I found this article on tattoos to be quite interesting and it got me thinking. It’s not that it makes some great point about liberty or anything like that. It was just interesting and got me thinking.
We live in a day and age where getting tattoos, that which was once quite taboo (see what I did there) is now very common place. Estimates are that 29% of people in America have at least one tattoo. It’s so common now that people pop on their phone, pick a design, run to any shop and buy it like buying a fast food burger.
Full disclaimer, I don’t have any tattoos and never will.
Don’t get me wrong, if you do have them I’m not looking down my bill at you thinking you’re a horrible human being not worthy of a job or friendship. Ha! Not even close. I have many family members who are inked by the gallon in various parts and places. It was when one of them got what I consider a very poor quality tattoo that I began to think about the art and skill that goes into it. I started looking more closely at tattoos and noticed something a bit shocking – almost all of them suck. Of course you are free at this time to say, “well, not mine, but I know what you mean, I see bad ones all the time!” Yet I still think the fact remains that the vast majority just aren’t really good at all.
There’s an obvious reason for that of course and that is the fact that not all that many people in the world are truly good artists. If I were a person looking to get a permanent addition to my body I would only allow the Michelangelo of the tattoo world to work on my Sistine Chapel.
The article reads, “Ask an experienced tattoo artist and he or she will tell you that the internet is changing the business. What I did, somewhat impulsively, on that hot July afternoon — walk into a random shop with a photo of the image I wanted loaded up on my iPhone — has become the new normal. Once upon a time, a person seeking a new tattoo would have to go to a tattoo parlor for inspiration and flip through stacks of industry magazines or skim the colorful sample images (“flash”) that lined the walls. Now, more often than not, customers research a design online and then simply seek out a nearby artist to execute it.
The result, artists say, is that clients, particularly walk-ins, are generally less interested in the styles of specific artists and less open to input”
How could a person get a tattoo, something so permanent, and not carefully consider who is doing the ink, what their style is, their skill, their experience? I spend a great deal of time stewing over which painting to hang in my burrow and must feel a connection with it. Could it be that people are making emotionally fraudulent connections to their tattoos? Is this a case of (literally) symbolism over substance? Historically, tattoos have had deep meaning to the people who get them, spiritual meaning in some instances, or they served as cultural markers of status in the tribe. Take the people in Borneo for example – the women there mark their skill on their arm. Today’s equivalent might be a woman who is an exceptionally good banker getting a dollar sign on her forearm or a man who is a fine mechanic getting a wrench. Not because he likes wrenches so much but because those seeing it would know his skill and commitment.
It’s an ancient act that traverses continents and cultures. Perhaps most famous is the worlds oldest confirmed tattoos which belong to Otzi, the frozen European who died in 3250 B.C. and was preserved in the Alpine ice until he was discovered in the last century. He has 61 tattoos. We don’t know what they mean. Many are just hash marks. This could be rank, time in some kind of service. He was killed so perhaps he was a runaway slave slaughtered for leaving before his time was up. Perhaps just two more lines on his arm and he would have been freed. We don’t know and can only guess.
Before Otzi the oldest tattoo was found on a 4000 year old Chilean mummy who was tattooed with a few dots on either side of the nose resembling a penciled in mustache.
The Romans marked their slaves in the way cowboys brand cattle. Mine! Shaman were marked to represent their connection to the spiritual world and to let the spirits know they were talking to the right guy. Sort of a pass code as it were. The Greeks used this same concept of a password by tattooing secret codes onto people so they could recognize each other and know their status. For example a spy might see another and know he was higher ranking and not to blow his cover because of the tattoo he sported but others might not notice.
But why do modern people get tattoos?
Reasons given do vary of course and I suppose we can take at face value that someone who gets a tattoo of Garfield the cat knows that they are doing but I suspect there is a singular reason that people may, or may not, be aware of.
