Thought Catalog
March 16, 2014

I Make Art Not Porn: Slut-Shaming In College And Beyond

Report This Article
What is the issue?

artsexy4

In the wake of the Belle Knox media madness, the so-called Duke Porn Star, I feel driven to write about my situation, which is both similar to and different from Belle’s. Her case is that of a woman who is supposed to be representing her undergraduate experience at a top tier university through a persona of purity and sexlessness but is instead engaging in rough sex porn. Mine is that of a woman who is supposed to be utilizing her graduate experience at a leading NYC art school to make “MFA-worthy art,” but is “instead” engaging in an art project that involves her own sexualization on the Internet. Both of our situations have resulted in belittling, discouraging, harassing and violent statements and threats against us, revealing how the hypocrisy, ignorance and brutality of our society is too often directed against women who decide to engage in expressions of public sexuality.

815878956_390843

I decided to pursue an MFA in Fine Arts because I wanted to learn more about making art, about the art industry, about critical art theory, and about the art that others make, all with the goal of making my living as an artist who sells her works. It’s a standard story for MFA students. Yet while I make various kinds of art – landscape photography, installations, digital montages – my thesis project sets me apart from my peers because it involves the overt representation of myself as a sexualized, fully naked “hetero-normative” (the politically correct term for heterosexual in current art criticism) female via a website whose goal is to create a social practice art project wherein the e-porn standard “solo girl” site template is blended with an art portfolio. I call it an “art school girl solo site,” and because seeing it for yourself will help you better understand my predicament, here it is (NSFW).

Interesting idea, right? I think so, but unfortunately I have met with massive misunderstanding, resistance, hostility and even sexual harassment from fellow students and faculty members, as well as visiting artists, critics and curators. From these very people to whom I am paying $45,000 a year to get their opinions on my art so I can grow as an artist, I am instead receiving responses that are totally irrelevant, ridiculously personal, outright discouraging and/or flagrantly inappropriate. Some details…

007

010

“Your Art Means I Can Sexually Harass You”

I have had a number of studio visits from highly esteemed professional artists…something every art student craves…visits where the purpose was for them to talk about my work…end in my being directly hit on by these men. Once it was leaning in for a kiss, once it was inviting me to his place, once it was overt sexual advances. In all cases I immediately rebuffed their incursions and told them I am not available. I strongly doubt they are doing this to other students, but instead apparently feel it is acceptable to do it to me due to the nature of my art projects. It is not acceptable. My work is not an advertisement for the appropriation and harassment of my body. It is art.

Hate, Rape, and Death Threats

artsexypaint026

In my history as an artist who presents her work on the web, I have received hateful, violent comments as well as rape and death threats, such as:

  •  “you are a SLUT!!!!!!!!! You should be ashamed of yourself.”
  • “Might as well be a prostitute. You’re future kids will be very proud of their mommy. Peace out.”
  • “This is a scam, lady. Be honest and do porn. You’re attractive and have a good body. Why hide behind some lame degree and practice?”
  • “Someone should wipe you out. You are asking for it!”
  • “The men who look at your “art” should come to your home and rape you. That’s what you deserve.”

In order to protect myself I have had to radically privatize my identity, take extensive measures to remove my address from public record, and work diligently through various methods to remove pre-art school photos of me from Google search results. While it’s said that any reaction to one’s work, positive or negative, is good, I respectfully wish to draw the line at being personally humiliated and threatened with rape and death.

“You Should Not Be An Artist”

IMG_0716

On the topic of sexual representation and professional delegitimization, there are a number of transgender students and faculty in my department. One professor has made a queer porn video, and the students make a variety of works that express their transgender bodies sexually. There are also several openly gay male students and faculty members whose work is openly sexual. Yet not once have I heard the kinds of skepticisms and dismissals thrown at them that I have had thrown at me. Instead I hear their work being lauded, supported, and discussed critically as art. In the art world (and beyond), the professional delegitimization that comes from sexual representation is directed at all kinds of people, not excluding “hetero-normative” women.

The Star/Slut Complex

There are, of course, precedents for “hetero-normative” women representing themselves sexually in their art. One of the most legendary and respected is Andrea Fraser, whose piece “Untitled” is a video of her having sex with a man in a gallery who paid her for the “work.” Fraser is a famous, highly regarded artist and academic, in no small part due to this project. The hypocrisy present in the fact that she is lauded and I am scorned is what I call the Star/Slut Complex, which is a variant of the Madonna/Whore Complex referenced by Belle Knox. When Andrea Fraser has sex in a gallery, it is accepted because the art market christens it as art. When Emily Ratajkowski dances naked in a Robin Thicke video, it is accepted because the entertainment industry produced it. When Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson and Richard Kern photograph young female nude models, it is respected because they are men. All of these people are “stars” in our society. But when Belle Knox makes a porn video, or a cam girl dances for the men in her chat room, or I photograph myself as a nude model, we are branded “sluts.”

