Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Tattooer or artist?

December 20th, 2008 by

Words are a motherfucker, y’know?  You ever get a chance to think about the connotation of a word or phrase and it will seriously fuck you up.  Hell, George Carlin had a career based on this very thing and while colloquialism lends itself freely to comedy, it also has started its fair share of fistfights and revolutions.  So what’s in a name?  I asked myself this recently.

Like how come when I refer to myself or my profession with my friends or family that I call myself a tattooer, but when I’m at my kid’s PTA meetings I become an ‘artist’?  It’s a rare occassion when you get to pull your own punk card, but I digress…

At first I thought that this was some horrible ploy by my subconscious to protect me from the almost inevitable reactions of my fellow parents who tend to be uniformly more uptight than I am.  Then it occurred to me, I am an artist.  I am also a tattooer.  Now more than ever before those two things have become interchangeable.

Some of you may think this is a foregone conclusion, you’ve seen what your favorite tattooers can do with needle and skin and you know it’s art, in and of itself.  But for a long time now tattoo has been going through some kind of funky identity crisis.  Allow me to explain:  At one time everyone that tattooed wanted to be called a ‘tattoo artist’ the connotation maybe being that tattoo artists were better than those who just did tattoos.  You see, for a long time people wanted to be called by the thing that they used to make money.  Everyone’s waaay too tied up in their profession, identity being confused with the ‘who’s got the bigger dick’ game of ‘what do you do?’ and all that shit.  So artists were fine artists that made money selling their work to museums, rich people, and guys with funny beards they called beatniks (think Bob Denver).  Graphic artists designed working shit, like billboards and t-shirts and logos for big businesses.  And tattoo artists did tattoos.  Tattooers didn’t make money selling their art (at least they didn’t make a living selling canvas-and-paint pieces) but the fight was on to be recognized as real artists and not just a bunch of foul-mouthed fuckers with hairy knuckles and an over pronounced sense of style.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve actually heard some of my co-workers argue that they didn’t want to be called a tattoo artist, just a tattooer, saying that they made their living doing tattoos and that they’d starve if they tried to sell their artwork to the general public (as opposed to other tattooers or tattoo convention-goers).

So first tattooers wanted respect as artists but then they wanted respect as tattooers, which I guess is understandable considering all the work that’s gone into getting people to realize that tattoo is its own genre.  But whatever happened to just hitting people with heavy things?  And don’t get me started on the disparities between neotraditionalist tattooers and realistic tattooers and the whole flash vs. custom vs. street shop thing, this shit is getting ridiculous.

Seems trivial right?  But in a world where people are either ninja or pirate, republican or democrat, pro-life or pro-choice, and well, you see where things can get a little fuzzy.

So what the fuck do we do Wildo!?  Easy kids, I got it covered.

You do you, I’ll do me, and you can call it whatever you like.  I do tattoos and draw pictures of stuff, but I’m not a tattoo-doer or a stuff-drawer or a picture-of-things-maker or any of that shit.    So what’s in a name?  Only what you let be in a name.

My name is wildo.

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