“I am an artist and this is my medium.”

The guardian has posted this article about “The Secret Life of a Tattooist”. You can read it here.

I enjoyed and emapthised with most of what was written, although I don’t agree that it is a “fact that tattooing full time will give you a bad back, neck and shoulder problems and damaged wrists”. I don’t have any of those problems, just do some exercise you lazy bastards.

Anyway, the sentiment of slight disillusionment with the industry, and a feeling of “it was better before it was mainstream”, is one I have heard many times before but definitely not one I share. I will elaborate…

When I first got into tattooing in the early to mid nineties, tattooing was growing rapidly but had yet to break through to mainstream culture. I am not sure exactly how you gauge that, but no celebrities outside of a few heavy metal stars were really tattooed, models were definitely not tattooed, there were no TV shows etc etc. What people have forgotten, or maybe don’t realise, is that there was a general sentiment within the industry that tattooing didn’t get the respect it deserved as a serious art form, and there were artists who did what they could to rectify that when given the opportunity. Well, like it or not, we now have that recognition. Maybe it still isn’t respected quite as much as fine art, but then within all forms of art, some are always seen as the pinnacle, or the more serious pursuit compared to others. We are at least now included in the conversation. Simply put, we wanted it and now a lot of people are complaining that we have it.

An argument to the above paragraph could be, “well I didn’t want it”. Fair enough, but tough shit. Tattooing isn’t your thing to keep to yourself or dictate where it goes or who likes it. We would all like to have control over the culture we love but it doesn’t work like that. Tattooing isn’t your cool little club and you don’t get to choose who can join after you were lucky enough to find it. The zeitgest is a complex thing and all you can do is control your little part in it and go along for the ride. And if you don’t like the ride anymore, then time to get off.

Now, I have always disliked the term “hipster”, and think it is too often used for anyone younger and more interested in fashion than oneself. If there is one aspect of it that does seem true, although really predates the recent use of the term, it is the “I used to like it/them before it was mainstream” attitude. I always thought that was stupid when people said it about bands, and think it is just as stupid with tattoos. Maybe you can have extra cool points for buying Bleach when it came out, but if you went off it when Nevermind exploded, you are a moron. If you only like something when it is underground, subversive or cool, then you are no better than someone who only likes something because it is trendy. If you only got tattoos because you thought it would make you cool and different, then more fool you.

I accept that you can still love tattoos, but just not like the direction that the industry has gone in since becoming mainstream, but why worry? Just do your thing, and ignore the rest. You don’t have to go to conventions or even be on Instagram. Just do really good work and look after your customers and you should still be able to make a comfortable living.

Finally, I heard a very well respected tattooist get asked if he wanted to leave the industry or if he still liked being a tattooist and he said, “Yes, I am an artist and this is my medium. I need to be creative and this is how I choose to do it”. What a brilliant answer and attitude.

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