Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex

Image of Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex
Release Date: 
May 30, 2023
Reviewed by: 

Oh, for the days when the title “Working Girl” referred to the feel-good movie with Melanie Griffith. Now comes this book of essays by artist Sophia Giovannitti—also titled Working Girl—that is anything but a feel-good romp. Rather, it is an intense, intellectual treatise on art, sex, and commercialism by its dead-serious author.  

The subtitle—On Selling Art and Selling Sex—neatly sums up the content of the book. It’s all about the comparisons between selling art and selling sex with a lot of questions about how capitalism affects both. The book cover says the author is a writer and conceptual artist based in New York.

She is also, in her words, “a whore” who sells herself on a variety of “sugar daddy-type” sites, admittedly to make as much money in the shortest way possible. Her rejection of the “normal” work-a-day life is her revolution against capitalism.

Giovannitti apparently is well known and well-versed in the underground sex worker world of New York and has mounted more than a few exhibitions focusing on sex, the subject that has taken over her world.

When she starts down this road, she is mainly concerned with two things: how it will affect her relationship with her boyfriend (they’re still together and she says he’s all right with everything) and whether she will be able to perform when she finds some men less than attractive. But not to worry because, she writes: “My friend, the capitalist, told me that unappealing men become hotter when they’re handing you cash.”

And then, she’s off and running, meeting wealthy men of all ages in hotel rooms all over Manhattan. They pose her, use her, talk to her, and she does the same to them. It’s very transactional and practical and serves Giovannitti not only with a good amount of money but also the subject matter for this book and her self-described art.

Her book is anything but prurient. Instead, Giovannitti delves deep into the idea of sex-as-art and quotes from many others who’ve gone down this road before her. She also quotes poets like Leonard Cohen to broadcast her seriousness. We already know that because there’s not a hint of humor in the book—a little self-deprecating humor here would go a long way.

Instead, the reader is treated her anti-capitalism theories in which she expounds that holding a normal job is just not something she feels compelled to do. “I have held many jobs,” she writes. “Many are fine. But fine is not how life should be. I firmly believe that no one should have to work to live, that the imperative to sell one’s labor in exchange for the fulfillment of basic survival needs is a foundational violation.”

She says she’d rather be a prostitute in the pursuit of art. She asks a friend who has gone into some other type of business for himself if he still has to work every day and he says of course he does. “Then, teasing: ‘I forgot, lucky you, you don’t work.’ Whereas once I would have been offended, now I’m thrilled; you couldn’t give me a better compliment. ‘I sure don’t,’ I answer. Momentarily defensive: ‘But I pay my rent!’ Another eye roll: ‘I know.’ I smile, and go back to sleep.”

How much patience any reader will have for all of this is anyone’s guess. Probably downtown New York artists will lap it up while your average working stiff, if he or she should ever come across this book, will likely skim the brazen sex stories that, as Giovannitti knows all too well, can still titillate.

Toward the very end of her book, Giovannitti neatly sums up her philosophy in case there’s any confusion. She writes: “I don’t want to be a whore forever. I do want to be an artist forever. I hope we don’t always have to work or sell to live.”