By Dan Henk
People love clichés. They love to pick apart their coworkers and neighbors. One of the many, many little schools of dissension in tattooing tends to be the “tattoo artist” versus the “tattooer” label.
Some circles, especially those who focus on old-school, have decided that “tattoo artist” is a pejorative. There is a whole list of complaints I've heard regarding anything that doesn't look like a traditional tattoo. Everything from ”that won't hold up over time,” to “that doesn't look like a tattoo” to “anyone who wants to be called a tattoo artist is a pretentious hipster, this is a noble working class profession like pipe fitting or blacksmithing...”
Everyone is entitled to their opinions. In some circumstances, realistic tattoos won't hold up over time. I talked about that in my last blog. But that is not nearly all realistic tattoos. Often it is just derogatively and wrongly applied to anything that doesn't have bold black outlines and big patches of solid color.
The “that doesn't look like a tattoo” statement might be a little more accurate, but only in the perspective of the person who says it. A tattoo being an indelible mark on the skin, something that has been practiced for thousands of years, the look of a tattoo is more a matter of taste than anything. Very similar for talking badly about someone because you dislike their clothing.
Now, that last bit entails a bit more... Not everyone is an artist, and there is not anything wrong with that. You have people who do a good, solid flash tattoo. Many don't have much artist skill, but they can trace and copy like an expert. The lines are smooth, the colors solid. There is a call for that.
Others do have more artistic abilities, but they choose to go with the quick, easy money. Now for the people who do draw, who have their own style independent of their influences, those people are artists. That's not even judging their skill. Much of art is simply a matter of taste. Even universally decried bad art, is usually appreciated by someone.
That artistic label applies to everything. Movies, books, paintings, and yes, tattoos. Sailor Jerry was an artist. Brooklyn Blackie was an artist. And they were proud of it. Many of the people who do a different style are obviously artists as well. There are plenty of artists in the illustration world out there that I think are crap. There are even famous painters whose work I'm not a fan of. But I'm not going to say, “Oh, that Van Gogh wasn't an artist.” I might say he's overrated, and the prices for his work are out of hand, but saying, “Oh, he's just painter. It's a noble profession, like a cabinet-maker,” is retarded.
There are always haters, and I know plenty of traditional artists that think their art form is being taken over and corrupted by all these “wanna-be painters.” It's funny though, all the guys complaining weren't even around in the old days. It's hipsters trying to cloth themselves in the old-school flag, being more elitist than any of the old-timers. People like Stan Moskowitz and Philly Eddie have shown great admiration for well done realistic tattoos.
So, do what you want, and call yourself what you want. I'd respond to all these people tracing old-school designs and putting everyone else down, but I'm too busy tattooing.
(Dan Henk is a tattooer and blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. Dan can be found at: http://danhenk.com/.)
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