblr blog in October.
Pettet decided, however, to increase the coverage late last month, and he spraypainted “Art School Stole My Virginity” in bubblegum pink letters under a train bridge. He was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, but not prosecuted.
“I got cuffed and mug shot and everything. I was in the cell. They said, ‘What color graffiti?’ And I was like: ‘blossom pink’ and they were laughing, and I sat there like: fuck me,” Pettet told the Daily Beast.
Regarding another snafu, Pettet tells of sending a mass email to his entire address book with information about the show. Most of Pettet’s family lives in Israel, but his one Christian aunt wrote back, “Nice to hear what you’re doing, Clayton, but it’s not very suitable for your old auntie.”