Am I Not Art/ist?
What is it about the words “naked” and “therapy” being forced to sit calmly next to each other that drives people so crazy?
On April 19, 2012, I was accepted as an artist into the West Chelsea Artists Open Studios (WCAOS), which is happening this weekend. On May 1, 2012, I was removed from the event by the director, Scotto Mycklebust. The removal came after I submitted the image you can see here as my feature art for the event’s promotional materials. I was told in an email from the director that I was being removed because my art was an “ad” and that I am a “commercial entity” and “not an artist.”
As you can read here I was essentially booted because Mr. Mycklebust assumed that my placing my url – TheNakedTherapist.org – on my art meant that I was one of those entities (I imagine he’s met one) that “take advantage of this free event to promote their own businesses.”
Problem is, TheNakedTherapist.org is not my Naked Therapy practice website. That’s at SarahWhiteTherapy.com. TheNakedTherapist.org was going to be the location for a web-based performance piece I planned on doing as part of my Open Studio event. So it’s an art site, not a business. Further, I have a series of pieces in which I use my url as a symbol in my art, along with some other parts of my artistic vocabulary, including my body, Internet icons, and photos of men. So why was I “promoting my business”?
I think there are basically three issues here.
On the issue of ads vs. art…
So, what’s the difference between an ad and art? To answer that, I’ll first ask some questions (since I am, after all, a therapist). If an artist signs his paintings, does that render them illegitimate acts of self-promotion, i.e. ads? If a performance artist sends in her face as her feature art for a festival, is she submitting a piece of self-promotion, or art? If Damien Hirst placed TheRichestArtist.org on an orange field, would it sell as art? How is the use of my face and my url any different than Keith Haring using the exploding dog or Murakami using Mr. DOB?
Fact is, I actually take Mr. Mycklebust’s assertion that he removed me from WCAOS because he thought my art was “promoting my business” as being an accurate statement of how he felt, but I also find it to be the exact issue that is so troubling. And it’s troubling because I believe that I was removed because what I do for a living is considered by some to be illegitimate and illegitimizing; because I am a woman using the performative body provocatively, positively and unironically inside and outside my art; because some in the art world have yet to recognize the realities and modalities of the 21st century in which the Internet deeply blurs the lines between self-promotion, commerce and art; and because I am not yet a “famous” (i.e. “money-making”) artist. All of these reasons for my removal point out some very interesting and unwritten rules and assumptions and even prejudices in the art world and our society that need to be discussed and considered, as they are being here.
On the issue of commercial entity vs. artist…
I am a practicing artist. That is why I was accepted into WCAOS. For over a decade I have been a photographer whose work centers on themes of desire, body, sexuality, visibility, catharsis, Americana, e-connections and the forbidden. For the last two years I have been creating art in conversation with my Naked Therapy practice, which focuses on arousal, display, transient spaces, the Internet, the cultural quotidien, relationships, aspiration and the interplay between mentalities.
I put the phrases “Naked Therapy” and “The Naked Therapist” on my art as a political statement. I have been censored and banned from Facebook, Master’s programs, licensing institutions, and now an “open” arts festival. Why? Simply because of those words. That’s why I put them on my art. To call attention to them, to rouse and challenge the emotions they cause, and to stand up for what I believe in…therapy (and art!) that accepts and engages eros.
Despite initially accepting me as an artist who he knew practiced Naked Therapy, it would seem that as I started requesting to be identified as who I am – Sarah White, The Naked Therapist – Mr. Mycklebust began to feel that my practicing Naked Therapy, along with my desire to include it in my identity as an artist and my artistic work, meant I didn’t have the right to call myself an artist. I find this deeply troubling as well. As I mentioned above, it implies that if a woman uses the performative body provocatively in her professional life, she is delegitimized from using it in her art. My art is informed by the Internet, by performance art, and by commercial activities, which I don’t believe should take away my “right” to call myself an artist.
On the issue of censorship vs. freedom…
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp tried to enter a urinal as a piece of art into the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Entitled “Fountain,” it was rejected by the committee, even though it was stated in the rules of the exhibition that the event would accept art from any artist who paid the fee.
In 2012, I tried to enter an image that montaged a photo of a man, a photo of myself, and one of my url’s into the West Chelsea Artists Open Studio. I was then removed from the event by the director, even though it was stated on the application that the event was “open to all West Chelsea artists.”
Duchamp said the urinal was art; I say I am art.
And there are two ways you can do that. Comment below, or come to my Independent Open Studio on May 13 from 4 – 8 pm at the Hôtel Americano in Chelsea (518 West 27th Street, NYC) being held in protest of my removal from the WCAOS. At that event I will show my work and host an open discussion forum on the issues of ads vs. art, commercial entity vs. artist, and the professional segregation of women who use the performative body provocatively.
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