artsexydark015artsexydark022

“You Are Illegitimate Because You’re Sexual”

woman2-1000x675
After having been kicked off Facebook, Paypal, Youtube, and Chase Bank in my attempts to set up the social and payment infrastructure for my artworks (while other artists and nude works are allowed to remain on), I really am astonished at the degree to which non-famous women who sexualize themselves are restricted from the stepping stones of professionalization through so-called slut-shaming. Further, given that plenty of “famous” women and entities sexualize themselves and are still allowed to use social media (Playboy, Beyoncé, Ann Liv Young), censorship seems to be only directed at the 99% in what is essentially a war against DIY women who represent themselves sexually but are also “audacious” enough to seek social status through that representation: Melissa King seeking and then losing her Miss Delaware Teen USA crown because she did porn; Belle attending a prestigious university while doing porn; me trying to be considered a respectable artist while sexualizing myself online. There’s a double standard here, of course. “Hetero-normative” women have been liberated by feminism to be whatever they want, but if the road to being whatever they want includes publicly presenting themselves as sexual prior to being famous or institutionally-sanctioned, they’re beaten down, both by misogynists and feminists. This double standard is atrocious, degrading and even dangerous to the women at whom it is directed.

artsexy2

“Your Art is Anti-Female”

In my interview for the art program to which I was inevitably accepted, I was openly asked by a professor if I was not simply “supporting the objectification of women” through my work. To this typical anti-hetero-normative feminist question, I basically replied that art is inherently objectification, that countless men have represented the female body in arousing positions that are entirely accepted by the art world, and that I am a self-empowered artist who uses her inherently sexual body in her art, so if that meant I was supporting the objectification of women, I suppose I had to answer “yes.” To this day she continues to seem openly skeptical and ambivalent toward ArtSexyStudio.com and directly told me in a studio visit that she thought I should not launch the website. This feels like just another case, inferred by Belle Knox, of second-wave feminists being dismissive of women trying to ignite a discussion about “hetero-normative” sexuality.

“Your Art Is Not Art”

artsexynightday057feature-1080x675

In my group critiques – hour-long sessions where one professor and multiple fellow students engage in open criticism of your work – I usually start out by asking the group for specific responses to my website, such as how the Join Page engages with general art market trends or if they know any historical referents to my “artfully censoring my own body.” Instead of responding to my questions, I am almost entirely barraged by their worrying about my personal safety, suggestions to focus on the metrics of such a site, concerns over whether it’s acceptable to show women “in this light,” accusations that I’m simply re-presenting typical porn, etc. Yet too rarely do I receive what I have asked and am paying for – a bias-free, relevant, intelligent discussion about the artistic qualities and precedents of my work. Why can’t people talk about my art the way I see other art school students’ works being talked about – as art? Why must I continually defend my decisions to make the kind of art work I do against other people’s moral judgements? Apparently some of us are so nervous about or against “hetero-normative” female sexuality that when it’s non-satirically presented by a woman in art, it entirely eclipses the “art” part.

artsexyhair29

I have, of course, had some positive responses to my work, by both men and women, and I am thankful to those who have supported me in my exploration of the artistic themes that interest me. But I am deeply troubled by the loud and clear message being sent to me by my professors and numerous members of the art world: for hetero-normative women to be respectable, their sexuality must be kept private. Why? Belle Knox posits that hetero-normative female sexuality threatens the patriarchy. I agree with that. I also think that despite all the progress and porn in the world, we are still a deeply puritanical society that is against open sexual expression, especially by the “non-famous.” Finally, I find that in my experience many people have politicized (mostly feminists) or personalized (mostly straight men) the representation of sexuality such that they respond to it with unhearing anger or inappropriate desire. Whatever the reason, it is a major problem for women today.

artsexyiphone22b2

As Hannah Arendt once said, “If we appear, we must be seen, which means that our bodies must be viewed and their vocalized sounds must be heard: the body must enter the visual and audible field. But we have to ask why, if this is so, the body is itself divided into the one that appears publicly to speak and act, and another, sexual and laboring, feminine, foreign and mute, that generally relegated to the private and pre-political sphere.” Like her, I have to ask: If a heterosexual (yes, I am now going to use THAT word) woman makes her sexuality public, and she is not already famous or sanctioned by the powers-that-be, why, instead of respecting her, do we threaten, delegitimize, ridicule and harass her? Is sexuality that bad and/or overwhelming? Why can’t people discuss sexual responses…just like intellectual or artistic responses…maturely? Why does “being sexual” have to smudge a person and censor them from professional advancement? With the free flow of information that the Internet enables, a new level of public sexuality for both men and women is upon us. It’s important that we start discussing these issues, and instead of sweeping them under the rug or letting them spur us to violence, we need to recognize that men and women are going to be sexual in public and that we should thoughtfully discuss their decisions, because in the end sexuality is a beautiful, enriching and healthy part of us. Seeing it as something that can exist alongside and within all the “higher” pursuits – college, art, family, career – is very, very important to the future of our world, because it’s always going to be there, and if we use it simply as an excuse to shame and hurt, we are only bringing ill upon ourselves. TC mark

Read This