On one of my favorite tattoo forums there was an ongoing debate about whether tattooing has become “too mainstream” or not. With the gist being that many tattooers feel tattooing lacks the danger it once had. In fact none the guys espousing this opinion really was a tattooer (or even born) in the time period they are referring to (i.e. the 1920’s to the 50’s) and seeming to pine for.
Its not just tattooing either, when i was a punk all anyone talked about was how the people into punk at that time were just ‘posers’ the only ‘real’ punks listened to the germs and shot smack. In either case I’m fairly sure that this supposed ‘golden age’ was pretty miserable to actually have to live in. So what is so attractive about those ‘salad days’ that almost anyone, in any endeavor seem to wish for?
I’m not sure, but the one consensus seems to be that if the was a time when things were wonderful, It cant be this time right now! Even in the face of plain facts like the fact that tattooing generally sucked back then, was only able to support a few dozen tattooer through the whole country, and the artist frequently died broke and alcoholic these folks who ought to know better continue to claim the tattooing was somehow more pure ‘back then’. Why?
If I had to guess id say it comes down to control, or perceived control anyhow. All of us began tattooing with certain illusions of what it would be like, as soon as you actually start to do it though those get shattered, its one of the only times we as tattooers have to face that and adapt to the way things are instead of the way we wish them to be. Its a scary period, and every tattoo for the first months feels like a tightrope walk. Eventually we gain some facility with the machine, with handling customers, and with our abilities as artists, sadly this is when the stagnation begins. We just don’t like change, and as soon as we feel like we have “made it’ we want the change to stop!
I can clearly remember when photo-realistic wildlife became all the rage, i was terrified! I couldnt do single needle fine-line grizzly bears! I was convinced that it was all anyone would want and i would be back washing dishes while some wise ass kid who “didn’t deserve it” would be tattooing in my place! Of course the predicted disaster never came to pass, but that didn’t stop me pissing and moaning about it. I was scared, and the people who think tattooing is too “clean” or “easy” or “for rich kids” (whatever that means) are scared too. Most of them arent very confident and at the heart of their complaint is the idea that now that they have made it into the clubhouse that its time to pull the ladder up and not let anyone else in.
The obvious flaw in this mentality is the assumption that “we” actually have the ability to to freeze (or reverse) time back to the “good ole’ days”. All other arguments aside, the mere fact that they are mad about something as unstoppable and inevitable as change is an enormous waste of time and effort. Even if, EVEN IF everything these guys are saying about tattooing today is true (and I dont particularly think that they are) there still wouldn’t be one thing we could do to change it into what they want. For better or worse tattooing is popular, accessible, and it isn’t going to go back to the way they believe it was. So all the complaining really has no constructive benefit at all, its more of an opportunity to play “I’m more pure than you” as each person makes more and bolder declarations of their desire to put tattooing back into the stone ages when, they imply, only a real blue-collar hard ass like themselves would be able to handle the rough and tumble characters ‘cool’ enough to ‘deserve’ to be tattooed.
I believe that whatever chosen niche these kind of folks find themselves in it would be the same thing, from import-car tuners to scrabble freaks the forum would still be rife with “right now our thing is lame, it was better in the old days”. So whats the problem, if they want to waste their time being angry at the world for its natural movement and change why should i care?
In one way i don’t, Ive given up trying to change peoples minds, in fact these days I highly doubt that I’m qualified to judge such a thing. perhaps they are right and I’m full of hot air. . it wouldn’t honestly surprise me. But in another way do care because I genuinely like these guys, I feel like they are my brothers in a way, and I have been in this business long enough to see the pernicious effects of that kind of cynicism and self-righteousness.
Ive watched more than a few friends who began as bright, eager, awesome tattooers degenerate into bitter, self-hating defeatists because they simply couldn’t see the wonder and beauty of what we have right now through the fog of their unrealistic and unattainable fantasy world of ‘how it oughta be’. I really hate to see that cancer of delusion and ignorance take over otherwise fantastic artists. Its almost like they are afraid to admit that things are going well right now, it seems like they feel that it would somehow be un-tough to accept the world as it is. I wish I could show them that the hardest thing in the world to do is to let go of our own bullshit, but that when we do life becomes amazingly, unbelievably easy.
It really IS possible to care about tattooing (or whatever you particular personality foundation is based on) too much. Its important, but not as important as living awake in the world right now, right here, as it comes to us, not as we want it to. Over the years I have struggled to shed the layers, I don’t care anymore whether people know what I was, that isn’t me now. I don’t need to trot out my various phases of life, my conquests, my story of how my struggle was so tough and hard to prove that I deserve to be here now. I realise now that I deserve to be here now simply because this is actually where I am, and thats enough. I am not what I do. I do tattoos for a livng and I try with all my heart to be the best at it I can, but I am not “a tattooer”. I love my girlfriend with all my soul but i am not “a boyfriend”. I listen to many kinds of music and it moves me to the center of my soul but I am not “a punk or rasta or stoner”. And I even follow the precepts and method of Buddhism, and i feel it has saved my life, but I’m not “a Buddhist.”
Im just me. and so are all of you. And because of that reason, where and how we are right this very second is the best time that has ever been, can ever be, and will ever be.
Please enjoy it.