A Lament on Tattoos

Hey, when did people who ink tattoos become artists? I say, let’s go back to the days when bikers and sailors got drunk and then got inked by guys almost as drunk as they were. I doubt those guys were sitting in a bar and turned to their drinking buddy and said, “You know what’s missing in our lives, Bob? Art! We need to get some art into our lives. We’ve been living like animals. Whatcha say we get some tattoos?”

The only tattoos I’ve ever seen that weren’t kitschy abominations were those worn by tribal warriors of the Polynesian islands. Simple geometric patterns inked in a plain, blue black. They decorated their bodies as a ritual for war. I don’t think they were trying to express their inner artist or get in touch with their feelings. You’re not expressing any great truth or emotion with a tattoo. As a matter of fact, you’re not expressing anything, other than bad taste.

Of course, nowadays everybody is an artist; so why not? But isn’t tattooing a skill, not an art? (a highly marketable skill these days). But even if you believe it an art, the person receiving the tattoo is not expressing anything. The person doing the inking is creating, not you; you’re just the canvas. Might as well say Rembrandt’s canvas was as creative as the artist. And having your girlfriend’s name inked on your arm doesn’t mean you love her anymore than I love my wife. If I had my wife’s name tattooed on my arm, she’d probably think it stupid, and the first thing she’d say, “How much did you pay for that?” Just another reason to love her. Someone once asked the actor, Tony Danza, if he regretted getting his tattoo. His answer, “Sure, it’s like wearing a sweater you can never change.

I grant that some tattoo “artists” are better than others, but so are some plumbers or electricians. It doesn’t make them artists. So again, let’s all quit kidding ourselves. Getting a tattoo isn’t the culmination of some great creative impulse. It’s just a bad decision, best made when drunk. I guess it makes sense from the tattoo parlor’s perspective. After all an artist can charge more. Just face it, the people doing the inking are selling you a bill of goods and laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe they are artists–con artists.

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