Hello again dear reader. I want to tug on your coat-tails about something that’s been bothering me for a while now but, first I want to tell you a tale…
A few years ago I was dragged along to a local theatre to watch an ‘Am-Dram’ rock opera, a friends daughter was playing in it and, as a mate, I felt it was my duty to support her. Needless to say it was dreadful – she was actually ok – but the play? Oh dear…
The biggest problem was the premise of the whole thing. A very grandiose story about the life, loves and times of a band. Not a famous band like, say, Guns and Roses, but a completely unheard of local act that had never done anything during their brief existence anymore noteworthy (that I could ascertain from the mainly incoherent rambling that was the dialogue) other than to nearly do a support slot at a semi well known local rock club once in the 80’s. The play failed because the writer (the founding member of the band) simply couldn’t see that his life story – that of a less than famous, local, ‘aint never been’ just wasn’t worthy of being immortalised in the form of a 3 hour long rock opera. It was – like his life, his band and his hometown – just fucking boing!
So why am I telling you this? As ever the point is coming, honest.
Recently I’ve noticed a trend amongst clients – and not just my own, but also those of the other artists that I’ve spoken to. It would appear that the current Zeitgeist is to try and make the tattoo ‘all about me and my life’ and ‘really meaningful’
Everything from doing well in exams to going on holiday to building a bridge or a boat (yes they are real examples that I have actually received) are all topics that are perfectly good reasons to get a tattoo they are just not a good subject for a decent piece of artwork. You see, an effective tattoo (or piece of artwork for that matter) makes it’s point simply and within a minimum of fussiness so if it takes a 37 page annotated PDF to explain the ‘concept’ for your new tattoo, you might want to rethink it or at least simplify it (and again yes, I have actually received that document and no I didn’t even read past page 2). Art is about communicating things in an abstract way that can make even the most mundane of ideas something quite spectacular. But if you try to create a literal visual translation you will almost certainly end up with something that looks more like something from a bad holiday brochure.
So, I’ve been wondering ‘where did the misunderstanding come from?’ When did it become necessary for some people that the reason you’re getting a tattoo also be literally translated into the subject matter of the piece? When did being able to tell people ‘what it means’ become such a big part of just getting some cool artwork? And when did ‘what does it mean?’ even become a question that you ask someone about a tattoo?
For the moment (and until someone gives me a better explanation than my own) I’m going to blame Tattoo TV. I think this trend stems partly from the ‘tell us why you’re getting your piece’ bit from the popular TV shows. I’m also going to blame social media because I think that – as we get more and more used to it – social media is making us far more narcissistic than any humans that have come before us. We have our own personal spaces and profiles that we carefully manicure in order to present only the ‘greatest hits’ from our daily grind and not the actual grind itself. This ongoing process means that we are – in fact – telling and presenting a carefully edited story about who we are and what we are all about to the world. Every one of us is becoming a highly skilled spin doctor with just one client, ourselves. And it is – in my opinion – this never ending obsession with showing the world a perfect, interesting and cool version of ourselves that is driving the current ‘it’s got to be all about me and it has to have meaning’ client fascination about what their tattoo has to be.
For these clients it seems to be all about telling everyone about the meaning behind their latest masterpiece and in turn the life event that inspired it – when in fact no – one ever has or ever will really give a damn because it’s never been about you the clients and it’s never been about us the artists it has ALWAYS and ONLY been about the art and the artwork. We’ve always had reason to get tattoos, both good and bad but, until recently the actual subject was represented in a far more abstract and artistic way. Even old time prison tattoos had more artist value than some of the
‘ideas’ that I’ve turned down recently. Spiders webs that count years, chest crosses or playing card symbols are at least attempts at making something artistic out of something very simple unlike things that read like descriptions of shit 80’s motivational posters, crap greeting cards or internet ‘memes’.
Just waking in and picking something straight from the wall seems to be seen as a thing of the past these days but it wasn’t – necessarily – a bad thing. At least when we did it this way it was a cool, well thought out design drawn by a master of the style and not something as lame as the face of Jesus on a bit of toast done for a story on TV just because it ‘meant something’. Custom art has for a long time now given clients that opportunity to ‘spec’ something but this initially meant choosing a basic idea or theme and letting the artist do the rest. In recent years this has, for my money, gone beyond the realms of bespoke art and now – in some cases – simply involves pandering to the random whims of people who just need to be told no a little more often.
So before you approach a tattooist for a custom piece ask yourself ‘will this make a good piece of art or am I just trying to project a fake version of myself in an attempt convince the world and myself that I’m cool!? Will my piece look like art or shit, local rock opera?’
If the answer is the latter, think again
Until next time