By Dan Henk
I remember when I was 13. I had just gotten out of my Huey Lewis and The News, Tears For Fears, juvenile musical tastes. I was now into “hair metal.” Ratt. Quiet Riot. Def Leppard. I thought that stuff was so much cooler, and couldn't believe I'd liked things like the Dire Straights. Then, a little over a year later, I got three albums all at once. Metallica's Ride the Lightning, Megadeth's Peace Sells, and Slayer's Hell Awaits. I was floored, immediately switched over to trash-metal, grew my hair out, and became a little northern Florida deviant. I wouldn't admit I had listened to anything else. At 16, in my new school in northern Virginia, I heard Black Flag. My whole world changed...
I dove headfirst into punk rock. Blue mohawk, all painted up spiky leather jacket, combat boots. I was stealing my parents car and hitting the 930 Club downtown. I was going to the cool clubs, hitting the punk rock parties (usually at someone's house when their parents were out of town). It wasn't cool to like metal, and I had sold all my old albums. I even got in fights with metal-heads. We called the “mop-headed bangers,” and they were definitely their own click. Now, at 39, I listen to a wide variety of music. I still love metal, and punk rock, but that's not all I listen to. I have Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak, Fu Manchu, PJ Harvey, and hundreds of others on my iPod.
So, my point in all this? I see the same juvenile, close minded attitudes in tattooing. And, as in music, it's mostly the younger crowd. You show a veteran who does traditional [tattoos] a good tattoo by a realistic artist, and he'll go, “Damn!” usually followed by ”I wish I could do that!” I've seen it happen so many times I've lost count. You show the exact same tattoo to a traditional artist in their mid-20s, and often their response is a sneer, and they start picking it apart, “It doesn't look like a tattoo... It won't last... You're just a frustrated painter.”
The same is true in reverse. I've heard realistic artists criticize an old-school tattoos with their standard repertoire of insults, “My five-year-old could draw that... They're just copying Sailor Jerry... They are only doing that because they can't draw something more complex.” And so on.
Now, granted, a little bit of both sides critiques are on the money. But far more often, it's pettiness. That same pettiness that makes a 16-year-old, who suddenly “hates everything that isn't punk rock” talk down about something that is well done, just not in the particular genre he chooses to identify with.
You don't like it? That's fine. That's what this country is supposed to be all about (not withstanding the last two presidents, but that's a different story). But to slag it off as contemptible? Grow up.
If every album was a death metal album, the music scene would be boring. If every movie was a romantic comedy? If every book was a space opera? If the only jacket you were allowed to wear was a Members Only jacket, the only shoes puffy white Air Jordan’s? Look at it this way. If you love traditional work, that's great. If that is all that everyone did, unless you are an absolute sheep, I think you would love it a little less. It takes variety to help define taste. How do you know what is your favorite, if you have no other choice? Nothing to compare it to? I could only realize how bad a Vanilla Ice song was, because I heard N.W.A.
So, take a Valium if you need to. Relax. Concentrate on being the best at what you choose to focus on, and leave other people (who are often trying the same thing) alone. Otherwise you're behaving like every other roadblock in the history of mankind. Those fanatical Christians who killed and tortured people for not believing in their God. Those politicians like George Bush, who think they know what is right for the rest of the world, and by golly, if you don't agree with them, they'll drop a Predator missile on your head!
This is an alternative, underground subculture, and it's a shame to see the same things that tear the mainstream world apart having any foothold.
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(Dan Henk is a tattooer and blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. Dan can be found at: http://danhenk.com/.)