I was probably very naive about the tattoo industry when I started the Tattoo Art Project. I had heard some tattoo artists with great feeling to tell the romanticized version of what it was like to work in the industry, it was all about an ancient culture that lived on with clear ethical framework and tight rein of respect. I was simply amazed by the fact that it could actually be an artistic craftsmanship in modern society that does not fall into pieces in the cultural mill that everyone and everything is ground down in.
Today, at this moment, I am not as equally naive. I have realized that the tattoo industry, the same way as music, art, authors, film, and many other industries, suffers from the same wild cancerous growth. It is the cause of all evil and suffering in this world. The ferocious desire for power and money!
The first “rumour” I heard pretty early heard about the tattoo industry, and that made me a bit perplexed and uneasy was actually when a tattoo artist told me just before I was going to a tattoo show, that more than half of all tattoo fairs today is owned by, or largely infiltrated and “controlled” by criminal motorcycle gangs. None mentioned, none forgotten. My first thought was that it was just nonsense, and most likely an old legend who lived on since the 70′s or something. So I went to the convention, everything went well and I came home safe, not only unscathed, but also adorned the skin!
What recently has made me more confused is that many tattoo artists confirms just that “rumour” and that it even has both organizers of conventions and the tattoo artists who are forced to pay a “fee” to these clubs. But naive as I am, and I still believe that it is a myth that lives on, and that the rumours are another cancerous tumour that spreads its metastases in the industry.I feel a little better when I try to convince myself that it is so.
In the area of respect, it is almost ironic how an industry that emphasizes so vigorously and persistently how important it is to respect their colleagues and not “shoot down” a bird flying a little too high, or wobbling up with wounded wing. I can not even count how many times I’ve seen on Facebook that it pops up a worthless copy made at any professional tattoo artists original design. Anyone with half brain activity considers it completely fucked up that one tattoo artist steals another tattoo artists obvious original, and then dishonors both the customer and the tattoo artist who made the original. But what bothers me probably the most is that it almost always becomes a discussion that it is sad to harass a hapless “newbies” who do not really understand better. If you ask me, it’s so damn much hypocrisy and bullshit so it doesn’t even fit in a dumpster! In 99% of cases, the customer has either downloaded the image and printed it from the internet, or the customer has grabbed the image from a magazine. Whichever it is, surely every tattoo gnome on the planet could understand that the image is designed by a another fellow tattoo artist, and that it is NOT ok to steal the design? I will probably never understand why someone should “respect” the tattoo artist who copied the original and should have had common sense instead to advise the client to get their own original design drawn up! I’d like to call it “anti-respect” instead, because it is closer to the truth.
Then there is the reverse kind of “anti-respect”, where professional tattoo artists affected by the hubris of success starting to get the idea that all created art is a form of open source, and it is just to copy the original and conjure a bit in Photoshop so it looks artistic out, and then the tattoo design on the customer. In this case, I do not mean that it’s ugly or badly done tattoos. On the contrary … it is usually incredibly stylish and technically perfect design. What I mean is that the original motive may well come from an artist’s painting that has a copyright on it, and unsuspecting becomes both hi-jacked for both economical compensation and recognition. Additionally, it is probably in many cases that the artist’s originality is the soul of the artwork, and then it’s a little disrespectful to not ask for permission, or even leave a measly text with reference to the original artist. That which in this case I get annoyed about is the indifference that many tattoo artists when responding to criticism. Start to claim that artists like Michelangelo, DaVinci and Dali have been copied more than any other in the world. Not a really good excuse in my book! With that logic you might as well say that it is ok to rob a bank just because the safe has a door!
Obviously, it can be difficult to know every time exactly where a customer has downloaded a reference image, but with common sense you’ll get pretty damn far in life.
The next form of anti-respect is when professional tattoo artists are so greedy for success and money, they start manipulating, retouching, and adding in every possible ingenious way to fix their photos before posting on for example Facebook and Instagram. I consider myself to be pretty sharp on Photoshop, but I can not always make a fair assessment which areas of a tattoo that has been retouched or not. It can be quite difficult for me to distinguish what is real or not.
To begin with, the whole idea of a professional tattoo artist is willing to risk his reputation in pursuit of success to such an extent that it begins to correct the deficiencies and errors in their tattoos, just because they look better. The founding idea that I had was to start a project and gather the best “realistic” tattoo artists in the world to show their fantastic realistic creations. And then several well-known tattoo artists gain a rumour that they completely cheat, remove or add details to make the tattoo look better?! I am totally exhausted just thinking about the backwards behaviour! The fact that it has happened more than once, and that I’m being contacted by the tattoo artist to point out that another of their “colleagues” in all likelihood has improved on his photo, and that I should think about what I publish.
Ok, I’ve already admitted that I am not perfect, and do not see every time an area darkened down, brightened up, erased, crossed out or otherwise corrected piece. But Jesus Christ, is it not time for all the tattoo artists themselves to take responsibility and clean the air with that other colleagues Obviously, I feel like an idiot when I have promoted tattoo artists retouched photos and describe how realistic I think it looks. I feel pretty cheap, I can tell that much.
I’ve said it countless times, and I continue to clarify the fact that I AM NOT TATTOO ARTIST! I’m just an ordinary dude, who has a large and passionate interest in tattoo art. I’ve got this crazy idea that I’m in some way doing the industry a small favor by trying to show the public how incredibly good tattoos can really look like, if you’re willing to do a little research, and pay for quality. My illusion has been that it can also help to reduce the risk of people let their cousin’s friend tattoo at the after party with crappy machines from China, in a filthy and unsterile environment that can lead to all possible brutal injuries and poisoning, etc. Maybe I’m somewhat crazy and groping around and looking for a utopia where actually the industry to take responsibility to curb a negative spiral that developed among colleagues? I have repeatedly heard some tattoo artists say something like this “- Fuck it, even if stop using the Internet to promote my work … I’m still going to have loads of job. The old fashion way “! I say, “-ok…maybe for some artists who has a good reputation and a steady customer base from the get go, can do that. But that still leaves more space on the Internet for copycats, scratchers and other copyright leeches to roam freely.”
I’d like to inform all of you who believe that you can do it the “Old fashion way” and survive. Take your fucking head out of your ass and recognize that first of all, the majority of new tattoo artists use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and what ever social media to grow an audience and gain a customer base. Secondly, YOU old farts are a dying breed, but with the unique knowledge and long experience that should rightfully be passed on to the next generation of young tattoo artists. If you choose to keep your head where it is, it’s only going to be stuck a warm familiar place that stinks.
I know that I’m going to get a bunch of emails from tattoo artists that think I’m a “nobody” who sticks out my nose. That’s correct, and those of you who think so, have all right to do so. But if you think that I’m going to change my opinion in this matter…NOT gonna happen!
So my question to you all is, how can we work together in this? Or is It back to law of the jungle?