Timman [the tattoo artist interviewed in the article] estimates he gives [a] speech about poorly conceived, internet-inspired tattoos roughly 10 times a day. Even still, he says only about 60 percent of the customers he’s talking to actually listen. “If you still want to give us money, we’ll do it, because we have a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, but we sleep better at night knowing we’ve told you what’s going to happen.”
But Timman recognizes that for some clients, the quality and longevity of the work isn’t all that important, even though tattoos are permanent. With walk-in customers under the age of 25, it’s often more about instant gratification, social-media likes, and shareability.
I tend to think that the real reason people get tattoos is because something is missing in their life and they seek to fill that void with a tattoo.
Before you react to that (oh, too late) I will say that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you recognize this. People are missing things from their lives all the time. There are healthy and unhealthy was to manage that. Gestalt is an interesting theory of the mind. There is one part of it that I am particularly fond of and that I feel really works to describe the platform that is the human mind. The very idea of Gestalt itself is the concept of shape. If we see the mind as a shape we can deconstruct that shape into its component parts. Imagine a building as the Gestalt of your mind. Got your building? Now imagine you try to go into that building but the door doesn’t have a door knob. You expect a door knob. You need a door knob and by gum a door knob is just part of a door and should be there. You can’t open the door easily without it and you want to open that door because doors are meant to be opened. You have a few choices here:
- Get a door knob.
- Find something else that works.
- Ignore it and walk away.
- Sit down in front of the door and cry.
- Mope about the door and continue to think about it often.
- Beat on the door hoping someone else will open it.
- Beat on the door until it collapses and is broken.
There might be more you can think of but you get the point I’m sure.
In life there are many things that represent that door knob. It’s different for each of us. For some it might be the father they never had. Others it might be self-esteem. The list really does go on.
A woman who is without a father or who had a father with whom she had a very bad relationship still has need of that relationship. It’s the knob. It’s missing. She must deal with it. How? She will replace it with something else perhaps. Boyfriends, girlfriends, jobs, children. Or she will try to turn and forget about that door as if it doesn’t exist. Maybe she will be successful at that. But if so she never walks through the door. Perhaps she will get angry and pound breaking every relationship she has down. Or perhaps she will simply replace it with a tattoo. Sounds simplistic? It’s a scenario so by nature it is. But tattoos are symbols and to be worth anything a symbol must have a meaning. Even a Pinterest tattoo is chosen because it strikes some cord. Perhaps a need to belong. If you run into 10 people with the same tattoo, or just see it on the Internet and know that others do have it, then you belong to that group. Like the spies of ancient Greece when you see someone else with it you instantly recognize them as accepted, as in on the secret that is you.
A Westminster study showed that people (men and women) reported a higher body self esteem after getting a tattoo.
I said earlier that I don’t have and won’t get a tattoo. That’s because for me the ebb and flow of my missing door knob is ever-changing. There is nothing permanent like a tattoo that will fill it. Perhaps this is one reason that 7 out of 10 people who get one tattoo will more often than not get a second or a third or a fourth even. The tattoo itself is permanent but the “fix” to their missing door knob isn’t. Since the tattoo did make them feel better (for a while) they try it again and again. But since they didn’t really explore what was missing and how to fix it in a healthy way they keep going back and keep feeling that missing something after a bit of time passes.
Most people look at someone who goes to the extreme with tattoos and intuitively knows there is something wrong with that person. It’s clearly not normal and clearly representative of a door in their life that they simply cannot open no matter how hard they try. They keep trying using the same method, get the same results, and never seeing the other side.
But it is possible that those who get one or two also suffer from a missing section of their gestalt. That’s a German word, it means “shape”. The shape of who you are is independent of tattoos and independent of how other people view you. It comes down to you and your mind and frankly, for most people that’s a scary place to be. We tend to know ourselves the worst because it takes so much effort and incredible honesty to know ourselves. We pretend to but the effort is too hard and painful.
If pain is required to know yourself then some will opt for the pain of a needle and call it a day.
The internet is ruining tattoos.