I’m horrible at art. Whenever I have to draw something it usually comes out in the exact same style I used for my artistic endeavors in middle school. However, despite my lack of artistic inclination, I still feel like I know good art when I see it. Not that there’s a universal criteria for what’s “good” art, but especially in the realm of tattoo art it’s usually pretty easy to separate the Dan Dimattias from the guys whose shops line South Beach and are open till 3am.
I’m personally a huge fan of both realism and new school tattoo art, mainly for their saturation, use of unusually bright colors, and all-around wow-factor. I especially love new school because many designs are either cutesy as fuck (in a good way) or inappropriately grotesque. I’ve always been attracted to juxtaposition in art and fashion, so that aspect of new school tattoo imagery really appeals to me. And realism? I mean…c’mon, who wouldn’t take a tattoo that looks so freakin scary-real?
As more and more people enter the world of body modification in the West, the prominent style of tattooing here is definitely shifting. As tattooing becomes more respectable, more and more art school graduates and serious artists in general are trading in their brushes and pastels for a tattoo gun. Many of these newcomers bring their unique personal style to their tattoos, keeping only to clients who are willing to leave the entire process, from style to design to application, up to the artist in order to get a phenomenal custom tat. Others are simply so talented that they can work equally well with a number of different styles, making for a massive clientele base and a waiting list to match. However, the popularity of tattooing also means that there will be lots of shitty artists out there just looking to make an easy buck. These are the guys who intentionally tattoo random Chinese characters on drunk girls’ asses, getting a good laugh with their boys about how she wanted “Protection” and he gave her “Condom.” They’re the reason why rather than moving forward, tattooing technology is essentially moving in reverse. By this I mean that there are far more developments in tattoo removal technology than in tattoo application. While industry specialists are busy creating easily removable ink for those who, um, apparently already know they're going to regret their tat, I'm still awaiting the invention of some seriously long-lasting, no-bleed ink!
Anyways, happy thoughts - back to the more adept artists for a second. I’ve been thinking, when you compare tattoo art to fine art, they aren't all that different. I mean, one uses skin as a canvas while the other uses, well, canvas as a canvas (depending on the medium of course), but in both realms there is the good and the bad, the old and the new, the meaningful and the just plain silly. But as an artistically challenged chick, there is one huge difference between the two that I find pretty damn intriguing. Since tattooing is, in the end, all about the client, who is indeed the most important viewer the piece will ever have, serious tattoo artists are inclined to cater to the client’s preferred style. Thus, as tattooing evolves, unlike the evolution of fine art, it is increasingly in tune with what the viewer wants to see. As a passive admirer in an art gallery I can’t really have an effect on the world of fine art, but by supporting the cream of the tattooist crop and having them create custom designs in my favorite styles, I can change the trajectory of tattoo art. And that's a beautiful thing.