There is one question that I only seem to get asked by non-tattooed folks. “Why do you think people get tattoos?” I supposed I’m supposed to be some sort of authority on this because I do tattoos. I guess I do know a fair amount about tattoos in general, how they are applied, their history, the types of things which any trades-person in any craft would know just from being surrounded by their chosen work.but I gotta tell you, I really don’t have a clue why people get tattooed. I don’t think anyone does, to be honest. Id go so far as to say that anyone who can claim to give you a definitive answer is either selling something or is dangerously over-confident in their theories. By the way, tattooed people don’t ask that question very much, because they have an answer for themselves even if the vast majority of them couldn’t articulate it if they had to.
I think that tattooing is ne of those things which is too big to pin down, one of those things that wriggles under close observation like a scientist trying to study light. If you look at light one way its a wave, if you look at it another its a particle and according to everything we know about physics this isn’t supposed to be possible but there it is. Tattooing doesn’t make much sense either which, I suppose is why people try to make sense of it. Do people get tattooed to be separate from everyone or to join a trend, to express themselves or to copy the main-stream, to say something about themselves or as armor to hide behind? Ask 10 people and you will get 10 different answers that are all equally “right”.
In my business I’ve noticed a couple funny things about people’s varied motivation for getting tattooed. For one thing people getting their very first tattoo seem almost embarrassed if they don’t have a “reason” for getting tattooed. Sometimes they even try to shoehorn an explanation onto what is clearly just a cool idea for them (i.e. “I’m getting this Japanese dragon in memory of my dog” kind of things.) It’s really not necessary. The other thing that’s funny is the sort of strange guilt a lot of folks feel at getting a tattoo, in our world we have a reason for everything. We justify ourselves all the time even it is just in our own heads, these rationalizations can get pretty goofy too (“I bought a dodge charger because my uncles brother always wanted one in 1968. . . “) The truth is for most people that they are getting a tattoo just because it makes them feel good, and many of them act as if admitting this is tantamount to admitting to enjoying jacking off. Its ok though, in fact getting a tattoo just because it makes you happy is the BEST reason in my book.
I’ve read some pretty scholarly books about tattooing and one thing has become apparent. The books written by non-tattooed authors always look at tattooing as a sickness (perhaps they will admit that it’s a benign sickness, they still write like its somewhat. . . icky”).
Joseph Campbell once said “In art the meaning IS the art itself. If you ask a painter what his painting means you are going to get a LOOK from him. Just SEE it, it’s all right there, you don’t need someone to interpret it for you!” and Tattoos are definitely the same thing in my book. If you seek to understand tattoos then get one! It’s a magical thing really, you come into the shop with all sorts of preconceived notions, fears, ideas, you might be a very smart person and think you have seen all the tattoo tv shows and read 400 books about tattoos and I can still promise you that after that first one, every single idea you had will be changed about tattoos. Every one.
You come out the other side with experience instead of inference. It’s the difference between being told what velvet feels like and actually touching it.
In Buddhism one eventually learns that a lot of those so-called burning terribly important questions are in fact a waste of time. Is there an afterlife, a god, heaven or hell, a soul? all that stuff we worry about and what did the wise teachers say when they were asked about this stuff? “Who cares!? Did you feed the dog yet? Did you do the dishes? Dont worry about what happens after you die til your dead! You have important stuff to do right now!” Once you get tattooed all those same sorts of questions go out the window too, “am I getting a tattoo for the ‘right reasons’? “will I still like it in a year?” “what if my friends don’t like it?” “what if my mom kills me, etc.?” and yet when you are done all that stuff is gone *whissst* right out the window and instead you’re thinking “I wonder how long til I can get another one!”