Sunday, February 19, 2006

tattoos: art vs. fad

In considering my next tattoo, I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea of tattoos in general. When looking at artist portfolios, I can usually tell after viewing only a few pictures if I am interested in the artist's work or not. I never gave this process much thought until I read's recent post about tattoo studio-art gallery hybrids. Seeing tattoos as a form of fine art, displayed in a gallery where everyone from punks to executives can view them, made me realize that what I have been seeking in my search for a new tattoo is a piece of ART. Looking at certain artistic pieces makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, and to have one of those pieces permanently affixed on my skin would be a constant source of joy and wonder for me.
The article also made me think about the gallery in relation to its possible effects on how tattoos are viewed in Western society. Many Westerners still associate tattoos with crime and social deviance, so it's natural to wonder whether such mainstream recognition of tattoo art would help to bring it a greater level of respect. Personally, I think that those involved in the body modification community shouldn't have to work toward legitimizing modification in the mainstream. If the majority of people can't see the beauty of modification, why should we try to convince them? As a student at a very small college with a lot of conservative-looking kids, I can say that I truly don't care if I'm seen as different or weird, because I understand it. This is for ME. And I think that celebrating tattoos as fine art is a wonderful step, but not toward acceptance. It is my hope that this will be a step toward making body modification the best it can be.
I understand that my own view of the future of body modification is just that, MY view. With that said, I need to address those random images of butterflies or roses littered about some "tattooed" bodies. These do not represent art. Don't get me wrong, such tattoos may have value in their personal significances, but they are not acquired for their aesthetic beauty. Most are just a fad, and the concept of having a tattoo is probably more important to the wearer than the tattoo itself. I mean, think of the bold tribal desgins you often see flashed from under the back of a woman's low-cut tee shirt. Does she have any clue what that symbol may have meant to some ancient peoples? And would she even have noticed if the artist didn't apply the exact design she had picked out?

A great example of this disregard for the art of tattooing is a conversation I had this past weekend at a professional wrestling show. There I met woman and her boyfriend who unfortunately both had some of the most terrible tattoos I have ever seen. The man proudly showed off a cat/woman pinup on his calf which had incredibly shaky and far too-thick lines. In addition to the form of the tattoo, the content was also quite unpleasant. The pinup's breats were saggier than those of a retired stripper, and her nipples were the size of teacup saucers. As for the woman, she only had one small, obviously home-made, black heart on her upper arm. Upon asking her about the tat, I received a lengthy response in which she explained to me the tattoos that she was planning on getting. These included a spider web on her upper arm (which I explained to her is often associated with a certain white supremacy group...oops good thing we talked), a "Jesus-style crown of thorns, because barbed wire is sooo overdone," a rose, and a Blood for Blood (a Boston Hardcore Band) skull design. All status symbols. Not the kind that will get you into a country club, but rather the kind that will (maybe) earn you a greater level of respect. Imagine one of her future tats in a gallery as a painting. Would anyone "ooh" or "ahh?" I think not.


Anonymous said...

These are exactly the type of tattoos that the un-marked population of the world use to sterotype tattooed people in general. Many artistic tattoos are kept hidden by their wearers or remain un-noticed. But it seems like the owners of poorly executed or overtly sexual or racist images, go out of their way to flaunt them in the eyes of the public. Of course some tattoo artists also also doing their part to produce "art" of dubious merit.

Chip Emrich said...

"Personally, I think that those involved in the body modification community shouldn't have to work toward legitimizing modification in the mainstream. If the majority of people can't see the beauty of modification, why should we try to convince them?"

We might try to convince them because they're missing out on beauty. We might also try to convince them because, like it or not, their derision will have an effect on us. Mods are limiting in life, and people will judge you by them. To willingly become visibly modified seems to me to be a statement both of willingness to bear that metaphorical cross, and an opportunity to, by your actions, prove the stereotypes wrong.

That all having been said, I have a brief anecdote to relate. I have a penchant for drawing on myself at random intervals. Sometimes my self-marking get kinda prominent and involved. When this happens, people inevitably ask me to design a tattoo for them. Over the course of of three days, I received the following commissions:

1) A burning guitar with a dragon wrapped around it to be used as an armpiece. (boring, but the guy in question was at least looking at getting it done by a tattooist of some notable repute whose name presently escapes me)

2) A butterfly for a girl's lower back (Cough. Sputter. Hack. I remember vividly trying to explain to this girl precisely how overdone and horrible this design was. She mentioned something about being a very spiritual person, and this design having great meaning to her. I found it, frankly, hard to believe)

3) Another butterfly back-piece (No more need be said)

4) A dragon design intended to run the length of this one heavily muscled guy's spine. (he was the boyfriend [I think] of the first butterfly girl, and mentioned his "spirituality" in connection with his tattoo choice. Do you think there might be a gene that cause people with unforgivably boring tattoos to flock togethere?)

5) A small design containg a cross and the "small bird from Buddhist lore that sits on your shoulder and tells you whether you're going to die today" (I'm unfamiliar with Buddhist lore, and cannot attest to the truth of such a phenomenon). Surprisingly, this person did not mention her spirituality, and the cross was intended only as a symbol of "ultimate suffering for a cause" rather than an overt expression of Christianity. This is the only design I actually bothered to try my hand at.

There is a lot more to be said on this entry, actually, but I don't feel like writing comments so long that no one would want to read them.

Tanya/Tikay/Tati said...

Not true, I read it all! And I've actually been waiting for someone to contradict me on that point. I think that the mod community sometimes gets defensive when anyone seems to be telling them that being different is wrong and that they should want to be accepted. I just didn't want any of those folk to get nervous...I love to prove people wrong, especially if I make them realize that modders arent a certain "type" of person. There are modders of (almost) every age, race, geographical region etc. I don't think that we should have to ACTIVELY convince anyone that modding is beautiful, but if we change some attitudes by just being ourselves, awesome.